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Legendary Guitarists Who Changed Music History

Introduction to Top Guitarists

The guitar is known as one of the most popular musical instruments worldwide. It is versatile and can adapt to different genres of music, from rock to blues, classical to pop.

The guitar has been used by some of the most famous musicians across the globe and created some of the greatest hits known today. To celebrate this instruments significant role in music history, we have compiled a list of 28 of the most influential and famous guitarists.

Brian May (Queen)

Brian May is a British musician who founded the legendary rock band, Queen, in 1970. He is best known for his unique playing style and his ability to create soulful, powerful melodies with his guitar.

He has written some of Queen’s most famous songs like “We Will Rock You” and “The Show Must Go On.”

May’s music career began with him building his own guitar, which later went on to become a hallmark of his sound. It is named the “Red Special” and was built with the help of his father.

The guitar is distinctive, with a unique design, and is credited with giving May’s sound its signature character.

Aside from music, Brian May also holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics and is involved in animal rights campaigns.

He is also a member of the board of directors of the International Space University.


Brian May is one of the most significant figures in rock music and has been an inspiration to several guitarists globally. His passion for music and his exceptional skills helped to create the iconic sound of Queen.

His accomplishments offstage as an astrophysicist and advocate for animal rights also set him apart and show that musicians can have varied interests. May’s contributions to the music industry are unquestionable, and his influence on guitar playing will continue to inspire musicians for generations to come.

3) Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was a legendary electric guitarist, singer, and songwriter who is widely regarded as one of the most prominent figures in music history. Hendrix was known for his innovative playing style, which was characterized by his use of feedback, distortion, and wah-wah effects.

Hendrix is also known for playing the guitar left-handed, despite being right-handed. This allowed him to play the guitar in a unique way, using his thumb to fret low sixth string and play notes not typically used by other guitarists.

Hendrix’s playing style is often credited with redefining the possibilities of the electric guitar. He revolutionized what could be done on the instrument, overdriving amplifiers, creating novel effects, and exploring new techniques.

Hendrix’s guitar solos were also an essential part of his style, with extended improvisations that were virtuosic and awe-inspiring.

4) Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

Jimmy Page is a world-renowned guitarist, songwriter, and producer. He is best known for cofounding the influential rock band, Led Zeppelin, in 1968.

Page’s guitar playing style is noted for its heavy use of folk and acoustic influences. Page’s guitar work on Led Zeppelin’s hit songs, like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir,” has made him a revered figure in rock music history.

His unique compositions and arrangements of traditional blues numbers, mixed with hard rock and electric riffs, made Led Zeppelin one of the most loved rock bands of all time. Page’s role as a producer was also fundamental to Led Zeppelin’s success.

He produced nearly all of the band’s albums himself, using innovative recording techniques that gave their music a distinctive sound. His work as a producer and arranger transformed Led Zeppelin’s music into a form that was unique to the band but also helped shape rock music in the years to come.

His legacy as one of the most influential and groundbreaking guitarists in rock music continues to inspire generations of guitarists.

5) Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen)

Eddie Van Halen was the co-founder, lead guitarist, and primary songwriter of the popular rock band Van Halen. He is known for his innovative and virtuosic playing style, characterized by aggressive guitar riffs, fast solos, and tapping.

Van Halen popularized tapping on guitar with both hands on the fretboard, creating a new technique that has been emulated by several guitarists globally. Van Halen’s legacy as a guitarist is marked by his use of a wide range of techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, and his signature “two-handed tapping.” His intense guitar solos and creative experimentation with guitar sounds helped cement Van Halen’s place as one of the most influential and recognized rock bands of all time.

His innovative approach to the guitar made him a hero among guitarists and music fans worldwide.

6) Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is widely considered one of the greatest guitarists and musicians in the rock genre. Clapton’s playing style is diverse, ranging from hard rock, blues, to soft rock ballads.

His music is known for its emotional depth, intricate solos, and impeccable timing. Clapton’s use of the classic blues riff was instrumental in the growth of blues guitar playing and inspired a generation of blues guitarists.

Clapton’s signature song, “Layla,” is a rock-and-roll anthem characterized by intricate guitar sounds and one of the most famous guitar riffs in rock music history. It showcases his unique playing style and creativity in combining different genres to create a unique sound.

“Tears in Heaven,” one of Clapton’s most popular ballads, is another example of his musical versatility and songwriting ability. It was written during a period of grief, following the loss of his four-year-old son, and highlighted Clapton’s emotional depth and songwriting talent.

In conclusion, Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen’s innovation, creativity, and influence have been pivotal in shaping rock music history. Their unique playing styles and creative techniques continue to inspire guitarists and music fans worldwide.

Their music legacies and contributions to the music industry will forever be remembered.

7) Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck is a Grammy award-winning guitarist, known for his remarkable playing style, which incorporates blues, jazz, and rock. Beck shares similarities in playing style to other famous guitarists like Clapton and Page.

He initially gained fame as the lead guitarist for the Yardbirds, following Eric Clapton’s departure. Beck’s innovative playing style impressed many, and he found success with pop-rock albums like “Flash,” which became a hit in the UK.

Beck’s music career is marked by his ability to create unique sounds and push the boundaries of what could be done on the guitar. His playing style is noted for its use of feedback, distortion, and bending notes that often emulate the human voice.

Additionally, Beck’s experimentation with different guitar sounds helped create a distinctive style that is still emulated to this day.

8) Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, also known as the ‘Godmother of Rock and Roll,’ is a pioneer of gospel rock and one of the most influential guitarists of her time. Tharpe was known for her electrifying performances, which incorporated blues and jazz sounds into gospel music.

Her soulful sound and powerful voice paved the way for several rock and roll guitarists who followed in her footsteps. Tharpe recorded with Decca Records, one of the few African American women musicians who signed with a major label at the time.

She performed with jazz singers, including cabaret legend Cab Calloway, and was a crossover artist, who brought gospel and rock and roll to wider audiences. Tharpe’s use of electric guitar and incorporation of secular music into her gospel songs were revolutionary, marking her as a pioneer in music history.

In conclusion, Jeff Beck and Sister Rosetta Tharpe were pioneers in their respective genres and left a lasting influence in the music industry. Their innovative playing styles and creative techniques helped to shape rock, blues, and gospel music.

Their legacies continue to inspire musicians and fans alike around the world.

9) David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)

David Gilmour is a renowned songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist for the progressive rock band, Pink Floyd. He joined the band in 1968 and became the primary songwriter after the departure of former band member, Roger Waters.

Gilmour’s unique guitar playing style is noted for its use of effects, slow and melodious solos, and soaring soundscapes. His playing style has become synonymous with Pink Floyd’s sound and has been a significant contributor to the band’s success.

Apart from his work with Pink Floyd, Gilmour has had a successful solo career, with three albums topping the UK charts. His solo efforts showcase his creative guitar work, with songs like “On an Island” highlighting his ability to create atmospheric, melancholic ballads.

Gilmour’s contributions to Pink Floyd and the music industry have earned him respect and admiration from fans worldwide. His creative and innovative guitar work has inspired several guitarists to this day.

10) Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple)

Ritchie Blackmore is a highly energetic guitarist noted for his heavy metal rock sound, which has deemed him one of the leading rock guitarists ever. He is best known for producing the iconic hit song, “Smoke on the Water,” and his work with influential rock band, Deep Purple.

Blackmore’s playing style is known for his aggressive guitar riffs, fast solos, and use of classical and neo-classical influences. Blackmore’s skill with the guitar resulted in seven gold-status albums as part of Deep Purple, including the iconic “Machine Head,” regarded as one of the most influential albums in rock music history.

His rivalry with other guitarists, including Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, inspired him to push the boundaries of his playing style and created a competitive environment that would result in some of his most iconic performances. In conclusion, both Gilmour and Blackmore have left an indelible mark on the music industry and are recognized for their influential guitar work.

Their playing styles were creative and innovative, setting them apart from other guitarists of their time. Their contributions to rock music have made them legends in their own right and inspired generations of guitarists worldwide.

11) Alex Lifeson

Alex Lifeson is a Canadian musician, guitarist, and record producer, best known for his work with the influential rock band, Rush. Lifeson’s guitar playing style is noted for its technical proficiency, incorporating several guitar techniques such as finger picking, tapping, and alternate picking.

He has contributed significantly to the band’s sound, particularly in songs like the famous hit, “Tom Sawyer,” which features one of the most distinctive guitar riffs in rock music history. Lifeson’s guitar work also features prominently in two of Rush’s true rock-and-roll albums, “Clockwork Angels” and “Signals,” both of which are highly regarded by fans and critics alike.

His creative use of effects and experimental approach to the guitar has made him an inspiration to several guitarists. In addition, Lifeson’s contributions to the music industry have earned him numerous awards and accolades, including induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

He has inspired generations of guitarists and remains one of the most influential guitarists in rock music history. 12) Slash (Guns N’ Roses)

Slash is a legendary guitarist and lead guitarist for the rock band, Guns N’ Roses.

He is famously known as the Riff Lord, with his iconic riffs and heavy metal playing style. Slash’s contribution to the band’s success is undeniable.

He played an integral role in producing some of the band’s most famous hits, including “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

Slash’s playing style is noted for his fast and intricate guitar solos, which are emblematic of his hard rock sound. He is also known for his use of the wah-wah pedal, which creates a unique, distorted sound that has become synonymous with his playing style.

Slash’s legacy as a guitarist has earned him several awards, including a lifetime achievement award from Classic Rock magazine. He continues to inspire musicians worldwide and has collaborated with several artists in various musical genres.

In conclusion, Alex Lifeson and Slash have made significant contributions to the music industry, leaving a profound impact on guitar playing. Both guitarists’ technical proficiency and innovation have set them apart from others in their respective genres.

Their iconic guitar riffs and solos have become a defining feature of their playing styles, inspiring generations of rock musicians to come.

13) Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana is a Mexican-American guitarist and performer known for his genre-defying work that fuses classic rock and Latin American jazz. Santana began his musical career in the 1960s and gained widespread recognition after his performance at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969.

Since then, he has released numerous chart-topping albums, including “Abraxas,” “Santana,” and “Supernatural.”

Santana’s playing style is characterized by the distinctive use of percussive rhythms, melodic solos, and Latin-inspired guitar melodies. His innovative approach to the guitar has earned him numerous awards and recognition, including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Santana’s music has transcended borders and cultures, serving as a symbol of unity and diversity, a message embodied in his famous hit single “Oye Como Va.”

Santana’s influence on music has been vast. He inspired a generation of artists to blend different genres and cultures to create a new and unique sound.

His work continues to influence contemporary music, serving as an inspiration for both established and upcoming musicians.

14) Lita Ford

Lita Ford is a female rock star who rose to prominence during the 1970s as a member of the all-female rock band, the Runaways. She is best known for her belting vocals and heavy metal riffs that marked her as a formidable guitar player.

Her playing style served as an inspiration to several female artists who subsequently pursued a career in rock music. Ford’s solo career was equally successful, with hit singles like “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever.” Her guitar playing style was characterized by her aggressive use of power chords and her ability to create potent riffs that were both catchy and heavy.

Ford’s contributions to rock music have earned her respect and recognition from her peers and fans worldwide. She has broken barriers for female artists, paving the way for several who have gone on to enjoy successful careers in music.

Her legacy as a female rock star remains an inspiration for generations to come. In conclusion, Carlos Santana and Lita Ford are influential guitarists whose guitar playing styles have left an impact on rock music history.

Both encapsulate the essence of different genres and cultures in their music, creating a new sound that transcends borders and race. Their legacies continue to inspire musicians worldwide, making them legends in their own right.

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