Jimi Hendrix

This next issue of Rolling Stone magazine will include sheets of dead trees stacked and creased at a spine-like center with many words printed on them. (It’s a whole thing, ask your parents.) Sometimes those pages include words about musicians, and often those musicians are Jimi Hendrix, or Led Zeppelin, or the Rolling Stones, or the Who. (Again.) This pre-list-season list, then — timed to take advantage of your inner guitar-wonk while you are home for the holidays and in your childhood basement surrounded by boxes of old Guitar Worlds and dusty amplifiers — is possibly the most Rolling Stone thing ever to be assembled. Lo:

01. Jimi Hendrix
02. Eric Clapton
03. Jimmy Page
04. Keith Richards
05. Jeff Beck
06. B.B. King
07. Chuck Berry
08. Eddie Van Halen
09. Duane Allman
10. Pete Townshend

It’s annoying that I always forget that time stopped after Van Halen. To create the list, the mag polled esteemed guitarists and music insiders along with RS’s editors, if you are looking for someone to praise/blame for their choices. You can check out those voters — and the full list of 100 guitarists — at rollingstone.com.

In fairness, it’s sort of difficult to imagine an unqualified discussion of history’s greatest guitarists without a bunch of those names. And that is why a much more interesting list idea is The Top 10 Guitarists Who Aren’t Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Eddie Van Halen, Duane Allman, or Pete Townshend. So let’s make that one? I’ll get us going with some candidates: Kevin Shields, Johnny Marr, Thurston Moore, J Mascis, Mick Barr, Mark McGuire, Ira Kaplan…

Let’s do this together, like a family. The floor is yours.

Comments (227)
  1. Besides the good suggestions above, Knopfler, Buckingham etc (Prince is also a good one). I’m going to go out there and say John Mayer, who seems to be the last musician working in the style of the guitar ‘hero’s’ certainly in the mainstream. Seeing how he is younger than any of the other names that crop up for the title.

    There aren’t many guitar hero’s in the Indie/Gen Y musicians that have as much universal appeal as people like Hendrix had. The tricky thing with placing Johnny Greenwood with such a title is that he is part of a band, and isn’t really of the same ilk, Frusciante fits the ilk because like Hendrix although being in the band he contributes a significant amount of the music with his playing. Johnny on the other hand is part of a band that blends a lot of styles together, and uses a variety of instruments to create atmosphere, and it is much harder as a listener to discern the guitar parts in a number of Radiohead tracks post The Bends, maybe post Ok Computer, that would actually stand up by themselves without the rest of the band.

    Do you know what I mean? The guitar ‘god’ was of a certain ira that isn’t really around anymore, bands are the thing now and what people can create as part of a band. I’m not saying that there isn’t any good players or that Johnny Greenwood isn’t a great player, it’s just not the same thing to say that any of these guys are ‘great guitarists’ in the sense of what Rolling Stone means. The sense of nostalgia, the old man pub audience, the classic rock era, that is Rolling Stone’s brand, your dad’s or grandad’s music. Rock and roll has evolved into different things since then, trying to appreciate new guitarists with the same eyes is undermining what musicians of the current generation are trying to do or be about. Does it REALLY matter in the grand scheme of things who is actually the ‘best guitarist’, isn’t it just about whether the track is good or not at the end of the day, because every guitarist has a track which we are bound not to like…

    • The greatest thing about Jonny Greenwood (no H btw, WINK, im a titanic Radiohead fan) is that his ego is so in check, that he literally doesn’t care about being the ‘old’ Jonny of early RH where he was the star of the show most the time. He’s more than happy to play keyboards, glockenspiel, weird old early synth toys, whatever works and is needed for the song. But i tell ya what, that lead for Paranoid Android is a MOTHER FUCKER, and will always be a mother fucker, it’s genius:D (and he nails it live every single time)

  2. Does it have to be rock or blues? John Mclaughlin!

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  4. Dan Nancarrow  |   Posted on Nov 24th, 2011 +3

    Richard Thompson. Except he is old and white.

    Kurt Cobain is on that list. Classic.

  5. Brian Belllahahaha

  6. No Kevin Shield and James “Blood” Ulmer = No Credibilty

  7. By “greatest” they obviously mean the most over-played and well known on crappy classic rock radio stations.

  8. I think it’s very funny how many people have complained saying that Rolling Stone hasn’t included any guitarist from the past 20 years or that there favourite guitarist isn’t listed. Check the whole list:


    Guitarist that people on Stereogum were complaining that they weren’t on the list but they actually are:

    Lindsey Buckingham
    Thurston Moore
    Steve Jones
    Dimebag Darrell
    J Mascis
    John Frusciante
    Robert Johnson
    Jack White
    John Mclaughlin
    Johnny Marr
    Jonny Greenwood
    Mark Knopfler
    Tom Morello
    The Edge
    Brian May
    Carlos Santana
    David Gilmour
    Stevie Ray Vaughn

    There. Now you know. When you list 100 guitarists, do you think that they can really make a list so nuanced that it takes EVERY single factor into account and makes the perfect list for everyone for ALL TIME? No. They simply made a list of 100 guitarists that they think are great (and they all are in some aspects) and Stereogum incorrectly only included 10 for people to complain about. Read the full list and everyone should at least be satisfied that there are new and old guitarists on there.

    • They include them at the very end to throw a bone to those who say they aren’t relevant anymore. “See, we included one of your kind on our list! They’ll just never be as great as the geniuses from the 60s!”

      • I still see no Colin Newman. “Lowdown” and “Pink Flag” (song, but from the album) pretty much invented sludgy post-punk ala Mudhoney, Nirvana, McLusky, etc., while “A Touching Display” created post-rock in 1979.

        If someone says Mudhoney and Nirvana were grunge I’ll stab them.

        • Mudhoney was grunge.

          • No. Mudhoney and Nirvana were punk. If you can tell me either band sounds like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, or Stoned Pimple Toilets, then your argument can hold water.

            Subpop invented the term “grunge” to describe Mudhoney, but Mudhoney and Nirvana were much more influenced by bands like the Wipers, Dinosaur Jr., the Pixies (applicable to Nirvana only), Black Sabbath, Flipper, and the Stooges.

            Grunge is just as nebulous a term as “indie,” so I beg to differ with you Mr. Wastlander.

            So I argue that there was no “grunge.” Alice in Chains and (especially) Soundgarden were basically metal, while PJ was basically Led Zeppelin modernized and STP was watered-down PJ.

            Just go read “Our Band Could Be Your Life,” it contains many life-lessons.

          • But I upvoted you to make you happier on this fine weekend.

        • I think the sludgy post-punk/grunge/whatever else you want to call it sound of Mudhoney, Nirvana, and some of the other Seattle bands was much more based off Black Flag’s My War album. If anything you should probably complain about Greg Ginn not being on the list

          • This is true also, but reinforces the point that Nirvana and Mudhoney were “punk” more than anything. Greg Ginn does belong on the list as well.

            However, Nirvana’s Black Flag influence kind of begins and ends with “Bleach.” I’d say Mudhoney (and Nirvana) were much more influenced by the Stooges, but you definitely have a valid point.

            I’d also put Duane Denison (Don’t know or care if I got the spelling right, but of the Jesus Lizard) on the list. All the credit goes to David Yow, but Denison’s guitar work is phenomenal.

            I also really dig Dmitri Coats guitar work, with Burning Brides’ first album especially, and now with OFF! (where he’s essentially Greg Ginn part 2), but I don’t think an “all time” list of guitarists should include him.

  9. I’m pretty sure this whole list was just mean to spark violently righteous indignation amongst the readers of websites like stereogum. Kind of juvenile, but hey, ’tis RS.

  10. Neil Young never gets his due as a guitarist — not even from a 60s-nostalgia rag like RS. Do Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand mean nothing?

  11. i no u guyz arent gunna agree but can i say: ratatat – both of dem

  12. Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead needs to be up there for sure.

  13. The Edge.
    Do you recognize the sound instantly as his?
    Is there a sound from a guitar like it before him?
    Have others copied it for decades now?
    It is among the more original, interesting, and compelling sounds?
    He never gets the credit from regular people, but talk to other guitarists and he’s always in the top 25.

  14. Paul Verlaine!
    Joey Santiago!!
    Johnny Greenwood!!!
    Marnie Stern!!!!

  15. Andrés Segovia. That is all.

  16. Robert Quine from The Voidoids is the absolute best

  17. robert fripp is superior to anyone in that list, or previously mentioned in these comments

  18. This post was one snarky comment after the next. All true statements, tho.

  19. Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500 / Luna is my personal favorite. His solos are always otherworldly.

  20. Nels Cline
    Robert Fripp
    Frank Zappa

  21. Alex Lifeson?

  22. I can’t believe the list doesn’t have any of the following:
    Josh Homme
    Chris Whitley
    Bradford Cox
    Ian Williams (Battles)
    Dylan Carlson (Earth)
    Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance)
    Brendan Canning + Kevin Drew
    Lee Renaldo (I’ve seen SY live, and I honestly think he’s a better guitarist than Thurston)
    Kevin Shields

    • I LOVE Atlas Sound and Deerhunter, and I think Bradford Cox is one of the most overall creative musicians/responsible for some of the best music made within the last several years. But no way is he one of the 100 best/most iconic/however you want to say it guitarists of all time, and I honestly think he would be the first person to agree. Come to think of it, neither are all of the other people you mentioned, with the possible exception of Kevin Shields. The list may be a pile of shit, but insisting that one’s favorite indie and alt stars should be added doesn’t really improve it.

      • i’ll never listen to those idiots after their horrific non-showing on Conan this past year, WORTHLESS.

        • Um, I’m a little confused? If you mean Deerhunter, I really don’t think their last Conan appearance was bad at all? Maybe not the most mindblowing thing ever, but they did the song “Helicopter” essentially how it’s supposed to be. If you don’t like their sound, okay, whatever… but there was nothing wrong with that performance.

          They are also far, far, far from a worthless band. Halcyon Digest is one of the best albums of the past few years, in my eyes, and the first Atlas Sound album is one of the few records I hold closest to my heart.

          Then again though, I’m of the school of thought that just because I don’t like something doesn’t automatically make it “worthless.” For example, I don’t really care for LCD Soundsystem or Vampire Weekend – but lots of people like them, and the musicians comprising each band are very talented, hardworking people. Worthless is a strong word, in my honest opinion. But what do I know?

          • they are worthless until proved OTHERWISE, they failed to impress me in the slightest on Conan after hearing their stupid name whored left n right on stereogum and every other music page online, and it was a classic over-hyped letdown as usual. the singer looked very confused and ‘not ready for primetime’ in every way, the song had no flow, n it was just aweful. i’ve been in music forever, i’ve written songs for over 10 yrs, i no worthless when i see it:) NOW i have been disproved by bands improving before, rarely, but a couple times, if they’re really that good the next time i see them they should be able to win me over anyway.

    • Josh Homme, the guitar machine. I think some people get wrapped up in technical guitar playing, but he lays out some great riffs. Heavy or melodic, you can’t really go wrong with Josh.

  23. Prince should be MUCH higher.

  24. robert fripp
    John McLaughlin

  25. I don’t agree with this list, why didn’t they mention my favorite obscure guitarist that influenced 3 people?

  26. ry cooder,rycooder ,ry cooder,ry cooder .ry cooder ry cooder and then theres frank zappa,frank,zappa,frank,zappa frank zappa,frank zappa and how about dick dale,you know dick dale,dick dale,dick dale dick dale,dick dale,and andre segovia,segovia,segovia,segovia,segovia,segovia and of course i could go on all day,…how about lets go really far back ,like les paul,yes LES PAUL YOU VACANT MORONS and kids he showed the ropes to like steve miller.

  27. jesus h christ ya think thst dude from the monkees would be out there ,or didnt i read far enough,that cant be to hard to explain,I WUZ LAUGING TO FFFFFFFFFFFFNNNNNNNNNNN HARD…NO WONDER ITS TAKIN SO LONG FER A NOTHER LAUGHING POST……..EVERYONE WENT TA BED WITH A SMILE ON THEIR FACE AT THEV ABSURDITY OF SUCH AN IDEA,such a ridiculous list…
    well gotta go change the cdchanger we out here on the west coast have some purty decent stuff hitting the airwaves.get some cotton swabs and clean the crap outta yer earsO GODO,i may even start playing agin,but at 60 my ARTRITIS AINT GETTIN ANY BETTER ,BUT THE NEW KIDS COMIN UP ARE PRETTY DAMN GOOD AND IM AINT KNOCKING THEM,THERES ANOTHER HENDRIX ,ANOTHER DAVID GILMOUR AND I HOPE TO GOD ANOTHER RY COODER OR SKUNK BAXTER….I HOPE,I HOPE I HOPE………………….THANX FOR READING MY RANTZ YOU CRAZY MOFO’s.SOMEWHERE THERES ANOTHER Saying….right on bro………………..right on………..JUST TOO MANY,JEZ TOO GOOD

  28. Robert Smith
    John McGeoch
    Daniel Ash
    Mick Ronson
    Robin Guthrie
    Bernard Sumner
    Keith Levene
    Klaus Dinger
    Bernard Butler
    Carlos Alomar

  29. this list is so predictable why even bother making it?

  30. Vernon Reid
    Robert Fripp
    Mike Keneally
    Allan Holdsworth
    Bill Frisell

  31. After reading the entire list, I must say the thing that bugged me the most was just how many of the guitarist out of the top ten were just old blues guitarists. I think I saw other people mention this but the list is rather genre centric on blues and blues based rock with very few exceptions

  32. Graham Coxon – not a technical wizard but his unusual voicings and ultramelodic rhythmic dancing around the fretboard is unlike anything in the world. My favourite guitarist.

    • theres lots of 90s brits that are great, Greenwood, Coxon, i think the most over-looked of all of them has got to be John Squire (stone roses/seahorses). He does amazing modern brit rock blues .

  33. Allman > Clapton

  34. John Mayer??

  35. I second Kaki King. Women can play guitar too…

  36. Mick Taylor, Richard Lloyd, Jonny Greenwood, George Harrison

  37. Solid list, inarguable. Considering alternative or “indie” music’s popularity, and best music being made in the last two decades, I would add (in chronological order) Marc Bolan (T.Rex), David Byrne, Stephen Malkmus and maybe David Longstreth if I’m feeling particularly liberal.

  38. Nick McCabe!

  39. It’s a shame that no one has mentioned John Fahey in all of this. Maybe because we are talking about a Rolling Stone article and the focus is in the direction of Rock and Blues. But Fahey’s mesmerizing finger style is impassable, and singular.

  40. Best guitarist of all-time HAS to be Jimmy Page, it’s not even close with me. If you need a reminder as to why, besides listening thru the fulll Zep catolog, which is mind-blowing enough, but just watch It Could Get Loud or the Black Crowes/Page concert and it becomes VERY clear who the best is.

    Hendrix was the first ‘virtuoso’ lead guitarist and was great, but kind of a one trick pony.

    The same thing with Clapton being the white-blues guitar king.

    But Jimmy Page could do EVERYTHING, and make it look scary easy, riffs, leads, slide, acoustic, crazy alt tunings…he’s the king.

    • Um, how is Jimi a one-trick pony? “Wind Cries Mary,” Are You Experienced?,” “May This Be Love?” and “Purple Haze” couldn’t be more different sonically, and that’s just picking from his FIRST record. Throw in things like “1983″ or “Machine Gun” from THREE YEARS later and it’s a whole ‘nother level.

      In terms of songwriting (the level so many great guitarist falter on, Clapton first and foremost), he’s on the same level as Page, and DIDN’T steal the majority of his first three records from other composers and musicians (you can easily YouTube Zeppelin’s liberal “borrowing” from their peers so I won’t bother citing examples here).

      Jimi’s variety of tones, his advances in the studio, and his insanely soulful playing make him a force to be reckoned with. You can like Page better– that’s a taste thing, but calling Jimi a one trick pony is objectively wrong, especially compared to the Van Halens and Claptons of the world.

      • Compared to Page he still is, that’s just how amazingly advanced Page was and is, plus Page has time on his side. Hearing his genius playing those great Zep songs with the Black Crowes fresh and new is like a jolt of lightning to the system. If Jimi were still here he COULD do the same thing, but alas he’s not and he can’t can he. Plus his technical genius is just 2nd to none, always tone perfect even with very advanced stuff and leads. Jimi could’ve risen to greater heights if he’d lived longer thus proving his greatness, OR he could’ve gone down hill. Neither can ever be known, so I say fairly or unfairly thanks to time, Page is the best…or if it makes you Jimi worshippers feel better…the best LIVING guitarist (since Hendrix’s death), whatever.

  41. OH forgot one, JEFF BUCKLEY…everyone knows him for his vocals boy holy fuck could he play the guitar, you have GOT to see him on the Live in Chicago video, most amazing performance i’ve ever seen, he made the incredibly hard and amazing look like cake.

  42. LAST one haha, also don’t forget the kings of GRUNGE guitar, Kim Thayil, Jerry Cantrell and the extremely under-rated as a guitarist Kurt Cobain, dozens of amazing riffs from KC.

  43. Tallest man on earth!

  44. I would like to add the underrated Steve Howe from Yes

  45. Billy Zoom from X
    Bob Stinson
    Neil Young
    Ron Asheton
    Marshall Crenshaw
    Mick Ronson
    Lou Reed
    Roger Mcguinn
    Arto Lindsay
    Bo Diddley

  46. fuck i hate rolling stone the same stupid lists every year….what does “greatest guitarist” mean anyway?

    • if you snorted hundred’s of thousands of dollars worth of cocaine, drank yourself into oblivion, managed to not get AIDS, and were still able to not fuck up the ax most of the time…then you made it

  47. I didn’t bother reading through all this so I’m just going to post Isaac Brock and hope it hasn’t been said yet. Oh, and I think I caught a John Frusciante in there which is just crazy. crazy.

  48. hmmm.. Johnny Marr…!?

  49. youtube black postcards, and tell me how you keep Wareham off this list?

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