25 Lead Guitarists You Need To Listen To (right now!)
It’s very difficult to choose a number of guitarists to put into a list like this. With so many great lead guitarists out there, how can we choose? Not forgetting the influential guitarists that aren’t necessarily in the public eye but are well known to other guitarists. So here’s our list of 25 lead guitarists we think will brighten your day if you hear them play.
We’ve not ordered them in any particular order because it comes down to personal choice at the end of the day. We’d be interested in how you’d rank them though, so if you have time let us know your top 5 in the comments. Now come with us on a magical musical guitar playing tour that spans the last 70 to 80 years.
Table of Contents
We said we weren’t making an ordered list, so let’s start with the exception to our own rule. Any way you look at it, Jimi Hendrix would have to be top of the list. He made the guitar sing, yeah. We know that saying gets bandied about too often. But in Jimi’s case it’s the 100% truth.
Watch any of Jimi’s videos and you’ll see a master at work, he plays the guitar as if it was an extension of his arms. No effort involved just pure playing skill and it appears like he’s channeling the music through his entire body. His use of the fretboard interspersed with chords, riffs and rundowns is unparalleled.
Any lead guitarist list would have to include Eric Clapton. He’s been producing great guitar since the 60s and his early blues stuff was incredible. That’s not to say his more up to date stuff isn’t brilliant too because in our opinion, it is. To the uninitiated, Clapton’s solos seem simple, and that’s the beauty of them.
They’re so good as to sound simple, easy to play, but that’s not the case, it’s just the way he makes it look. He knows the fretboard like a black cabbie knows the streets of London, all the linking and interlinking notes, shortcuts and runs. Eric has been nicknamed “God” by his fans, and watching him play, you can see why.
Without Dick’s contribution there wouldn’t be any surf rock. Bands like the “Beach Boys” were heavily influenced by Dick’s guitar playing as were such greats as; Jimi Hendrix , Eddie Van Halen and Brian May. Dick played at high speed and high volume and was highly technical too. He combined scales most commonly heard in the Middle East with popular music and lots of reverb. Along with Leo Fender, Dick developed the first 100 watt amp, which was capable of creating the sounds that Dick was striving to create.
John took the “Red Hot Chilli Peppers” to new heights of musical perfection. From highly explosive solos like “Dani California” to soft opening chord refrains like “Under The Bridge”. All of his solos compliment the song not overshadow it, and that’s the sign of a great guitarist.
As a new century started, so did a new era in the annals of music history. Jack White turned the masses into hard rock/blues fans all over again. No pointless loud solos going nowhere, just pure guitar genius.
T-Bone Walker literally invented the guitar solo as we recognise it today. B B King said it was listening to “Stormy Monday” that inspired him to get an electric guitar. He is also quoted as saying that when he first heard T-Bone play he thought, “Jesus Himself had returned to earth playing electric guitar. T-Bone’s blues filled my insides with joy and good feeling. I became his disciple. And remain so today. My biggest musical debt is to T-Bone.”
Duane was a great improviser and killer slide guitar player. He taught himself to play slide guitar while suffering from an elbow injury, using his painkiller pill bottle while listening to “Statesboro Blues” and playing along.
Joe Walsh’s playing has been described as a combination between the Who and the Yardbirds or “thunder and lightning”. He transformed the soft, easy going pop style of the Eagles into a band with a far harder edginess.
One of Jimi Hendrix’s main guitar influences, who Jimi said of, “There’s one cat I’m still trying to get across to people. He is really good, one of the best guitarists in the world.”
Peter was responsible for all of the early bluesy Fleetwood Mac tracks. With his raw blues tones and licks he was the guitarist on such tracks as “Oh Well” and “Albatross”.
Brian was the guitarist with Queen since they first started as a band and his playing just kept going from strength to strength. With such a versatility of style, he could be soloing over a ballad one minute, semi-heavy rock the next and a rock tune straight after. Steve Vai is said to be in awe of Brian’s guitar playing.
There aren’t many guitarists that can produce such diverse tracks as David has, from the unforgettable “Comfortably Numb” to the far more commercial “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.”
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan was solely responsible for the return of blues music to the mainstream public. He was an amalgamation of every blues style ever all condensed into one man. His presence on stage was immense, no matter who else was playing, all eyes were on Stevie. Even after his untimely death, he’s still influencing a new generation of guitarists. Gary Clark Jr. said of him, “Stevie was one of the reasons I wanted a Stratocaster – his tone, which I’ve never been able to get down, was just so big and bold and bright at the same time.”
Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen was able to make his solitary guitar sound like at least two and often three guitars all playing simultaneously. Many have tried to emulate Eddie’s sound but as of yet we’ve not heard anyone actually pull it off. It’s not just the finger tapping, the pull-offs and hammer-ons, nor is it the riffs or melodies, it’s all of that plus the feeling. Eddie put all of his soul into his guitar playing and opened up a brand new world of listening pleasure and technical ability.
Not as commercially well known as some of the other guitarists on this list, but very well known amongst guitarists. Jeff is technically brilliant without being ostentatious, he plays for the fun of it and for our pleasure too.
Jimmy is the ultimate guitar hero, from melodic intros like “Stairway to Heaven” to hard bluesy riffs like “the Lemon Song” jimmy always plays just the right feel. He was a brilliant session guitarist before finding fame with bands like; “The Yardbirds” and “Led Zeppelin”.
Influenced by the likes of; Robert Johnson and Charley Patton, B.B. King sings with his voice and his guitar at the same time. There are many great blues guitarists who are still trying to emulate the rich bluesy sound that’s unmistakable B.B. King.
Another blues master, Albert played a right-handed guitar, left-handed (with the bass strings where the treble should be) and used his own unique tuning. Jimi Hendrix was in awe of Albert’s guitar playing and was over the moon when Albert opened the show for Hendrix at the Fillmore in 67.
The third member of “The Three Kings” none of whom were related, Freddy was another influential blues guitarist. He inspired such guitar greats as; Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Mick Taylor and Peter Green. He played the guitar using steel banjo picks which gave him such a unique sound.
Instantly recognisable, Carlos Santana’s playing style is clear as crystal with just the right amount of sustain. He mixes many musical genres including; jazz, African rhythm and electric blues. When asked to compare between Hendrix and Santana, Prince is reported as saying “Santana played prettier.”
Angus brings an energy to the stage like no other. With his excellent use of power chords and super fast pentatonic riffs, Angus has been rocking the world for more than 40 years.
Scotty Moore was messing around between takes recording with Elvis Presley, and created a new style of lead guitar. He changed the course of guitar music. With his mix of country picking, blues phrases and short, sweet runs he created a style that’s been copied more often than any other.
Not only did Les Paul invent the solid bodied guitar that’s named after him, he also made it famous by playing it so well. Even after his 94th birthday he was still performing live every week at a jazz club in New York.
As leader of the Mothers of Invention Frank often sat back and let the band do their thing. But once he picked up the guitar, he became at one with it and created some of the most innovative tracks ever recorded.
Since he first emerged in the mid 60s, Ry Cooder has been performing with some of the great and the good recording artists of all time. He has a unique style which is a mixture of many genres including; blues, folk, Hawaiian slack key, African, Cuban and Mexican style guitar.
Who’s Your Favourite?
That’s our 25 lead guitarists we think you’ll enjoy. Did we include your favourite? Let us know who your favourite lead guitarist is in the comments.