Treble’s Top 100 Guitarists

best guitarists Kerry McCoy80. Kerry McCoy

I can only imagine McCoy scored so low on this list because he’s a relative newcomer because, holy fuck, the man’s style does not lack for talent, innovation or precision. First catching mass attention for a style that blended black metal and shoegaze, a closer analysis of McCoy’s discography with Deafheaven reveals influence running the gambit from screamo to slowcore to thrash to indie-rock and britpop. And McCoy isn’t all style either—a look beneath the effects reveals how much work he puts into teasing out beauty and complexity in every part. – ATB

Air guitar moment: McCoy’s shoegazing black metal triumph on Deafheaven’s “Sunbather”.

best guitarists Trey Azagthoth79. Trey Azagthoth

Death metal started before Morbid Angel, but it didn’t have its shape until Trey Azagthoth & Co. showed up on the scene. Similar to how Judas Priest crystallized what Black Sabbath started, Morbid Angel developed the sounds started by Death and Possessed. Trey Azagthoth is proof positive that the term “technical death metal” is often redundant, with demanding mad virtuosity in riffs and solos alike, wielding atonality and shred in solos like a version of Kerry King that knew what he was doing.

Air guitar moment: The death metal terror of Morbid Angel’s “Chapel of Ghouls”.

Bob_Stinson78. Bob Stinson

While Bob Stinson’s career was short-lived and tragic, the body work of he left behind is so great, it’s challenging to pick his best moments of shred. Without him, The Replacements would’ve just been another rock band. The legacy of his musicianship lives on in those early ‘Mats records: “Color Me Impressed” and “Seen Your Video” are proof enough of that. When The Replacements’ production value went up on Tim, Stinson managed to keep his raw playing intact. Paul Westerberg’s lyrics were definitely the band’s greatest asset, but Stinson was their secret weapon. – GM

Air guitar moment: Stinson’s speed-freak riffs on “Otto.”

best guitarists Dimebag77. Dimebag Darrell

On the Mount Rushmore of Heavy Metal Guitarists sits Pantera and Damageplan’s “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, creator of some of heavy metal’s most electrifying and recognizable guitar riffs. From their early glam-metal days (when he was Diamond Darrell) to his tragically brief time in Damageplan, Abbott built a catalogue of incendiary solos that stand second to almost no one. A lot of his guitar influences stem from Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and  Ace Frehley’s work in KISS—Dimebag was in fact a dedicated member of the KISS Army, and actually buried in a KISS casket. – CD

Air guitar moment: Dimebag’s heavy grooves on Pantera’s “Floods”.

best guitarists Bob Dylan76. Bob Dylan

It wasn’t Bob Dylan’s singing that made him so attractive to Colombia Records back in 1961, nor was it his songwriting. John Hammond was interested in his harmonica and finger-picking skills. Yes, it was Dylan’s guitar work that helped introduce him to the world of folk music. Over the years, the recognition shifted to his lyrics and delivery, but his guitar playing is not to be ignored. The rhythms and cadences tell the songs’ stories as well as the words do. – CG

Air guitar moment: The finger-picked folk journey of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Mick_y_Joe75. Mick Jones/Joe Strummer

The Clash are quietly like The Police in that their brand of UK punk was always more musically literate and detailed than the stereotyped mean. This is due in large part to their lead riffmakers. From the siren’s call of “Police on My Back” to the forced march of “London Calling,” from the chugging pseudo-disco of “The Magnificent Seven” to the dub dread of “Straight to Hell,” Strummer and Jones constantly found new ways to herald young society’s leather-clad, secondhand desperation. – AB

Air guitar moment: The Clash’s punk rock heroism in “Death or Glory”.

best guitarists Baroness74. John Baizley/Pete Adams

Many of metal’s greatest bands are those defined by their twin-guitar attack: Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray and Adrian Smith; Judas Priest’s K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton; and Baroness’ John Baizley and Pete Adams. Though a relatively young duo by the standards of metal’s now classic rock age, Baizley and Adams are essentially co-lead guitarists, the act of playing rhythm a fairly unheard-of concept within their psychedelic harmonizations. It’s to the duo’s credit that their intertwining lines are so catchy, considering how advanced their performances are. – JT

Air guitar moment: The ascending rock ‘n’ roll majesty of Baroness’ “A Horse Called ‘Golgotha’.”

best guitarists PJ Harvey73. PJ Harvey

When Polly Jean Harvey picks up a guitar, she wrenches something harsh and real from it, channeling the soul and torment of the blues through punk’s dirty, fucked filter. The most obvious example is her torso-thumping crunch on 1993’s Rid of Me, but that raw power and unfiltered nastiness shines through the crust of every album’s chord sequences. Harvey isn’t about showing off—truthfully, very few instrumental performances are anything but in the service of the song—but you better believe that when she plays, she’s bashing out every last emotion she can. – JT

Air guitar moment: Harvey’s tense, solo strumming in “Rid of Me.”

john_frusciante_piscitelli_05_1100_733_9072. John Frusciante

As the former guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Frusciante may not seem like the first choice for this list. But look harder and you’ll find a wide breadth of solo work. His talents, however, shine most brightly on the first Ataxia record, a collaboration with Joe Lally (Fugazi) and Josh Klinghoffer (Dot Hacker, Warpaint, The Bicycle Thief). Just listen to the twin solos on “The Sides” or the extended drone of “Montreal,” and it should be clear: Automatic Writing is, at its heart, a guitar record: moody, contemplative. – BB

Air guitar moment: The hypnotic arpeggios of Ataxia’s “The Sides“.

John-McLaughlin71. John McLaughlin

One of the first adopters of the notoriously dismissed Fender Mustang, McLaughlin could bring the kind of brash and mid-heavy thump that Miles needed in his avant-garde and fusion excursions, while still tempering the variety of his influences (Indian Classical, Flamenco, Gypsy Jazz) to accommodate Miles’ vision. His work with The Mahavishnu Orchestra went on to inspire musicians across the span of genres and decades (David Sylvian, Massive Attack and Mars Volta to name a few). But more than anything, McLaughlin should be remembered as a guitarist able to reconcile the divide between disparate schools of music, all with one instrument. – JM

Air guitar moment: Twenty-five minutes of groove-heavy jazz-rock fusion strut on Miles Davis’ “Right Off.”

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View Comments (26)
  • I was a little worried about the list from the initial commentary. Still, a fine list none the less, though I wonder about ranking. (Of course an almost impossible endeavor.) I would suggest possible add-ons to explore such as Danny Gatton, Eric ET Tingstad, and such blues legends as Steve Cropper and Muddy Waters, as givens. And yes from the disclosure of speed guitar slingers being omitted, it is a shame that Joe Satriani was not on this list, for he taught many of these 80’s guitar slingers their craft.

  • Johnny Ramone has been the new Yngwie for a decade now, and I don’t get it. But hey, at least people listen to the Ramones? I was never under the impression that people actually bought records from the Yngwie-Satriani-SRV crowd.

  • I just knew you’d forget about Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze. He’s technically better than half of this list.

  • I am just crying … did I miss Jeff Beck who to me is the dean of all great British mid-1960s guitarists? And people like Chuck Berry and Les Paul so far down on the list (Les Paul was a guitar innovator). While I know that Prince would not be given the number one mantle if he hadn’t recently die, I am shocked that Johnny Ramone was rated so high. And another giant rhythm guitarist, Keith Richards, was rated relatively low. And another innovator such as Richard Thompson is far too low on the list. And why is Bo Diddley so far down … another trend-setter and innovator. It is apparent that this is a young person’s list (why would Johnny Marr be top ten?) and I can accept that. But when journeyman guitar players are 20 or 30 positions higher than actual innovators and creative guitar players that established a new sound, this is simply sad. How can Jeff Beck be left off such a list? I hope I simply failed to see his name. And while I love Bob Dylan, his guitar playing has always been mediocre at best. That’s not his true talent.
    I wish more thought had gone into this list. Any top guitar player list that does not list Chuck Berry in the top ten is simply committing a grievous error. Such a crushing oversight …

  • So what is it with Americans not giving Josh Pearson credit where credit is due? The guy is a master of two completely different playing styles (shoegaze and folk/country). The Lift to Experience reunion shows have been fantastic thus far. Maybe when the remix/reissue of Lift’s album comes out in the fall, this country’s music writers will get with the program.

    • Pearson is great, but I think part of it is that the album was marketed really poorly when it was released, and there was only one of them. So while Lift had some following in the UK and their home of Texas, to this day they’re still relatively unknown everywhere else. Doesn’t mean he/they are not awesome, of course.

  • I appreciate all the great blues artists that were rightfully put on the list, but outside of Django there are no jazz guitarists. Wes Montgomery and Grant Green definitely deserve mention.

  • u guys got it wrong in several there are several guitarist on the list that shouldn’t be and you missed several thay should be joe bonamassa for one and where was muddy waters?

  • Generally reasonable choices here, though there are a couple I would replace, but the order here is absurd. Prince above Django Reinhardt? Prince was a phenomenal player, but I think not.

  • I love the Beatles and especially George Harrison, but if you’re going to rank him this high for his contributions to that band, then you have to give just about as much credit to Don Felder of the Eagles. Or did Henley and Frey command you to leave Felder off?

  • Nice piece on Michael Karoli sadly the picture that goes with it is wrong. That is the unknown guitarist who filled in on the TOTP lip sync performance of “I want More”. Michael was out of contact on holiday in Africa at the time.

  • You left out so many great and influential guitarists and put some random indie guitarists… You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • Or maybe different people have different perspectives on what makes a guitarist great. And that’s more interesting than repeating the same list of Guitar World cover stars over and over.

  • Look, I love D’Angelo, but the simple fact that he is on the list goes to show that this was made by people who know nothing about the instrument. If that’s the case, a simple Top 10 would suffice.

  • Look, Prince has had some undeniably epic guitar moments over the years, but his genius is far more as the composer, arranger, performer and multi-instrumental talent than as a guitar hero. You could make a pretty good argument that he doesn’t really belong on this list at all—and thats not an insult given his prolific output in other areas these pure guitarists never touched.

    But by far the most egregious omission here is Jeff Beck. How on earth you think Prince was more influential and a better guitarist than Jeff Beck is laughable at best—but not only did you say that by putting Prince #1, you LEFT Beck off the list entirely.

    Or Cobain—he wasn’t even the best guitar player in his own band when they played live—the relatively ‘complex’ stuff was left to Pat Smear or one of the other earlier touring guitarists. That is an absolutely laughable pick at others’ expense.

    Its sad because there are some edgy picks here that I applaud you taking over some more established names, but this oversight is so bad that it makes what could have been a great list completely tainted.

    I guess it could be worse—you could have put Munky and Head on here in lieu of Jeff.

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