Ok, so as it stands, no one is ever going to agree on the very best anything of all time because a large part of thinking someone is the best is that dangerous variable present in all of us: opinion. There is however a select few guitarists out there whose greatness goes beyond merely being liked by many or enjoyed by few; some guitarists are simply skilled in a way that many mere mortals will never even be able to comprehend or get close to, and it is these guitarists that I have collected together in a list for all to peruse and get extremely angry over because they don’t quite agree with the choices I have made. While I can play the guitar I am not a seasoned veteran of the axe-based arts, but I know a thing or two about musical talent and even more about forming an opinion based on fact and objective evaluation of an individual’s talent and not just whether I really liked one of their riffs one time and now I think they are like the best guitarist ever OMG. No. These are guitarists that are in a top-5 list because they deserve to be there.
Well, I can instantly feel a wave of invisible hatred crashing upon me for including this brilliant musician in the top five, but why else would he have the nickname “Slowhands Jr.”? While Mayer isn’t out there shredding the fretboard into tiny splinters of wood, he has a touch on the guitar that even the most technically-skilled musicians out there can only dream of. If you ignore his poppy, heartbreak-themed songs of his earlier albums and direct your ears towards the bluesy and infinitely more meaningful “Continuum” album, you will hear a side of Mayer’s guitar skills that one never thought existed. His command of funky and wonderfully simple yet outrageously groovy licks and melodies makes him easily deserving of a place in the top 5 guitars of all time, and those who oppose clearly don’t value subtlety over pure, robotic skill.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, guitarist or non-guitarist alike. As well as being an obvious rock icon from times past (better times, where talent actually meant something), Jimi Hendrix was the perfect blend of unreal technical skill, unmatched raw talent, and ahead-of-his-time experimentation with both electronic effects (wah etc.) and physical skills such as playing with the guitar behind his head, performing solos with his teeth, and not particularly caring whether the guitar was the right way up or not. Top this off with a number of incredible songs which serve as the backdrop for Hendrixs’ talent, and it becomes obvious why everyone insists on being so cliché by including him in their top guitarist lists: there is simply no way that he couldn’t be included.
Before I was introduced to the world of Progressive Rock, I literally had no idea about the technical prowess of some of the musicians that specialise in the genre. The odd time signatures and experimental structure itself requires a minimum standard from its musicians, and John Petrucci (guitarist for perhaps one of the best Prog bands of all time, Dream Theater) is a guitarist that eats minimum for breakfast. While perhaps not the most funky and groove-oriented guitarist in the world, his arpeggio work, tapping, and seamless transition from one ridiculously difficult solo to the next is a marvel to watch and the melodies themselves are as creative as they are technical. It is a pleasure to have such a technically brilliant guitarist in this list.
Another no-brainer, really. Vai is technically one of the greatest players to ever grace a six-string, with every single aspect of playing covered: plectrum, hand-picking, arpeggios, straight-up rock riffs, and everything else in between are covered here, making Vai simply the best solo guitarist that has possible ever lived. His solo career has obviously been extremely fruitful, though his popularity isn’t the reason he is here; only pure skill has landed him in this list. Just have a go at playing Vai’s unique composition in this Eugene’s Trick Bag tab and see if you don’t agree that one has to have some god-like talent to pull it off perfectly at full speed.
Oh, Mr. Slowhands himself couldn’t be absent from this list even if he tried. As well as being an hugely popular solo artist, Clapton is one of the greatest improvisers of all time, with blues and rock of course being his main forte. Van Halen listed Clapton as one of his very flew influences and other artists such as the above-mentioned John Mayer, and Stevie Ray Vaughan are clearly influenced by this iconic guitarist. Shredding isn’t something you’ll see Clapton doing, but rather simple improvisations that pick the best notes played at the perfect time with a touch that is unmatched by anyone else alive. Clapton’s talent lays also in the notes that he doesn’t play, differentiating from the rest of the guitarists in this list and indeed the world.