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Van Halen in concert at the Mandalay Bay Events Center


Top 10 rock guitarists

From Jimi Hendrix to Eddie Van Halen, a subjective look at the best axe men in rock history.

Eric Clapton Concert At American Airlines Arena


Eric Clapton is often identified as an icon of rock because of his influence with early bands like Blind Faith and Cream. But he is, first and foremost, a blues master. He established a reputation in the early '60s as a technically astounding wunderkind who took the blues and gave it a hard rock makeover. Eventually, he softened his sound and adjusted to mainstream sensibilities, which enabled him to achieve pop success with such singles as "After Midnight" and "I Shot the Sheriff." But he will probably always be best known for his continued honoring of the blues, and for his career high-water marks with Cream and Derek and the Dominoes.

Alexander Tamargo / Getty Images Contributor
Jimi Hendrix Performs

Are you experienced?

Jimi Hendrix was fixated on the blues, but he added a psychedelic element and created his own sound through a variety of techniques, including amplifier feedback and phasing. He was also a showman. Jimi reveled in flamboyant attire and moved like artists such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley, whom he admired. He mostly played a right-handed Fender Stratocaster turned upside down and specially strung for him. He probably had more influence on guitarists buying a particular type of guitar than anyone else in history, because Stratocasters flew out of music stores when Jimi started playing them in public.

Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive


Duane Allman, a.k.a. "Skydog," personified the sub-genre of Southern blues rock. He, too, began as a session player, sitting in on recordings by artists like Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Delaney & Bonnie and Aretha Franklin. But together with brother Gregg, the Allman Brothers Band lifted the rock and roll profile of the Deep South to lofty heights. Duane was especially revered as a slide guitar player and was arguably the best who ever lived at it. Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident just shy of his 25th birthday, hitting a truck that had stopped in an intersection.

Jimmy Page Plays

Zoso plays guitar

Jimmy Page made his name as a session player before joining the Yardbirds and eventually founding the New Yardbirds, or as they are more commonly known as, Led Zeppelin. Like others of his era, Page was a blues devotee. But he had lots of interests in culture and art outside of the blues, including areas of medieval lore and the occult, and they all eventually seeped into his imagination and are present in much of his music. Page will always be best known for Led Zeppelin, but it was his astounding growth as an artist that will mark him as a genius.

Terry O'neill / Hulton Archive
MusiCares 2005 Person of the Year Tribute to Brian Wilson - Show

The guitarist's player

Jeff Beck is considered a guitar player's guitar player. He never achieved the same level of commercial success as many of his peers, although two of his solo albums - "Blow by Blow" in 1975 and "Wired" in 1976 - had a solid run on the charts. But he is revered by many for exploring various styles of music, especially jazz fusion. He started out as a blues guy and a session man - he too played with the Yardbirds for a spell - but went off on several career tangents with different backing bands. He is also known among aficionados as a sound innovator.

Frank Micelotta / Getty Images North America
Stevie Ray Vaughan

Texas bluesman

While many of his predecessors took the blues and went off in different directions, Stevie Ray Vaughan stayed true to his roots for most of his career. But that doesn't mean his style stagnated. Quite the contrary, he took electric blues to another extraordinary level with his wicked picking and raucous chords. He had some crossover success on the radio with tunes like "Tightrope" and "Pride and Joy," but he is primarily recognized by fans and fellow guitarists as an innovator who took the blues and injected it with a needed jolt of energy for a new generation. He died in a helicopter crash after a gig in Wisconsin.

Vaughn Youtz / Vaughn Youtz
Van Halen in concert at the Mandalay Bay Events Center


In the realm of hard rock or heavy metal rock, there are lots of candidates for knighthood. But Eddie Van Halen was a true original who influenced countless garage band pickers as well as accomplished players. It isn't how fast you play, but how well you put notes together. However, if you can play fast and at the same time create songs that are vibrant and distinctive, then you’re in guitar heaven. Van Halen's influence is often overlooked because of the nutty antics and constant personnel soap opera surrounding his band. Yet few in the world of rock can match Eddie Van Halen's raw power, blazing speed and flawless technique.

Ethan Miller / © Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Grammy Award-winning musician and Latin-rock guitarist Santana performs during his \"Dance To The Beat Of My Drum\" show at the 40th Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux

Oye como va

Carlos Santana took rhythm and blues and gave it a Latin flavor. He also expertly complemented his extraordinary guitar licks with an array of percussion instruments to create a one-of-a-kind musical voice. Lots of influences are apparent in his music, especially jazz, blues and rock. In his early years, he grew out of the psychedelic '60s, but later he incorporated a spiritual element to his songs. Of all of his contemporaries, he probably has the most eclectic body of work, although a Latin soul is the most recognizable aspect of Carlos Santana's music.

Arc/dominic Favre / X01482
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We Will Rock You

Brian May is best known as the lead guitarist of Queen. When that band was in its heyday, front man Freddie Mercury got most of the attention. But guitar enthusiasts marveled at May's frenetic and piercing guitar riffs. He also experimented with lots of different effects and often used his guitar to impersonate other instruments on his recordings. May was a brilliant student and an astronomy buff, and his vast imagination is apparent in all of his songs. He was also responsible for writing many of Queen's greatest hits, including the stadium anthem, "We Will Rock You."

Kevin Winter / Getty Images North America
Keith Richards


Keith Richards is probably best known for surviving a long life of touring and partying as a founding member of The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World, the Rolling Stones. As a guitarist, he is often overlooked because he plays mostly rhythm rather than lead, which usually commands most of the attention among rock watchers. But Keith's rhythm guitar has had a powerful influence on the songwriting, recordings and live performances of the Stones, and he is often sought out by other artists to play on their albums. Keith Richards is considered by many to be the greatest rhythm guitarist of all time.

Remy De La Mauviniere / AP