Among musicians are the rare few who are known as “guitar masters,” those who take the instrument to an entirely new level, which is what I hope to highlight for you here – the best of the best. These picks are not ranked in any particular order; they are entirely subjective and simply for your aural pleasure.
Cash has the rare honor of having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Gospel Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of fame.
1. Johnny Cash – “Ghost Riders in the Sky”
A 12-string guitar legend, an astounding number of hit songs of the 1960s through today are all inspired by his work, ranging from the Beach Boys through the Meat Puppets.
2. Leadbelly – “I’m Alone Because I Love You”
Segovia is the classical Spanish guitarist of our day. In recognition of his talent, King Juan Carlos ennobled Segovia in 1981 by granting him the hereditary title of Marqués de Salobreña.
3. Andres Segovia – “Asturias”
Williams won 3 Grammy Awards for this 1968 Album.
4. Mason Williams – “Classical Gas”
Over his career, Beck has earned critical acclaim, often referred to as a “Guitarist’s guitarist.” He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, first for his work with the Yardbirds, and then later for his solo work.
5. Jeff Beck – “Come Dancing”
One of the pioneers of the solid-body electric guitar, which made Rock and Roll as we know it possible, Paul is the only person to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
6. Les Paul – “Sleepwalk”
As a young man, Django Reinhardt suffered a terrible accident that maimed his hand, so he taught himself to play using only two fingers. Reinhardt and his musical partner, jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, co-founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France, known as one of the most original bands in the history of recorded jazz.
7. Django Reinhardt – “Blues en mineur”
Vai began his career recording and performing with Frank Zappa, from 1980 through 1982. In 1983, he left and began his highly successful solo career that has earned him three Grammy awards.
8. Steve Vai – “Whispering a Prayer”
As I understand it, Clark was one of those natural talents that could literally pick up any musical style and play it with ease. The following – filmed during an episode of The Odd Couple – shows this clearly.
9. Roy Clark – unnamed
He has been described as “a rocking powerhouse of a guitarist who gave blues a burst of momentum in the ’80s, with influence still felt long after his tragic death” (Allmusic) from a helicopter crash in 1990.
10. Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Texas Flood”
From an old Master of the Blues.
11. Robert Johnson – “Me and the Devil Blues“
Unfortunately Johnny Winter passed away just last July (another great gone). He was listed as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone.
12. Johnny Winter – “Mean Town Blues”
13. Jimi Hendrix
It is only appropriate to open this series with Jimi Hendrix, rated as the greatest guitarist of all time by countless music authorities. One (largely unknown to most) secret to his guitar mastery is that he had freakishly long fingers and thumbs and was able to use them as if he had five fingers.
Here’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”:
14. Hiram Bullock
If you listen to this genre, you know that Bullock was considered a huge talent with a unique sound and was known as one hell of a nice guy. Hiram sadly passed away in 2008.
Here’s “Window Shoppin'”:
15. Wes Montgomery
There are endless superlatives to describe Wes Montgomery. His talent, style and innovation make him one of the greatest guitarists of all time. It has always been one of my musical regrets that I never got to see him perform in person.
Here’s “Blues in F”:
16. Craig Chaquico
Chaquico began to perform occasionally with the Jefferson Airplane at age 16. During the early ’70s, although he had originally planned on attending college, he was offered the opportunity to become a full-time member of the band, a thing he happily accepted. Post-Jefferson Starship, he continued on in a solo jazz/New Age guitar style.
Here’s “Return of the Eagle”:
17. Joe Satriani
Satriani is known as having even faster fretwork than Lee Ritenour, who himself is widely known in the industry as “Captain Fingers.” Some may have noted that my Avatar here at PJM is, in fact, Satriani during his “Blue Dream” tour.
Here’s “Surfing with the Alien”:
18. Duane Eddy
Duane Eddy always described his sound as “twangy.” His discography, amusingly, shows that he has numerous songs with the word “twangy” in them. I always found this song by him to be very, very cool.
Here’s “Sunday Morning Rain”: