And, so it begins. You voted and so did we, and at the end of a month-long process, we’re ready to start revealing Gibson.com’s Top 50 Guitarists of All Time. See if your favorites made the list and please join the debate in the comments section below.
Check back each day this week, as we reveal 10 more of the greatest axe slingers in music history, with the Top 10 arriving on Friday morning.
49. (tie) Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow)
One of rock’s great riff-masters, Blackmore has always danced to a different muse. Pulling largely from medieval and classical influences while his competitors drew almost exclusively from blues, Blackmore created a musical vocabulary that influenced generations of shredders. In 1968, he co-founded one of the great hard-rock bands, Deep Purple. When he grew displeased with Purple’s post-Ian Gillan direction, he started his own supergroup, Rainbow. Cycling through members at a dizzying pace, Rainbow still managed to record some of the great albums of the period, most notably Rainbow Rising. In recent years, Blackmore has settled into a second career as the Minstrel in Black in Blackmore’s Night. – Michael Wright
49. (tie) Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
The Nirvana frontman recoiled against technical proficiency but there’s a good reason why people are still trying to emulate the dirty, pummeling riffs of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” nearly two decades after Cobain first played them. Even though he was a left-handed guitarist who, even after success came fast and hard, adamantly stuck with the junk shop models that would barely stay in tune when he played, Cobain had a totally unique ability to harness power. “I'm the first to admit that I’m no virtuoso,” he once said. “I can’t play like Segovia. The flip side of that is that Segovia could probably never have played like me.” – Aidin Vaziri
47. (tie) Robert Fripp (King Crimson)
With a Gibson Les Paul “Black Beauty” under his arm, this Dorset, England, native burned his name into the history of art rock as the leader of King Crimson in 1969 and then pioneered ambient music with Brian Eno. At age 64 he continues to lead the prog pack with his “New Standard Tuning,” textural mastery and exploration of effects, as well as a super-ergonomic approach to the fingerboard that gives him hair-raising speed and dynamic control. Fripp is an unmitigated monster. – Ted Drozdowski
47. (tie) Andrés Segovia
Andrés Segovia, El Maestro, the self-taught peerless master of the Spanish classical guitar, singlehandedly made the guitar respectable. Pre-Segovia it was a seedy bar instrument. Post-Segovia it’s a revered staple of the concert hall circuit. The Spaniard arrived in America for the first time in 1928 and audiences were amazed at his interpretation, his virtuosity and musicianship. – Andrew Vaughan
42. (tie) Hubert Sumlin (Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters)
One of the most revered Les Paul wranglers in electric blues, this shy 78-year-old invented some of the genre’s greatest riffs under the wing of his mentor Howlin’ Wolf. “Killing Floor,” “Spoonful,” “Smokestack Lightnin’,” and other classics put the whammy on Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and other blues-rock giants thanks to Sumlin’s voodoo-rific vocabulary of abrupt bends, zippy slides and oddball finger vibrato. And he still tours! – Ted Drozdowski
42. (tie) Clarence White (The Kentucky Colonels, The Byrds)
A flatpicking and electric giant in equal parts, Clarence White died tragically young, hit by a drunk driver in 1973. Like Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Robert Johnson, Eddie Lang, Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix, White died long before his full impact on the guitar could ever be measured. Starting out in bluegrass, there’s not a flatpicker who doesn’t cite him as a major influence. As a country-rock electric pioneer with The Byrds and others, he wrote the book – and, of course, gave us the B Bender, giving the six-string guitar a pedal steel sound. – Andrew Vaughan
42. (tie) Rory Gallagher (Taste, solo)
The late Irish guitarist may not be a household name, but his incredible ability to master the American blues put him in the company of all the greats, from Muddy Waters and Jerry Lee Lewis to Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Through his band Taste and his rich body of solo work, Gallagher set himself apart as one of the most dynamic blues-rock players in the ’70s and early ’80s. “Basically, I try to treat the electric guitar like an acoustic guitar,” he said. “What you have to do is attack the instrument and know that your feelings aren’t controlled by the controls of your guitar.” – Aidin Vaziri
42. (tie) John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
He was just 18 when he was drafted to replace his personal idol Hillel Slovak, who died of a drug overdose, in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But Frusciante didn’t come onboard just to recreate the stuttering punk-funk riffs of the past. He brought melody and depth to the band’s defining multi-platinum releases, 1989’s Mother’s Milk and 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. And each time he circled back to the group between his various solo flights, the results were always inspirational. As singer Anthony Kiedis once said, “John is always deeply disciplined and committed to living and breathing his music at all hours of the day and night. That’s pretty infectious.” – Aidin Vaziri
42. (tie) Richard Thompson
The British folk legend has been lauded critically and received numerous industry awards but remains a commercial mystery. One of the great guitar stylists, Thompson easily sits at the English head table alongside Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Where those players took blues as their point of departure, Thompson opted to work within and expand the folk music realm. Throw in the added bonus that he’s also a gifted and much-recorded songwriter (Bonnie Raitt, R.E.M., Dave Gilmour and Elvis Costello are all satisfied customers), his career longevity, and steadfast refusal to sell-out, and Thompson can breathe the rarified air of writer/guitarists like Neil Young and Prince. ¬– Andrew Vaughan
41. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
Sure, Pink Floyd began as a psychedelic rock band, but there are few riffers with a purer approach to blues than Gilmour, whose stunning Gold Top essay in “Comfortably Numb” is one of the greatest solos of the modern era. But when put in the context of his 42 years with Floyd, plus excursions with Kate Bush, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and others, it’s just a brief flight in an epic, lifelong guitar odyssey of unlimited imagination, depth and scope. – Ted Drozdowski
Votes for the Top 50 Guitarists of All Time were included from Michael Wright, Bryan Wawzenek, Andrew Vaughan, Sean Dooley, Arlen Roth, Aidin Vaziri, Russell Hall, Ted Drozdowski, Paolo Bassotti, Dave Hunter, Jeff Cease (Black Crowes), James Williamson (Iggy & The Stooges), Steve Mazur (Our Lady Peace), Martin Belmont (Graham Parker & The Rumour) and the Gibson.com Readers Poll.