Guitar Superheroes

Inspired by the silly, unquantified list recently created by Rolling Stone, which they dared call a list of the greatest guitarists, I went ahead and made my own. (By the way, if you check out their list, make sure you read the comments. There’s a territorial dog in there barking at everyone, “Bro, it’s not that deep. I’m sure there are other lists out there that look how you want them to look; go find them.” Well, I took the barking dog’s advice, even though he wasn’t telling me directly, and I didn’t find anything better really, so I figured it was all up to me. I had to make the ultimate list.)

Creating this list wasn’t easy. Except for the number one spot. Anyone can look at the numbers, yes real numbers, and see who has the simple-truth quantifiable status as the greatest. I used amount of work and amount of influence as the main standards. Certainly skill should play a part in defining someone as “great”, but can anyone continue making more and more albums without any skill? Of course not. Once you quantify it and set a standard, you can see how everyone relates.

  1. Joe Satriani—With around 20 solo albums, the same number of collaborative albums, and numerous students, there’s really no doubt that Joe Satriani surpasses all other guitarists. As a solo artist, he is the most prolific. As a teacher, he has taught many who have in turn influenced and taught others. For collaboration, he is unmatched. You could play the Kevin Bacon game in Satriani’s name, only for music instead of movies. Some of Satriani’s collaborations can be surprising. Spinal Tap? Crowded House? Deep Purple? Yes, all of the above. Joe Satriani is the standard to measure all other guitarists.
  2. Jimi Hendrix—Despite only having four albums, he remains the name most people think of when they think of guitar superheroes, and for good reason. Jimi’s music is experimental. He was skilled beyond his years. Like a samurai to his sword, Jimi was to his guitar. He influenced many to pick up the guitar and play.
  3. Paul Gilbert—Racer X, Mr. Big, and his solo career with multiple, multiple albums. This dude has the skills of a guitar master and is prolific in the music arts.
  4. Joan Jett—Undoubtely influential. Her success didn’t only resonate with guitarists, or female guitarists, or female musicians. She even influenced entrepreneurs the world over with her entrepreneurial drive, with her refusal to accept rejection.
  5. Kim Thayil—Soundgarden. He is the sound and the power. ’Nuff said.
  6. Tom Morello—The same Tom Morello of the bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.
  7. T-Bone Walker—The guy who influenced Jimi to play with his teeth or behind his head, and Chuck Berry to bend the strings.
  8. Peggy Jones—“Lady Bo” or “The Queen Mother of Guitar” for sure persuades many who see her play lead guitar to try the instrument. Not only is she skilled, but the songs she played are still sweet-sounding today.
  9. Chuck Berry—The man who taught everyone to write songs about cars and girls and “coolerators”. He truly makes the guitar playing look and sound as easy as “ringing a bell”.
  10. George Harrison—The main man of the fab four. (For guitar, that is.)
  11. Robby Krieger—The Doors were one of the most influential bands ever due to their amazingly cinematic sound. The guitar sound was, of course, due to Robby Krieger.
  12. Dave Davies—The Kinks, a band who took Chuck Berry’s sound to new levels.
  13. Charlie Christian—An underrated musician by many who look from the outside of the music world. He was an originator of the guitar solo.
  14. Link Wray—Link is credited with the invention of the “power chord”. If you’ve ever heard the Batman theme song, you know his work.
  15. Bo Diddley—Bo is an amazing musician, with superb skills at song writing and guitar playing. 
  16. Jimmy Page—Him of the Stairway to Heaven aesthetic.
  17. Otis Taylor—A blues man of unparalleled skill.
  18. Johnny Cash—A country man of unparalleled skill.
  19. Elizabeth Cotten—An amazing left-handed guitarist, who taught herself and influenced many such as Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.
  20. Alex Lifeson—The lead guitarist of the band Rush. The fact that Rush has fans to this day says something about him.
  21. David Gilmour—A guitarist of the band Pink Floyd, he has done tons of work for the music community.
  22. Michael Schenker—Scorpions, UFO, Michael Schenker Group. He takes it above and beyond.
  23. Angus Young—The lead guitarist of a band called AC/DC. His style is epileptic, but apparently that appeals to some people.
  24. Eric Clapton—A guitar guy’s guitar guy.
  25. Brian May—The guitarist of Queen. He is regarded by guitarists as an influence. Despite my aversion to his music, I have to respect his skill and apparent effect on others. This list is not a list of my faves, but quantifiably great guitarists.
  26. Joni Mitchell—Folk musician who encouraged the likes of Seal and Prince.
  27. Sister Rosetta Tharpe—She might get overlooked as a great guitarist because she played gospel music. People can be biased. I’m of the opinion that she played so well as to be an example of righteous shredding to many who followed.
  28. Wes Montgomery—Invented thumb picking, a style adopted by many.
  29. Eddie Van Halen—Touted by Joe Satriani as the “greatest guitarist of my generation.”
  30. Michael Anthony—People came to see Eddie and were amazed at Michael Anthony’s skill as well. Bass players of all styles are influenced by him. From Van Halen to Chickenfoot.
  31. Vernon Reid—Another, like Joan Jett, whose skill is so great it affects those outside the music community. He has a world-class talent.
  32. Dick Dale—He brought the sounds of his homeland to the beach and the beach echoed it to the world.
  33. Brian Setzer—Nobody ever listens to or sees Brian play without wanting to be just as cool as him.
  34. Yngwie Malmsteen—The guitar shredder who dared show how closely related heavy metal and classical music really are.
  35. Felicia Collins—She is famous for playing on the Late Show with David Letterman. Her skills have taken her far beyond late shows.
  36. Jack White—The “Midas Touch” guy. His hands are on multiple projects.
  37. Ritchie Blackmore—Rainbow, Deep Purple.
  38. Glenn Tipton—Judas Priest. Similar to Brian May, in my eyes. He triggered the desire in many to pick up the guitar and play.
  39. Alan Jackson—With loads of albums under his belt, this guitar-playing, vocal-crooning, star has 16 albums to his name.
  40. Pete Townshend—The Who is his band. He was often mimicked, but never matched.
  41. Alex Skolnik—Taught by Joe, he played in Testament and has done loads of solo stuff.
  42. Kristy Wallace (Poison Ivy of the Cramps)—Has raised the bar on how much music can be written and played in a lifetime. The Cramps were around from 1976 to 2009. She played lead and bass guitar.
  43. Keith Richards—Of the Rolling Stones, prolific and influential. Check and check.
  44. Dickey Betts—Allman Brothers guitarist who is said to have had an effect on the direction of music as we know it because of his brilliant guitar work.
  45. Geddy Lee—Rush bassist. The outstanding stand out, yes they do.
  46. Carlos Santana—What list of guitarists is complete without Santana? His melodies are pristine. 25 studio albums! What!?
  47. The Edge—U2’s favorite guitarist, not to mention many other’s.
  48. Tim Farriss—INXS is internationally known because of him. 12 albums.
  49. Eddie Vedder—The guy who fronts Pearl Jam. Mike McCready is an amazing guitarist, so why does everyone want to be like Vedder? Tell me.
  50. Shawn Lane—Has worked with Ringo Starr, Johnny Cash, Joe Walsh, to name only a few.
  51. Ross Childress—Collective Soul’s guitarist. He influenced every guitarist who didn’t want to just do grunge in the ‘90s.
  52. Orianthi—Worked with Prince, Michael Jackson, and Alice Cooper. She also has a solo career.
  53. Billy Duffy—The guitarist for The Cult. Amazing skill makes him a guitar superhero.
  54. Suzi Gardner—Nobody rocks like L7. They spawned the Grrrl movement. Highly influential.
  55. Donita Sparks—Nobody rocks like L7. They spawned the Grrrl movement. Highly influential.
  56. Dave Mustaine—His band Megadeth is still in operation after many years. He was the driving force behind other bands. He has undoubtedly influenced many bands both great and small. 15 albums.
  57. Tommy Victor—The lead guitarist and vocalist of Prong. 12 albums and still going strong. Bam!
  58. Jerry Cantrell—Of Alice In Chains fame, Jerry has a huge following.
  59. Bernard Sumner—The guitarist of New Order and Joy Division.
  60. Johnny Marr—The Smiths is his original band. He has skills matched by few.
  61. William Reid—The Jesus and Mary Chain may have borrowed some tricks from Hendrix, but they’ve also moved a future generation.
  62. Larry LaLonde—Taught by Joe, his main band is Primus.
  63. Vicki Peterson—The Bangles was her outlet. She is revered by many.
  64. Flea—Often mimicked bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Real name: Michael Peter Balzary.
  65. Buddy Guy—So many on this list were influenced by Buddy’s blues style.
  66. Eric Johnson—Award-winning guitarist with a wide range of styles.
  67. Bruce Wingate—The originator of speed.
  68. Jack Steeples—If there was no Adrenalin O.D, would there be any thrash metal at all?
  69. Kristin Hersh—Guitarist of Throwing Muses for 10 albums. College radio is in her debt for that. She also has 11 solo albums.
  70. Wendy Melvoin—Worked with and possibly influenced Prince. Why is her name not more well-known?
  71. Marty Friedman—Worked with Jason Becker on many projects.
  72. Jason Becker—Worked with Marty Friedman on many projects.
  73. Melissa Etheridge—The woman who could do it all, according to guitarists everywhere. She can play, she can sing, and she writes her own tunes.
  74. Shuggie Otis—Plays the blues like a cat out in the rain.
  75. Steve Vai—Plays the guitar with virtuosity.
  76. Denny Laine—The bands Wings and the Moody Blues would have been lesser things without him.
  77. Jack Johnson—Mellow music king, Jack Johnson has spawned an interest in acoustic art.
  78. Mark Knopfler—A legend among guitar players. He has worked with Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, and many others.
  79. Dean Roland—A Collective Soul guitarist. They busted through the grunge curtain right in the middle of it. Platinum selling albums.
  80. Jesse Triplett—A Collective Soul guitarist. With Dean Roland, he made waves. 10 albums.
  81. Jonny Greenwood—From Radiohead, he’s got a fair following.
  82. Herman Li—A shredder who has impressive skills. Terribly influential right now.
  83. Mark Tremonti—Creed, Alter Bridge, a guitarist who has greater influence than he knows.
  84. Tony MacAlpine—13 albums, 5 bands, makes for a most persuasive place among those on this list.
  85. Dave Murray—Iron Maiden guitarist who went on to other projects.
  86. Joe Walsh—Multiple bands and prolific work.
  87. Rusty Cooley—Loads of collaboration.
  88. Mick Jones—The Clash guitarist who influenced Tom Morello, countless punk bands, and many others.
  89. Joe Strummer—Is said to be the heart of The Clash.
  90. Stevie Ray Vaughan—One highly artistic influencer.
  91. Robert Johnson—Played the blues for everyone.
  92. Jeff Beck—Yardbirds, The Jeff Beck Group. He’s been on people’s minds and on their turntables for generations.
  93. John Lennon—He who put his stamp upon the world through his band the Beatles.
  94. Paul McCartney—With John Lennon, he made a sound heard round the world.
  95. Vinnie Moore—Played with UFO, Alice Cooper, and Dio. 
  96. Chris Shiflett—From his beginnings with No Use For A Name and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, he moved on to the Foo Fighters.
  97. Billy Gibbons—Of ZZ Top, he convinced people to pick up the guitar and grow facial hair.
  98. Cat Stevens—A mad artist who changed his name many times, but never changed his guitar style.
  99. Dave Grohl—The artist formerly known as the Nirvana drummer, picked up a guitar and influenced us all with the Foo Fighters and some work with Queens of the Stone Age.
  100. Chet Atkins—Credited by his peers as one of the most influential guitarists in country music.

Published by Kurt Gailey

This is where I'm supposed to brag about how I've written seven novels, twelve screenplays, thousands of short stories, four self-help books, and one children's early-reader, but I'd rather stay humble. You can find out about things I've written or follow my barchive (web archive, aka 'blog) at or follow me on twitter @kurt_gailey. I love sports and music and books, so if you're an athlete or in a band or you're a writer, give me a follow and I'll most likely follow you back. I've even been known to promote other people's projects.

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