The greatest Guitar World magazine covers of all time… revealed!

Guitar World's greatest magazine covers
(Image credit: Future)

#GuitarWorld40: In 2020, Guitar World marks its 40th anniversary. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we’ll be sharing key moments from the magazine’s storied history, taking you inside the guitars, the stars and the bizarre from 40 years of the world’s biggest guitar magazine.

What’s the greatest Guitar World magazine cover of all time? You voted, and now it’s time to reveal the winner.

First, a word on the process: hundreds of issues were whittled down to just 25 by Guitar World editors-in-chief – one current and two former.

In keeping with our ongoing 40th-anniversary festivities (be sure to check out the November 2020 issue (opens in new tab), GW fans!), this intrepid editorial trio scoured through more than 500 GW covers in search of specimens that represent stellar design, eye-catching photography, those special “moments in time,” generally fond memories or genuine GW “events”.

We asked you to settle the score and vote for the greatest GW cover of all time. We’ve written a little something-something on the top 10, and included the remainder of the 25 choice covers below. Enjoy.

1-10

1. June 1987 – Randy Rhoads

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

Five years on from the untimely passing of one of guitar’s all-time greats, we paid tribute to Rhoads with our June 1987 issue, which was almost entirely devoted to the late Ozzy guitarist.

Not only was it a powerful tribute to the metal hero, complete with input from Quiet Riot and Ozzy himself, it also became one of the magazine’s biggest successes in our first decade of operation. A worthy winner.

2. September 1998 – 100 Greatest Solos of All Time

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

No prizes for guessing which album inspired this iconic collage of guitar’s most famous faces, but the 100 greatest solos of all time became one of the biggest polls in the magazine’s history.

Before you ask, Stairway to Heaven edged out Eruption for the win. Other high-ranking leads included Free Bird, Comfortably Numb and All Along the Watchtower.

3. November 1982 – Eddie Van Halen… On Technique and Living the Rock ’N’ Roll Dream

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

Might as well… be one of Guitar World’s biggest cover stars! Yes, EVH can lay claim that prestigious title, with 22 covers - a figure only exceeded by Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin’s 24.

This wasn’t the first time EVH appeared on the Guitar World cover – that honor goes to the January 1981 issue, where Eddie posed with a quite frankly insane custom dinosaur electric, but this is one of the most iconic.

“It was an honor,” says EVH. “As it’s been every time I’ve been on the cover of Guitar World over the years!” And boy, have there been a lot of those.

4. June 1996 – Dimebag Darrell

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

Dime remains among the most beloved of Guitar World artists, and this cover, released around the time of Pantera's The Great Southern Trendkill, is a psychedelic ode to Darrell’s dyed beard, always outrageous signature models and, perhaps, his good pal Zakk Wylde and his own love of bullseyes.

5. February 2020 – Jimi Hendrix: The Birth of Heavy

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

One of the ‘big four’ of GW cover artists, clocking up 14 issues throughout the magazine’s history, Jimi Hendrix was a shoo-in for the top 10.

But this 2020 cover’s simple, stripped-back approach was one of the most arresting Jimi covers to hit the newsstand, and was accompanied with a mammoth feature on the origins of heavy music, including the 20 heaviest songs before Black Sabbath.

6. May 2008 – 300th issue

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

Remember 300? For years, you could barely take a step outside without some Gerard Butler type yelling “Tonight, we dine in hell!” right in your face.

Thankfully, the Battle of Thermopylae-inspired movie was still doing the rounds when GW’s 300th issue was being assembled, making for a no-brainer cover concept. We dread to think how long actually assembling it took, however…

7. October 1999 – Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

Page has appeared on the cover 25 times, sometimes by himself, sometimes with Led Zeppelin, but just as often sharing it with fans and fellow guitarists alike – most notably on the mammoth photoshoot for the 25th anniversary 2005 issue which, oddly enough, didn’t make the top 10 here. What were you all thinking?!

Anyway, it's clear to see why this ranked highly with GW fans: Page and Beck face to face for the first time? Yardbird on Yardbird? With EVH thrown into the mix? Only in Guitar World.

8. July 2010 – Stevie Ray Vaughan

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

GW first paid tribute to the late blues hero in its December 1990 tribute issue, but this particular cover was striking in its stark white background, directing all attention to one of blues guitar’s most influential proponents, 30 years on. And, may we say, what a coat.

9. May 1988 – Steve Vai

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

The High Priest of Guitar indeed – and though Steve’s love of cut-off denim jackets has waned, his reputation as one of six- (and seven-)string’s premier sages has remained very much intact.

“When Guitar World first came out I would anxiously await every monthly copy,” Vai recalls. “It was a magazine that contained excitement, inspiration and lots of great info. I remember when I saw my young self on the cover for the first time in March of ’87 with Billy Sheehan, and again solo in the May ’88 issue, and how surreal it felt.

“A part of me couldn’t quite understand how it all happened. But another part of me did understand.”

10. November 2011 – The Big 4: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer

Best Guitar World covers

(Image credit: Future)

Getting the boys together for the November 2011 issue wasn’t easy, but it was most definitely worth it. Our interview and photoshoot were first scheduled to happen in California. When that didn’t pan out, the location shifted to Germany, and then England, until, finally, we cornered them in Milan, Italy.

Our intrepid reporter Brad Angle and grizzled photo editor Jimmy Hubbard flew to Milan on short notice, only to have their plans nearly scuttled by flight problems. In the end, though, they got the history-making photos and the story that finally appeared in that issue.

11-25

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Jeff Kitts

As a teenager, Jeff Kitts began his career in the mid ’80s as editor of an underground heavy metal fanzine in the bedroom of his parents’ house. From there he went on to write for countless rock and metal magazines around the world – including Circus, Hit Parader, Metal Maniacs, Rock Power and others – and in 1992 began working as an assistant editor at Guitar World. During his 27 years at Guitar World, Jeff served in multiple editorial capacities, including managing editor and executive editor before finally departing as editorial director in 2018. Jeff has authored several books and continues to write for Guitar World and other publications and teaches English full time in New Jersey. His first (and still favorite) guitar was a black Ibanez RG550.