Sadly Eddie Van Halen died of cancer at age 65 on October 6th, 2020. He will forever be remembered as one of the greatest electric guitarist for his skills, speed, creativity, appealing personality and boyish smile. And of course for being the lead guitarist of the famous Rock band Van Halen which he co-founded with his brother Alex, who was the band's drummer.
When I think of Van Halen I think of his skillful and creative tapping technique which incorporated hammering and playing with two hands simultaneously often in a melodic and fast pace.
I also think of seeing him play "Jump." He for sure put his positive and creative spin on Van Halen's rendition of the Kinks classic "You Really Got Me."
Eddie Van Halen was much more than speed. He was skillful, clever and creative and I'll add quite a keyboard player as well.
For those of us who play guitar, dabbled with it, or simply love a good lead, we all have our list of Top 10 Electric Guitarists.
My Top 10 list comes from who I've either listened closely to over the decades or have seen in concert. It's understood there are a variety of guitar styles; Rock, Blues, Jazz, Classical, etc. Please note the other excellent or influential guitarists I indicate in the paragraph below my #10.
I often discussed with my guitar-loving friends in High School, who are their Top 10 favorite guitarists. Decades later, one name remains at the top of my list as well as the list of many others; 1. Jimi Hendrix. It was 49 years ago the rock guitar legend passed at age 27.
To this day his rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” remains my favorite song. Jimi nailed this Bob Dylan song like no one else. His rendition of “Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock is legendary. I was too young to see him play live, but did get to meet his father briefly at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Show in Anaheim in 1999.
Free-spirited Jimi poured his creativity and intensity into playing a right-handed Fender Stratocaster with his left hand. Jimi was a gifted, self-taught, shy, yet bold, lefty guitarist who experimented and perfected unique sound techniques like no player before him, especially the use of feedback.
I like Neil Young’s quote "I could say my number-one favorite band is Jimi Hendrix, and number-two is Jimi Hendrix and number-three is Jimi Hendrix … When you listen to his music … if you really start breaking down the lines and all that … he really wasn't playing things that were that difficult. But, all in all, just his sound, his moves, his lyrics … his whole thing was really something special. And when you put it all together, no one's come close to it yet."
Till today Jimi remains the most influential rock guitarist. Jimi was so iconic, there's a postage stamp of him.
2. Eric Clapton has it all: the look, feel, talent and a voice. I did see Eric live at a benefit concert at MSG in NYC. He was excellent. My favorite Clapton leads/riffs are from his songs:“Have You Ever Loved a Woman”, “Layla” and “Forever Man.” His rendition of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” with Steve Winwood is great. A truly great player and guitar historian who’s done so much to expose us further to many excellent guitarists via his annual Crossroads Guitar Festival concerts.
3. Jeff Beck, a master guitar technician who as Clapton said “If you listen closely, it’s like he’s pulling the sound” I did get to see Beck once at Hofstra University years ago. It was an amazing 1-hour performance. He did not come back on for an encore. Two must see performances on YouTube of Beck’s “Cause We Ended As Lovers” at Crossroads Concert (2007) and his rendition of the Beatles “A Day in the Life"
4. Jimmy Page: Founder and producer of Led Zeppelin. I still love to listen to his leads in "Whole Lotta Love”, "Heartbreaker" and “Stairway to Heaven” to name a few. I did get to see him live once. What a powerful player and performer.
5. Eddie Van Halen: speed, skill, musical and has contributed so much to making Van Halen a global rock band. His leads in "Jump" and "Runnin with the Devil" are just a few examples of how well he plays. When the late legendary Les Paul refers to you as his favorite Rock guitarist hands down, that's quite a compliment.
6. Stevie Ray Vaughan: A Texas blues player who was obviously influenced by Hendrix. However, what a player in his own right. Had the blues voice to match an intense and fluid playing style. I often listen to what I consider his best performances: “Crossfire” and "Pride and Joy" and his rendition of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” with his band Double Trouble. Well respected by the great ones, especially Eric Clapton.
7. Carlos Santana; an emotional, Latin flavored guitarist who’s like no other. "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va" were only the beginning of his greatness. Also his version "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is so good and moving.
8. Roy Buchanan: An amazing blues musician from Arkansas who had mastered tone and technique with his Telecaster like no guitarist before him. Les Paul once said regarding his playing style "He travels down a different road." I did see him in concert at Stony Brook University when I was a teenager. His performance was memorable. He was a big influence on Jeff Beck. I love his version of "Green Onions" at Carnegie Hall.
9. Danny Gatton: Les Paul admired him as did Vince Gill. Gatton was a skilled guitarist who played a variety of styles; bluegrass, rockabilly, country and jazz. Some refer to his style as "redneck jazz". He was known as the "Telemaster" as well the "Humbler" and like Roy Buchanan as "The World Greatest Unknown Guitarist." I especially like his performance of "Funky Mama" when he appeared on Austin City Limits.
10. Steve Lukather: long-time lead guitarist of Toto is known for his melodic, intense and tasty leads. One of his more memorable leads is the blazing run he plays on Toto's hit song "Rosanna". He also has a solo career and has toured with other great guitarist, namely Larry Carlton. His work on Lee Ritenour's CD "Six String Theory" is outstanding especially on "68" and "Shape of My Heart."
There’s many more memorable and influential guitarist that deserve mention and could easily float in between my 6-10 list above. Among them; the well-respected Chet Atkins, Roy Clark, Mark Knopfler, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, BB King, Albert King, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Gary Moore, Dickey Betts, Duane Allman, Pete Townshend, Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh, John Mayer, Jerry Garcia, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, George Harrison, David Gilmour, Chuck Berry and the legendary solid-body electric guitar pioneer and player; Les Paul.
Who’s your Top 10 Greatest Guitarists? Let me know, and let the debate rage on.
Peter Cascone on February 20, 2015:
James displays a deep knowledge and insight into guitar greats in this article. I like the overview aspect of it, and the particular examples. It's great to see new perspectives offered on a complex subject. Very easy read too. Good stuff. Hope to see more soon.
Michael Allen on October 21, 2014:
This article is very informative and excellently written. I would like to read more about their influences on the overall musical environment. Well Done!
Dimaz Trafindo from Indonesia on October 06, 2014:
hendrix is the best guitaris all of time,he's the guitar hero!!!!!!!!