My 15 Favorite Guitar Players…What I Learned from Them and Why I Love Them!

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Who’s your favorite guitar player?

I get asked this question a lot, and I always find it to be a difficult question to answer.

With so many great players in so many different styles, it can make the decision of choosing a “favorite” an extremely arduous task. So, for this week’s post I’ve decided to narrow it down to 15 players that I feel have had a noticeable impact on my playing over the last 26 years.

For me, this list is a bit skewed to the jazz side of the spectrum since that’s where I tend to hang my hat (so to speak), and I’m sure that there will be those who feel that I’ve sinned against the guitar gods for leaving some of their favorites on the sidelines.

This list started with over 50 names and took several days to narrow it down. I’ve categorized this illustrious bunch by style and have tried to include a nice mix of both old and new favorites.

To help me to narrow down the list of guitarists, I’ve included brief explanations of how each of these guitar greats influences my personal guitar style.

MY 15 FAVORITE GUITAR PLAYERS – THE LIST: (click on the names to hear a clip!)

JAZZ & FUSION:

1.     George VanEps: George saw the guitar as an orchestra and often referred to it as a “lap piano”. He created a three-volume treatise on fretboard movement and harmony entitled Harmonic Mechanisms for the Guitar. He makes playing contrapuntal lines flow effortlessly across the fretboard and was the pioneer of the 7-string guitar.

2.     Jimmy Raney: Jimmy’s playing was like bebop textbook in every solo. He had a wonderful knack for using odd numbered groupings of 8th notes  and moving harmonic ideas over the barline. The tone, melody, technique, and power of his playing made him legendary.

3.     Jim Hall: Jim has been on the frontlines for what it means to be modern for over 50 years. His sense of melody and composition is apparent in every note that he plays. Sometimes referred to as the “Quiet American”, he has a distinct style that sets him apart from other guitar players in jazz. One of my favorite aspects of Jim’s playing is his creativity with chord voicings.

4.     Jonathan Kreisberg: Jon is definitely one of my utmost favorite guitar players on the scene today. His accuracy of rhythm, impeccable technique, melodic freedom, and harmonic creativity places Jon at the forefront of groundbreaking guitarists in jazz today. Jon’s arrangements and compositions are inventive and awe inspiring.

5.     Pat Metheny: What can I say about Pat Metheny? He single handedly changed the face of jazz guitar and has become one of the most recognized players in jazz. His signature style, sense of melody, and time feel has inspired guitar players for over 30 years.

6.     Tuck Andres: Tuck is a solo guitar superhero. The autonomy of musical lines (and his fingers), groove, and the creativity of his arrangements are astounding. His solo album Reckless Precision along with the duet albums created with his wife Patti (there are many!) provide many hours of solo guitar inspiration and creative accompaniment ideas for the aspiring guitarist.

7.     Wes Montgomery: From his introspective ballads to his fiery up-tempo numbers, Wes Montgomery’s playing is just brimming with melodic goodness. His tone and approach to the guitar, along with his ability to effortlessly communicate emotion, make him one of the masters of the guitar.

8.     Mike Stern: Owner of the 55 Bar in New York, Mike Stern brings down the house with his mix of modern rock guitar and jazz vocabulary. Mike’s sound is easily recognizable and is fun to listen to. I have always enjoyed his equal mix of aggression sense of melody. 

9.     Toninho Horta: This guy is fantastic! If you want a Brazilian album that takes you on a beautiful and satisfying melodic journey, pick up the Durango Kid. Toninho has a wonderful sense of melody over complex and creative harmonies and I really enjoy his organic melodic statements and the freedom that he has within his compositions. He has a haunting sense to his music that is easy to listen to– even if (like myself) you don’t understand Portuguese.

COUNTRY:

10. Chet Atkins: Chet has inspired many of the great country pickers of today (such as Vince Gill and Steve Wariner). He took Travis picking to a whole new level with autonomy in his pick-hand movement that seems effortless and flowing. Chet was also a true cross-genre player and helped to define the sound of many famous recordings in country and rock-n-roll.

11. Albert Lee: Albert Lee embodies joy on the guitar. His playing is just so much fun to listen to. Plenty of fire and technique to go around with his very accessible approach to chicken picking via a hybrid picking method (using both pick and fingers).  Additionally, Albert uses a delay effect set to repeat on the dotted eighth note in songs like “Country Boy” that gives super cool combinations of straight sixteenth notes. Definitely not a player to miss!

12. Brad Paisley: Brad is a real guitar player’s guitarist. His comfortable vibe to and fresh approach to country guitar is very inspiring. He has a wide range of techniques and styles under his belt and delivers everything with a fantastic sense of wit and humor. Brad’s influences are evident in his playing and include legends like Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Vince Gil, and Don Rich. Check out his solo album Play – it’s a true must-have.

ROCK & BLUES:

13. Steve Morse: Steve is one of the most incredible players alive. His recordings include everything from Classical music inspired pieces, blistering country tunes, funky breakdowns, to screaming rockers. He plays everything with his own brand of Steve Morse cool – served with plenty of melody and a heaping serving of chops. I have seen him play with the Dixie Dregs, Kansas, and the Steve Morse Band, and right now he is teamed up with the classic rock band Deep Purple. Confidence, attitude, and prowess are just a few words to sum up this one-of-a-kind guitar hero.

14. Eddie Van Halen: I know- this is an easy one, but how could I leave off one of my favorite guitarists who changed rock guitar forever? Eddie Van Halen’s time feel is just down right awesome! Pick any one of the Van Halen albums to see for yourself. His sound and approach to the guitar just seems to be slick with drive and humor. Tunes like “Hang ‘Em High”, “The Full Bug”, “Hot for Teacher”, and “Ice Cream Man” are just a few of the highlights of Eddie’s playing in my humble opinion.

15. Robben Ford: Just a brilliant blues guitar player. His tone along with his melodic approach to improvisation is reminiscent of greats such as Larry Carlton and Robert Cray (two other favorites of mine that had to be mentioned). For me, Robben helped to bridge the gap between how to play with harmonic sophistication while delivering a heart warming or even a mind melting blues guitar solo. One of my favorite albums of Robben’s is “Talk To Your Daughter”. The title track has a wicked guitar solo that still makes me proud to be a guitar player.

There you have it. Now it’s time to log onto YouTube, go to iTunes, or maybe even your local record store (if there is one still around) and check these guys out. If you click on the names of these various players, I’ve linked some examples of their playing.

I encourage you to check out all of the players on this list. Hopefully you’ll gain as much inspiration as I have!

 Some of the recordings can be a bit dated – I know. But trust me when I tell you each of them are well worth the time invested in checking out what they have to offer.

Who are some of your favorite and inspiring guitar players? Feel free to post a comment.

Happy Practicing!