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Poll: The Greatest Guitarist of All Time, Round 5 — Alex Lifeson Vs. Tony Iommi

Welcome to the Elite 8 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 Elite 8, 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 5 — Today's Match

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 four rounds. Prog's guitar kingpin was out of his element when he defeated Pantera's Dimebag Darrell in Round 4, proving he can hang with the metal boys. That's an important fact, given his next opponent.

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 — all while missing the tips of two of his fingers!

Guitar World Staff Picks

BRAD TOLINSKI, Editorial Director

Pick: Tony Iommi

There could be an argument made that Tony Iommi is the most influential guitarist of the last 50 years. He is the inventor of heavy metal and therefore responsible for approximately half the music featured in Guitar World over last couple decades, including Van Halen and Metallica. Don't believe me? Ask James and Ed. And with another new wave of hip metal bands like Royal Thunder copping the Dark Lord's undeniable de-tuned sound, it doesn't look like his mighty paw print is going to wane anytime soon.


JIMMY BROWN: Senior Music Editor

Pick: Tony Iommi

A close contest here! Lifeson has, of course, inspired and influenced so many guitarists and bands with his syncopated prog rhythms, ringing sus2 chords and artistic use of chorus and delay effects. I would have to say, however, that Iommi, being the "Godfather of Metal Guitar" and the man who wrote "Iron Man" and so many other prototypical classic crunch riffs that ushered in a new style, is the MVP here.


PAUL RIARIO: Technical Editor

Pick: Alex Lifeson

How dare we do this! Having Tony Iommi, undoubtedly the headmaster progenitor of heavy-metal guitar, and Alex Lifeson, the Wayne Gretzky of hard-rock prog-guitar, go up against each other is like pitting an English porter against a Canadian pilsner. It's a mismatch for sure, but since I'm using a beer analogy, I'll venture to say that if I went drinking with Rachel McAdams and Ellen Page, I'm sure we're all be ordering a Labatt Blue. So Lifeson it is! And so what if my dates are Canucks!?


DAMIAN FANELLI: Online Managing Editor

Pick: Alex Lifeson

As John Candy says in his 1995 film Canadian Bacon, "There's a time to think and a time to act. And this, gentlemen, is no time to think." As always, John Candy — when reciting words written for him by someone else — is right. I won't over-think this; I'll just go with my gut and choose Lifeson. He is, by far, the more technically proficient guitarist. And while Iommi is the papa of heavy metal, let us not pooh-pooh the fact that Lifeson has recorded more seminal rock albums and has influenced his own legion of followers. (P.S.: In the same movie, Candy says, "Canadian beer sucks!" But let's not tell Riario; it would blow his whole beer analogy.)


JOSH HART: Online Producer

Pick: Tony Iommi

Unlike my associate, Mr. Riario, I'll take my beer heavy and dark. I'll admit to Alex having a technical edge over Iommi, and it's close in catalog (I'd stack the first four Sabbath albums against pretty much anyone's entire back catalog), but for sheer influence you have to give this thing to Tony. Could I envision prog-rock as we know it without Rush? Yes. Could I envision heavy metal as we know it without Black Sabbath? Hell no.


TOM BEAUJOUR: Editor-in-Chief of Guitar Aficionado

Pick: Tony Iommi

You don't kick a man when he's down.

Agree, disagree? Have something to add? Let us know in the comments below!