The musical world is filled with millions of guitarists, all finding their claims to fame in different ways. While there are so many, listeners have compiled their own lists and have their own opinions on who are the greatest guitarists in history.
Order: by birth date.
1. António Chainho
Born in 1938, António Chainho is a Portuguese fado guitarist. He has worked with many of the great names in fado music, like Hermínia Silva, Carlos do Carmo and José Afonso, and world music, like Paco de Lucía.
2. Jimi Hendrix
Born in 1942, Jimi Hendrix is regarded as one of the greatest guitarists in history. Even though his music career only spanned four years and was abruptly ended by his death in 1970, he was well-known by millions of people and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music”. Born in Seattle, Washington, Hendrix enrolled in the army at fifteen years old, but was given honorable discharge a year later. After, he moved to Tennessee to expand his career in music. He began playing small gigs and transitioned to larger gigs in front of larger crowds. His career expanded when he moved to England and was discovered by bassist Chas Chandler of the Animals. He achieved fame in the United Kingdom and, when he moved back to the United States, he achieved fame there, as well. At the time, he was the world’s highest-paid performer. His music career was cut short as a result of an accidental death from barbiturate-related asphyxia on September 18, 1970, at the young age of twenty-seven.
3. Jimmy Page
Another well-known guitarist is Jimmy Page, the leader of the rock band Led Zeppelin. Born in 1944, he started his career as a studio session musician ins London and by the mid-1960s, he had become one of the most sought-after guitarists in England. From 1966 to 1968, he was a member of the Yardbirds, and in late 1968, he started Led Zeppelin. At seventy years old, he is considered one of the most influential and guitarists of all time, next to Jimi Hendrix. He has received many awards for his talents and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of the Yardbirds and once as a member of Led Zeppelin.
4. Eric Clapton
Born in 1945, Eric Clapton is an esteemed guitarist and the only musician to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on three separate occasions. On his thirteenth birthday, he received a guitar, but shortly lost interest. Two years later, he started playing again and practiced religiously. At the age of sixteen, he started playing gigs and getting noticed. So far, he has been a soloist, as well as a part of the Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and Cream.
5. David Gilmour
Born in 1946, David Gilmour is most famous for his work in the band Pink Floyd. As a child, his parents encouraged him to pursue his interest in music and the song “Bye Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers piqued his interest in guitar, leading him to start playing. While attending school at the Perse School on Hills Road, Cambridge, he met future Pink Floyd guitarist Syd Barrett and bassist Roger Waters. Pink Floyd has sold over 250 million records worldwide and Gilmour has received a handful of awards for his work.
6. Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gomes
Born in 1947, Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gomes known as Paco de Lucía, was a Spanish virtuoso flamenco guitarist, composer and producer. A leading proponent of the New Flamenco style, he helped legitimize flamenco among the establishment in Spain, and was one of the first flamenco guitarists to have successfully crossed over into other genres of music such as classical and jazz.
7. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Despite a short-lived career of only seven years, Stevie Ray Vaughan is regarded as one of the greatest guitarists in history. Born in 1954, he started playing guitar at the age of seven. He dropped out of high school to pursue music and he played gigs in Austin, Texas. He played in Marc Benno’s band, the Nightcrawlers, and later with Denny Freeman in the Cobras. After, he formed his own group, Triple Threat Revue, before renaming it Double Trouble. He achieved great success as a guitarist before his tragic death in a helicopter crash in August of 1990.
8. Eddie Van Halen
Despite being born in 1955 in the Netherlands, Eddie Van Halen has achieved fame in the United States, as well as other parts of the world. As a child, he had musical parents who taught him and his brother classical piano. Eventually, he and his brother drifted from the piano and he took up the drums while his brother took up the guitar. After hearing his brother perform a solo from the song Wipe Out, he switched instruments. He is best known as the lead guitarist and the founder of hard rock band Van Halen, and he is ranked as one of the world’s greatest guitarists. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at number eight on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists. In a Guitar World magazine reader’s poll, he was voted number one of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” over Brian May of Queen and Alex Lifeson of Rush.
9. Angus Young
Born in Scotland in 1955, Angus Young is most famous for his work with Australian hardrock band, AC/DC. At a young age, he moved to Sydney, Australia with his family and started playing on a banjo, but re-strung it with six strings. Young and his brother formed AC/DC in 1973, and they got the name from the back of a sewing machine. AC/DC have remained together since their formation and have received countless awards for their work.
10. Kirk Lee Hammett
As the lead guitarist in the heavy metal band Metallica, Kirk Lee Hammett is widely known around the world. As a teen, he worked mainly at Burger King in order to save up to buy an amplifier for his guitar. Before joining Metallica in 1983, he formed the band Exodus, which played from 1980 to 1983. At fifty-one years old, he is regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in history. In 2003, he was ranked eleventh on Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. In 2009, he was ranked fifth in Joel McIver’s book, The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists.
11. Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson, better known by his stage name Slash, is a well-known American musician and songwriter. He is best known as the former lead guitarist for the hard rock band Guns N’ Roses, with whom he achieved worldwide success and fame. Born in 1965, Slash shot to fame for his talents on the guitar. His solos in “November Rain” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine” have been ranked highly on lists of great guitar solos and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, along with the other members of Guns N’ Roses. Today, at age forty-eight, he continues on in his musical career.
12. Brian Elwin Haner
Brian Elwin Haner, Jr., born in 1981, is better known by his stage name of Synyster Gates. He is an American musician, best known for being the lead guitarist in the band Avenged Sevenfold. His father, also a musician, helped his son learn the guitar and has ended up doing work for Avenged Sevenfold. He played with Pinkly Smooth for a brief amount of time and currently plays with Avenged Sevenfold, who released an album in 2013.
Over the past few decades, a handful of guitarists have shaped the music world. Without them, the music world would not be what it is today.