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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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70. Eddie Van Halen
The sound-obsessed Van Halen makes even simple lines sound like towering chorales and pioneered all kinds of tricks, such as fingers hammering the fretboard. Van Halen sought something different from his rock peers: music that was defiantly arty, but never so much so that it lost touch with devastating hooks.

69. Steve Howe
During an era when everyone wanted to be a bluesman, Howe brought jazz, country, flamenco, ragtime and psychedelia into the mix for prog ”” rockers Yes. The ringing harmonics that open “Roundabout” may be Howe’s best-known moment but Close to the Edge shows his range, from acoustic delicacy to high-octane riffs.

68. Jerry Miller
Miller was tightly tempered on the Pacific Northwest R&B bar scene before joining the San Francisco ballroom band Moby Grape. His playing was never self-indulgent, and his soloing was propulsive, always aware of where the song was headed.

67. Link Wray
Wray is the man behind the most important D chord in history. You can hear that chord in all its raunchy magnificence on the epochal 1958 instrumental “Rumble.” By stabbing his amplifier’s speaker cone with a pencil, Wray created the overdriven rock-guitar sound taken up by Townshend, Hendrix and others.

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66. Vernon Reid
Reid reinvigorated hard rock with shots of soul, jazz and hip-hop. Reid’s solos embraced the free-form abstraction of his early days as a jazz player, but they flexed enough muscle to bowl over any Metallica fan.

65. Hubert Sumlin
Sumlin’s work on Howlin’ Wolf classics such as “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Back Door Man” and “Spoonful” inspired Keith Richards and an entire generation of British bluesmen. Wolf’s idiosyncratic phrasing humbled countless sidemen, but Sumlin embellished the singer’s every pronouncement with angular phrases, vibrato-laden riffs and audacious glissandos.

64. Mick Ronson
This working-class lad from northern England lent musical substance to David Bowie’s theatrical conceits in the Seventies. Ronson, who died in 1993, was the archetypal flash Brit guitarist, known for wrenched, physical solos that favor his hero, Jeff Beck. A sharp, sensitive accompanist, he worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to Morrissey.

63. Danny Gatton
Never a superstar, Gatton was nevertheless a hero to fellow guitarists. He could pluck easygoing, banjo-like country rambles or grind out power chords or create wonderfully melodic jazz excursions that revealed just a sliver of his massive technique. Gatton committed suicide in 1994, just as his national profile was on the rise.

62. Zoot Horn Rollo
“Mr. Zoot Horn Rollo, hit that long, lunar note and let it float,” commanded Captain Beefheart, and the former Bill Harkleroad did that and much more. Rollo was only nineteen when he cut the astonishing Trout Mask Replica in 1969; for the next five years, he brought Beefheart’s cubist riffs and science-fiction Delta blues to life.

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61. Ike Turner
Born on the Mississippi Delta, Turner was one of the first guitarists to successfully transplant the intensity of the blues into more-commercial music. His sound, built around his own razor-sharp rhythm guitar, combined four-on-the-floor rock energy, brash soul shouts and precision execution into a dizzying assault.

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