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Best Ever Lists

100 Greatest Guitarists

They built their own guitars, stabbed speaker cones with pencils, shattered instruments and eardrums — all in search of new ways to make the guitar cry, scream, whisper, shout and moan

Rolling Stone May 17, 2011
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100. Kim Thayil
Soundgarden didn’t set out to destroy metal ”” just take it back to basics. Thayil updated the forbidding sludge and tweaked-out solos of prime Zep. His fondness for the drop-D tuning, in which the low E string is loosened a whole step for maximum heaviosity, still resonates throughout hard rock.

99. Greg Ginn
Ginn reshaped blues-based rock in the crucible of punk. From Black Flag’s 1978 debut EP, Nervous Breakdown, to their 1986 demise, Ginn steered the band from blue-collar punk to molasses-thick metal, anticipating the rise of Seattle grunge.

98. Leigh Stephens
Back in 1968, before heavy metal had a name, Stephens was shredding eardrums with the psychedelic-blues trio Blue Cheer. The group bragged of being the loudest in the world, and Stephens’ molten solos epitomize Sixties rock at its most untethered and abandoned.

97. Robert Randolph
A pedal steel guitarist who made his name playing gospel, Randolph’s family band is one of the most intense live acts in all of jamdom. His thirteen-string instrument has a chillingly clear tone, and his solos are dotted with howling melodies and perpetually cresting, lightning-fast explorations.

96. Angus Young
Young specializes in the sort of filthy solos that first made people characterize the blues as the devil’s music. His playing is drenched in testosterone, booze and punk venom, but it’s the blues swing that keeps AC/DC’s hard rock trend-proof.

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95. Kevin Shields
In concert, Shields stood stone-still and played at such unspeakable volume the overtones suggested instruments that weren’t there. His band was labeled “shoegazers” and his music “dream pop.” My Bloody Valentine’s shape-shifting, surreal melodies and contrast of delicate beauty with unbearable noise concocted an entirely new language for the electric guitar.

94. Bert Jansch
Jimmy Page was obsessed with him, and Neil Young has called him his favorite acoustic guitarist. Jansch’s fusion of jazz, blues and classical with traditional folk has made him a standout since his 1965 debut, and even latter-day groups such as Oasis and Pulp have given him props.

93. Fred “Sonic” Smith
In the MC5, Wayne Kramer and Smith funneled Sun Ra’s sci-fi jazz through twin howitzers. Together they staked out a vision for hard rock that felt ecstatic, giddy, boundless.

92. Wayne Kramer
In the MC5, Kramer and Fred Smith funneled Sun Ra’s sci-fi jazz through twin howitzers. Together they staked out a vision for hard rock that felt ecstatic, giddy, boundless.

91. Robby Krieger
Krieger’s strengths are flexibility and self-effacement. A broad stylist whose influences extend to country, flamenco and raga, he could also get as nasty as he needed to, but he understood that instrumental interplay was what mattered.

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