The hardest thing about these posts about guitar masters is limiting myself to only ten. I can pick my preferred ten and then easily pick another ten if required and each list would be equally noteworthy. So I just have to accept that some notable guitarists will be glaring omissions for some, including myself!
Tony Iommi’s guitar playing style and sound would help define heavy metal. Losing the tips of his middle and ring fingers on his right hand during a factory accident as a teenager affected his playing style and he is the only continual member of Black Sabbath throughout all its incarnations. Never did a guitar sound more ominous than in his hands.
Choice Pick: The 1970 album Paranoid is a master class in hard rock riffery and there is no better example than the classic “Fairies Wear Boots”.
Another guitarist that contributed to defining the sound of heavy metal was Deep Purple founding member, Ritchie Blackmore. He later left Deep Purple to form Rainbow then rejoined Deep Purple for a second stint. In recent years he has formed a folk-rock duo with his girlfriend Candice Night called Blackmore’s Night.
Choice Pick: Hard to go past the obvious “Smoke On The Water”, still being mastered by learner guitarists today.
Tommy Bolin replaced Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple in 1975 to form their much-maligned Mk III lineup. He had previously worked in bands Zephyr, Energy and The James Gang. Despite this impressive pedigree his most outstanding work is on his two solo albums. His debut Teaser, provided examples of the different styles he could play, and the second more cohesive album, Private Eyes, really showcased his development as both a guitarist and a songwriter. Sadly, he died of a drug overdose at a mere 25 years of age during the subsequent promotional tour.
Choice Pick: The 9 minute epic “Post Toastee” from Private Eyes.
Was there ever any doubt David Gilmour would turn up in this list? His playing is simply sublime and he was an integral part of Pink Floyd’s sound in the post-Syd Barrett era. His solo albums don’t quite reach the peak of his work with Pink Floyd yet they’re still worth a listen.
Choice Pick: Hard to limit myself to one outstanding track, but if forced I would have to choose “Comfortably Numb” from 1979’s The Wall.
Although Pete Townshend kicked off his career in the sixties, for me his most stellar performances were in the seventies. Renowned for his unique windmill playing style, the rarity of playing solos, his propensity to jump in the air whilst playing and his obsession with rock operas, he is a guitarist like no other.
Choice Pick: “The Real Me” from the The Who’s second rock opera, the double album Quadrophenia released in 1973. In my opinion a superior work to the much more famous Tommy.
From his schoolboy appearance to his duck walks everyone knows Angus Young. His sound defines AC/DC’s sound along with the outstanding rhythm playing of his older brother Malcolm. Without him there would be no AC/DC.
Choice Pick: “Jailbreak” from their third Australian album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap released in 1976.
Although he died far too young, at age 24 in a motorcycle accident in 1971, he is still remembered as one of the greatest slide guitar players ever. His work with his brother Gregg and friends in the Allman Brothers helped define their sound. His performances with Eric Clapton as part of Derek and the Dominos were integral to the Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs album released in 1970.
Choice Pick: The Derek and the Dominos performance “Bell Bottom Blues” from the aforementioned album is impossible to ignore.
Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing blew everyone away when Van Halen’s debut eponymous album was released in 1978. It seems somewhat hard to believe now that Gene Simmons had trouble securing them a record deal with demos he had recorded for the band. I bet someone kicked themselves about not jumping on to that band wagon early enough.
Choice Pick: His exemplary skills are on full display during the short instrumental “Eruption” from their 1978 debut.
Rory Gallagher is one of Ireland’s most famous guitarists and deservedly so. After performing with power trio Taste, a band who supported both Cream and Blind Faith in their time, he commenced his solo career with the release of his first solo album in 1971. His solo career went on to last for nearly 25 years before his untimely death from complications after receiving a liver transplant in 1995.
Choice Pick: I’ve always been a big fan of “Tattoo’d Lady” from 1973’s Tattoo.
A technically gifted guitarist, Brian May is also renowned for his work outside music. He was awarded a CBE for his services to the music industry and charity work, attained a PhD in astrophysics, was a science team collaborator on NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission and has an asteroid named after him. What a legend!
Choice Pick: The standout track from their debut album and Queen’s first single “Keep Yourself Alive”, released in 1973.