Some people worship guitarists for their technical playing ability. “Shredders” they are often called.
Personally I tend to find these types of players to be excruciating to listen to because rather than focusing on the sound that they’re making they seem to be focused on how quickly their fingers are moving. These are people who don’t seem to realize that playing guitar is not a competitive sport but instead an art where the purpose is to convey something to a listener, even if that listener is just yourself.
What follows are my favorite 10 guitarists. These are guys that I think do a great job of conveying something to the listener regardless of their technical ability (although some may be considered technically great as well.) Please note that the list is in no particular order.
1. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Gilmour can do more with one note than a shredder can do with 100. It’s not how fast you play, it’s what you play and how you play it. There are many outstanding examples of his playing in the Pink Floyd discography particularly in the ’70s.
2. George Harrison of The Beatles. Harrison is often overlooked as a guitarist despite the massive popularity of The Beatles. I think that’s because he was not a flashy player and he was not particularly technically skilled. But he’s a great case in point of why those things don’t matter. His guitar solos and riffs are remarkably melodic. Making a guitar sing is much more interesting to me than playing a scale at 300 BPM.
3. Dean Ween of Ween. Because Ween is often dismissed as a “joke band” Michael Melchiondo, Jr. (Dean’s real name) is often overlooked despite his amazing abilities on the guitar. This guy can play just about any style and he can play them all extremely well.
4. Frank Zappa. Zappa was a true creative genius and he was a spectacular guitarist. He seemed to always be pushing the limits of what you can do with an electric guitar.
5. Jimi Hendrix. What kind of list would this be without Hendrix? I find his recordings from the ’60s shockingly fresh and full of energy considering that they’ve been played into the ground and they’re over 40 years old.
6. Eric Clapton. Clapton has been called overrated so many times that he may actually be underrated now. For some reason certain people love to dismiss Clapton and in a way I can understand that but if you focus on the incredible stuff he did in the ’60s and the early ’70s you can hear he deserves his reputation as an all time great.
7. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. Greenwood is probably my favorite guitarist of the last 30 years or so. He’s incredibly inventive with the sounds he creates. He seems to almost be strangling his guitar to death when he really gets going.
8. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Nobody makes open G sounds as good as “Keef.” The dude just knows how to rock. He manages to sounds very loose and funky while sounding very much in control at the same time. This is quite hard to pull off.
9. Pete Townshend of The Who. I think The Who were the best live band of the ’60s and early ’70s. They just created a remarkable noise considering they only had three instrumentalists playing most of the time with Townshend being the sole guitarist.
10. Neil Young. I really love his noisy discordant guitar soloing on his ’70s rock stuff. Great on acoustic guitar too, of course.
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