Welcome to the Sweet 16 portion of our first-ever Greatest Guitarist poll!
It all started a few months back, when 128 132 guitarists went head to head, round by round, in a bracketed format. We filled all but four of the slots with the names of incredible guitarists (dead and living) — players chosen for their technical ability as well as their importance and creativity, not to mention how influential they've been. We asked our readers to vote in the final four names, which you did, selecting Nuno Bettencourt, Chet Atkins, Malcolm Young and Jake E. Lee.
But now, several rounds later, we're into the Sweet 16, which is being brought to you by Sweetwater Sound.
Some things to take to consider before casting your vote:
• Influence: Who inspired more kids to beg their parents for a guitar for Christmas? Who inspired a wave of copycats?
• Chops/Versatility: Is the guitarist in question a one-trick pony or a master of many styles?
• Body of Work: Who had the more consistent career? Who has played on more classic albums?
• Creativity: Who pioneered new techniques? Who sounds the most radically different from what came before them?
You can check out the full results via our regularly updated bracket here and at the bottom of this story. (Click on the bracket to expand it.)
Round 4 — Today's Match
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. Queen's lead guitarist has a handful of rock's most enduring solos under his belt, not to mention his undeniably unique tone, which is nearly instantly identifiable to guitar fans everywhere. 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.
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 day.
Guitar World Staff Picks
BRAD TOLINSKI, Editorial Director
Pick: Les Paul
Both Brian May and Les Paul built their own guitars and hand-wound their own pickups. Both are undisputed masters of the overdub and multi-part guitar orchestrations. But let's get real. Les Paul actually invented multi-track recording and was a pioneer in the development of the modern solid body electric guitar. Worshiped by Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Ed Van Halen, Paul was the original guitar hero and could out-shred just about anyone who dared step on-stage with him… including Brian May. Don't get me wrong, when it comes to the guitar, May is much more than just a "little silhouette-o of a man," but Les is the champion, my friends.
PAUL RIARIO, Technical Editor
Pick: Brian May
No other guitar player has as much color or texture to his guitar sound than May. May's homemade red special guitar and VOX amps always gurgled or chimed, churning out thick and chewy tones with all the ferocity of a Mongol horde or be as smooth as rubbing your hand across a velvet smoking jacket. Put aside the epic songwriting and flash of his band, Queen, and listening to May's note-perfect guitar playing is visiting a picturesque neighborhood where it's hard to decide which home is most charming.
DAMIAN FANELLI, Online Managing Editor
Pick: Les Paul
I actually lost some sleep over this one (seven or eight minutes, tops), trying to figure out how to put this into words. In the end, I decided to be incredibly lazy and just quote ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons: "Les Paul brought six strings to electricity and electricity to six strings. He was an innovator, a groundbreaker, a risk taker, a mentor and a friend. Try to imagine what we’d be doing if he hadn’t come along and changed the world.” He was the original guitar hero. Easy choice, people!
JOSH HART, Online Producer
Pick: Brian May
Take away Les Paul's innovations in the gear and recording fields and you still have a guitarist who, in his era, was undeniably at the top of the heap. Les could shred with the best of them well past the age most people start looking for condos in retirement communities, but in my opinion he still can't quite compete with the catalog and influence of Queen's Brian May, who nearly single-handedly convinced a young me to pick up the guitar with his classic solo at the end of "We Will Rock You." With Queen's mega-hits as the vehicles to take his soaring leads to the masses — and that incredible tone to boot — I give May the edge.
JIMMY BROWN, Senior Music Editor
Pick: Brian May
Les Paul was a multi-talented genius and true innovator. More than just a gifted musician and truly inventive guitar player, he also invented multi-track recording and, of course, one of the greatest instruments ever — the Les Paul guitar. Brian May certainly had the advantage of standing on the shoulders of this giant, but what he did with guitar design and multi-track recording, as well as electric guitar tone and musical composition, is the product of the rare über-genius artist.