Skip to Content

Best Guitarist of All Time – Must-Know Guitarists

Latest posts by Calum Vaughan (see all)

When you hear the words “best guitarist of all time,” who do you think about? Jimmy Page and his heavy riffs for Led Zeppelin? Eric Clapton? Eddie Van Halen? Perhaps you think about guitarists who can shred the fastest, those with the greatest riffs, or maybe simply the ones who write songs that make you weep. 

There are tons of factors that go into making the best guitar player of all time. I’ve been playing the guitar for almost my whole life, and I couldn’t even begin to list all the guitarists who have been given this status. 

Despite this, it’s a conversation that I find myself deeply enthralled in – there’s so much information and music to consider, so I’ve decided to try my best at rounding it all together.

To do this, I’m going to cover what I think makes an excellent guitarist, three examples of musicians that I think deserve the status, and some info on the guitars that they use. 

So, if you’re interested to find out who is the best guitarist of all time, in my opinion, read on to find out more! I think you’re going to be quite shocked about who I chose! 

Bottom Line Up Front: Buckethead is the absolute best guitarist of all time in my opinion, and it’s all because of his incredible virtuosity, eclecticism, and unmatched technique. On top of this, his songwriting and innovative use of his stunning Gibson Les Paul Buckethead Signature is just out of this world, a true hero! 

What Exactly Makes The Best Guitarists of All Time?

Guitarist

If you ask random people on the street about what makes the best guitarists of all time, you will hear all sorts of different comments. Some people will tell you that it’s essential to be able to play the guitar incredibly fast, others will favor songwriting, but some people will think it’s a combination of all manner of qualities.

I’m in this last category – you need a bit of everything. Let’s take a look at the qualities that the best guitarists of all time should always have, in my opinion. 

Eclecticism

The world “eclectic” isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think about amazing guitarists, but in my opinion, it is essential in breeding the absolute best guitarists of all time.

To be eclectic means that you are versatile and able to apply your skills to a wide range of areas, it’s the idea of being flexible and I think it’s super important in guitar playing. Why do I think this exactly? Well, let me explain. 

There’s no denying Kirk Hammett from Metallica is one of the greatest ever thrash metal guitarists, but what would happen if you gave him an acoustic guitar? George Harrison wrote some truly iconic guitar songs, but imagine asking him to play a death metal solo – it just wouldn’t happen!

These guitarists are easily some of their best in their fields, but if you ask me, the best guitarists of all time are more versatile than this and have an eclectic discography.  

Stage Presence 

The next essential factor to consider when deeming a guitarist as one of the best in the world is stage presence.

Now, this one is kind of controversial – you might be getting angry with me in fact, as what on earth does stage presence have to do with playing the guitar? Whilst I completely understand where you are coming from, I think it’s incredibly important. 

Some of the best guitarists I’ve ever heard wrote music in the genre of shoegaze – you’ve probably heard of pioneers of the genre such as My Bloody Valentine, their use of complex pedalboards, tonal controls and songwriting were incredibly innovative at the time.

However, these guitarists were famous for literally gazing at their shoes during performances – they just stood there and played, and many would agree that this made for a very boring performance. 

Sure, no form of stage presence could rescue someone who simply cannot play the guitar, but in my opinion, it is an essential element. When I pay to see a guitarist perform live, I want to be entertained, not simply stare at his fingers pulling off incredible guitar techniques. You may disagree, but this is what I believe! 

Speed

This next factor is perhaps the one that appears most regularly in conversations about the best guitarists of all time. Most people can agree that reaching dizzying speeds is an absolute must when describing someone as the best guitarist in the world, it’s an absolute constant that will always have to be considered.

However, you don’t just need to be able to play fast – head over to your local guitar practice rooms, and I guarantee that you will hear some random teenager spraying a sweep arpeggio faster than you can click your fingers.

Instead, it’s all about being able to play the guitar fast and beautifully. This may sound obvious, but iit’sa lot harder than you may think.  

Sorry to all the Slayer fans, but I just have to go back to the Kerry King conversation earlier. He may well be one of the fastest guitarists on the planet, but to my ears, it just sounds like harsh noise!

I’m not denying that Slayer has some absolute bangers, but let those guitar notes ring out for goodness sake, I can barely hear the intonation! 

Overall, the best guitarist of all time should always be able to play their guitar fast, but it’s not just about speed. They need to be able to achieve the speed whilst presenting the utmost quality too. 

guitarist

Virtuosic Technique

The last few comments about speed bring me onto my final point, virtuosic technique. Out of all of these factors that make an excellent guitarist, I think this is by far the most important.

When listening to a guitarist that stands out, you’re not just getting speed, stage presence, and eclecticism, but you’re also getting sheer technical mastery.

The main reason that this is top on my list is that it’s not an easy task. People claim that it takes thousands of hours of practice to master the guitar but to truly be virtuosic, you need tens of thousands of hours clocked in – if not hundreds!

I’m talking about having the ability to casually tap sweet arpeggios with a blindfold on, or hold the guitar behind your back and play it with your teeth! These techniques don’t just come with simple practice, they come from pure virtuosity and vision. 

The most important aspect of this is that it doesn’t just apply to the way that you play notes on the guitar. There’s the songwriting aspect, the guitar performance style, the use of effects pedals, and just about any other area in the world of guitars.

You can apply virtuosity and innovation to any element of music, but trust me – there is only a handful of musicians out there that have done so. 

My List of the Top 3 Best Guitarists of All Time 

We’ve taken a look at what in my opinion makes the absolute best guitarists of all time. They need a mixture of stage presence, eclecticism, speed, and most importantly, virtuosity to round it all together.

So, you might be wondering whether there are any guitarists out there that truly demonstrate such well-rounded guitar skills. In my opinion, there is. Read on to find out who I chose!

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

Do I need to say anything more than the name? Jimi Hendrix is an absolute legend, ask anybody whether they are a young beginner or an expert oldie at the guitar, and they will tell you the same.

Hendrix first came onto the scene in the early “60sas a blues-rock guitarist, and he quickly began to turn heads due to his fantastic singing voice, songwriting abilities, and talent at playing the guitar.

There were a ton of other fantastic guitarists on the scene at the time such as Terry Kath, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Guy, but HHendrix’sunique style was something nobody had heard before.

However, it’s undeniable that his true fame began once the “60sbegan to become a little more psychedelic. This dude was a heavy user of psychedelic drugs, and he was regularly under the influence when playing. 

Whilst this is not recommended, it seemed to have a profound ability on his guitar playing. Hendrix would write songs such as “”ll Along the Watch Tower” “and “”urple Haze” “which truly blew people’s minds, utilizing a flow of rhythm and harmony that had just never been heard before.

His songwriting was stunning, his techniques were head-turning, his speeds were truly insane for his time but most of all, he was versatile. 

Believe it or not, Hendrix got a lot of criticism for being a “”oisy guitarist” “in the early “60s with critics preferring the more conventional works of guitarists such as BB King, Mick Taylor and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

To combat this, he started releasing ballads such as “”ay This Be Love” “that truly stopped those critics in their tracks. Truly a one-of-a-kind musician, you’ll always be missed Jimi! 

Herman Li 

Herman Li 

The next candidate for being the best guitarist of all time has to be Herman Li. You may not have heard of his name, but does the song “Through The Fire and the Flames” “by Dragonforce ring a bell?

I thought so – this guitarist is known for writing the truly unbelievable lead guitar solos found in the Guitar Hero III hit song, and no one has quite been able to beat its reputation ever since. 

Whilst I must say that Herman Li loses points for eclecticism (he almost exclusively writes power metal), there is just no denying that his virtuosity in terms of technique, harmony, and speed is unbeatable.

Add to this the fact that Herman Li has such a great stage presence and attitude about him that he has made a second successful career as a Twitch streamer, there should be no wonder why he has made it on this list. 

Even if you are not a fan of power metal music, you are missing out if you have not had a listen to some of this gguy’sguitar solos. They are euphoric and are guaranteed to give you goosebumps, all whilst employing an intensely complex arsenal of guitar decorations, sound effects, techy rigs, and more. Fantastic!  

Buckethead

Buckethead

The third and final guitarist that I believe needs a mention on this list is Buckethead. Now, even though he is probably the least known guitarist on this list, I’m going to go ahead and say it – Buckethead is THE greatest guitarist of all time. There, I said it – in my opinion, there is simply nobody else that can touch him. 

Let’s break it down. First, this dude is unbelievably eclectic – he has released over 300 albums (nope, that’s not a typo) over the last three decades, spanning genres such as thrash metal, classic rock, ambient, math-rock, and even bluegrass!

Some of the albums are so experimental in terms of technique that it’s hard to even give them a genre, he truly is the guitar God of eclecticism. 

Then there’s speed and technique – this dude is simply unbeatable, he would destroy Herman Li in a shred-off and that’s saying something. Not only that, but he somehow seems to have this ability where his fingers are magnetically attracted to the fretboard, resulting in flawless intonation and articulation all of the time

Lastly, Buckethead has formed a stage presence and identity that is just… well, it’s one of a kind.

From his incredible robot dancing to the KFC bucket on his head and his insane backstory, Buckethead has always gone above and beyond to entertain his fans outside of just his guitar playing. This man, real name Brian Carroll, is truly a special human. 

The Signature Guitars of the Best Guitarists of All Time 

When you become one of the best guitarists of all time, fame and fortune are not the only perks. You also get listed on amazing articles such as this, but best of all, you get signature guitars designed for you and sold to fans in Guitar World.

To honor Jimi Hendrix, Herman Li, and Buckethead, II’vedecided to round up each of their favorite guitars – let’s take a look. 

Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Stratocaster

Fender Stratocaster

Jimi Hendrix, unfortunately, had a very short career due to his untimely death, but he still managed to fit in a beautiful arsenal of guitars such as Gibson SGs, Les Pauls, Flying Vs, and more.

The guitarist was also famously right-handed, and in a time when there was less customization in the world of guitars, this meant that Hendrix had to put a ton of effort and money into acquiring right-handed axes.

However, there is no denying that out of all of his guitars, the Fender Stratocaster was by far his favorite. Hendrix was most known for his incredible guitar tone, use of tremolo, and energetic performance, and none of this would have sounded anywhere near as good without a Fender Strat.

He not only looked good playing it, but it provided him the optimum comfort and timbral flexibility that he needed to shine as brightly as he did. No wonder these guitars are so popular to this day. 

Pros

  • A classic, clean, and crisp tone
  • Lightweight and comfortable to play with
  • An unbeatable tremolo arm 
  • Highly customizable 
  • Excellent value for money

Cons 

  • Whilst Hendrix used his Strat for rock music, many consider the guitar to be unsuitable for heavier genres these days 

Herman Li’s Ibanez E-GEN8-PLB

E-GEN8-PLB

Most guitarists like to keep a versatile collection of guitars so that they are prepared for any situation, but not Herman Li.

I mentioned earlier that Herman Li suffers a little bit in the eclecticism department, and this could not be reflected more by his guitar collection which almost exclusively includes guitars from the Ibanez E-GEN series. 

However, the guitarist claims that this is for good reason, with the guitars boasting incredibly truss rod, neck and bridge stability, electronics that work perfectly with his recording style, and most importantly, a highly comfortable neck that works perfectly for insane guitar solos. 

The guitarist loved the E-GEN series so much in fact that it wasn’t them that reached out to him in the first place – he told them that their guitars are almost perfect, and asked them to make some small adjustments to result in the Herman Li signature E-GEN8-PLB. Fair play! 

Pros

  • Excellent build quality
  • Significantly higher bridge, neck, and truss rod stability than alternatives 
  • Famously high-quality electric engineering
  • Very comfortable neck

Cons

  • Not a particularly versatile guitar, generally considered to be designed for heavy metal

Buckethead’s Gibson Les Paul 

Buckethead's Gibson Les Paul 

I’m not only finishing this guide off with the best guitarist of all time but arguably the most iconic guitar of all time – the Gibson Les Paul.

This guitar is simply unbeatable – it’s as versatile as Buckethead’s discography, it’s built as well as his stage presence, and it honestly comes as no surprise that Buckethead almost exclusively uses this beauty. 

Buckethead must have been thrilled when Gibson took his custom Les Paul and released it to the market, complete with his famous and trusty killswitch. It’s a stunning white and red instrument that lives up to the quality of any other Les Paul, but with the added value of knowing that the greatest guitarist of all time used it. If it’s good enough for Buckethead, then it’s good enough for me – enough said! 

Pros

  • Les Paul guitars are widely known as some of the highest-quality guitars on the market 
  • Each guitar is hand-built in the U.S. for only the most premium quality
  • Includes a killswitch for advanced performance techniques
  • Very comfortable to hold 

Cons

  • Due to their quality, Les Pauls can be very expensive

FAQs

Before I finish this guide up, let’s just take a moment to answer any final questions that you may have! 

Question: Who is the Greatest Guitarist of All Time?

Answer: Whilst the answer to this question is subjective, many people consider Brian Carroll (famously known as Buckethead) to be the greatest guitarist of all time. 

Question: What is Considered to be the Greatest Guitar of All Time?

Answer: Guitars are subjective and are designed for different genres and guitarists in mind, but the Gibson Les Paul is widely known to be one of the highest quality and most versatile guitars in the world. 

Question: What is a Signature Guitar?

Answer: Signature guitars are guitars that are released to the general public that is based on the custom designs of famous guitarists, such as the Jimi Hendrix Signature Fender Stratocaster.

Final Thoughts

Wow, that was a journey through rock history! From the incredible guitar talent of Jimi Hendrix to the lightning-fast shredding of Herman Li, we covered just about every era of rock”” roll and then some! 

However, if it was me making the decision, I would simply have to state that Buckethead is the greatest guitarist of all time.

He and his Signature Buckethead Gibson Les Paul make the ultimate power couple, and this has resulted in a truly impressive back catalog of versatile and virtuosic music. I’d also love to mention that there were some guitarists that simply couldn’t make the cut – Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, and Al Di Meola were all close to making my list, and absolutely deserve an honorable mention. 

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and listen to some albums by these superstars, reminding yourself of what makes them such fantastic guitarists. Who knows, with a ton of practice, you could be on this list in the future! 

Related reads: