There are plenty of very good guitarists out there. For example, I have a high regard for the guitar playing of Martin Gore. I believe that Gore's guitar playing (beginning in the late 1980s) is a perfect complement to Depeche Mode's music.
But I wouldn't call Martin Gore the greatest guitarist ever.
In my view, the three greatest guitarists ever, in alphabetical order, are Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Jimmy Page. In my view, these three made their guitars sing, and were the equivalent of an excellent vocalist in that regard.
I do not include Eddie Van Halen in that rarefied company of guitarists. In fact, I don't rate Van Halen as great, or as good. In my view, the ability to play guitar really really fast does not necessarily indicate good music.
However, there are those who disagree with me. Let's start with 330 guitarists surveyed by Roadie Crew Magazine, who ranked Eddie Van Halen as the second best guitarist of all time. Ahead of Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Brian May, Slash, and everyone except for Hendrix.
Of course, any such list is going to have its detractors. Let's look at someone who thinks that Hendrix should not have had the number one spot:
I think Ed should be in the #1 spot. Jimmy droped some jaws but Ed re-invented the guitar.
And another one:
In a century’s time, Edward may very well take over that #1 position. Think about it.
And then there was one person who, while agreeing that Van Halen was only number 2, made his case for Van Halen occupying that position:
There has not been a more exciting guitar player since van halen. Edward is still the king. He is the Michael Jordan of our time on Guitar. Good luck to all the rest who are really cool to listen to…but not nearly as fun and as original as Edward.
But among the thoughtful (and less than thoughtful) comments regarding the greatest guitarist, there were some real groaners. Or some really bad jokers. Take Mark Johnson:
Who the hell is Yngwie Malmsteen? And whys isn’t Elton John on this list?
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