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40 guitarists who changed our world since 1980

Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty)

#GuitarWorld40: Ever since Guitar World burst onto the scene 40 years ago – with our Johnny Winter-fronted July 1980 issue – we’ve kept readers up to date about the guitar community’s many trends, fads and flavors of the month.  

But we’ve also covered those seminal, magical, groundbreaking moments that made us realize our world would never be the same again.  

Examples? The birth of new musical genres and subgenres, the conjuring of savory new tones and mind-melting techniques, the release of game-changing songs, albums and music videos, the resurgence of long-dormant disciplines and so much more.

With GW’s ongoing 40th-anniversary celebration in the air, we decided to sit back, put our feet up and reflect on the past four decades – particularly in the context of the guitarists who’ve made an undeniable impact on our universe. We made a list of around 85 names, added a few more, and – in our efforts to narrow them down to an even 40 – put it to a vote on

Below you’ll find the results of that poll, with one or two surprises thrown in. There are so many other names that could be on this list – Shawn Lane, Danny Gatton, Lita Ford, Vernon Reid, Carrie Brownstein, Chuck Schuldiner and Gary Moore come to mind, and that’s just for starters – but we humbly offer up these 40 (Actually, as a nod to our old “bonus” lists, we’ve promised you 40 but given you 42… even more if you count multiple guitarists from the same band!). 

Be aware that these guitarists are not ranked or presented in any particular order; this list is simply a celebration of talent, impact and/or influence.

As always, enjoy!