One thing is for sure, there never seems to be an end to the “debate” over who is the greatest or in the Top 5, the Top 10, or even the Top 100 when it comes to guitar players. I find the whole thing about “competition” amongst other players to be really tough to take, and actually an impossible thing to rate or truly “measure.”
There’s no question that there clearly are all time greats when it comes to influence, importance, style and technique. The problem is that when you start to compare players it almost always ends up being a battle of technique! Yes, speed is very impressive to people, even to other guitar players too, but does it really make you the best?
I like to think of rating “the best greats as being well-rounded players; players who can jump from style to style without a hitch, but yet who really sound like themselves no matter what style or genre they are adapting to. I think it may also be important to rate within genres, such as “Top 10 Jazz Guitarists”. In other words, it’s kind of unfair to try to rate Jimmy Page in the same competition with someone like Wes Montgomery, who are both worlds apart.
I was very proud to be named in Vintage Guitar Magazine’s “Top 100 Most Influential”, because I can understand that kind of ranking. Influence is an easy thing to measure and rate, especially when I have taught and influenced so many over the years and it’s not a battle of technique, but more about style and new ideas being brought to the world of the guitar.
Another proof is that when and if I finally do create my Guitar Hall of Fame it will be divided into different sections, based on different genres and different eras. So you can enter the “Hall of Country Guitar” and see Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Garland and Merle Travis for example, and then as you meander into the Blues Guitar exhibit, you’ll suddenly see Robert Johnson, Son House, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan and many more. Are they all “Hall of Famers?”….of course, but we’re not going to say who’s better or worse as a player….rather, we simply want to pay tribute to their brilliance and to what they contributed to the guitar and to their particular genre. “Great” is such an ambiguous word, and it is far too broad a term to try to attach to someone, especially when rating them. Personal preference has so much to do with it, and we certainly almost can’t help but pick our “favorites” when deciding who to choose as out top players.
So in the long run, I think we’re better off taking all the great players and seeing who are our favorites, but not try to make it some “all-time” list, like the “Top 100” as ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine! All of the “greats” are great in their own unique ways!