Any “Greatest Ever Guitarists” list is subjective in nature, of course, but occasionally one comes along that makes you scratch your head and wonder just which guitar-history books the list-maker has been reading. Such is the case with Time.com’s recently-published “10 Greatest Electric-Guitar Players”
It’s not so much Time’s selections that are suspect — although, incredibly, the eight guitarists we’ve profiled below did not make the list — but rather it’s the accompanying commentary. To describe British-born Eric Clapton as “King of the Tulsa Sound” is ludicrous (hey, Time.com, ever hear of J.J. Cale? Likewise, to apply the word “staccato” to Chuck Berry’s style — which is rhythmically jumpy, but is also loaded with slurs and is smooth as silk — defies credulity. (Perhaps Time.com was confusing Berry with Devo.)
In any event, we submit that any one of the guitarists below warrants a spot higher than Yngwie Malmsteen or Johnny Ramone, each of whom made Time’s list. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts on other electric guitar greats who should rank in the Top 10.
Few guitarists have proved as versatile and innovative as Jeff Beck. His work with the Yardbirds and with the Jeff Beck Group helped pave the way for heavy metal, while his mid ‘70s masterpiece Blow by Blow remains essential listening for any fan or student of instrumental jazz-rock. A trusty Les Paul has often been Beck’s instrument of choice.
With help from Dickey Betts, Duane Allman set the standard for improvisational six-string interplay. He was also one of the most soulful slide guitarists ever to strap on a guitar. His playing on the Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East — a tour de force that launched southern rock’s ‘70s reign — makes you wonder what heights Allman would have reached had he lived.
Eddie Van Halen
Singer-songwriter Patty Smyth once described Eddie Van Halen as “like a brother from another planet, [who], much like Hendrix, did things no one ever imagined could be done with a guitar”. How true. Technically skilled beyond measure, Van Halen nonetheless has always favored controlled virtuosity, never allowing his immense talents to overwhelm the essence of a great song.
Why does George Harrison always get short shrift as an electric guitarist? Like fellow Beatle Ringo Starr, Harrison was never showy or extravagant; rather, his work on his chosen instrument provided a hand-in-glove fit to whatever a song required. Whether a track demanded stately elegance (“Something”) or raucous clamor (“I’m Down”), Harrison always had the goods.
Time.com hails Yngwie Malmsteen as a “neoclassical” stylist influenced by Bach and Paganini. As technically adept as Malmsteen is, however, Yes’s Steve Howe towers above him in terms of imagination, elegance, and classical-inspired melody. On “Roundabout,” “Siberian Khatru,” and (especially) the epic “Close to the Edge,” Howe showed that progressive rock could possess lustrous beauty.
David Gilmour’s beautiful solos — as illustrated on such tracks as “Time,” “Money,” and “Comfortably Numb” — are so spot-on perfect for Pink Floyd’s songs it’s hard to imagine them being played in any other way. The word “celestial” springs to mind, which is fitting given the dizzying heights to which Gilmour has always elevated Floyd’s best work.
Chuck Berry made Time.com’s list, but what about the guitarist who influenced Berry most? As early as the mid ’30s, T-Bone Walker was dazzling audiences with his precise bends, weepy vibrato, and heretofore unheard sounds — all emanating from vintage variations of the electric guitar. Small wonder that Walker is often credited as the man who invented the guitar solo.
Thundering power chords, feedback-drenched solos, and calypso-on-steroids strumming have long been mainstays of Pete Townshend’s unique repertoire. Were it not for the Who’s Live at Leeds album serving as a formative template, the ‘70s punk scene might have taken on a whole different flavor. On stage, there’s almost an orchestral power to Townshend’s playing.
Other electic-guitar players worthy of any “greatest-ever” list:
Buddy Guy, Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Bo Diddley, Brian May, Robert Fripp, Randy Rhoads, Mick Ronson, Joe Perry, Angus Young