“Top however-many greatest” lists are never really conclusive, and generally we only put them together to spark a debate of some sort. This is never more apparent than when you see somebody looking through a list of the top 5, 10, 50, or even 100 greatest guitar players of all time, indignant that their own top choice was omitted in favour of someone they really don’t care for. What makes a guitarist a legend is so much more than technical virtuosity and style, and so one man’s hero is another man’s overrated show off.
To keep the fires of one of the greatest arguments in rock fanned, here is our top five list of the world’s greatest guitar heroes:
1. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is the guitar hero’s guitar hero. There is no living person on this list who doesn’t speak in awe and admiration of Hendrix, so if Clapton is a “God”, then this guy was something even more amazing. Unmatched in his technical skills, and with a stage presence that those who were lucky enough to see him can never forget, Hendrix also had incredible vision and soul. Hendrix tragically died young, becoming one of the original members of the now infamous “Forever 27 Club” (the list of musical legends who died at the age of 27, recently added to by the death of Amy Winehouse), but not without achieving the accolade of being number one in just about everybody’s list.
Not to everybody’s mind the very greatest technical player, but one of the most popular and influential guitarists the rock world has ever known. Slash reinvented the guitar hero image with his attitude and style, and despite his heavy sound, his collaborations with people like Michael Jackson introduced a whole new type of music fan to the sense of awe experienced when hearing a truly brilliant guitar solo.
3. Eric Clapton
Likened to a “God” at the age of 20 with only five years of guitar playing under his belt, Clapton is the essence of natural talent. Putting a relevant spin onto the deep blues sounds he so loves has always come far more naturally to Clapton that all the others who have tried it, and despite the speed and excellence of his solos, Clapton doesn’t feel like he’s playing for his ego. One of the true greats, and one of the most credible men to pick up a guitar.
4. Carlos Santana
With a style that manages to be both traditional and unique at the same time, Santana’s Latin infused sounds gave heavy rock guitar a new and beautiful twist. Collaborating with incredibly diverse people without ever looking like he was selling out, Santana is a truly influential and innovative guitar legend.
5. Jimmy Page
Led Zeppelin’s guitar superstar ticks every box on the “guitar hero” checklist. Classic solo every kid wants to play? Check. Credibility among his peers? Check. Electric stage presence? Check. Uncommonly memorable hair? You bet. Some say his own genius often gets under appreciated in lists like these purely because Led Zeppelin as a unit were so incredibly tight that their sound never entirely relied just on Page’s incredible guitar skills, but watch or listen to any of his solos and you’ll be hard pressed not to agree that he deserves his place among the all time greatest.
Think you are the next big guitar player? In a fantastic live band? Then leave a comment and perhaps you will be listed when this list is done again in a few years time.