Over the years (and there have been many) I have found myself returning and listening to many of the same rock guitarists and saying “wow.” This is a list of those players. I have narrowed it down for now by sticking to rock guitarists as opposed to traditional blues, jazz, classical, etc. (No need to get carried away.) They also represent my main influences as a guitar player. There are so many more that I could include, so it was tough to decide and I had to limit it to my all-time favorites. I’m not pretending to be “Rolling Stone Magazine” and proclaim these to be the world’s greatest guitarists, though many of them are considered so by the “experts”. In that spirit I hope you enjoy the list and that you will leave a comment listing who some of your favorites are.
In no order whatsoever:
Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin supercharged the blues by making it bigger and louder than it had ever been before. But they didn’t stop there; they injected the blues with rock, country and folk styles and wrapped it all up in lyrical, medieval themes and imagery. Jimmy Page’s sound could be heavy, mellow, melodic, mysterious and raw all at the same time – and often all within the same song.
Standout Tracks: Good Times Bad Times, Black Mountainside, Kashmir, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, The Ocean, Over the Hills and Far Away, Rock and Roll, Black Dog, Stairway to Heaven, Nobody’s Fault, In the Evening…
Steve Howe is most noted for his work with Yes but he has done a wide range of performing and recording as a solo artist and with other bands. His sound incorporates and masterfully blends all of his influences which include jazz, rock, classical and finger-style blues. Combined with Jon Anderson’s alien inspired vocals, Chris Squires growling bass, and a host of other all-star players, you will always get your ears worth on a Yes record.
Standout Tracks: Roundabout, Mood For A Day, I’ve Seen All Good People, The Clap, Starship Trooper, Siberian Khatru, South Side of the Sky, And You And I, Going For the One, Yours Is No Disgrace…
Alex Lifeson has spent nearly his entire career with Rush; and that’s saying something because the Toronto trio has remained together for over 35 years. He was mainly influenced by the early British rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Cream, and the Who but also by progressive rockers like Steve Hackett of Genesis. His sound is a mix of classically influenced heavy metal and often has an eerie science fiction quality to it. His guitar parts incorporate, overdriven power chords, sleek riffs, melodic solos, volume swells, touches of wha and whammy bar and crystal clean arpeggios, making him one of the most dynamic rock guitarists around. Like Steve Howe, he explored classical guitar and often uses it in intros, ballads. instrumental passages, and solo instrumentals. Many people who hear the band for the first time will say “I can’t believe that’s just three guys.” Alex’s unmatched dynamics are one big reason for that.
Standout Tracks: Working Man, 2112, Beneath Between and Behind, Closer to the Heart, Xanadu, A Farewell to Kings, The Trees, La Villa Strangiato, Freewill, YYZ, Tom Saywer, The Spirit of Radio, Hope…
The Edge (David Evans)
Storming out of Ireland at the height of “the troubles”, the Edge and U2 were a huge influence on the sound of new wave guitarists throughout the 1980’s and to the present day. His masterful use of electronic effects such as delay and chorus turned his chiming partial chords into shimmering works of art. Listen to “Gloria” from their second album “October” to get a taste of that sound – especially the slide guitar solo. He was, and still is, always looking for new sonic textures to add to his expansive sound palette. He believes that the sounds he uses are just as important to the song as the notes he chooses. While many players have one or two sounds and they stick with those for their entire career, the Edge has a limitless palette of sounds and textures that he uses as a painter does colors and brushstrokes.
Standout Tracks: I Will Follow, Gloria, Twilight, Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Years Day Like A Song, Two Hearts Beat as One, Pride (In the Name of Love), Bad, Where the Streets Have No Name, Vertigo
Brian May has the purest tone I think I have ever heard. I once read that he built his own guitar out of wood used from his parent’s fireplace mantle. (Not sure if this is true or not). As I have said in another post, whatever he used was pure alchemy. His guitar work with Queen had every bit as much to do with their success as did the work of lead singer Freddie Mercury. When you heard a Queen song on the radio, you knew who it was instantly, or if you didn’t right away, you knew by the time the guitar solo came around.
Standout Tracks: Killer Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, Your My Best Friend, We Will Rock You, Get Down Make Love, Tie Your Mother Down, Fat Bottom Girls, Stone Cold Crazy, Fight From the Inside
When you listen to something like “Voodoo Chile” it’s hard to tell if Jimi is playing the guitar or if the guitar is playing Jimi. His phrasing is so seamless it could be happening either way. Like many of his time, he started with the blues then took it somewhere else entirely. There’s not much to say about him that hasn’t already been said. It’s too bad he is not still with us.
Standout Tracks: Voodoo Chile, Little Wing, Purple Haze, Red House, Manic Depression, Star Spangled Banner, Hey Joe, Castles Made of Sand, Bold as Love, Angel…
Along with the Edge, Andy Summers brought a refreshing approach to minimalism to rock guitar. He put huge spaces in his sound where most guitarist would have filled it right up. By opening up his sound like this right in the middle of the punk/new wave craze he managed to catch more than a few ears. It was like he was saying “Hey look at me, look at what I’m NOT playing!” The Police records were the first rock band to successfully mix punk with reggae, and Andy’s rhythm chops, punchy power chords, and clean Telecaster tones were the main reason they pulled it off. Before the Police, Andy Summers played for a while in the 60’s with the Animals and in a Progressive Rock Band called Soft Machine. He has put out numerous solo albums to, of which his first, “I Advance Masked” (with Robert Fripp) is a personal favorite.
Standout Tracks: Roxanne, Driven to Tears, So Lonely, Message in a Bottle, Synchronicity II, Every Breath You Take, Spirits In the Material World, Invisible Sun
Eddie Van Halen
Van Halen is famous for his solo guitar playing and his flashy tapping technique but what always impressed me the most (or at least in addition to his lead playing) was his rock solid and creative rhythm playing. He could take the simplest chord progression and make is sound way more interesting than it would be in any other players hands. When Van Halen came on to the scene in 1978 and released their first album guitar players were in awe of the speed and agility of Eddie Van Halen. His acrobatic guitar turned out to be the perfect match for David Lee Roth’s distinctive vocals and they had many years of top selling albums even after Roth departed and Sammy Hagar took over. Eddie’s style is rooted in the blues and he puts the pentatonic and blues scales to good use. He also has a knack for using harmonics on the guitar to make his solos sparkle and chime at just the right times; and they have even more impact when he uses his trademark Floyd Rose whammy bar to warp them into oblivion.
Standout Tracks: Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love, Eruption, Hot For Teacher, I’m the One, You Really Got Me, Ice Cream Man, Cathedral, Panama, Where Have All the Good Times Gone, Spanish Fly…
Steve Hackett was with Genesis from 1970-1977 when he left to pursue a solo career. His playing in Genesis was often overshadowed by the amazing keyboard work of Tony Banks. Hackett’s guitar blended in so well that it was easy to mistake his part for a keyboard part at times, especially when he was playing a 12 string electric. Once you zeroed in on his playing however you were bound to be hooked. His technique was flawless and it had to be because Genesis were famous for their complex arrangements and difficult passages. Like Alex Lifeson and Steve Howe (Lifeson cites Hackett as one of his influences) Steve is a great classical guitar player too and worked in classical parts whenever he could. Two examples are the solo instrumental piece called “Horizons” and a song called “Blood on the Rooftops.” Hackett was using the tapping technique ( Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, 1973) long before Van Halen, but he was not it’s inventor. (Nobody really knows who invented it).
Standout Tracks: Horizons, Dancing With the Moonlit Knight, Firth of Fifth, Supper’s Ready, I Know What I Like, Your Own Special Way, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, The Cage…
More to Come…
I would call this a work in progress, because I still plan to include more.
Mike Rutherford, Genesis
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Keith Richards, Rolling Stones
Mick Ronson, (David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars)
George Harrison, The Beatles
Pete Townsend, The Who
Michael Shencker, UFO
Eric Clapton, Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, Solo
David Gilmour, Pink Floyd
Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits
Rick Nielson, Cheap Trick
Gary Richrath, R.E.O Speedwagon
Roger Fischer, Heart
Mick Jones, Foriegner
Kurt Cobain, Nirvana
Mike Campbell, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
I better stop there ……
Leave a comment and let me know who some of your favorite guitarists are!