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greatest guitaristsOver the years I’ve heard many people claim this person or that is the greatest guitarist of all time.  I’ve read several lists claiming to reveal who is the greatest, but those lists didn’t always agree.  The whole idea is subjective and based largely on personal preferences of style of play and of style of music.  Recently, I began researching Robert Johnson, a blues guitarist from the 1930’s, and the question of the greatest guitarist of all time was once again raised.  I decided to look at the question a bit deeper, but instead of compiling my own subjective list, I chose to compile a list based on other lists.  My hope was that a composite list, based on several published lists, would be more objective than any one list.

Compiling a Composite List

Online I found seven lists of the greatest guitarists.  I rejected two for inclusion, leaving me with five to work with.  Six of the seven listed 100 guitarists, but the seventh listed only 11.  I excluded the short one simply because I was unsure how to compare a list of only 11 with other lists of 100.  I rejected a second list because of a generational bias.  This list, from Spin.com, contained only very recent guitarists and none from the 1960’s or 1970’s, or even very few from the 1980’s.  Only a handful of guitarists on this list was found on any of the other lists.  While any list of guitarists is subjective, the obvious generational bias in this list resulted in such blatant subjectivity that I felt it could not be included.  The other lists at least tried to be objective.  The final five lists were from Rolling Stone, Gigwise.com, Gibson.com, Guitar World, and Ranker.com.

The remaining five lists included 177 guitarists.  Many of them were included on only one of the five lists.  It seems improbable to me that one of the truly greats would be listed on only one list.  So, I excluded any that showed up only once, leaving 109 guitarists.  Their ranking below is based on an average of all their rankings.  The numbers after each name are the average ranking, the number of lists, and the range of rankings on those lists.  For example, Robert Johnson, whose guitar skills inspired me to consider this topic, has an average ranking of 27.2, while appearing on all five lists with rankings ranging from 8 to 71, thus he is listed as (27.2, n=5, range=8-71).  Ties were broken by the best ranking in any single list.

The Greatest Guitarists

1.  Jimi Hendrix (1.6, n=5, range=1-4)
2.  Jimmy Page (3.0, n=5, range=2-6)
3.  Eric Clapton (8.6, n=5, range=2-28)
4.  Stevie Ray Vaughan (9.2, n=5, range=4-12)
5.  Eddie Van Halen (9.4, n=5, range=1-26)
6.  Joe Satriani (10.7, n=3, range=5-16)
7.  Jeff Beck (13.6, n=5, range=5-39)
8.  Keith Richards (14.8, n=5, range=3-40)
9.  Duane Allman (15.0, n=5, range=7-29)
10.  Chuck Berry (16.4, n=5, range=5-44)
11.  Les Paul (16.5, n=4, range=12-22)
12.  Steve Vai (16.7, n=3, range=10-24)
13.  Brian May (17.2, n=4, range=2-31)
14.  BB King (17.8, n=5, range=3-55)
15.  David Gilmour (18.0, n=5, range=7-41)
16.  Tony Iommi (18.5, n=4, range=7-25)
17.  George Harrison (19.4, n=5, range=11-30)
18.  Randy Rhoads (20.3, n=3, range=11-36)
19.  Chet Atkins (21.7, n=4, range=8-30)
20.  Carlos Santana (23.7, n=4, range=9-42)
21.  Pete Townshend (24.0, n=5, range=10-65)
22.  Angus Young (26.6, n=5, range=13-50)
23.  Robert Johnson (27.2, n=5, range=8-71)
24.  Buddy Guy (27.3, n=4, range=23-35)
25.  Mike Bloomfield (29.0, n=2, range=16-42)
26.  Kirk Hammett (29.3, n=3, range=5-47)
27.  Django Reinhart (29.3, n=3, range=20-36)
28.  Frank Zappa (29.6, n=4, range=22-39)
29.  John Petrucci (30.0, n=2, range=17-43)
30.  Johnny Ramone (30.0, n=2, range=28-32)
31.  Prince (31.0, n=4, range=14-40)
32.  Zakk Wylde (31.0, n=2, range=18-44)
33.  Scotty Moore (31.0, n=2, range=29-33)
34.  Billy Gibbons (32.0, n=3, range=29-35)
35.  Johnny Marr (32.3, n=3, range=21-51)
36.  Slash (32.6, n=5, range=21-65)
37.  Jonny Greenwood (included with Ed O’Brien on one list) (34.3, n=3, range=27-48)
38.  Ritchie Blackmore (34.6, n=4, range=19-50)
39.  Ry Cooder (36.7, n=4, range=18-66)
40.  Bo Diddley (37.7, n=4, range=27-60)
41.  Dave Mustaine (38.0, n=2, range=12-64)
42.  Yngwie Malmsteen (40.5, n=2, range=38-43)
43.  Jerry Garcia (41.0, n=4, range=13-54)
44.  Kerry King (41.5, n=2, range=14-69)
45.  Ron Asheton (42.0, n=2, range=24-60)
46.  John Lee Hooker (42.0, n=3, range=31-60)
47.  Alex Lifeson (42.3, n=3, range=3-98)
48.  Neil Young (43.0, n=5, range=17-88)
49.  Hubert Sumlin (43.5, n=2, range=43-44)
50.  Freddie King (44.0, n=2, range=15-73)
51.  Andres Segovia (44.7, n=2, range=42-47.5)
52.  Joe Walsh (45.0, n=3, range=29-54)
53.  Tom Morello (45.2, n=4, range=22-62)
54.  Steve Cropper (46.3, n=3, range=15-85)
55.  Steve Howe (47.0, n=2, range=33-61)
56.  The Edge (47.5, n=4, range=23-95)
57.  Roy Buchanan (47.5, n=2, range=30-65)
58.  Eric Johnson (47.5, n=2, range=47-48)
59.  Clarence White (48.0, n=2, range=44-52)
60.  Kurt Cobain (48.5, n=3, range=23-73)
61.  Albert King (49.3, n=3, range=13-94)
62.  Mark Knopfler (50.3, n=3, range=11-96)
63.  Dimebag Darrell (51.0, n=3, range=9-92)
64.  Mick Ronson (52.0, n=4, range=19-99)
65.  Rory Gallagher (52.0, n=4, range=34-73)
66.  James Hetfield (53.0, n=2, range=19-87)
67.  Jack White (53.2, n=5, range=13-95)
68.  John Frusciante (53.7, n=4, range=44-72)
69.  Gary Moore (54.5, n=2, range=30-79)
70.  Warren Haynes (54.5, n=2, range=35-74)
71.  Michael Schenker (54.5, n=2, range=41-68)
72.  Joe Bonamassa (54.5, n=2, range=48-61)
73.  Glenn Tipton (55.5, n=2, range=28-83)
74.  Richard Thompson (56.5, n=2, range=44-69)
75.  Derek Trucks (57.3, n=3, range=16-98)
76.  Mike Campbell (57.7, n=2, range=36.5-79)
77.  Mick Taylor (58.0, n=2, range=37-79)
78.  Muddy Waters (58.0, n=2, range=49-67)
79.  Johnny Winter (58.3, n=3, range=45-67)
80.  Dickey Betts (58.7, n=3, range=31-84)
81.  Lou Reed (59.5, n=2, range=38-81)
82.  John McLaughlin (62.0, n=3, range=55-68)
83.  Al Di Meola (63.0, n=2, range=50-76)
84.  Jerry Cantrell (64.0, n=2, range=37-91)
85.  Buckethead (64.0, n=2, range=38-90)
86.  Marty Friedman (64.5, n=2, range=37-92)
87.  Robin Trower (65.0, n=2, range=40-90)
88.  Peter Green (65.0, n=2, range=58-72)
89.  Robert Fripp (65.6, n=4, range=47.5-82)
90.  Peter Frampton (66.0, n=2, range=46-86)
91.  Lindsey Buckingham (68.3, n=3, range=56-100)
92.  Thurston Moore (included with Lee Ranaldo on one list) (68.5, n=2, range=38-99)
93.  Steve Jones (68.5, n=2, range=40-97)
94.  Wes Montgomery (68.7, n=3, range=18-100)
95.  Albert Collins (71.0, n=2, range=56-86)
96.  Stephen Stills (71.5, n=2, range=47-96)
97.  Ted Nugent (71,5, n=2, range=69-74)
98.  Joe Perry (72.0, n=3, range=57-84)
99.  John Lennon (74.5, n=2, range=55-94)
100.  Steve Morse (76.5, n=2, range=72-81)
101.  Dick Dale (78.5, n=2, range=74-83)
102.  T-Bone Walker (79.0, n=2, range=67-91)
103.  Ace Frehley (81.0, n=2, range=70-92)
104.  Andy Summers (81.0, n=2, range=77-85)
105.  Buddy Holly (81.0, n=2, range=80-82)
106.  Leslie West (83.0, n=2, range=66-100)
107.  George Lynch (83.0, n=2, range=68-98)
108.  Carl Perkins (83.0, n=2, range=78-88)
109.  Robbie Krieger (84.5, n=2, range=76-93)

Summary

Jimi Hendrix at number one is not surprising.  In fact, the top five, or even ten, are not real surprising.  What I find interesting is the wide range of rankings for some of the guitarists on this list.  For example, Eric Clapton comes in third, but his rankings range from 2 to 28.  So, overall, Slow Hand is considered the third best of all time, but on one of the lists he managed only a ranking of 28.  Did I say these types of lists are subjective?  Another example is Albert King, one of my personal favorites.  His rankings go from a high of 13 to a low of 94.  I guess he really was born under a bad sign.

So, there’s the composite list.  Is it perfect?  No, but what subjective list of this type could ever be perfect.  There will always be someone whose favorite was not ranked high enough, or feels that some guitarist is ranked too high.  What I’ve tried to be is objective.  So, enjoy the list.  Maybe take some time to listen to some of the axe men whose work is unfamiliar to you.

If you have comments or memories to share, please leave them below.  Thanks!

Rock On!

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Greatest Guitarists

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