We are going to delve into who were the most iconic guitarists of all time and I do know that there are too many to mention here, so we have just kept it to our favorite 10. If only we had more time and then this list would probably be called the top 100 famous guitarists of all time. I’m sure those of you out there who are guitar aficionados will be able to see who we have missed but I hope you enjoy our list below. One thing is for certain, they are all true legends below and keep inspiring new guitarists today, but first let’s do a little introduction into guitar chords.
Guitar Chords Intro
Playing guitar chords means different configurations and positions of your fingers. The word ‘position’ can have two meanings. ‘Position’ can relate to the pattern you make when you hold the fingers of the hand when pressing down on the strings. ‘Position’ can also mean where you position your fingers (your hand) up and down the fretboard. There is even another definition, which comes from music theory, involving root, 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions of any given chord.
Different chords can be created without changing finger positions simply by holding the fingers in a certain position, and moving the hand itself. For instance, the fingers don’t move, but the position of the fingers can move up and down the fretboard. The hand moves but the fingers stay the same.
These are the following chords you need to know if you are thinking of starting to play the guitar;
- Barre Chords
- Power Chords
- Blues Chords
- Rock Chords
- Jazz Chords
We go into further detail about these chords in our article about guitar chords, but for now, I want to talk about the famous guitarists who have made it onto our blog.
As a famous rock guitarist, the effortless way he played was spellbinding and awe inspiring. His use of riffs, chords and single-note runs were impeccable and for any emerging guitarist, use Jimi as your teacher. He has been dubbed as one of the most influential electric guitarists of all time and for good reason. Even in his brief life on earth, dying at 27, he showed us how to really embrace the world of music and you can see this in tracks such as Purple Haze, All Along The Watchtower, The Star-Spangled Banner and Spanish Castle Magic.
‘Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.’ Jimi Hendrix
If you want to listen to a guitar riff that has attitude, electricity and energy then look no further than Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin. He was inspired by groups in the 50’s, he believed that music should sound raw and loved the music of James Burton. His experience working with Jeff Buckley in Yardbirds in the studio, helped him create the first album for Led Zeppelin.
I would say that his most famous guitar solo was at the end of Stairway to Heaven and he has been known to say that it wasn’t entirely constructed, or at least it was but in the moment and this was when the solo just flew, but within the context of the song. He knew where he was going, had a starting point and then just played. And with that, the purest guitar solo was born. Hence why he is on our list of famous guitarists today.
‘I may not believe in myself, but I believe in what I’m doing.’ Jimmy Page
Keith was the co-founder, guitarist, secondary vocalist, and co-principal songwriter of the Rolling Stones and boy could he play the guitar!! You knew he could play when you heard Satisfaction, with that riff and the chords moving underneath it. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, and in 2004 the UK Music Hall of Fame with the Rolling Stones.
His best guitar solos he is known for clearly have to be (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and Gimme Shelter.
His aptitude for alternate tuning that can be heard at the core of every Rolling Stones track meant there was plenty of emotion behind the music and he showed his true musicianship. He sang backing vocals and was the lead guitarist. Former bassist Bill Wyman and current guitarist Ronnie Wood saw Richards as the bandleader of The Rolling Stones. This meant they followed him, rather than following the usual pattern of a drummer setting the pace and acting as a timesetter for a song.
‘After food, air, water and warmth, music is the next necessity of life.’ Keith Richards
Bruce has been known to tear it up in terms of guitar solos over his career, but how on earth does he do it? With the aid of his 1950’s Telecaster which had an Esquire neck and some unlimited talent, he had made himself a household name in terms of being a famous guitarist in the music industry. He played this same guitar for the next 40 years and created perfect songs such as Born to Run, Kitty’s Back, Thunder Road, the Rising and Backstreets.
‘When it comes to luck, you make your own.’ Bruce Springsteen
He was – still is – one half of rock folk band Simon & Garfunkel with Art Garfunkel. He has written many iconic hits and his talent as a folk guitarist can sometimes be overlooked – especially when you have some of the other artists on this list alongside him. In the 1960’s he loved using Guild guitars in the studio and on the road, but in the mid-1970’s Paul began to use a series of black Yamaha LS400 guitars custom made for him by Japanese master luthier Terumi. His signature guitar was the Martin OM-42PS, however he has said in the past that his favorite guitar is his size 3 Gurian which he has often recorded with and featured in his sublime cover of “Surfer Girl” at the 2001 All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson.
For live performance amplification of his guitars, Paul is known to favor the True Tone pick-up system, created by Chris Grener based in Syracuse, New York. This is a multi-sensor pick-up system mounted inside an acoustic guitar, and was used in Paul’s black Yamahas. His OM-42PS guitars, however, have the Fishman Thinline Gold Plus pickups.
‘Improvisation is too good to leave to chance.’ Paul Simon
She came from a musical background, as her father was a broadway star, John Raitt. She found solace in performers such as Howlin’ Wolf and Mississippi Fred McDowell, and her music has always had tones of blues, rock, folk, and country within it.
Raised in Los Angeles in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism. A Stella guitar given to her as a Christmas present launched Bonnie on her creative journey at the age of eight. While growing up, though passionate about music from the start, she never considered that it would play a greater role than as one of her many growing interests. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and released her 21st album Just Like That… which speaks volumes of her gift for music and that of playing the guitar. Her music is a statement to how creativity, freedom, allowing yourself to be daring all come together in that one album. In 1971, her rendition of Walking Blues with her acoustic slide workout made her a force to be reckoned with and proved that women could also be talented guitarists. The skill and spark she had still is there today.
‘I would rather feel things in extreme than not at all.’ Bonnie Raitt
You will know Joe as the lead guitarist of Aerosmith, as well as backing and occasional lead vocalist of the rock band. Hits which made him very well known, such as Walk This Way or Janie’s Got a Gun and Cryin’ were so effortlessly done. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Aerosmith.
Now for any guitar aficionados out there, you will know that the 1959 model of Gibson Les Paul is the holy grail of guitars, and Joe Perry owned one. Just over 600 models were manufactured before Gibson temporarily halted production due to low sales. In 1988, Slash, the British-American musician who is best known as the lead guitarist of the American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses, got a call from his manager saying there is a guitar that he may be interested in. It was owned by Eric Roberts and Joe Perry, and he paid $8,000 for it. He used the guitar in the ‘November Rain’ video during his climactic guitar solo outside of the church.
‘Take life on life’s terms – one day at a time. And have fun while you’re doing it.’ Joe Perry
An english rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, who has been seriously influential in rock music, is why he is included in our list.
He was the lead guitarist of the band Cream, alongside bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Music was where he found meaning and helped him live in the moment. He said that it will always be around, it will survive everything. He thought of music being in the present and that his success was only up to him, nobody else. He wanted to just show up and play. It was that simple, to just pick up a guitar and play a tune. And that he did!
There is so much feeling and little ego in his music, just pure aptitude for playing guitar. Many people have been inspired by his talent, such as Eddie Van Halen, Brian May, Lenny Kravitz and Mark Knopfler.
‘Every time you pick up your guitar to play, play as if it’s the last time.’ Eric Clapton
He played like nobody else, and with The Yardbirds, he rose to prominence. He influenced the development of the heavy metal and jazz-rock genres and made him one of the most respected guitarists in rock music. He had the skill and the personality to boot, which made him even more likable. He is certainly one of the most influential names in rock music as he holds his own, even playing alongside the lead vocalist.
It has been said by other guitarists like Eric Clapton, that he is a devoted, unique and consistent guitar player and one of the best, which has to mean something.
‘I don’t care about the rules. In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times in every song then I’m not doing my job properly.’ Jeff Beck
David has written and produced many a song for Pink Floyd, but his guitar playing skills knows no bounds. His guitar solos have fire and power to them and at the same time melody. He was a pro at improv like the slinky riff to “Have a Cigar” to the Chic-like flourishes on “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2. His use of long echo delays created big, smooth, and liquidy solo tones. He used analog delays like the Binson Echorec throughout the 1970s and one has been seen in his Medina studio from 2013-2017.
His most well known hits include Comfortably Numb, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, The Blue and High Hopes.
‘It’s a magical thing, the guitar. It allows you to be the whole band in one, to play rhythm and melody, sing over the top. And as an instrument for solos, you can bend notes, draw emotional content out of tiny movements, vibratos and tonal things which even a piano can’t do.’ David Gilmour
Is there anything else that really needs to be said after all of those true guitar legends gracing the page? Well I know that I will be going back and listening to those guitar solos as soon as I get a minute. Power, energy, authenticity and gravitas are the words that come to mind when I think of guitarists like this. Remember for all of you guitarists out there and certainly the beginners, in the words of Joe Perry, ‘have fun while you’re doing it.’ Quite right Joe, quite right.
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