The rhythm guitarist of the one and only, The Beatles, Lennon is the first of two Beatles to be included among the likes of Hendrix and Clapton. Lennon had a unique talent in that he could take a couple of simple notes and string them together in an incredibly beautiful way that was so catchy you couldn’t help but get it stuck in your head. Now that’s talent. To this day, the Beatles are the best-selling band in history, having sold 1.6 billion records. While he was a talented guitarist, John Lennon’s reach and influence went much further.
He was also a staunch peace activist, well known for his criticism of the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration even attempted to deport him from the U.S. Unfortunately, as it often happens with musical geniuses, they leave us far too soon. Murdered by an avid fan, Lennon was tragically taken from the world. In the weeks following his murder, Double Fantasy topped the charts in both the UK and the U.S., and “Imagine” hit number one in the UK in January 1981. Fans were devastated but honored his memory by playing his music. RIP Lennon.
And last but not least, is none other than the iconic, the legendary, the mythical-man-creature, Jimi Hendrix. It’s undoubted that he had a way with a guitar that was unlike any other before him (or after him!) Born in 1942 in Seattle, this godly guitar player is one who has gone down in history (and will forever be remembered) as the greatest guitar player of all time. In a sad twist, however, his career was cut remarkably short – despite his immense talent, he had barely scratched the surface when it came to unlocking his potential. If he were alive today, he would’ve been turning 77 this year.
His instantly recognizable riffs and his otherworldly sound were both produced by his ability to perfect feedback, as well as his knack for combining notes and chords that hadn’t been experimented with before. It’s no wonder that his crazed fans believed him to be an extra-terrestrial! But Jimi was far from awkward or alien-like, he was a smooth man full of soul and a great vision for music and the world. His hits “All Along the Watchtower”, “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady” go down as some of the most memorable songs for guitarists ever. Not to mention his singularly unique interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Well deserved, Jimi.
With a stage name like Albert King, you’d be expecting this top guitarist to have a stage presence to match. Born Albert Nelson in Indianola, Mississippi in 1923, he’s well remembered for saying that he had no influences on his playing style. According to King, he couldn’t relate to any past guitarist, saying “everything I do is wrong.” His nickname, “The Velvet Bulldozer” comes from the fact that he was smooth, but also of large stature, weighing in at 110kg and standing at 6ft 7.
Also, fun fact: he was left-handed but taught himself to play on a right-handed guitar. This tall drink of water managed to master this type of guitar because he played it upside down! Best known for his songs “Born Under a Bad Sign”, and “As the Years Go Passing By”, this legendary guitarist even stopped Jimi Hendrix in his tracks when he opened for him in 1967.
One of the most widely recognized and famous guitarists on our list, next up is Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Born in Liverpool, England in 1943, this internationally worshipped musician was in fact often referred to as “the quiet Beatle.” He was a mystic of sorts, embracing Indian culture and using it to broaden his influence and scope in popular music – he actually incorporated Indian-style instruments and rhythms in the Beatles’ work.
Many considered Harrison as the “third-best” behind his two famous bandmates, McCartney and Lennon, but ironically, Harrison, upon launching a solo career, in fact, surpassed both of them in their solo attempts for a period of time. Famous Beatles songs like “Taxman” and the widely known “Here Comes the Sun” were penned by Harrison. Every album after 1965 actually featured at least two songs written by George.
Born Ellas Otha Bates, this Chicago-born American singer and guitarist wrote and produced all of his own music. More importantly, Diddley helped usher in rock and roll from blues. It’s noted that he influenced artists such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Clash! With a nickname like “The Originator”, it’s fitting that his use of African rhythms and signature beat (five-accent hambone rhythm) is now a cornerstone of hip-hop, rock, and pop music today.
He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame and has received a Grammy! His groovy tunes include titles such as “Bo Diddley,” “Road Runner” and “Who Do You Love?” It’s said that his songs “unleashed a West African groove” because they were catchy and stayed with you. Did you know that his music went on to inspire Keith Richards and Buddy Holly, among others, to pick up the guitar?