Over the years, musicians have come and gone, yet only the true legends remain as household names even until today.
The same is true for guitarists. Known for their electrifying moves and suave guitar-playing, some names just seem to be unforgettable.
While there’s a lot of debate about who’s the greatest guitarist of all time, we believe we can narrow down five of the best in their respective genres. We made sure to be as reasonable as possible and explain why they made it to the list.
With that said, here are our 5 great guitarists across different genres – and why they became famous.
Jimi Hendrix – Rock
When it comes to rock guitarists, Jimi Hendrix is one of the first names to come to mind. While his career is short-lived, his work made an impact and changed the way we came to know rock and roll.
Born James Marshall Hendrix on November 27, 1942, this ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’ didn’t start playing the guitar until he was 15 years old. While other guitarists start at an earlier age, it was obvious that Jimi Hendrix had the talent since he was able to pick it up quickly from then on.
He served in the Army from 1961 to 1962, where he also played the guitar in Army base clubs with fellow Army serviceman Billy Cox. By 1963, Hendrix and Cox formed the King Kasuals band where they got booked for some minor gigs. Nevertheless, Hendrix was noticed by other performers that he got to play for names such as Ike and Tina Turner in addition to his King Kasuals gigs.
However, these gigs with the band were short-lived as he felt like he needed to grow more artistically. He didn’t have his big break until 1966 when The Jimi Hendrix Experience was created. The Experience allowed him to explore his talents, and that undoubtedly launched him to stardom in the UK.
By 1967, he performed for the Monterey Pop Festival and that unforgettable performance made him a global rock icon.
Even today, Jimi Hendrix is remembered for how he changed the rock and roll scene. He pioneered an electronic playing style with his guitar, and his techniques are still widely used today. He is best known for making amplifier feedback and distortions more controlled, thereby successfully transforming noise into enjoyable music.
No doubt, Jimi Hendrix is a musical genius that deserves recognition as one of the guitar greats of all time.
Chet Atkins – Country
When we think of guitars and guitarists, country music is a genre that will always be present. Under this genre, the great Chet Atkins deserves recognition for his unique playing style and overall versatility.
Born Chester Burton Atkins on June 20, 1924, in Tennessee, he started playing stringed instruments at a young age. He was introduced to the ukulele at around six years old and began playing the guitar when he was nine.
The story behind how he became such a talented guitarist is quite interesting. Atkins suffered from asthma and was forced to sleep while sitting upright to make breathing easier. Because of how hard it was to sleep in this position, he would play the guitar until he fell asleep – and even became a life-long habit.
Since he discovered his love for music at an early age, Chet Atkins was already known as a guitarist in high school. Even when his life was less than perfect, he found ways to play the guitar. He was so persistent that he even made a career out of it.
While he’s been a notable guitarist for a while, it was only in 1939 that he developed his unique playing style. He was inspired by Merle Travis’ picking, that he created one of his own. From that inspiration, Chet Atkins began to play interesting melodies by picking with three fingers and controlling the bass with his thumb. No doubt, this playing style shaped the country music that we know today.
Because of how he changed country music, Chet Atkins was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. This is in addition to 14 other Grammy Awards under his name.
B. B. King – Blues
Another guitar great is none other than the King of the Blues himself: B. B. King.
Born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925, King is best known for playing rhythm and electric blues. He started as a choir member for his local church, where his minister taught him the first three chords. And by the age of twelve, he had his first guitar and was able to play it independently.
By the late 1940s, King was already a small name in the blues scene and had performed as part of Beale Street. During this time, he also recorded several songs, although these didn’t perform well in the charts.
His luck changed when he recorded 3 O’Clock Blues, which became his first big hit. Since then, he has released numerous chart-toppers. He is one of the most successful blues guitarists, which is why he stayed active and visible in the music scene until his Farewell Tour that lasted from 2006 to 2014.
B.B. King is most famous for his unique staccato picking, vibrato, and string bending, that his style undoubtedly influenced much of today’s electric blues guitarists.
Django Reinhardt – Jazz
Under the jazz genre, Django Reinhardt seems to be the most influential of them all.
Jean Reinhardt was born on January 23, 1910, in Belgium. Like other guitar greats, Reinhardt developed a love for music at an early age. He first learned to play the violin, but he seemed to be more drawn to the guitar. At 12, he learned to play the banjo-guitar; and by 15, he was already earning money by playing the guitar.
Unfortunately, Django was in an accident in 1928, which left him with two burned fingers. While he was told that his guitar career would end there, Django proved the opposite and began playing with three fingers.
He was eventually introduced to American jazz, and that’s when his talent grew even more. In 1934, the Quintette du Hot Club de France was born, and it paved the way for guitar-led jazz. Because of his innovation and artistic talent, Django was able to modify how jazz was played on the guitar. His technique was so impressive that he is acknowledged as the most influential jazz guitarist of his time.
Django Reinhardt changed jazz music for the best, and this accomplishment is widely recognized through multiple pop culture references.
Andres Segovia – Classical
And finally, we have Andres Segovia, best known for his guitar prowess in the classical music scene.
Born Andres Segovia Torres on February 21, 1893, Torres is perhaps one of the most notable classical guitarists to have ever lived. He had his first public performance at the young age of 16, which was successively followed by other professional performances. This proves how talented he was – even at such a young age.
Despite being born in Spain, Segovia toured around the world where his recitals were well-received by the audience.
He had a unique playing technique that allowed his thumb to create a deeper and stronger bass, which blended harmoniously with the melody he created with his fingers. He would pluck with his nails since that allowed him to control each note precisely. This playing style allowed him to express what he wanted to convey through music – which is what he is most known for.
Andres Segovia had such a deep love for classical music that he became a dedicated classical guitar teacher. It is believed that today’s classical guitarists learned from his technique, whether directly or indirectly. That’s how influential he is.