Sadly passed away, Curtis Mayfield still makes it onto this list thanks to his skills at both the guitar and his time behind the mic. His songs and playing impacted players such as a little player named Jimi Hendrix, and the psychic effects he gave his playing was a huge influence.
Everybody wanted to play like Curtis during the sixties, but in the seventies, the man reinvented his style, adding funk and plenty of wah effects. He played almost exclusively in an open F-sharp tuning, which made his progressions difficult to imitate. He was self-taught, and he knew how he liked to do things.
Many guitar players overcome one thing or another, but what about only having nine fingers? That's the case for Keaggy, a Grammy award-winning guitarist and vocalist in the contemporary Christian music sphere. He lost half of the ring finger on his right hand at the age of four, but that didn't stop him.
He's been ranked as one of the top “finger-style” and “finger-picking” guitarists in the world despite his disadvantage. There are rumors about guitarists like Jimi Hendrix being asked, “how does it feel being the world's greatest guitarist?” Rumor has it Jimi replied, “I don't know, you'll have to ask Phil Keaggy.”
Ry Cooder considered his playing like an out-of-control steam device, but to everybody listening, it was like something totally new and strange. And, critically, really, really good. He led several bands in the sixties and seventies and even contributed to numerous soundtracks like “Brewster's Millions,” “Streets of Fire,” and “Last Man Standing,” among others.
He joined Randy Newman, the Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton to make more music, and there's even a story about how he gave Bob Dylan a late-night lesson on playing like Sleepy John Estes. He landed at number eight on a list of the top one hundred guitarists.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen
Step one for becoming a great guitarist is getting lessons, but that took too long for Lucassen, a Dutch singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist behind multiple science fiction prog rock projects. His compositions range from folk music to shredding heavy metal (imagine a metal song about going through a black hole), and Arjen plays it all.
It's over the top, and the music doesn't care, incorporating Arjen's unique style – he can't even read sheet music. That doesn't stop him from pumping out music like it's keeping him alive. Few can hope to recreate the sounds that he puts into his mind-bending songs.
John Lee Hooker
Plenty of people play “fancy” guitar, and that's fine, but it's not what John Lee Hooker wants to play. He's on record saying that he wants to play mean, mean licks. He burst onto the scene in 1949 with a number-one hit, “Boogie Chillen,” establishing his in-your-face tone.
The droning groove kept yanking the listener along for the ride. Even back then, he seemed like a throwback, but that didn't stop many listeners like Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, and the boys behind ZZ Top from sitting up and taking notice. Even after turning seventy, he was raking in the Grammys.