The 30 Most Badass Guitarists of All Time

dfanelli's picture

Guitar players are the coolest creatures on this planet.

Don’t believe us? Consider Buddy Holly. Take away his guitar and he might as well be Melvin Poindexter, full-time accountant and part-time carnival geek. Give him a Stratocaster and suddenly he’s dumping Peggy Sue Gerron and shacking up with Maria Elena Santiago, una caliente Latina!

In fact, guitarists are on a whole different planet when it comes to defining cool. When you play guitar, you can get away with all kinds of acts normal people could never attempt. Face it: An ordinary dude could not walk down the street wearing a leopard-skin jacket, high-heel cowboy boots, flowing silk scarves and dozens of silver bangles without getting beaten up within minutes.

But put a guitar case in that dude’s hands and suddenly grown men want to buy him a drink, and ladies slip him their phone numbers. Or try doing Chuck Berry’s famous duck walk without a guitar; people will think you’re mental. But do it with a guitar and they’ll pelt you with a sea of money and panties.

Since guitar players are automatically cool, that means cool guitar players are the coolest of the cool. In this issue, we exalt this elite class of cold — the players who even we would sell our wives and first born just to have some of their mojo rub off on us. Some of them are pioneers who paved a bold, daring path to define new styles of cool, while others are simply the kind of guitarists we want to be when we never grow up (which is part of being cool).

These people are the real reason why the guitar remains the world’s most popular instrument, so let’s all raise our headstocks and give them a 21-power-chord salute.

JAMES HETFIELD
Born August 3, 1963
Band Metallica
Iconic Guitar 1984 Gibson Explorer
Coolest Riff “Leper Messiah” — Master of Puppets

Most metal guitarists would kill to have half of the power and precision of James Hetfield’s right hand, not to mention his ability to write the most devastating riffs known to mankind, from “Seek and Destroy” and “Creeping Death” to “Enter Sandman.” Of course, most musicians with skills comparable to Hetfield’s have such big egos that they become the targets of our murderous intentions. That’s not the case with Hetfield.

Years of hard-earned success and fame have not changed his down-to-earth attitude. Even though he has become one of the world’s richest rock stars, he hasn’t married a supermodel or become a pompous art collector. Instead, he’s remained true to his working-class roots, spending his spare time building incredibly cool kustom cars and cruising the streets with his car club buddies, the Beatniks of Koolsville.

His kustom masterpieces like “Slow Burn” (a 1936 Auburn boat-tail speedster), “Skyscraper” (a 1953 Buick Skylark) and his daily driver known as “The Grinch” (a 1952 Oldsmobile) are drivable works of art that defy the bland Toyota Priuses, Lexuses and Land Rover SUVs of his Northern California environs like a stiff middle-finger salute wearing a skull ring.

GuitaraddictEd's picture

Most of these guitarist are

Most of these guitarist are or were very cool. Not the best shredders or best tone just f'n cool.

Anyone who calls the legendary Lou Reed a buffoon (Billygadol) has no knowledge of rock and roll or American music at all. Lou is among the 5 most influential musicians in American music history. He belongs in the conversation with, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley.

Study your history dude.

kerr247's picture

I'm dumbfounded by the

I'm dumbfounded by the choices....sure you came up with some greats, like Page, Gibbons, Van Halen, Jimi, Keef....but to leave out Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Zak Wylde, and the baddest of them all, GARY MOORE?

The author is obviously a huge punk-rock fan, who really hasn't a clue how hard it is to do what the above "unmentioned" could/can do! The glam/punk-rockers may have been cool, but actually sucked at tone and skill.

Put down the crack-pipe, and back away from the table...hands in the air.

ipsofacto's picture

I assume your definition of

I assume your definition of "badass" are that of players who aren't necessarily shred masters, but those that exude mucho gusto attitude and/or behavior. Fair enough. Here are MY Top 30:

(edited)
Ted Nugent, Angus Young, Paul Stanley, Billy Gibbons, Skunk Baxter, Darrell Abbott, Rick Nelson, Tony Iommi, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Keith Richards, James Hetfield, Pete Townshend, Ritchie Blackmore, Slash, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Zakk Wylde, Frank Zappa, Carlos Santana, Glenn Tipton, Rudolph Schenker, Duane Allman, George Thorogood, Mick Mars, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Fogerty, Steve 'Steamin' Clark, Robin Crosby, Joe Walsh.

I'm just wondering how many different slants of the "Greatest Guitarist List" can GW create?? lol

cool-arrow's picture

I like some of Avenged

I like some of Avenged Sevenfold's stuff, but damn, do those guys have the dumbest stage names or what?

BillyGadol's picture

Not only is Lou Reed a

Not only is Lou Reed a buffoon, he's also a terrible guitar player. Furthermore, Roy Orbison is a singer and a few others on the list are on the fringe of obscure. To omit Ted Nugent, Angus Young, Jeff Beck, Mark Knopfler, and Frank Zappa is a crying shame!

krshnakrunch's picture

Read the fucking article.

Read the fucking article. Orbison played guitar.

XGC Polaris's picture

How could you not include

How could you not include Dave Mustaine, John 5 and Jason Becker?

krshnakrunch's picture

They're being saved for the

They're being saved for the 30 Biggest Dicks, Freaks, and Cripples Who Play (oops, played - sorry Jason) Guitar article.

FilGee's picture

WTF People Dimebag Darrell

WTF People Dimebag Darrell The baddest badass to ever strap on a guitar, Dave Mustaine, Marty Friedman, Chris Broderick, Steve Vai, Jeff Loomis, Jason Becker, Ace Frehley, Andy James, Michael Angelo Batio And Kane Roberts was pretty badass aswell. Who the hell compiled this list of has beens, It's not very badass now is it.
Oh Dear Guitar World More research is needed I reckon.

BatteredBrains311's picture

2. Trey Azagthoth 1. Pat

2. Trey Azagthoth
1. Pat O'Brien

If you don't know who they are, you don't know what "badass" mean.

codeman305's picture

John McLaughlin, Gary Hoey,

John McLaughlin, Gary Hoey, Michael Schenker, Jason Becker, Frank Marino, what the fuck? Are these guys for real? Joe Satriani? Why don't they just stay home and listen to the Bangles all day long? They don't know shit from shinola.

GEENGADE's picture

Chuck Berry arrested for

Chuck Berry arrested for having his way with women where you there?, Mick Mars he is Mötley Crüe and is the oldest of all the mates to boot and another is Yngwie J. Malmsteen this guy came from a different planet and we all listen to little of him in everything you hear today if that not Bad Arse then I must have been sober in all those crimes I committed. And where still all a live Hahahahaha?? I feel like these guys everyday.

miska's picture

I agree James Hetfield is one

I agree James Hetfield is one of the coolest guitarists of the world. However, his coolest riff mentioned in the article, "Leper Messiah" was written by Dave Mustaine. Also, you mention "his ability to write the most devastating riffs known to mankind, from “Seek and Destroy” and “Creeping Death” to “Enter Sandman.” " Well, "Enter Sandman" was written by Kirk Hammett.

krshnakrunch's picture

You're right about the "Enter

You're right about the "Enter Sandman" main riff, but wrong about "Leper Messiah." Mustaine only claims to have written "part" of the song, and in an interview he further hung himself by claiming it was his "spider chords." That's about as valid as saying he invented the half-step interval and therefore wrote every riff that uses one.

Mustaine:
"Not only [the songs on] Kill ‘Em All, but 'Ride The Lightning' title track, 'Call Of Kthulu,' parts of 'Leper Messiah…' listen to parts of 'Leper Messiah' and then 'Ride The Lighting.' It’s that same spider chord. I invented that! How the hell can you not credit me for writing that?"

FilGee's picture

lol all true.

lol all true.

dadrab's picture

Blackmore did, most

Blackmore did, most certainly, found Deep Purple along with Ian Paice and Jon Lord. Research, man...

And, while this compilation did include Blackmore and several other most deserving guitarists, sadly, it forgot about some of the best of the best in lieu of a few wanntabes, too.

I reckon the likes of:
Santana
Howe
Iommi
Vai
Satriani
Marino

(to name a few )meant little compared the badassedness of James Honeyman-Scott (who???)...

Really?

codeman305's picture

Really? That's my response

Really? That's my response too. John McLaughlin, Michael Schenker, Gary Hoey, Mary Friedman, Frank Marino, WTF? Am I in a parallel universe?

strat714's picture

Blackmore founded Deep

Blackmore founded Deep Purple??? NO, he wasn't even an original member. Research???

Sudin's picture

yeah i love James hetfield he

yeah i love James hetfield he has full attitude of Rock star, that's why he is in Metallica that's why he is the richest rock star,that's why he is the greatest front man of all time, that's why he is coolest bad ass guitar play ever on this planet. so, shut the fuck off you all. yeah, i agree guitar player like clapten , Santana whoever they are legend but not cool. This article is about coolest and Most Bad ass Guitarists of All Time!!!!!!!!!

Sudin's picture

yeah i love James hetfield he

yeah i love James hetfield he has full attitude of Rock star, that's why he is in Metallica that's why he is the richest rock star,that's why he is the greatest front man of all time, that's why he is coolest bad ass guitar play ever on this planet. so, shut the fuck off you all. yeah, i agree guitar player like clapten , Santana whoever they are legend but not cool. This article is about coolest and Most Bad ass Guitarists of All Time!!!!!!!!!

guitarladd's picture

Where is Stevie Ray Vaughan?

Where is Stevie Ray Vaughan? The most badass guitar players of all time! Only about a third of these belong on the list. The others are punk rockers long on attitude but short on guitar playing ability. Well, I expected a bull shit list from Guitar World and kind of half expected they would omit Stevie Ray but had to go through the whole thing just to make sure. Actually I'm amazed they had as many good guitar players as they did. Did they have Jeff Beck? I don't think they did. What a bullshit list.

Admiral Petty's picture

They said most badass,

They said most badass, frankly guitar chops don't have that much to do with that quality. Yet another GW reader that dismisses what isn't technical. While I like a lot of the guitarists the other commenters have mentioned, I don't think most qualify as badass, although badass is largely subjective. I didn't agree with all the spots on the list, plus I think some great badass players were left off the list, but an enjoyable list nonetheless.

It seriously irks me how many GW Readers are narrow-minded and don't understand style versus technique though. Some of the greatest guitarists of all time were those who understood the concept of simplicity.

gnri's picture

srv was just a jimi/albert

srv was just a jimi/albert king ripoff,

i remember when he first came out i thought he could definitly play but what a retread.

jefffos's picture

You're almost to stupid to

You're almost to stupid to insult...almost. I'm really sorry your mother did all those drugs while pregnant with you...

jefffos's picture

I love how you guys were able

I love how you guys were able to say how awesome Hetfield is while taking two thinly veiled shots at Ulrich. I know he's not a guitarist, or really a great musician, but still funny. Hetfield is a perfect pick...

As far as some of the people NOT on here, I love Clapton, Beck, Santana, and some of the others, but I don't see them as badass. And to hell with Nugent...

Damaged262's picture

You mention Santana, which

You mention Santana, which then begs the question, where is Neil Shon? When he left Santana to help form Journey, they created some great hard edge jazz fusion. Well, until they became the ballad juggernauts they morphed into after Steve Perry became lead singer, and even then there was always some monster licks tossed in.
Another glaring omission is Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, who made it cool for someone to be barely over 5 foot tall and still be a rock giant. Ah, a band that were music giants in the 70's and most of them couldn't get on a ride at a Six Flags... Still, they have all of my respect.

jefffos's picture

Neil Schon??

Neil Schon?? Hahaahahahahahahahahahaahahahahaha are you seri...hahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahah I'm sorry, I just can't...hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha I mean NEIL SCHON??!! You got to be joki...hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha I'm sorry, I just can't stop laughing hahahahahaha...Neil Schon, that's a good one man, thanks for that...hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...

Damaged262's picture

I guess you missed their

I guess you missed their first album, not a Journey fan myself after that, BUT I can respect talent you ignorant uninformed hack. Laugh all you want, but this is about talent. My personal vote goes to Buck Dharma, with an honorable mention to Iommi, but that's just because I think the 70's ACTUALLY existed unlike Guitar World. Douche. In addition, I've spoken to many band members as I was a roadie for nearly 12 years and he always had the respect of the people I've spoken to for hours at a time. You should really read about music from musicians, not just think about shred, as that's obviously your niche, I've seen many of your posts. Truly, I've often wished I'd spent more time working the guitar myself, but I'd been spending my time lugging gear to care for a young family. If he was good enough to do lead and rhythm for Santana, he probably has a better reputation than you have.

codeman305's picture

Reach back, pull your butt

Reach back, pull your butt cheeks apart and pull your head out of the universe you are in. Neil Schon doesn't deserve a top 50 spot, much less a top 5 spot. Hell, take Buck Dharma before him. Take Michael Schenker. John McLaughlin/Carlos Santana, Michael Schenker, Gary Hoey, Jason Becker, Frank Marino, Alex Lifeson, take anyone. I've got all their albums, his playing is lackluster at best, certainly not noteworthy.

codeman305's picture

Reach back, pull your butt

Reach back, pull your butt cheeks apart and pull your head out of the universe you are in. Neil Schon doesn't deserve a top 50 spot, much less a top 5 spot. Hell, take Buck Dharma before him. Take Michael Schenker. John McLaughlin/Carlos Santana, Michael Schenker, Gary Hoey, Jason Becker, Frank Marino, Alex Lifeson, take anyone. I've got all their albums, his playing is lackluster at best, certainly not noteworthy.

donnmon's picture

Where's Johnny Winter!? Shame

Where's Johnny Winter!? Shame on you!!

wapiti77777777's picture

Without Ted Nugent or Angus

Without Ted Nugent or Angus Young, this is just another typical BS Rolling Stone list.

gnri's picture

Yes hamment and ace are

Yes hamment and ace are badass, but via and satch are dull wankers. Who agrees?

werewuf's picture

No Jeff Beck, no Clapton, no

No Jeff Beck, no Clapton, no Santana, no Satriani, no Vai, no Angus Young... another brain dead list. Lou Reed was a singer and influenced virtually no one on guitar, for him it was more of a writing tool. There are numerous chaps on this list, while somewhat famous, did not have the effect on history that the six above named guitarists did. You call yourselves a GUITAR magazine? Might as well be a knitting self help guide...

Mr.Bronson's picture

Kirk Hammett wrote the main

Kirk Hammett wrote the main riff of Enter Sandman! :-P

ardiril's picture

"cool guitar players are the

"cool guitar players are the coolest of the cool."

Yeah, but the article is titled "Badass". Huge difference.

seanzilla's picture

Hetfield DOES NOT BELONG ON

Hetfield DOES NOT BELONG ON THIS LIST! Also, John Paul Jones wrote the riff to Black Dog, not Page.

gnri's picture

are you joking that hetfield

are you joking that hetfield isn't badass? James and his riffs are the baddest of all.

timelander's picture

Undoubtedly all of them are

Undoubtedly all of them are cool guitarist (wooa! Djiango Reindhart!!!) But the list forgot Ace Frehley, Frank Zappa, Jan Akerman, Andrew Latimer, Kerry King, Mike Keneally, Mustaine, Hammet, Marty Friedman, Angus & Malcom, Adrian Bellew, Warren de Martini, Paul Gilbert (this guy is really cool) , Satriani, Vai..., what's up?

therealmisty's picture

Some decent choices but no

Some decent choices but no Angus & Malcom? No Joe Satriani, Steve Vai or Kirk Hammett? One or two missing IMO - but let's not get too excited about it, it'd be a dull old world if we all agreed, wouldn't it?

mira's picture

Where the hell is Carlos

Where the hell is Carlos Santana??

What a sham......

timelander's picture

Yeah!!!

Yeah!!!