30 on 30: The Greatest Guitarists Picked by the Greatest Guitarists
We ask 30 guitarists who they would pick as the greatest of all time.
ZAKK WYLDE by Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal
I first heard Zakk in 1986, when he was with a New Jersey band called Zyris. The next thing I knew, he was playing with Ozzy. Like Zakk, I had been a huge Randy Rhoads fan, so I was very happy that Ozzy picked Zakk to be his guitarist.
When you hear Zakk’s playing, you know right away that it’s him, with that distinctive use of harmonic vibrato on the lower string. Before he came along, every time you saw a blond-haired guitarist kicking a Les Paul’s ass you thought of John Sykes. Now you also think of Zakk. In addition, he’s very diverse stylistically, with the southern rock of Pride and Glory [Wylde’s early Nineties group], the singer-songwriter style of his Book of Shadows album  and, of course, what he does with Black Label Society.
I met Zakk for the first time about a year and a half ago; he was a guest on my friend’s TV show. His visit to the studio was supposed to last for three hours, but he ended up staying for 14. Besides being a phenomenal musician, Zakk’s as good-hearted as I expected. I hope that some day we can do it again.
B.B. KING by Billy Gibbons
My favorite guitarist is B.B. King. His album Live at the Regal, recorded in 1964, remains a classic. The electricity, the crackling atmosphere… Plus, it’s a great sound, recorded with a full band, horns and piano, and a rabid audience thrown in.
B.B.’s distinctive one-note style, his sustain and attack, that kind of call-and-response thing between the vocals and the solos… He’s taken for granted now, which means he’s underrated. Obviously, he’s a maestro entertainer rather than a blues purist, though he can be that too. He’s a former cotton picker, but he remains so self-effacing, plus he has a great sense of humor, lyrically and in life. He’s got class.
MALCOLM YOUNG by Scott Ian
Malcolm Young has got to be the most unsung, underrated guitar hero of all time. He’s the backbone of AC/DC, the greatest rock band ever, and has written some of the most amazing riffs you’ll hear. This is the man responsible for more great rock moments than any other guitarist you can name. Is Malcolm Young the greatest rhythm guitarist in the world? No contest.
I recall being given one of his guitar picks recently after a gig on the band’s current tour, and it was half worn down. But you know what’s astonishing? Apparently that pick was used on just one song during the band’s set that night. Malcolm gets through a pick for every song because he hits the strings so hard. It’s amazing. The man is truly a one-off.
When I first started to listen to AC /DC, it was Angus who caught my attention. He was the lead guitarist and got all the glory. But in about 1979, when I began to get into guitar playing in a serious way, I gravitated toward Malcolm. I was listening to what he did, because he was the guy writing the music. I now appreciate just how incredible he is. He’s a songwriter, not a shredder, but without him what would AC /DC sound like?
If you’ve never heard him play—and can there be anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard Malcolm Young?—then go and listen to the opening chords of “Back in Black.” If that doesn’t move you, then you have no soul. The other songs I’d strongly recommend are “Riff Raff” and “Beating Around the Bush.” The way he takes straight blues riffs and siphons them though the AC/DC sensibility is a lesson to all guitarists.
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