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The Greatest Guitarist of All Time Readers Poll: The Sweet Sixteen

The Greatest Guitarist of All Time Readers Poll: The Sweet Sixteen

With only 16 guitarists remaining in our massive tournament to crown your choice for the greatest of all time, we decided it'd be nice to take a quick break and take a good, close look at the men who have made it through three grueling rounds to make it to our Sweet 16, which is being brought to you by Sweetwater Sound.

Several legends have already fallen, including Jeff Beck, Kirk Hammett and George Harrison — two of whom fell to Queen's Brian May alone — leaving only these 16 musicians to duke it out for the title of "Best of All Time."

The Sweet 16 kicks off tomorrow, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can download a special Sweet 16 version of the bracket here and start filling in your picks!

Jimi Hendrix

Round 1 — Defeated Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Round 2 — Defeated John Frusciante
Round 3 — Defeated Billy Gibbons

There have been a lot of close matchups in the first three rounds of the tournament, but Jimi Hendrix hasn't been involved in any of them. The 15-time Guitar World cover star has yet to pull less than 75 percent of the vote in any of his matchups, most recently thwarting a hot Billy Gibbons, who was fresh off a big win over Joe Walsh.

Next Opponent: David Gilmour

Key to Victory: Influence/Legacy. Simply put, Hendrix changed the game.

Essential Video:

Randy Rhoads

Round 1 — Defeated Uli Jon Roth
Round 2 — Defeated Mark Tremonti
Round 3 — Defeated Zakk Wylde

Full disclosure: No one through three rounds has merited more total votes than Randy Rhoads. A a close second, though, is Rhoads' next opponent, a certain Mr. Van Halen. This clash of the titans is sure to be one of the most hotly contested matchups of the tournament, as the winner will likely be favored to reach the finals.

Next Opponent: Eddie Van Halen

Key to Victory: Chops/Versatility. Randy simply doesn't have the catalog of Eddie Van Halen, but he was a master of many styles and helped popularize neo-classical metal in his short time in the spotlight.

Essential Video:

Dimebag Darrell

Round 1 — Defeated Mick Thomson
Round 2 — Defeated Chuck Schuldiner
Round 3 — Defeated Vernon Reid

Much like his crushing power-chord riffs, Dime has been a major destructive force through the first three rounds of the tournament. His victory over Slipknot's Mick Thomson in Round 1 remains one of the highest margins of victory so far, with the Pantera guitarist claiming more than 86 percent of the votes. Up next for Dime is Alex Lifeson, resulting in one of the more bizarre matchups so far in the tournament.

Next Opponent: Alex Lifeson

Key to Victory: Chops/Versatility. Dime was a technique monster above all else, playing lightning-fast solos with uncanny accuracy and locking in with his rhythm section for a metallic pounding with metronomic precision.

Essential Video:

Brian May

Round 1 — Defeated Tom Scholz
Round 2 — Defeated Jeff Beck
Round 3 — Defeated George Harrison

Brian May is responsible for not one, but two of the biggest upsets of the tournament thus far, knocking out Jeff Beck and The Beatles' George Harrison in consecutive rounds to make it to the Sweet 16. Toting his Red Special into Round 4, the Queen guitarist will have his hands full with another legend who knew a thing or two about building guitars.

Next Opponent: Les Paul

Key to Victory: Catalog/Body of Work. Les Paul was a true innovator, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that your average rock fan can hum more classic Queen guitar solos than Les Paul riffs.

Essential Video:

Joe Satriani

Round 1 — Defeated Andy Timmons
Round 2 — Defeated Steve Lukather
Round 3 — Defeated Paul Gilbert

Before 1987's Surfing with the Alien was released, it was assumed that a guitarist would simply never break out without a vocalist. A platinum album and several Grammy nods later, and Joe Satriani effectively took shred mainstream, inspiring a wave of copycats hoping to earn their own spot on the Billboard charts with their technical prowess.

Next Opponent: Steve Vai

Key to Victory: Influence/Legacy: As mentioned above, Joe Satriani laid the groundwork for other guitarists to really break out on their own. Throw in the fact that Satch was an early teacher of Vai, and that might just sway the voting in his favor.

Essential Video:

Alex Lifeson

Round 1 — Defeated Neal Schon
Round 2 — Defeated Steve Howe
Round 3 — Defeated Frank Zappa

After beating out the likes of Frank Zappa and Steve Howe, Rush's Alex Lifeson stands alone at the top of the prog-rock heap after three rounds. Prog's guitar kingpin will be out of his element in Round 4, however, when he faces off against a pure metal guitarist in Dimebag Darrell.

Next Opponent: Dimebag Darrell

Key to Victory: Catalog/Body of Work. Influence within their respective genres is going to be a toss-up, and chops are close, but Alex Lifeson has been churning out classic Rush albums since the early '70s.

Essential Video:

Les Paul

Round 1 — Defeated Charlie Christian
Round 2 — Defeated John McLaughlin
Round 3 — Defeated Django Reinhardt

If you don't know the name Les Paul — well, what are you doing here? More than just an innovator of guitar building and design, Paul was an accomplished jazz, country and blues guitarist. From his flawless trills to his pioneering work in the art of overdubbing, Paul's influence pervades nearly every aspect of guitar player — gear, recording, technique — to this very day.

Next Opponent: Brian May

Key to Victory: Influence/Legacy. The name "Les Paul" is practically synonymous with "electric guitar," and that's a hard point to argue.

Essential Video:

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Round 1 — Defeated Johnny Winter
Round 2 — Defeated Joe Bonamassa
Round 3 — Defeated Eric Clapton

After pulling just 50.54 percent of the votes in his first round matchup against the surprisingly social media-savvy Johnny Winter, SRV has claimed big victories over Joe Bonamassa and Eric Clapton. If he wants to keep right on rolling into the Elite 8, the man who saved blues guitar will have to triumph over another legend who was taken from us all too soon.

Next Opponent: Duane Allman

Key to Victory: Influence/Legacy. SRV sparked the rebirth of the blues, along the way inspiring a new generation of bluesmen like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonamassa and Jonny Lang.

Essential Video:

Dave Mustaine

Round 1 — Defeated Marty Friedman
Round 2 — Defeated Kirk Hammett
Round 3 — Defeated John Petrucci

Lying in the wake of Dave Mustaine's path to the Sweet 16 is a who's who of top-tier metal players, including former bandmate Marty Friedman, Dream Theater's John Petrucci and yes, even his eventual replacement in Metallica, Kirk Hammett. Mustaine will once again be eyeing an upset as he takes on the godfather of heavy metal, Tony Iommi, in his Round 4 matchup.

Next Opponent: Tony Iommi

Key to Victory: Chops/Versatility. Iommi is unquestionably the more influential guitarist, but looking at pure technique, Mustaine has a significant edge, thanks to his precision rhythm playing and undervalued stock as a soloist.

Essential Video:

Jimmy Page

Round 1 — Defeated Rory Gallagher
Round 2 — Defeated Lindsey Buckingham
Round 3 — Defeated Chet Atkins

Between his legacy as Led Zeppelin's fabled lead guitarist and his work as a producer and session guy, it's hard to understate the impact of Jimmy Page on the world of rock music. Introducing folk and Eastern music elements into Zeppelin's music put the band in a whole different box than their would-be peers, cementing Jimmy Page as the face of '70s guitar rock.

Next Opponent: Robert Johnson

Key to Victory: Chops/Versatility. Robert Johnson was a great blues guitarist, but Jimmy Page is a great guitarist. Period. His mastery of countless styles — stemming largely from his days as a top session guitarist — might just give him an edge over Johnson.

Essential Video:

David Gilmour

Round 1 — Defeated Ronnie Montrose
Round 2 — Defeated Keith Richards
Round 3 — Defeated Angus Young

For tasteful guitar playing, there is perhaps no one more name checked by his fellow musicians than David Gilmour. The Pink Floyd guitarist may not be the fastest guy on the planet, but he has become the go-to example of what a guitar player in a band setting should be. With wins over Keith Richards and Angus Young already, don't take Gilmour lightly, even if he's up against Jimi Hendrix in Round 4.

Next Opponent: Jimi Hendrix

Key to Victory: Catalog/Body of Work. There's not doubt Hendrix left behind his share of great albums, but Pink Floyd's back catalog is immense, and it's hard for any band or artist to compete with a run of albums that included The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall.

Essential Video:

Steve Vai

Round 1 — Defeated Nuno Bettencourt
Round 2 — Defeated Jason Becker
Round 3 — Defeated Ritchie Blackmore

As both a solo guitarist and as member of David Lee Roth and Whitesnake, Steve Vai has become epitome of the blazing, soulful virtuoso — Ralph Macchio be damned. So far, Vai has had no trouble dispatching shred greats like Nuno Bettencourt and Jason Becker — not to mention the legendary Ritchie Blackmore — but he'll have his hands full when he takes on a man with whom he has shared many a stage and Guitar World cover over the years.

Next Opponent: Joe Satriani

Key to Victory: Influence/Legacy. Let's face is, the legacies of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani are so intertwined that in many ways it's a crapshoot as to who will come out on top. While we gave the nod to Satch for his pioneering spirit, Vai has since become synonymous with guitar virtuosity.

Essential Video:

Tony Iommi

Round 1 — Defeated Leslie West
Round 2 — Defeated Dave Murray
Round 3 — Defeated James Hetfield

Much like every rock player can trace a lineage back to Robert Johnson, it can safely be said that every metal player can trace one back to Tony Iommi. As part of Black Sabbath, Iommi helped forge an entire genre of music with his menacing, down-tuned riffs — and all while missing the tips of two of his fingers!

Next Opponent: Dave Mustaine

Key to Victory: Influence/Legacy. No Iommi, no metal. It's as simple as that.

Essential Video:

Robert Johnson

Round 1 — Defeated Hubert Sumlin
Round 2 — Defeated John Lee Hooker
Round 3 — Defeated Buddy Guy

The story of Robert Johnson is quite literally the stuff of legends (not to mention a major motion picture). Whether or not Johnson ever sold his soul to Old Scratch at the crossroads, his legacy as a blues innovator and an indispensable influence to an untold number of blues and rock players alike has carried him past many of those he would inspire, including Hubert Sumlin and John Lee Hooker.

Next Opponent: Jimmy Page

Key to Victory: Influence/Legacy. It's undeniable that Jimmy Page's blues-infused guitar style can trace a direct lineage back to Robert Johnson, a fact that should be front and center in the minds of voters.

Duane Allman

Round 1 — Defeated Mike Bloomfield
Round 2 — Defeated Warren Haynes
Round 3 — Defeated Dickey Betts

While best known for his work with the Allman Brothers Band — who sent an astonishing four guitarists into the tournament — it's vital to remember that "Skydog" contributed heavily to albums by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Herbie Mann and, of course, Derek and the Dominoes. He was taken from the music world at just 24 years old.

Next Opponent: Stevie Ray Vaughan

Key to Victory: Chops/Versatility. Allman's mastery of slide guitar gives him a slight edge over SRV in the versatility category.

Essential Video:

Eddie Van Halen

Round 1 — Defeated Jake E. Lee
Round 2 — Defeated Michael Schenker
Round 3 — Defeated Slash

With his triumphant return to the top of the guitar heap with Van Halen's new album, A Different Kind of Truth, the timing seems perfect for Eddie Van Halen to make a run toward the final round. While he had little trouble disposing of Michael Schenker and Slash, an incredibly close matchup with Randy Rhoads looms ahead in the next round.

Next Opponent: Randy Rhoads

Key to Victory: Catalog/Body of Work: Both guitarists were innovators and massively influential to all those that followed, so Eddie's edge has to be in his more impressive back catalog, which includes numbers like "Panama," "Hot for Teacher," "Unchained" and, let's not forget, "Stay Frosty."

Essential Video:

The Bracket



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