Ever since people play guitar, the is famous question has been asked: Who is the best guitar player in the world? I can just image in how this discussion went on in the past decades:
No way man, Eric Clapton is a far better lad on the guitar than this Keith Richards fellow!
Pete Townshend is better than Jimmy Page…have you seen his windmill move?
Man, Yngwie is strange with his neoclassical sh**…Eddie is way better!
Who needs good guitarists if you can do punk songs with 4 chords?
OMG OMG OMG KIRK HAMMETT KIRK HAMMETT!!!1
There are also plenty of articles in so-called “Music Magazines” done by authors who should know their stuff, right? Or all the lists you will find around the web ranking the best guitar players for you – all with different results. Personally, I am tired of this bullshit! Let me please clarify what I think about this topic:
There just is no “best guitar player” out there!
Oh, and all the best guitar player rankings out there are crap as well. Why, you want to ask? Well, let me explain!
1. Playing Guitar is no Speed Contest
Especially in the 1980s it was all about speed. Who could play the most notes per second, who had the most extreme solos and who had the most outrageous hair. As Michael Angelo Batio put it in his guitar lesson video: “I’m gonna give you the keys to the Lamborghini”. But let’s be honest here: what good is speed for if you have no clue about playing creative melody lines with it? If you play crappy solos, they won’t sound better if you play them at an extreme speed – it just covers up your musical deficits.
2. Jazz is different from Metal (no kiddin)
What use is there in looking for the best guitar player, if you compare apples to oranges? In these lists mentioned above you will find Santana near Kirk Hammett, Kurt Cobain near Les Paul and Dick Dale near John Petrucci. I just mentioned six completely different guitar styles in one sentence – and I cannot find any sense in comparing their musical achievement with each other. It’s like racing rally cars versus formula 1 cars – they all have different purposes!
3. Rock Eras are different
Music greatly changed throughout the years – from the early days of Les Paul until the modern days of John Petrucci. And with that, also the accessibility to learning material or different styles also changed. Therefore it was quite harder to become a guitar player back in the 60s than it is today. This is one of the most important things to remember. I also means that the taste in music changed a lot – what might have been a great song throughout the 1980s might have been out-of-fashion during the mid-90s!
4. What about all the studio guitarists?
One thing most people don’t realize is that most of the guitar players on stage are not really the best ones out there. If you have a look at professional guitar players working for recording studios, these guys often are incredibly good! But – have you ever seen one of them appear in such a list of the best guitar players? No? Me neither.
Bottom line: There is no best guitar player in the world, as there are simply no metrics to measure “best” when it comes to art. Personal tastes are different (luckily!) and what might be a great guitarist to one guy, might be boring for the other one. Also remember kids, music is no competition. You don’t compete with anyone else to be the best guitar player or the best band, your goal should be to live out your creativity and bring joy to your audience!