Guitarists to songs are like arms to a human body. There are two kinds of guitarists: one who is overshadowed by the lead singer, and another who overshadows everyone else. It is the latter who fine tunes himself into the hearts of the masses and attains immortality. To compile a list of top ten of such guitarists means to be open to slandering, ridicule, accusations of being ignorant and perhaps also the clichéd “bad taste in music” blame. But all that is expected since a topic like this is subjective. This list is based on the principle that playing fast doesn’t necessarily translate to playing well; it is the soul that matters.
10. Mike McCready:
Perhaps the most underrated guitarists of his time, Mike McCready forms an integral part of the experience known as ‘Pearl Jam’. He has come up with amazing licks for the band, playing a mammoth role in keeping grunge going and further helping the same to evolve. He has successfully blended elements of blues and grunge making it a treat to the ears.
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9. Bert Jansch:
Having a huge influence on artists such as Neil Young who called him “Jimmy Hendrix on an acoustic”, this Scottish origin guitar player was best known for his ability to mix Jazz and elements of blues. Bert Jansch’s characteristic ‘clawhammer’ style of picking gives him a unique sound which is unmatched. A perfect way to start exploring him, if you still haven’t already, is to start with ‘Needle of Death’ – a hauntingly beautiful song where the tastefully added ninths give it a lumpy sound.
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8. Chuck Berry:
“He could play a guitar just like ringing a bell. GO GO!!” – This line from his song ‘Johnny B Goode’ could perhaps be the best description of Chuck Berry. Although his career was sidelined by a two year jail term in the early 1960’s, Chuck Berry is still the first person who made it big in the rock and roll business. His trademark sound of staccato screech descending from Chicago blues can lift you up and set you flying anytime.
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7. Stevie Ray Vaughan:
‘If this house is rocking, don’t bother knocking’, so said Vaughan. Stevie Ray Vaughan picked it up from where Jimmi Hendrix left. The elements of Jimmy’s playing can be found in Stevie’s playing with the difference that the latter’s has more Blues elements. There are or have been hardly any guitarists who had such a perfect amalgamation of soul with speed. His career got cut off with an untimely demise caused due to a plane crash but he shall still live on through his work in our hearts.
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6. Eric Clapton:
The walls of London suburbs proclaim ‘CLAPTON IS GOD’. There couldn’t have perhaps been a better description of the enigma called Eric Clapton. Be it the swaying lick of ‘Layla’ or the soft finger picking acoustic stuff like ‘Tears in Heaven’, Clapton is adroit and has a soul to his playing that is matched or surpassed only by a chosen few. Started playing guitar when he was 15 and by the time Eric Clapton was 20 he was nicknamed ‘Slowhand’ because of the pace at which he could come up with licks. One ought to bow down to the master.
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5. Jimmy Page:
Lead guitarist and founder of the world famous band Led Zepplin there are fewer better players than Jimmy Page on six strings. Be it the guitar solo on ‘Dazed and Confused’ played with a violin bow or the melodic momentum of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or the fired up lick of ‘Black Dog’, Jimmy Page’s guitar play is the epitome of rock and roll.
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4. David Gilmour:
Gilmour was propelled into the hall of fame because of his guitar scores in Pink Floyd. He was initially a ‘replacement’ for another guitarist who fell victim to LSD but David Gilmour proved to be much more than a replacement. It is Gilmour’s solos that gave Floyd its defining ‘deep into the space’ sound with his hauntingly beautiful solos. The epic solo of ‘Comfortably Numb’ has moved guitar players and others alike over and over again. It’s the emotions that David Gilmour put into his solos that have made his work withstand the test of time.
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King doesn’t know how to play chords, and thank god for that. With a career spanning over 63 years and more than 15,000 live performances B.B.King has given more than what most may not be able to absorb. He plays with a soft tone and the bluesy licks transcend you to a parallel dimension with an occasional screeching note making you realize that you have flown to some other world. He sits down to play but leaves you on your feet when he’s done.
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2. Jimi Hendrix:
Jimi Hendrix born ‘Johnny Allen Hendrix’ made his recording studio the extension of musical ideas in his head and his guitar his fifth limb. Known to experiment heavily with various sounds and highly regarded as the pioneer of ‘stereophonic phrasing’ effects for recording, Jimi Hendrix is the man who knew how to make love to his guitar. Be it the beautiful chord embellishment of ‘Little Wing’ or the gritty playing in ‘Voodoo Child’, Hendrix was one of the most versatile guitarists. His short but explosive career stands as a testimony to that.
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1. Robert Johnson:
If there is one man who influenced almost all guitarists it has to be Robert Johnson. You can be sure that you have heard his music even if you haven’t actually seen or heard him play. He paved the way for the blues genre which was later explored and filled in by everyone on this very list. Being a black man in the early 20th century wouldn’t have been an easy ordeal for Robert Johnson and his haunting voice and maverick guitar playing perhaps channels that torment. Blues indeed!
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