Everyone wants to be a guitarist. However, there’s only a handful of mortals who manage to master this highly-revered instrument.
As a homage to this instrument, we’re running down the 20 top guitarists in the world right now (in no particular order).
We will start with the new kids on the block, most of which you might have never heard of.
So here it goes:
Young is one of the world’s brightest guitar stars.
She’s a classically trained musician, learning the piano at the age of 4 and the violin at 7 before she taught herself how to play the guitar.
She fuses modern rock, alternative, classical and folk music to create a unique playing style brimming with harmonic sophistication.
Young alternates between the acoustic guitar and acoustic compositions that are inspired by the wonders of nature, and the electric guitar, which she primarily uses with her math-rock band Covet.
She’s known for her advanced fingerstyle and tapping techniques, as well as her distinctive voice and dynamic songwriting.
Her guitar of choice is a Boden 7 with a floral finish which she designed and painted herself. One thing is for sure: this multi-instrumentalist, writer, singer and artist is definitely going places!
Our next one on the list is:
Jake Kiszka is all about old school, 70’s inspired, Led Zep-style riffs and solos.
If you’re looking for a new band that sounds like Led Zeppelin, you will definitely enjoy listening to Greta Van Fleet, the band of Jake Kiszka.
Armed with a ’61 Gibson Les Paul, this 20-something is generating a hell lot of buzz and putting guitar music back on the map. Greta Van Fleet’s debut EP, Black Smoke Rising, unleashed the show-stopping single Highway Tune.
From The Fires further cemented Greta Van Fleet’s position as a rock ‘n’ roll band that is here for the long haul.
Kiszka’s guitar style draws influence from the rock greats of the 20th century, but also modern groups such as First Aid Kit, Fleet Foxes and The Black Keys.
This rock guitarist manages to deliver a modern blend of rock ‘n’ roll that rock fans around the globe are absolutely loving. The guy’s not a one-trick-pony; he’s a dedicated and passionate musician who’s quickly becoming a modern rock hero.
This platinum blonde guitarist, producer and DJ is making waves with her riot grrrl band Dream Wife.
The London-based band came about when Alice Go, Bella Podpadec and Rakel Mjöll were studying in Brighton and created a fake girl band as part of their performance art project. The group flourished, and their 2018 debut contains feminist anthems that reflect the current social narrative.
Go’s guitar playing is sharp and hits your ears like daggers that unequivocally want to make a mark on the listener.
Influenced by Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, The Spice Girls and The Strokes, Go’s genius lies in her ability to fuse pop’s infectious element and punk’s urgency to formulate a guitar style that’s uniquely hers.
Massaad is a clear example of modern musicians who use the internet to build a professional music career. He was a drummer before making the switch to the guitar when he was 15. This self-taught musician created a Youtube account back in 2011, and the rest, as they say, is history.
He admits that his success did not happen over-night. In an interview with Musicradar, Massaad commented:
“If I had any advice it would be, you know, when you find the thing that you want to stick at – whether it’s reviewing or critiquing music or teaching – consistency and perseverance is what I would probably recommend most. It takes so long for YouTube channels to grow.”
Notable achievements include a UK Rock Chart Number 1 back in 2015 with his band Dorje, and a Bandcamp Global Charts Number 1 with his other group Toska.
Furthermore, he has a significant following on Youtube and has designed a good number of signature model guitars with Chapman Guitars, as well as amps with Victory Amplification.
This Brighton-based guitarist is continuously working to build his brand and to expand not only as a musician but also as a guitar rig influencer.
Tash Sultana is a global success story that’s perfect for an autobiography.
Starting as a humble busker in the streets of Melbourne, this multi-instrumentalist honed their craft and developed a multi-layered, ethereal and reverb-heavy guitar sound. She fuses reggae, ska and pop elements in all her songs.
After a live video went viral, Sultana’s career took off. With her signature tune Jungle in hand, this streetwise artist started selling out venues around the globe gaining legions of fans along the way.
Sultana’s sense of time is nothing short of amazing. She’s got a groove in her soul, and she rarely misses a beat. Furthermore, her device manipulation is commendable.
It’s the product of busking struggles, hard work and sheer determination.
Our next guitar genius is:
This Kansas City-native is widely known for his immense contribution to the jazz genre. He’s continually redefining the definition of jazz by using new technologies that challenge pre-defined concepts and push the envelope of creativity.
Metheny’s versatility on the guitar is unmatched. He draws influence from progressive and contemporary jazz, Latin jazz and jazz fusion.
At a young age, Metheny tried hard to sound like Wes Montgomery. However, at the age of 14 or 15, he realised that he wouldn’t go anywhere without a signature sound. The albums Smokin’ at the Half Note and New York Is Now! were fundamental in Metheny’s quest to find a signature sound.
Over the years, Metheny has performed with influential figures such as Steve Reich, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall, Milton Nascimento and David Bowie.
His diverse portfolio includes compositions for solo guitar, and ballet and orchestral pieces, to name but a few. It’s good to note that Metheny’s influence spans across genres. In fact, he’s the only individual to win Grammys in 10 different categories.
Mayer’s playing is heavily influenced by blues and blues greats such as B.B King and Stevie Ray Vaughn. After a brief stint with the two-person band Lo-Fi Masters, Mayer embarked on a solo career that turned out to be super successful.
By 2005, Mayer decided to move away from the acoustic music that had shaped his earlier albums and delved deeper into the world of blues.
He formed the John Mayer Trio and continued experimenting with his live album Try! and his third studio album Continuum, which earned Mayer a tonne of awards and accolades.
His fifth studio album, Born and Raise, was inspired by 1970s pop music, while his 2013 release, Paradise Valley, incorporates country music elements. The Search for Everything, his 2017 release, is a deeply personal album that positions Mayer as a mature, reflective and versatile artist and guitarist who’s not afraid of change.
Next one on the list is:
Jack White is one of the most prolific guitarists of his generation. His raw guitar sound and preference for vintage, straightforward equipment made him in an exception at a time when guitarists were relying more and more on pedals and processors.
Simply put, White made blues trendy again, and his sound touched music fans and guitarists worldwide.
The scrapper from Detroit became a guitar heavyweight with his catchy riffs, intense playing and blues-inspired anthemic guitar parts.
In an interview with Gibson, he stated, “I always look at playing guitar as an attack. It has to be a fight. Every song, every guitar solo, every note that’s played or written has to be a struggle. It can’t be this wimpy thing where you’re pushed around by the idea, the characters, or the song itself. It’s every player’s job to fight against all of that.”
White’s spirit of rebellion and working-class roots transformed him into a quasi-prophet for the DIY musician who can’t afford fancy equipment.
“The idea behind using the Ward’s Airline in the White Stripes was to prove that you don’t need a brand new guitar to have character, to have tone, and to be able to play what you want to play,” he continues, “You can do it with a piece of plastic, or a piece of wood.”
“Guitarist Tom Morello wears his guitar high up to wring every sound out of it. Falling bombs, police sirens, scratching – he can do them all.” This 1993 press quote embodies what Tom Morello is all about, i.e. transforming the world one riff at a time.
Morello is known for his distinctive playing style and sound. His use of unconventional guitar pedals, unorthodox picking and tapping techniques and clever incorporation of feedback transformed him into a guitar hero with a social cause.
One crucial element that distinguishes his guitar playing is his heavy use of the kill switch to cut the guitar tone.
While different guitars and gear played an essential role in developing Morello’s sound, he repeatedly insists that he prefers to opt for cheap guitars and hardware.
According to him, worrying too much about expensive guitars and gear can ruin your playing and potential as an artist.
Our next guitarist on the list is a guitar rhythm genius…
Frusciante is primarily known for his particular funk/rock guitar style. While his work with Red Hot Chili Peppers is exceptional, his solo work under the alias Trickfinger is a clear example of Frusciante’s unique voice as a musician and songwriter.
His ability to blend funk, rock and contemporary elements makes Frusciante one of the most distinctive guitarists of the 20th century.
Some funk elements include the use of hard, staccato and rhythmic guitar riffs, percussive 16th-note muting and extended dominant chords. His post-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar style has evolved to include more contemporary guitar elements such as major and minor chords.
However, Frusciante remains true to his rhythmic and groovy roots. He borrows from Jimi Hendrix by putting his thumb over the fretboard and prefers writing expressive solos over technical ones devoid of genuine emotion.
Moreover, his undying love for vintage guitars enabled him to create a sound that’s inspired by the past and informed by the future.
If we’re talking about virtuosos, we definitely need to talk about John Petrucci, the Dream Theater guy who’s technically so good that he prefers to play 7-string guitars (yes, you heard that one right!).
Petrucci is best known as Dream Theater’s guitarist and founding member. He’s also an accomplished producer, producing all of the band’s albums from Metropolis Pt.2: Scenes from a Memory (1999) to the 2019 release Distance Over Time.
It’s safe to say that he’s an undisputed talent and guitar god in the guitar world. Petrucci’s highly respected for his ability to play a variety of guitar styles without flinching.
Primarily known for his high-speed alternate picking, his emotive soloing style complements his technique-heavy moments.
In addition to his illustrious touring and recording career, this New Yorker is also a respected guitar teacher and has tonnes of instructional videos and articles about the art of guitar playing.
Orianthi is an Australian musician who’s primarily known for her session work with big names such as Michael Jackson and Alice Cooper.
This Australian guitarist started playing the guitar at the tender age of 6. After seeing Carlos Santana in concert, she decided to dedicate her life to this instrument (mind you, she was just 11!). By the time she was 18, she had already opened for Steve Vai and shared the stage with Carlos Santana.
Orianthi’s passion and dedication for the guitar, as well as her thrilling solos and constant commitment to challenging herself as a musician, is a clear example of professionalism and determination to achieve your dreams no matter what.
St Vincent (Annie Clark) is an enigmatic artist and alt-rock goddess.
Her talent lies in her ability to use different sounds, textures and tones cleverly and innovatively, creating tunes that dare to be different.
Clark’s fascination with the guitar started when she was a kid. She first encountered the instrument in the movie La Bamba, and soon after, she started drawing it repeatedly.
When she was 12 years old, she picked up the actual instrument In her teens, she toured heavily, performing with the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, amongst many others.
“In some ways I feel very reverent about guitar. I love it so much,” Clark said in an interview with NPR back in 2014. “But I also don’t care about it being a guitar or sounding like a guitar.”
Annie Clark stands out from the crowd by refusing to play the obvious, and by seeing the effect pedals as a true extension of her songwriting capabilities. Her genre-bending guitar playing style moulded her into a true icon that continues to dazzle us with each new release.
Here’s another guitar god:
Beck differs from his contemporaries by being “the super-guitarist to end all super-guitarists.” He’s continually trying to find new ways to push the boundaries of his guitar playing.
He is not interested in being Jack of all trades and master of none.
Known for his work with The Yardbirds, The Jeff Beck Group and Beck, Bogert & Appice, the guy’s not afraid of experimentation. His releases are mostly instrumental and they span across a myriad of genres. His ultimate goal? To showcase the different facets of the guitar.
Some key examples: Beck introduced the western world to World and Indian music. He experimented with electronic distortion. Additionally, his 1968 album Truth was critical in developing the whole genre of heavy metal.
In summarising Beck’s repertoire, Stephen Thomas Erlewine accurately stated that he’s:
“as innovative as Jimmy Page, as tasteful as Eric Clapton, and nearly as visionary as Jimi Hendrix”.
May has recently experienced a surge in popularity, thanks to the 2018 movie Bohemian Rhapsody. However, May (or should we say Dr May) is largely regarded as one of the most nimble-fingered guitarists that have ever graced this earth.
His virtuosic capabilities, catchy riffs, memorable solos and inimitable guitar tone are unique.
May’s not afraid of testing out and incorporating a wide variety of styles and techniques, including sweep picking, tapping, Hendrix-style licks, melodic sequences and fingerpicking. Furthermore, his talent as an arranger helped to propel the guitar to the level of a quasi-orchestral instrument.
His main guitar is as iconic as the man himself. The Red Special is a guitar he had built with his father when he was just 16.
In addition to using this DIY guitar, he also prefers to opt for coins instead of picks. All of these quirks were instrumental in creating the signature Brian May sound we now know and love.
Here’s another female guitarist that you should know of:
At age 16, Lita Ford’s life changed forever when she joined the all-female rock band The Runaways.
Her guitar playing took centre stage, and she showed everyone that a girl could shred. After the band broke up, Ford embarked on the ambitious task of establishing herself as a bona fide solo artist.
Unquestionably, Ford is a pioneering female guitar heroine. Throughout her career, she constantly challenged herself to develop a signature style based on hard and fast rock, heavy metal and intricate solos.
Most importantly, she opened the gateway to female musicians who felt like they didn’t belong in the male-dominated music industry.
This British guitarist is known for being one of the founding members of Deep Purple, Rainbow and Blackmore’s Night.
Young Blackmore had one mission only: he wanted to be the fastest guitarist and the guitarist with the most earth-shattering sound in the world. And after hours upon hours of practising, he managed to achieve this mammoth goal.
Blackmore’s famous for introducing classical music elements in hard rock music. Additionally, he’s widely regarded as the founding father of the Neo-Classical guitar movement.
It’s safe to say that by drawing influences from Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and medievel music, Blackmore managed to formulate an instantly recognisable sound. It’s safe to say that Ritchie sounds like Ritchie, and no one else.
Our next one is the master of long solos, slow bending and vibrato:
Gilmour’s soulful and heart-wrenching guitar parts have captivated the hearts and minds of millions. His guitar work with Pink Floyd was an integral part of the band’s sound. His guitar sound seemed to have a personality of its own in all recordings and live performances.
As a young musician, Gilmour was influenced by Pete Seegar, Lead Belly, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell. However, he managed to blend all of these influences to create a truly distinctive sound characterised by simple, huge-sounding riffs and rich, ambient chordal textures.
Furthermore, he employed techniques such as blues-based vibrato and expressive to create his larger-than-life sound.
In addition to being a guitar master, Gilmour is also a multi-instrumentalist and plays the bass, keyboards, banjo, mandolin, drums and saxophone.
This cool Brit is one of the founding fathers of modern rock music. He transformed the whole rock game and is revered for his memorable riffs, otherworldly solos, fingerpicking compositions and inventive use of alternative tunings.
As a guitarist, record producer and songwriter, he was critical in developing Led Zeppelin’s sound and thrusting their rise to stardom.
Page’s primarily known for his intimate relationship with Gibson’s Les Paul models and with Marshall amplifiers. His solos in classics such as “Stairway to Heaven” and “Heartbreaker” are a testament to his innovative guitar playing, compositional versatility and far-reaching legacy.
Jimmy Page has been cited as the primary influence of guitarists such as Joe Satriani, Kirk Hammett, Richie Sambora, Slash, Angus Young, Paul Stanley, Steve Vai and Joe Frusciante. Moreover, his mastery is recognised by other guitar gods such as Queen’s Brian May, who in an interview stated:
“I don’t think anyone has epitomised riff writing better than Jimmy Page – he’s one of the great brains of rock music.”
Last but not least, we’ve got one of Manchester’s favourite sons – the indie rock legend Johnny Marr. Marr’s jangle pop guitar sound was vital to The Smith’s success, and his songwriting skills spawned some of the group’s best-loved songs.
After the band broke up, he became a prolific session musician, working with artists such as Talking Heads and Hans Zimmer. Additionally, Marr continued to push the boundaries of creativity by joining iconic bands such as The Pretenders, Modest Mouse and The The.
This Mancunian is known for avoiding rock guitar cliches and incorporating pop elements in his guitar work. Alternatively, he relies on arpeggiated parts to create a chiming guitar sound that’s immediately recognisable. His singular approach led Phil Alexander, editor-in-chief of Mojo to refer to Marr as:
“arguably Britain’s last great guitar stylist”.