90 Famous Guitar Players + 10 Extremely Influential Guitarists Who Were Not Technically Great

You don’t have to be a virtuoso guitarist to touch people’s hearts with your music! Guitar teacher Samuel B. shares a few of his favorite great-but-not-that-great famous guitar players…

Towards the end of Johnny Cash’s autobiography, you’ll find the following paragraph:

As to my musical future, my prospects look good. I can whack on a guitar as incompetently as I could a year ago, probably more so. I can sing just as well, or as badly, as I ever could. And I’ve got more songs trying to go through me than ever; I’ve written three in the last three weeks.

Despite his technical limitations, Johnny Cash remains an iconic musician, and likely will for decades to come. It is a mistake, I think, to automatically link great music with technical perfection.

Vaughan, Hendrix, and Clapton aside, the majority of my guitar heroes were not superb musicians. Their influence is based on innovation and expression to a much greater extent than it is on fluid musicianship.

In this post, we’ll tell you all about some of the world’s most famous guitar players – as well as 10 who were recognized for their greatness but weren’t actually all that great at the guitar!

Who is the Most Famous Guitar Player?

famous guitar players

Among the many famous guitar players out there, some of the most notable names include:

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Eric Clapton
  • Jimmy Page
  • Eddie Van Halen
  • Keith Richards
  • Chuck Berry
  • David Gilmore
  • BB King
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Brian May
  • Slash
  • Carlos Santana

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but it should give you a good idea of ​​some of the top names if you’re looking for inspiration! And remember, before you can become one of the greats, you’ve got to put in the time to practice. Here’s a quick video explaining the basics of guitar chords for beginners:

9 More Famous Guitar Players…Who Weren’t Actually the Best at Playing Guitar

famous guitar players

Say what you want, but being a famous guitarist isn’t always about technical skill and the ability to lay out some serious riffs.

In fact, in many cases, becoming a famous guitar player has to do with so much more, including your ability as a lyricist or singer, your stage presence and persona, and much, much more. Take comfort in that fact if you know you want to become one the world’s most famous guitar players – but aren’t sure you have the technical chops on the guitar to measure up.

Cash is just one example. Here are nine others:

1. Bob Dylan

Guitar-wise, the best I’ve heard of Dylan are the tracks on his first album for Columbia: Bob Dylan (1962). With two exceptions, its 14 tracks are traditional songs or material by other artists which Dylan adapted to a fast-paced “high and lonesome” style involving intense strumming and (in some cases) intricate fingerpicking.

Despite these energetic musical highlights, none of his other albums boast remarkable guitar moments. While Dylan has proven himself an exceptional and highly influential lyricist, his musicianship is considered average at best.

2. Tom Petty

Just listen to the opening chords of “Free Fallin’.” They are about as simple as they come. The song itself has no chorus or bridge.

Very few figures in rock create anthems as memorable as Petty’s. They’re not based on intricacy – just gut and tone. Petty’s music is raw and exuberant. Any listener can relate to it.

3. Richie Havens

A former doo-wop and gospel singer, Havens maintained a career of playing an alternate tuning with his thumb over the neck. The sound of his strumming and his voice was unmistakable – a powerful yet warm and soothing balm.

At times, he described his guitar as more of a tool than an instrument. Havens’ contribution to music history was not based so much on musical excellence as it was on his ability to use his artistic gifts and his grandfatherly wisdom to inspire the best in others.

4. BB King

Footage from the 1988 documentary Rattle and Hum includes a collaboration between U2 and King. During the rehearsal, King twice indicates how poorly he plays chords.

King’s calling card was his vibrato which (like Havens’ thumb chords) was his alone. Who can forget his childlike face after telling Lucille to talk to him and closing his eyes?

5. Kurt Cobain

Even on Nirvana’s intimate MTV unplugged album, no guitar highlights are apparent. In most respects, Cobain was an innovative songwriter and bandleader.

He should be credited as having been one of the key players that brought alternative music to the mainstream. Few bands had a sound as full-bodied and expressive as Nirvana’s.

6. Joni Mitchell

Mitchell’s diverse use of open tunings is not well-known. She’s used more of them than any recognizable guitarist I can think of. The sound of her lower strings has been compared to that of a snare drum. The sound of her higher ones to that of a cool jazz horn section.

She’s even taken to having her electric “VG-8” guitar tuned offstage as each song on her set list is in a different tuning. Still, she is not a technically brilliant guitarist.

7. Dave “The Edge” Evans

I once saw Evans provide a televised tour of his onstage lineup of pedals and related electronic tools during U2’s Zoo TV tour in the early 90s. Among the guitarists who’ve honed a recognizable niche in alternative music, he’s a chief innovator.

The haunting opening lines of “With Or Without You” should be considered a revolutionary piece of musical history in of itself – a single sustained note over multiple measure of the bass line (not an easy feat actually). The strumming later in the song comes close to imitating the sound of a train.

As with Cobain, credit is due as praise for the sound itself – not for how fast and flashy he has played it.

8. Amy Ray and 9. Emily Saliers

When it comes to attitude and energy (not to mention lyrical brilliance and enough stage presence to convert an entire arena of avid concertgoers into instant fans), nobody compares to Amy and Emily (The Indigo Girls). They’ve penned what I consider to be some of the most memorable songs of the last two (nearly three) decades (ie “Closer To Fine”, “Joking”, “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”, “Least Complicated”) .

As is true with many of the others mentioned, unforgettable guitar licks are few (if any) on their albums and in their live shows. They’ve given us a beautiful tapestry of poetry and emotion that’s easy for most of us to appreciate and understand.

The 100 Most Famous Guitar Players Ever

famous guitar players

Now that you know some of the most guitarists (who weren’t technically all that great), you might be wondering whether you’ve got what it takes to join the ranks of the most famous guitar players yourself.

Here’s the ultimate list of famous guitar players so you can decide whether your guitar playing style matches up with any of the greats!

Famous Bass Guitar Players

If you play the bass guitar, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be counted among the greats. Here are some of the most famous bass guitar players in the world:

  • Paul McCartney
  • James Jamerson
  • Larry Graham
  • Stanley Clark
  • Charles Mingus
  • Ron Carter
  • Ray Brown
  • Carol Kaye
  • Edgar Meyer
  • Matt Garrison
  • Dave Holland
  • Flea
  • Paul Jackson
  • Chris Squire
  • Jaco Pastorius

Most Famous Electric Guitar Players

These famous guitar players really know how to rock! Here’s a list of the most famous electric guitar players who’ve made their mark over the years.

  • BB King
  • Eddie Van Halen
  • Les Paul
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Keith Richards
  • Eric Clapton
  • Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Jimmy Page
  • Jennifer Batten
  • Charlie Christian
  • Mike Campbell
  • Prince
  • Johnny Ramone
  • Chuck Berry
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan

Famous Steel Guitar Players

The steel guitar is another instrument that, like the bass guitar, is often ignored when it comes to reciting the legends. Here are some famous steel guitar players:

  • Jerry Byrd
  • Alvino Rey
  • Noel Boggs
  • Gene Fields
  • Jim Vest
  • Don Helms
  • Bob Dunn
  • Bob Wills
  • Walter Haynes
  • Barbara Mitchell
  • Sonny Garish
  • Rusty Young
  • Kayton Roberts

Famous Les Paul Guitar Players

You’ll notice that Les Paul himself is listed on the above list of the best guitar players. However, he’s even better known for his creation of the guitar that made many other rockers incredibly rich – the Les Paul guitar!

Here are some famous Les Paul guitar players to know about:

  • Slash
  • Jimmy Page
  • Billy Gibbons
  • Bob Marley
  • Randy Rhoads
  • Zakk Wylde
  • Ace Frehley
  • Neal Schon
  • Steve Clark

Famous Yamaha Guitar Players

While we’re on the subject of brands, let’s talk a little bit about these Yamaha guitarists. Yamahas tend to have a pretty solid fan base, offering a diverse array of guitars. Here are some top Yamaha guitarists:

  • Country Joe McDonald
  • Santana
  • John Lennon
  • John Denver
  • James Tyler
  • Bob Dylan
  • Paul Simon
  • Liz Hair
  • Kerry Livgren
  • Mick Jones
  • Al McKay
  • Andy Taylor
  • Brian Robertson

Best Female Guitar Players

These ladies really know how to rock! The best female guitarists include:

  • Carrie Brownstein
  • Corin Tucker
  • Felicia Collins
  • Vicki Peterson
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Melissa Etheridge
  • Joan Jett
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Nancy Wilson
  • Memphis Minnie

Famous African American Guitar Players

These famous black guitar players are some of the best in the world.

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • BB King
  • Chuck Berry
  • Robert Johnson
  • Tracy Chapman
  • Elizabeth Cotten
  • Charlie Christian
  • Albert King
  • Bo Diddley
  • Buddy Guy
  • Muddy Waters
  • Albert Collins
  • Wes Montgomery
  • Elmore James
  • Nile Rodgers

Who Are the Most Underrated Guitarists?

famous guitar players

There are plenty of famous guitar players who are recognized for the influence they’ve had on the world of music – yet there are even more who are totally underrated. These guitar players are some of the best, yet haven’t deserved nearly enough of the credit they deserve.

Some uncelebrated legends include Frank Zappa, Tommy Emmanuel, Billy Corgan, Alex Skolnick, Lindsey Buckingham, and Eddie Hazel.

And despite all the bashing he gets, we have to admit, Justin Bieber is a pretty great guitarist, too! No judgment, right?

As you can see, the list of famous guitar players goes on and on. There are plenty of talented musicians from whom you can draw inspiration as you broaden your horizons and practice your skills. Rock on!

What did you think of this list? Are there any famous guitar players you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments below!

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!

Photo by Mathias Miranda

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Megan L.

Megan L. is a writer and musician living in San Diego. She loves supporting independent artists and learning more about music every day. Megan has been working for TakeLessons since November 2011. Google+

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