Top 10 Rock Guitarists: The Fallout

Written by Scott Mervis on .

Jeff BeckWell, at least I'm right about one thing. I knew a  list of Top 10 Rock Guitarists would elicit a reaction, and it did.

The emails started at 4 a.m. on Thursday, a few hours after the piece was posted on, and have been relentless since then.

Most people have written to find out why their favorite guitarists weren't on my favorite guitarists list (Beck, Santana, Van Halen, foremost among them). As I responded to one reader, "If you told me you liked chocolate ice cream," I wouldn't say "No, you don't!"

That's all this list was: my favorites. And one thing I noticed during the process is that my picks were all players who serve the songs. All 10 have good songs and don't bury them with a blizzard of notes.

OK, on to the comments (printed as is):


It doesn't matter whether I am a fan of rock music or a student of guitar, you wrote an article titled "Top 10 Rock Guitarists" and you didn't include Eddie Van Halen. I don't know which decade you did the most drugs in - the '70s, '80s, or the '90s - but you have erased all rational thought from your brain. Richard Thompson? Andy Gill? My 3-year-old niece is a more influential guitarist than Neil Young. He's a skilled musician, not a guitarist...

The rest of your list is fine, but Eddie Van Halen? You omitted him completely. Who do you think you are? You're Tribune-Review material, man. Or go work for the Beaver County Times. Seriously...

- Steve W.


Jimmy Page may have made some good or great records, but it's clear from Zepplein live clips that, as a solist, he's not in the same league as Clapton, Hendrix or Beck. He's a spastic flailer, not a sculptor in sound.

John K



I'm sure you'll get LOTS email about your top 10. That list was pretty lame. Neil Young...playing a lead? My dog can play better than that. No Dick Dale, Steve Howe, Eddie, Leo Kotke, Les Paul for gods sake...the list can go on and exceed yours. You're view on music is shamefully narrow for a reviewer of music.

- Steve A.


Saw your top ten list . I guess you're not much of a prog. rock fan! If you were you would surely have Steve Howe near the top of list. You also must not like metal a lot. If you did you'd surely have Ritchie Blackmore, Steve Vai, and John Petrucci. No Santana? No Fripp or Holdsworth?

Alright, you qualified your list adequately by saying this is just your favorites. My point is...there are so many great ones in such a variety of genres that the list making game is kind of pointless....unless you go to say 50 (or maybe 64?). Maybe in a future piece?

Enjoyed your article though, and I agree about Clapton.


Anything like [this list] is purely subjective, so here are some of my own subjectives: Richard Thompson is the only virtuoso on your list, but that's only because there's nobody technically better than that on it, and I wouldn't agree that he's the most underrated at all - Bill Nelson from Be Bop Deluxe or Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music immediately spring to mind (and for all their world-conquering, I think George Harrison is still underrated). Jeff Beck is consistently more inventive and creative than Jimmy Page, always has been, I guess if push came to shove, I'd say Jeff Beck's THE main man; Page's great contribution to rock isn't his playing, but his sound, and the sound of Zep as a whole, that big heavy bottom sound.

Jerry Garcia was a great pedal steel player; I always enjoyed that much more than his guitar playing. I agree with you on Keef; so many of his riffs ARE rock'n'roll.

Brave of you to include Andy Gill, and I do think he's great (I've seen them a few times as well), but neither he nor Thurston nor Ranaldo would have ever existed without Johnny Ramone (although when you say Thurston and Lee were more devastating than anything that came before it - all except for Andy Gill!). I hated Johnny's politics, but like Keef, he WAS the sound of Punk. But if I was only going to pick one out of the bunch, it would have to be Tom Verlaine from Television. Their version of "Little Johnny Jewel" from The Blow Up, truly "comes from somewhere else." Just like Stevie Ray; I was lucky to catch him just two years before he died, and he really was something else.

- Bob C.


- Steve A.


Though I am sure there is room for much argument about who should be or not be on this list, I personally feel that it diminishes the validity of such a list to not include the likes of Carlos Santana. The only arguable point is if he can be minimized to only a great rock guitarist. There can be no discussion about great guitar players over the past 40 years without including him. I am sure others will respond with their favorites that you left off the list, just wanted to make sure my man got his shout-out.

- M. Smith


You totally missed the boat by not including Pat Matheny and Lindsay Buckingham!!

- S.N.


I'm sure you're getting a lot of e-mails, but Neil Young wouldn't make my top 50. Billy Gibbons? One of the best blues rock players ever. Eddie Van Halen? Heralded not only for his revolutionary techniques, but lauded by guitarists such as Steve Morse (my personal favorite) as one of the best rhythm players ever. Curt Kirkwood is a great mention, but my favorite punk guitarist is John Haggerty from Naked Raygun, the most underrated punk band of all time. You should have given yourself a top 25 list to work with, then nobody would write about guys you left off....or maybe they would.

- John M. Rovnan


Eric Clapton is the white-ist blues player ever! And now he has his own line of I-phones or whatever it is. How sad for the Clapton is God movement.

Jeff Beck is still "the" player.

- Paul


Have you ever listened to Tom Verlaine's work? Not only is his work on the guitar with Television incredible but his solo work is just as incredible. Also, how did Mark Knoffler rank on your list. Just a two cent thought by someone who doesn't matter.

- Michael N.


Yes, a top 10 rock guitarist list is a dangerous place to go. I'll throw in my 2 cents worth. You did not mention George Harrison. George was not as technical as some of the guys on your list (but much more technical than Neil Young Jerry Garcia and Keith Richards) but a more expressive guitar player you will not find.

George's genius was his ability to create a "mini composition" in the frame work of a song via his guitar solos. Never content on just "playing scales" for a solo he crafted beautiful melodies for his as well as the Lennon-McCartney songs. Listen to his solo on Something. It is simply beautiful. The slide solo on John's "How Do You Sleep" is unbelievable and although Clapton played the solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" he admits he was trying to make it sound "Beatley" playing like George.

Anyway, I enjoyed your article and just wanted to give you my point of view.

- Mike Z


Recognizing fully that this was YOUR list, but also recognizing that you are a somewhat respected music critic, where on Earth was Jeff Beck?

- S.A.


Right on the money in the Top 4 (Allman gets his due)...... after that, ouch!@#$%

Garcia? Young? Thompson can barely keep it in tune (see Elvis Costello's Spectacle).

Clapton - I agree.

But hey, respect your opinions, as usual!

- Mark C.



this list does an INJUSTICE to my ears.......

"HOWE" could you possible leave off the list "STEVE HOWE"......

if you want your face melted listen to riffs from Close to the Edge or RELEASE RELEASE.... and if you want Virtuoso ... listen to the ANCIENT>>>>

come on man ..Guitar MAG has had him rated top 5 for awhile ..

he's still banging it out with Yes ,Asia , Remedy (with his 2 kids ) , Jazz trio with 1 kid , and of course SOLO which I saw him a few years back at the REX ...

IS there any other better finger picker ..if so Steve's not far behind.....

do your research BRO before you leave a Maestro like Steve off your list

- Killer


Yoy. You've really opened up a can of worms.

Interesting choices.

Hendrix would be #1 on my list.

And the routinely neglected (in the U.S.) Rory Gallagher would be #2.

Otherwise, I love that you included Keith Richards.

Good luck wading through all the posts and emails you're sure to receive.

(Many will probably be ALL IN CAPS!!!!!!)

- Kathleen Keefe


It is nice to read an article about the "best guitarists" and see Jerry's name on the list. Finally, someone with some respect for Jerry Garcia and his talents on the guitar. Thank you Scott.

- Rick


I agree with everyone on your list and it's hard to not leave someone off your list, but I think Carlos Santana deserves to be there somewhere. I also like the fact that you called it "rock" guitarists list. Some of the other lists I saw tried to not make a distinction in styles. Jazz guitarists would be a separate list. Wes Montgomery and Chet Alkins certainly belong at the top of someone's list but not on a rock guitarists list. Same with Brian Seitzer(sp). Interesting subject to think about though.

- Michael S


I always enjoy reading your articles because you have introduced me to bands I have never heard of and I thank you for that. But lets be honest, Jimmy Page has ripped off music many times. From Dazed and Confused to Babe Im gonna leave you to Stairway to Heaven. They were all ripped off. Im sure you know that now all greatest hits CDs from Led Zep now have the original songwriter credited to the songs. Since Page stole most of their songs, their first album has only 1 song that they wrote (Good Times, Bad Times) dont you think he should be disqualified? Yeah the guy was great but anyone can be that good if you steal other peoples riffs and pass them off as yours.

No matter what standard you use, Ritchie Blackmore should be on here.

- Frank


How can you leave Ritchie Blackmore off this list? Deep Purple the real fathers of heavy metal rock!

- Don F.


Jeff Beck is a glaring omission, my friend.

- Charlie H.


One guitarist who is left off so many lists including Rolling Stone's is a contemporary of many of the named musicians and that's of Alvin Lee of Ten Years After.

When I listen to Goin' Home where he incorporated the sounds of the early masters of rock and roll with his own incredible flash I am drawn in and, like you noted with the Keith Richards, he making something that's greater than the sums of it's parts.

- Mark T.


I just read your article on guitarists. Great call on Andy Gill. I saw the modified version of Gang of Four in Pittsburgh at Metropol in 1991 and the reformed original Gang of Four here in Dallas 2005. As good as he is on record, he's better live. There are a lot of very interesting guitarists from that era that just don't get the respect they deserve:

Will Sargent of Echo and the Bunnymen

John McGeoh of Siouxsie and the Banshees

Andy Summers The Police

Ritchie Stotts and Wes Beech of The Plasmatics

- David M.


I enjoyed your article in the PPG today on Eric Clapton. While I agree with you about where he should rank among guitarist, I feel you failed to mention Carlos Santana. I think you have to rate the guitarist according to the style in which they play....Carlos is perhaps the BEST guitarist for his style of music.....

- Dave S.


Where does Eric Clapton, the reluctant guitar hero, rank among the greatest?

Hendrix and page were tops at making strange noises but I doubt if either could have lived with Clapton's blistering improvisations at The Albert Hall 2005 with Jack and Ginger. As much as I loved Jimi - I think Page is overrated nowhere near Clapton's league.

I would much rather listen to Chris Spedding, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frissell rather than Page.

- Dave O.


How is it possible to leave out of that list Eddie Van Halen and Brian May? While I concur with many of your selections, those 2 were the equivalent of game changers on song writing, style, method and practice.

- Tony


I was surprised that I didn't see Bob Quine on your list. He is probably my favorite guitarist of all time. He focused more on the space between notes rather than jamming as many notes in as little space as possible. To me virtuosity is a negative. I take style over virtuosity hands down any day. Yngwie Malmsteen knows how to play guitar but his style is so disgusting and show-offy that I could never include him in my list of top guitarists. I'll Bob Quine over any guitarist for my band.

- Alex S.


Although Eric Clapton is a very good guitar player, I have always felt that he was a bit overrated. I much prefer Robin Trower, Frank Marino, and Ritchie Blackmore. So where were they on your list?

- T.K


I agree that he was not as adventuresome or creative as Hendrix or Beck, but would argue with anyone that he is the most influential guitarist, if nothing else because more people identify with him than his peers. However, his legacy, I believe, is that he and a few of his peers, actually enabled a rebirth of the Blues in the USA which had pretty much died with the popularity of Elvis, the Beatle and 60s soul music. Further, he has championed that cause throughout his career, and has won over the respect of many of the Blues artists that initially resented the British invasion and its pseudo Blues.

- Bill A.


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