The greatest guitar players of all time are few and far between. Very few guitarists have left an eternal legacy in the music industry. These are the Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, and a few more of the world. The selected few that have shaped this industry.
However, picking the greatest guitar players who have impressed everyone is even harder. People listen to so much music during their lives that picking just a couple of guitarists is very difficult. Regardless, that is a task and a challenge that I’m willing to take.
This is a list of the greatest guitar players that have impressed everyone over the years. This isn’t about accolades or achievements. It isn’t about record sales or cultural impact. It’s all about how they have impressed everyone and what their music has meant to me. Therefore, this is a very personal list.
The best guitar players that have impressed fans
As the title suggests, this list is very personal. This list will not be based on anything objective or analytical. This is a selection of the guitarists who have impressed everyone over the years and what their careers have meant to me.
It’s also worth pointing out that this list goes in no particular order. So if X guitarist is in the seventh place, this doesn’t mean he or she is my seventh favorite. It’s just a random position.
Who are the 14 greatest guitar players that have impressed everyone the most?
- Ritchie Blackmore
- Tony Iommi
- Kai Hansen
- Adrian Smith
- John Petrucci
- John Sykes
- David T. Chastain
- Yngwie Malmsteen
- Dave Mustaine
- Chuck Schuldiner
- Andy LaRocque
- Gary Moore
- Mark Reale
- Eddie Van Halen
1. Ritchie Blackmore
There is no shortage of recognition when it comes to Ritchie Blackmore. He is one of the most complete and technical guitarists of all time. His work with both Deep Purple and Rainbow is the stuff of legends. And his combination of hard rock influences with classical music is a major influence in the birth of power metal.
Blackmore redefined what a guitarist could be. Deep Purple and Rainbow wouldn’t have as many seminal albums without his input. He can be a very difficult person to work with but songs like “Child in Time” and “Stargazer” show what the man is capable of. A revolutionary and an absolute legend of the industry.
One of the greatest guitar players of all time and by some distance.
2. Tony Iommi
The man who invented heavy metal. Sure, other people may have some proto version of the genre but Tony Iommi defined the style with Black Sabbath. He is not only one of the greatest guitar players of all time but also one of the most consistent.
What always impressed everyone about Tony Iommi was how he adapted to every Sabbath vocalist he worked with. Instead of fixating on a specific sound, he adapted so the likes of Ozzy, Dio, Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, and Tony Martin could shine. Despite being the main man, he always showed the capacity to adapt to others.
His riffs, his songwriting, and his underrated solos are some of the traits that make him such a legendary figure.
3. Kai Hansen
If Tony Iommi defined what heavy metal was, then Kai Hansen defined power metal. It was enough with founding and helping create Helloween‘s best albums in the 80s. However, Kai Hansen decided to leave the band at the end of the decade and continue with his own solo band, Gamma Ray.
Imagine helping create the two “Keeper of the Seven Keys” albums with Helloween and then doing “Land of the Free” with Gamma Ray. And continuing to churn out great albums one after the other. Hansen has been a mainstay of the genre for decades and his return to Helloween recently has given even more credit.
The godfather of power metal and for a good reason. And not too shabby as a singer, either.
4. Adrian Smith
There is no denying that Adrian Smith has always been underrated at Iron Maiden. Most metal fans stay with Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson but Adrian is the one who brings balance to the band. He is one of the greatest guitar players and one who has impressed me quite a lot because of how serviceable he is.
When it comes to Adrian, he is not here to show off. He focuses on making the song work and that is essential in music. He is a very musical guitarist and that gave Iron Maiden an extra layer of quality. His solos are usually very melodic and flow smoothly with the rest of the song, which is always a treat.
5. John Petrucci
I could say the usual things that every article says about Dream Theater’s John Petrucci. That he is extremely technical and a virtuoso. That he is Dream Theater‘s main songwriter and lyricist. And that is their driving force.
That’s all well and good but Petrucci is on this list because his music is what fully got me into this genre. His solos and riffs have shaped so much of my understanding of the genre that is uncanny. And for that alone he deserves a place on this list.
He is one of the greatest guitar players and a massive influence for a lot of guitarists out there.
6. John Sykes
Another John, albeit a very different one. John Sykes could very well be not only one of the greatest guitar players but also the most underrated. He has featured in several amazing albums and always delivered as a major driving force but never got the credit he deserved.
Sykes is on this list because of his amazing streak of albums in the 80s. Tygers of Pan Tang’s “Spellbound”, Thin Lizzy’s “Thunder and Lightning”, Whitesnake’s “1987”, and Blue Murder’s debut. Sykes played in all of these iconic albums and was extremely important in all of them. Heck, he wrote most of “1987” and Blue Murder‘s debut and sang in the latter.
7. David T. Chastain
The best metal guitarist most people haven’t heard about. David T. Chastain has had a long career since the80s with a lot of projects. He ranges from blues to heavy metal with some thrash and speed influences. David is a very capable songwriter and his most popular works were with his “main” band, Chastain.
It’s with Chastain that David had an outlet to create heavy metal and he did just that with vocalist Leather Leone and drummer Ken Mary. Chastain had an amazing run of metal albums in the 80s, with David‘s guitar wizardly being extremely compelling. One of the most underrated musicians of all time.
8. Yngwie Malmsteen
It’s no secret that Yngwie is one of the most difficult musicians to work with. He is stubborn, harsh, and often ends up falling out with his bandmates. However, he is also one of the greatest guitar players of all time. So brilliant that he has influenced entire generations of musicians.
Perhaps the best attribute of Yngwie is that he truly believes in what he does. He is always going to do the music he likes, no matter the era or the trends. And considering the many neoclassical metal masterpieces he has done, his judgment has been warranted.
9. Dave Mustaine
You can’t do Megadeth without Dave Mustaine. He is not only the leader and founder of the band but also its spirit. Mustaine initially founded this band as a way to get back at Metallica for firing him but ended up creating a legendary group. Megadeth has become something quite special and that is thanks to Mustaine.
Yes, he has a reputation of being hard to work with but a lot of geniuses are that way. And Dave has been a major driving force in Megadeth‘s success. His songwriting and guitar playing are the stuff of legends at this point and has managed to keep his band relevant over the years.
10. Chuck Schuldiner
Taken way too soon. Chuck Schuldiner helped defin the death metal subgenre in the 80s with his band Death and later revamped it in the 90s. He was a phenomenal guitarist who grew leaps and bounds throughout his career. One only has to look at Death‘s evolution from their debut, “Scream Bloody Gore“, to their last album, “The Sound of Perseverance“.
Chuck wasn’t only one of the greatest guitar players because of his melodies, shredding abilities, and riffs. He also had a very unique sound and guitar tone. This made him very easy to identify, which is something that not every guitarist can achieve. He was one of a kind, and, sadly, cancer took him from this mortal world all too soon.
11. Andy LaRocque
The second in command never gets a lot of credit in music. It’s always the main songwriter or the singer (sometimes is the same person). However, King Diamond‘s guitarist, Andy LaRocque, doesn’t deserve the same fate. He is one of the greatest guitar players in my books because of his consistency and amazing tone but also due to his loyalty.
LaRocque has been King Diamond‘s guitarist since the debut album back in the 80s, “Fatal Portrait“. He is not only an extremely guitarist with a knack for melodies and riffs but also a solid songwriter. That has allowed Mr. Diamond‘s music to sound a lot more unique and with a strong personality, which is why their success should be heavily shared.
12. Gary Moore
It’s a shame that Gary Moore has never gotten the credit he deserves. A phenomenal blues guitarist and singer but also very capable when it comes to rock and metal. Most metalheads probably know his solo work in the 80s and some of his collaborations with Thin Lizzy.
Be that as it may, Moore always knew how to perform. He was a true guitarist and singer, always giving his all. His work had a penchant for great melodies and elegant solos. And his 80s metal stuff is a bit underrated.
One of the greatest guitar players of all time and also a great example of what a musician should be.
13. Mark Reale
Much like David T. Chastain, Mark Reale is an extremely underrated guitarist. He sadly passed away in 2012 and never got the credit he deserved during his lifetime. Mark was the founding member and leader of Riot, another underrated hard rock and metal band from the mid-70s.
The thing about Mark and Riot is that they were playing since the mid-70s and evolved with the times. They went from a somewhat typical seventies hard rock band to a very accomplished metal outfit. Most of their 80s and 90s output can compete with the best bands out there.
Sure, most people like to point 1988’s “Thundersteel” as the band’s peak and it makes sense. It’s Mark Reale‘s masterpiece. But there is a lot more worth checking out with Riot, and, in return, with Mark‘s work. He is one of the greatest guitar players of all time and one of the most underrated.
14. Eddie Van Halen
One of the greatest guitar players of all time. There is no argument here. Eddie Van Halen wasn’t only extremely successful with his band, Van Halen, but also very influential. It could be argued that he defined the modern guitar hero: the shredder who is in the spotlight.
Another side of Eddie that is often quite underrated is how he merged commercial success with being accessible. He was an extremely gifted guitarist but knew how to write catchy songs as well. That combination made him one of those talents that arrives every couple of decades.