Max Axe
June 27, 2008 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Who are the most talented guitar players alive today?

Not style specific, any genre. I'm looking to enhance my listening pleasure.
posted by netbros to Media & Arts (92 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
My husband, guitar lover, would definitely put Steve Vai on the list.
posted by geeky at 6:33 AM on June 27, 2008

Jimmy Page.
posted by Amby72 at 6:36 AM on June 27, 2008

Steve Morse, especially his work with the Dixie Dregs
Al Di Meola
Pat Metheny
Lee Ritenour
posted by TedW at 6:37 AM on June 27, 2008

John Scofield
Bill Frisell
posted by Perplexity at 6:41 AM on June 27, 2008

Ronnie Earl
posted by zippy at 6:48 AM on June 27, 2008


Eric Johnson
Joe Satriani

You can still enhance your listening pleasure with artists who aren't still living...but I guess these are obvious:

Stevie Ray Vaughn
posted by Pax at 6:48 AM on June 27, 2008

Les Paul, of you-know-what fame, is in his 90s and plays at a NYC jazz club every Monday.

Jim Hall is my favorite jazz guitarist. He's in his late 70s. His more recent music isn't as interesting as his heyday in the '70s, but he's still around and playing.

Leo Kottke is fantastic. Best album is One Guitar, No Vocals.

J. Mascis, formerly of Dinosaur Jr., is great. I saw him play a show with just him and his acoustic -- he put it through a distortion pedal and did some pretty impressive soloing considering no one was backing him up.

Rajamani is a multi-instrumentalist who tends to play some sort of instrument that looks like a hybrid of a guitar and a sitar, or something. Eclectic world music that draws on India and many other countries. Charismatic performer -- see him live if you can.

Ulf Wakenius was the guitarist for Oscar Peterson's band in the last few years of Peterson's life. I saw him perform in 2004, and he was very impressive. You might want to look into what he's doing now (I don't know anything else about him).

- I heard a song from the new Wilco album playing in a cafe, and it had an amazing, very fast guitar solo. I don't know who the guitarist is or what the song is. (Anyone know the song title?! I'd love to hear this again.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:49 AM on June 27, 2008

Berelli Lagrene.
Saw him a few years ago. After his solo runs, there would literally be a pause as the audience sat there stunned. Never seen anything like it.
posted by Mr.Me at 6:54 AM on June 27, 2008

Coincidentally (?), Rolling Stone has an issue out listing the 100 "Greatest Guitar Songs" ever. It's also online. Obviously it'll be deemed imperfect by some, and laughable by others, but you might see some entries that you might otherwise have never considered or heard of. And yeah, there are some dead guys in there. And if you're like me, you'll check some out on YouTube and go "Oh, so they're the ones who did that song!" or "Oh, so that's what that song is called!"

(And to see living legends at their not-so-best, peruse these parody guitar videos.)
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 7:08 AM on June 27, 2008

If you're looking for metal guitarists, it's hard to beat Zakk Wylde.
posted by Nelsormensch at 7:10 AM on June 27, 2008

Carlos Santana is pretty darn good despite his recent pairings with mediocre singers from mediocre pop bands to make excellent tracks with horrible lyrics.
posted by explosion at 7:11 AM on June 27, 2008

Nobody's mentioned B.B. King, Chuck Berry, or Eric Clapton yet? Too obvious?
posted by zsazsa at 7:12 AM on June 27, 2008

John McLaughlin

I haven't followed his recent work but what he did with Shakti & Mahavishnu Orchestra was amazing, not to mention his stellar work with Miles Davis. His early solo jazz work is excellent as well.

He was also part of the Friday Night in San Francisco concert, along with Al DiMeola & Paco de Lucia, which I personally think is one of the best guitar albums of all time. Here's a taste.
posted by jammy at 7:12 AM on June 27, 2008

Joe Pass for speed, accuracy, mastery of the fretboard, complexity.

I actually don't like him very much, but he is in control of his instrument, to the point of absurdity. It's kind of like klezmer music... 1/128th notes coming at you like some goddamned guitar shaped machine gun, but the boy never misses a fret.

Other folks who I admire in guitar often use a lot fewer notes and much more complex modulation to convince me that they are in charge. (Sadly gone from our midst is Chet Atkins, who comes to the top of my mind in this regard. If you aren't looking for a specific genre, and you want to enhance your listening pleasure, why disqualify the dead, incidentally?)

None of this is 'talent', BTW, which I commonly define as unearned facility. Guitarists work hard, as do most artists and musicians. Calling it 'talent' cheapens it considerably, IMO.
posted by FauxScot at 7:14 AM on June 27, 2008

John Williams
posted by Daily Alice at 7:15 AM on June 27, 2008

That's an easy one: Joe Morris
posted by caddis at 7:15 AM on June 27, 2008

My guitar teacher Tom Quayle is pretty good even if he didn't win Guitar Idol.
posted by handee at 7:19 AM on June 27, 2008

Maybe its more personal feeling than objective fact but I would say Michio Kurihara (from Ghost, has played w/ Boris and Damon and Naomi) needs to be in this list. His playing is consistently inventive and interesting to listen to and occasionally transcendent (hazy paradise on hypnotic underworld by Ghost)
posted by zennoshinjou at 7:19 AM on June 27, 2008

Joe Pass... not alive today.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:22 AM on June 27, 2008

also, check out James Blackshaw, especially The Cloud of Unknowing - so beautiful it makes me dizzy
posted by jammy at 7:22 AM on June 27, 2008

Woah, broad topic. There's technical talent (like Steve Vai mentioned above, as well as guys like Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani) and then there are the people who combine technicality and musicality, which is infinitely better in my opinion. Then you must further explore flatpickers, jazz players, fingerstylists and everything inbetween.

Too many to mention. Some of my favourites:

David Rawlings (known for playing with Gillian Welch).
Tony Rice in one of my favourite youtube posts.
Mark Knopfler (someone will probably beat me to it).
David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd).
Dougie Maclean (highly recommend looking into this guy).
Andy McKee (check out the rest of the candyrat guitarists).
Sungha Jung (maybe not one of the best yet but he's 12).

The best way to ffind what you like is to spend X amount of time searching youtube and following what interests you.

Jaltcoh, the Wilco guitarist you're referring to is Nels Cline, and the song was probably Handshake Drugs. Wilco's one of my faves.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:22 AM on June 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

PS - Sorry that Tony Rice link should be
posted by jimmythefish at 7:26 AM on June 27, 2008

To add another (I could do this all day!) - Brian Setzer. Lovely performance.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:30 AM on June 27, 2008

one more: Sir Richard Bishop is also of the amazing - e.g., Zurvan
posted by jammy at 7:35 AM on June 27, 2008

Steve Rothery of Marillion. He doesn't shred or otherwise play really fast, but he has a very deep, emotional playing style. Some people have compared his playing to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.
posted by CMcKinnon at 7:38 AM on June 27, 2008

Larry Carlton
Steve Howe
Robert Fripp
Doug Martsch
Eddie Van Halen
posted by saladin at 7:40 AM on June 27, 2008

(Not that I'm saying these are the five best, just that they're five more names that should be added to your list).
posted by saladin at 7:41 AM on June 27, 2008

Jonny Greenwood.
posted by Windigo at 7:42 AM on June 27, 2008

Mark Knopfler

and to throw a couple of different names in the mix:

Adrian Belew
Reeves Gabrels
posted by kimdog at 7:47 AM on June 27, 2008

Stanley Jordan, though his smooth jazz stylings may not be your thing.
posted by Challahtronix at 7:48 AM on June 27, 2008

Martin Barre- probably the most underrated guitar in rock and/or roll.
Brian May
Richard Thompson
Esteban -That guy that sells guitars on late-night TV infomercials?
posted by Gungho at 7:58 AM on June 27, 2008

Wow, nice dig at Vai, jimmythefish. He's got some weird-sounding stuff (though after all he did play with Zappa), but he's also got some very soulful, musical numbers. He's my pick for the top, but pretty much everyone named in this thread so far is badass to an absurd degree (love Kottke!).

To put a new name up there, you might enjoy listening to Erik Mongrain. He does some wonderful lap stuff
posted by adamdschneider at 8:01 AM on June 27, 2008

Jeff Beck. I think he is still alive, but have no idea what he is up to.
Pretty unique style of playing. Did a lot of instrumental stuff back in the day.

Esteban! lol. I wanted to throw that out too but couldn't remember his name.
posted by a3matrix at 8:01 AM on June 27, 2008

Wow, nice dig at Vai, jimmythefish.

Yeah I didn't mean it to sound that way. I just mentioned him as someone who's usually regarded as being very good on a technical level, and I think that holds. I know he is far, far more than just a technical guitarist, although having said that it's my opinion that he often overplays. I also haven't listened to much of his stuff because I simply don't like it. Apologies, anyhow.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:06 AM on June 27, 2008

What's the average age around here? Most of these tips are at least 20 years old.

Lance Lopez, Eric Gales.
posted by futility closet at 8:07 AM on June 27, 2008

Oh my goodness.

Firstly, you have to check out Buckethead. His style is just completely unique- I've never seen a guitarist who incorporates so many techniques. Best of all, he maintains an open taping policy, and as such you can download entire free live sets at the internet archive. Check out some of the sets from 2008- I like this one a lot. The first few links are songs from his 2007 album Decoding the Tomb of Bansheebot, which is great.

For more awesome shredding action, Herman Li from Dragonforce is spectacular and can rock a groove better than most shredders out there, making his stuff fairly accessible.

Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth is one of my favorite guitar players...he cites bands like Morbid Angel, Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd, King Crimson, etc., as influences, and brings a lot of classical guitar influence to his music.

For the jazzier side of guitar, Stanley Jordan and Johnny A are two guys who jump out at me. I've seen Stanley live and he's a really impressive showman. Pat Martino is another amazing jazz guitarist who has a really amazing story to go along with his chops.

Right now, the guitarist I'm most impressed by is Jimmy Herring of Widespread Panic. He only joined the band recently, but check out some of the spring 2008 live sets you can download at Their shows show up there a day or two after they play- this band is extensively recorded live and with the addition of Jimmy Herring are really starting to hit a new level of awesomeness, which is rare for a band that's been playing for over 20 years.
posted by baphomet at 8:12 AM on June 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mary Timony
Kaki King
posted by bunnytricks at 8:17 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also on the jazz/swing guitar side, Joscho Stephan is incomparable.
posted by baphomet at 8:19 AM on June 27, 2008

One of the best is certainly Junior Brown.
posted by Sculthorpe at 8:22 AM on June 27, 2008

John Petrucci — Known for his incredible alternate picking. This song has, in my opinion, his best guitar solo. I love his rhythm guitar, too; he comes up with lots of intricate-yet-kick-ass riffs.
Magnus Olsson — Kind of the opposite of Petrucci, he's all about legato.
Rusty Cooley — Ridiculous shredder.
Fernando Miyata — If you haven't seen this video, well, wow. You're in for a treat.
posted by Khalad at 8:23 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

There is no guitarist more fun for me to watch than Robert Randolph. Sorry for the bad you tube video link, I don't have enough time right now to find something really amazing.
posted by battlecj at 8:26 AM on June 27, 2008

Liona Boyd is pretty good.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:28 AM on June 27, 2008

Alive: Ry Cooder


Frank Zappa (listen specifically to the song A Watermelon in Easter Hay off the Joe's Garage album)

John Fahey (a coupla songs to start you off might be Sunflower River Blues, Jaya Shiva Shankara, both on this album which your local library might stock).
posted by subajestad at 8:36 AM on June 27, 2008

I can't believe nobody's mentioned Yngwie Malmsteen!

Nuno Bettencort can shred.

Monte Montgomery on both acoustic and electric is the fastest I've ever seen live.

For a really great acoustic sound, Rodrigo y Gabriela are hard to beat (though not shredders).

Oh, and you may not believe it, but John Mayer's work with the John Mayer Trio is really some great guitar playing, if you like the blues.
posted by stovenator at 8:38 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

battlecj: Robert Randolph is a blast. There are over 200 RR & The Family Band live sets on
posted by baphomet at 8:41 AM on June 27, 2008

Almost forgot, if you're lucky enough to catch him live, he can put on quite a show.
posted by subajestad at 8:45 AM on June 27, 2008

David Gilmour should be at or near the top of any such list.
The Edge (the unique carrying of both rhythm and lead is awesome. Listen to the less-produced older tracks to really get the feel of this, particularly Live at Red Rocks)
Jeff Beck
Davey Johnstone is very solid and tasteful, but usually overlooked because he is not flashy.
Eric Clapton may not be God, but he is at least a Saint.
Lindsey Buckingham is another oft-underrated guitarist with a unique method and style.
Jimmy Page

Also, Jack Johnson, John Mayer, and Dave Matthews are masterful in their command of the guitar to match their own styles and singing.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:50 AM on June 27, 2008

I probably wouldn't put him in a "top guitarists" list, but as this thread has pretty much turned into "people who do cool things with guitars," let me give you Steve Unruh. He puts up a lot of free stuff on his site there, and he's very good with an acoustic. I normally describe him as "like Dave Matthews Band, but cool".
posted by adamdschneider at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2008

From an acoustic standpoint:

Leo Kottke
John Fahey (deceased)
Robbie Basho.

From the younger generation, with a similar sound:

Sir Richard Bishop
James Blackshaw
Jim O'Rourke.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 8:56 AM on June 27, 2008

Oh, and if someone is going to mention John Fahey, I will go ahead and mention Jack Rose.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:59 AM on June 27, 2008

I'll go ahead and throw Umphrey's McGee's Jake Cinninger into the mix.

YouTube Results
posted by Roach at 9:09 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Somewhat Jam Rock oriented but in no particular order:

Dickey Betts
Doug Martsch
Chuck Garvey
Trey Anastasio
posted by euphorb at 9:11 AM on June 27, 2008

a3matrix: "Jeff Beck. I think he is still alive, but have no idea what he is up to.
Pretty unique style of playing. Did a lot of instrumental stuff back in the day.

Jeff Beck's still alive and playing.
posted by octothorpe at 9:11 AM on June 27, 2008

Increase your listening pleasure with some dead guitar guys:
Michael Hedges (creative alternate tunings)
Herb Ellis (bebop and straight-ahead jazz)
Wes Montgomery (jazz composer and originator of stuff)

Not dead yet:
Peter Bernstein (stealthily creative jazz player)
Pat Metheny (when he's sideman, a la Brecker's "Time Is Of The Essence")
Mike Stern (try "Standards")

FWIW, I agree with many of the already mentioned, especially:
Nuno Bettencourt
Jim Hall
John Petrucci
Tony Rice

FWIW, I disagree with:
Frank Zappa
Yngwie Malmstein (but great fun to laugh at his concerts)
posted by lothar at 9:20 AM on June 27, 2008

To enhance listening pleasure, I love Rush: Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee on guitar and bass. After forty years they're still touring.
And I second baphomet's mention of Buckethead!
posted by wundermint at 9:24 AM on June 27, 2008

Yeah, Malmsteen...heh. I went to G3 when he was the 3rd wheel of the lineup, and my comment afterward was, "It may as well have been G2." However, for pure, epic cheesemetal, he is hard to beat.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:35 AM on June 27, 2008

Two guys I like:

Charlie Hunter
Tuck Andress

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention my teacher Steve Greene.
posted by tommasz at 9:37 AM on June 27, 2008

If you're willing to listen to metal:

Moyses Kolesne of Krisiun is amazing in his relentless aggression. Krisiun were so fast and on point live I had trouble believing they were human.

Muhammed Suicmez of Necrophagist has an amazing fluidity that absolutely stunned me live.

Then, there's the - unfortunately retired - Jon Levasseur. He probably has the most traditionally melodic sensibility of the three.
posted by ignignokt at 9:59 AM on June 27, 2008

lothar: "
FWIW, I disagree with:
Frank Zappa

Listen to Rat Tomago or Black Napkins and get back to me.

Also worthy and not mentioned:

Brent Mason First call Nashville session player.
Johnny Hilland He's also blind.

Nuno and Buckethead are gods as well.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nuno Bettencourt

Second for Tommy Emmanuel, though I am not a big fan he is really really good at what he does.
posted by Vindaloo at 10:27 AM on June 27, 2008

Can't believe nobody has mentioned Robben Ford or Derek Trucks yet!

I would also suggest Guthrie Govan, Matt Schofield and "n"th Jeff Beck
posted by SpacemanRed at 10:40 AM on June 27, 2008

I don't really know anything about guitar playing, really. But, people I know who do know like (and I also like, even though I know nothing) Kenny Wayne Shepherd. At least I like his older stuff (circa 1996-2000).
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:52 AM on June 27, 2008

And no one has mentioned Doc Watson yet!!?!?1!
posted by gnutron at 10:54 AM on June 27, 2008

Johnny Marr. Period
posted by elmono at 10:58 AM on June 27, 2008

Marc Ribot
posted by desuetude at 11:10 AM on June 27, 2008

What, no Scott Henderson?

Billy Gibbons?

And give Bob Zabek a listen, while you're at it...
posted by dpcoffin at 11:41 AM on June 27, 2008

Quebec's Steve Hill can really play the blues though right now he's in kind of a blue collar metal phase.
posted by canoehead at 11:44 AM on June 27, 2008

If you're looking for pure technical ability, Adrian Legg is pretty hard to beat.
posted by tdismukes at 11:47 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nobody's mentioned John Butler yet, so I'll add that.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:10 PM on June 27, 2008

Yes, Marc Ribot, like desuetude said. His stuff isn't about speed, it's about feel--often being out-of-tune in just the right way. He has chops but he can convincingly pretend like he doesn't. One minute he pulls out gloriously screechy atonal skronk, and the next he sounds like Charlie Christian. Check out his stuff with the Lounge Lizards [Youtube, his solo starts at 3:30], Tom Waits, John Zorn, Elvis Costello or his band, the Cubanos Postizos (the prosthetic cubans).
posted by umbĂș at 12:27 PM on June 27, 2008

A lot of names have been covered already. But I'd throw in Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of The Mars Volta fame (as well as At The Drive-In and various solo and side projects) as another one worth checking out.
posted by mehum at 1:24 PM on June 27, 2008

I'll second Derek Trucks, and also his wife Susan Tedeschi (I saw their tour last summer, and he was tremendous). Old, but still alive: Harvey Mandel.
posted by gteffertz at 1:55 PM on June 27, 2008

Laurence Juber is a killer fingerstyle guitarist.
posted by shannonm at 2:16 PM on June 27, 2008

Redd Volkaert
Brad Paisley
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:27 PM on June 27, 2008

Nthing Marc Ribot, Joe Morris, James 'Blood' Ulmer and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.
posted by box at 2:56 PM on June 27, 2008

Mike Keneally!

Another Zappa alum, alive and currently touring with Dethklok, the cartoon band from Metalocalypse. His non-Dethklok stuff is vaguely reminiscent of Michael Hedges.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 3:06 PM on June 27, 2008

My boyfriend is shocked that no one has mentioned Jon Herington, currently in Steely Dan. And can we get some love for Dan Smith?
posted by kimdog at 4:15 PM on June 27, 2008

Ernest Ranglin is still alive, isn't he?
posted by box at 4:30 PM on June 27, 2008

Auugh! Someone already mentioned Brad Paisley. I'm no country fan but, goodness, can that guy play the guitar.
posted by bz at 4:34 PM on June 27, 2008

Buddy Guy
Jimmie Vaughan is arguably as good or better than his brother Stevie Ray.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:43 PM on June 27, 2008

Allan Holdsworth - Metal Fatigue is a good place to start.

Chris Whitley was an amazing guitar player, sadly gone (far, far too young), his album Dirt Floor is simply gorgeous.

R. L. Burnside
- an authentic Delta bluesman.

Alvin Youngblood Hart
posted by dbiedny at 5:41 PM on June 27, 2008

I'ma go with Keith Rowe and Kevin Drumm.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:20 PM on June 27, 2008

n'thing Jeff Beck
posted by lukemeister at 8:08 PM on June 27, 2008

If you can handle terrible, terrible music and lyrics with absolutely amazing guitar solos, then I recommend Megadeths Hanger 18. Marty Friedman relaly opens up on a few songs and theres some beautiful solos. Skip Dave Mustaines solos though.

He's done some solo stuff, I only listened to one which was really bad.
posted by Admira at 8:24 PM on June 27, 2008

Just tonight I said Joel Paterson may be the best guitar player ever. Well old school player ever.
posted by 4Lnqvv at 9:13 PM on June 27, 2008

Jimmie Vaughan is arguably as good or better than his brother Stevie Ray.

Not sure many people would argue that one...
posted by jimmythefish at 10:57 PM on June 27, 2008

Thank you everyone for the thoughtful responses.
posted by netbros at 8:00 AM on June 28, 2008

WaiWaiWait! There's no David Torn in here...
posted by dpcoffin at 2:11 PM on June 28, 2008

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Albert Lee...
posted by mmoncur at 12:54 AM on June 29, 2008

Mike Varney's "Shrapnel Records" had a stable of awesome guitarists, among them Yngwie Malmsteen, Richie Kotzen, Paul Gilbert, Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe, Marty Friedman, Michael Lee Firkins, Vinnie Moore and Jason Becker. That's a pretty good starter list right there. Try something by (Shrapnel's) Cacophany for mind bending precision and composition.

KevinSkomsvold sez (in part): "Listen to [Frank Zappa's] Rat Tomago or Black Napkins and get back to me."

That's a standard musician's joke --That you just haven't heard the *right* Zappa album. Honest though, I don't hear goodness or skill in FZ's playing. And people who played with him have said the same thing (the only published comment I'm aware of comes from Tommy Tedesco, though). Just opinion though, ymmv.
posted by lothar at 12:14 PM on July 5, 2008

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