Sadly, Paul Kossoff’s solos for British hard-rock pioneers Free are better-known than his own name, but he is admired by fellow guitarists for the economy of his lines and the purity of his tone. An electric blues fanatic, Kossoff bought his first guitar after watching Clapton perform with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and eventually became a Les Paul master himself. Free, scored some massive hit singles but flew under the radar their entire carreer. After Kossoff’s drug abuse and the band split-up, singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke formed the stadium-oriented Bad Company.
Essential Track: Fire and Water
Once he was Britain’s most progressive blues guitarist, with a Chicago-informed aggression that distinguished his playing from miles away, yet his modesty and child-like kindness deprived him of many accommodations. (Even the name Fleetwood Mac came after combining Mick Fleetwood’s and John McVie’s surnames). After a trip with the Grateful Dead he became reclusive and experimented a lot with LSD. Later on, he underwent electro shock therapy in a London clinic, resulting to a comprehensive hiatus from which he partially recovered. To this day, he continues to make beautiful music with his Splinter group.
Essential Track: Oh Well
It doesn’t get much dirtier than this. Dimebag Darrell takes a Dean ML and a Randall amp to craft tones so heavy that should be illegal. His shrieking, roaring style is the backbone of the jackhammering energy and aggressiveness of Pantera. Heavy at its absolute best.
Essential Track: Cemetary Gates
Link Wray is one of the most influencial figures in Rock music, he created the sound that drop-kicked rock and roll out of its clean, bottom-shake ’50s phase and laid the foundation for punk, metal and every other genre that relies on feral noise to get its point across. Link Wray tamed the Les Paul, playing with thuggish energy and ragged distortion thought his hole-punced Premier amps.
Essential Track: Rumble
Few Rock guitarists in the nineties were as groundbreaking as Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. He incorporated a myriad effets and DJ techniques to create a guitar tone that was as fresh as it was heavy. Morello’s style includes monstrous control of his instrument that hundreds of nu-metal guitarits tried to copy, unsuccessfully.
Essential Track: Bulls On Parade
Hey, this is a Jazz guitarist (Well Duh!) Belgian Gypsy guitar legend Django Reinhart is a master of harmonic structure, mixing inventive melodic improvisation with a decorative gypsy-guitar idiom and vigorous rhythm. After a terrible fire burst at a gupsy caravan his left arm was mutilated and Django had to create a whole new system built around the two fingers that remained intact. As his fourth and fifth digits were permanently curled towards the palm due to the tendons shrinking from the heat of the fire, he couldn’t extend them to all guitar strings. So, his soloing was all done with the index and middle fingers!
Essential Track: Echoes Of France
Not many guitarists can be credited with creating an entire genre. That is no over-statement when the guitarist in question is Tonny iommin. When he terrified the world with his heavier-than-thou tone on the first Black Sabbath record, Iommy truly ushered in a new world order, and heavy metal was born. Just turn out the lights and spin those monstrous riffs. Whoa
Essential Track: War Pigs
Eddie Van Halen
Like Hendrix, this virtuoso boldly went where no man had gone before. If one guitarist’s sound is instantly recognizable with just one note, it’s this guy. His trademark ‘two-handed tap’ technique kicks you in the stomach with awesome speed and tasty phrasing.
Essential Track: I’m The One
Technically speaking, anyone with a Gibson SG and begginer’s chord knowledge should be able to do what Angus Young does. So how come no one gets close to the jaw-breaking tone of that little devil? Backed by who might be the best rhythm guitarist ever, the killer attack and unrelenting rock attitude of AC/DC is worshiped by all.
Essential Track: High Voltage
It’s incredible what enormous impact Randy Rhoads made with so few records. His tragic death in 1982 deprived music lovers of a genius whose stature in the hard rock world reached mythic proportions. Originally a member of Quiet Riot, Rhoads shot to fame as the groundbreaking guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, playing on his first two solo albums. Instead of copying Van Halen -as it was customary at the time- he developed his own unique style, incorporating classical music elements to his playing and showcasing the incredible skill and endless potential he possessed.
Essential Track: Flying High Again
Eric Johnson, the perfectionist. I dare you to name a guitarist with a massive, cleaner tone than his. Growing up in a music environment and studying the piano at a young age made Johnson experiment with music by joining various short-lived fusion and psychedelic rock bands, until turning to becoming a session guitarist. He remained relatively unknown to Rock audiences at large, but steadily built his fame amongst the Guitar community, finally earning the title of one of the most respected guitarists on the planet with the release of the seminal ‘Ah Via Musicom’.
Essential Track: Cliffs Of Dover
Possesing one of the meanest blues tone ever, Albert King would help shape the styles of, well, most of the world’s greatest guitarists. His string bending, interesting tuning methods and use of the electric guitar were all rather progressive at the time, which gave Albert a unique, trademark sound. Many of King’s songs continue to be timeless Blues classics, discovered anew by younger gyutarists. Clapton, Stevie RayVaughan, Keith Richards, Gary Moore and countless others owe everything to the left-handed bluesman with the Gibson Flying V- whether they know it or not.
Essential Track: Crosscut Saw
Name another musician who managed to become a legend recording less than 40 songs. Robert Johnson is the Holy Grail for guitarists who would gladly meet with the Devil in the crossroads and sell their souls for such abilities. He’s so fast and can play so many impossible chords and progressions, it was like he had four hands. Nearly eighty years after his death from strychnine poisoning, he remains an isurmounable father figure for every Rock and Roll musician.
Essential Track: Ramblin’ On My Mind
Allman lived only twenty-five short years on this planet but in that time his irrepressible guitar made an indelible indent on the world of popular music. His signature slide moves unleashed thrilling sheets of sound in perfect harmonic scheme with co-guitarist Dickey Betts and his brother, Gregg Allman. Clapton was so impressed after watching him perform that he invited him to join the short-lived group Derek and the Dominoes, creating ‘Layla’ – among other assorted love songs. He truly was, to borrow Kurt Cobain’s metaphor, the star that burnt out instead of faded away.
Essential Track: In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
If this list was strictly tone oriented, Jeff Beck would be No.1. A ‘musician’s musician’ who has shown an incredible ability to change with the times and create modern sounds – unlike many fellow artists who begin to sound dated over time. Even in the Yardbirds, he had a tone that was melodic but in-your-face – bright, urgent and edgy, but sweet at the same time. You could tell he was a serious player, and he was going for it. He also has one of the most sweet and precise tones that will give you the goose-bumps.
Essential Track: Beck’s Bolero
Stevie Ray Vaughan
With the blinding stratocaster fireworks on his debut album, Texas Flood, in 1983, Stevie Ray Vaughan kicked off a Blues Rock renaissance just when the music world needed one most. This was the start of Stevie’s international stardom and constant worldwide touring that soon made him a worldwide superstar until his tragic death on August 27, 1990 in a helicopter crash, at age 35. His unique and dynamic style continue to increase his posthumous reputation even to this day.
Essential Track: Rude Mood
In 1957, a little boy from Cork saw Elvis on the TV and went crazy on buying a guitar. He began his musical career in the showband era but soon founded the Heavy Rock band Taste. After leaving the band, Rory Gallagher recorded his first solo album in 1971. People’s guitarist, modest, truthful, down-to-earth, never compromising his vision, never selling out. Probably too shy for his own good, definitively too good for this world.
Essential Track: Bad Penny
In the 1970s, there was no bigger rock group in the world than Led Zeppelin and no greater god on six strings than Jimmy Page. A steadily-rising session player, Jimmy Page initially played bass for the Yardbirds, until the band broke up and an obligatory live concert under ‘The New Yardbirds’ name gave birth to Led Zeppelin. It was here that Page demonstrated not only his virtuosity but his incredible song-writing skills. With a tremendous sound to his guitar and an incredible focus to music production, Led Zeppelin created some of the most influential music albums of all time.
Essential Track: Heartbreaker
It first appeared in 1965, written on the walls of the London subway: “Clapton is God!” Eric Patrick Clapton, of Ripley, England – fresh out of his first major band, the Yardbirds, and recently inducted into John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers had just turned 20 and been playing guitar only since he was 15. But Clapton was already soloing with the improvisational nerve that has dazzled fans and peers for more than 40 years and even now his solos still pack the power that made him “God” in the first place.
Essential Track: Hideaway
It will come as no surprise for you that Jimi Hendrix is the indisputable No.1 right? In just four years he managed to change popular music and re-invent guitar playing, making fans, critics and peers alike aknowledge him as the the best Guitarist who ever lived. A flamboyant beast on-stage, he tamed feedback and distortion, set his guitar on fire, took England and America by storm and -as Pete Townshed would’ve said- died before he got old. His feats and influence remain insurmountable to this day.
Essential Track: All