Rolling Stone Botches Top 100 Guitarists

Rolling Stone magazine compiles “top lists”. Their top lists used to be very bad; they seemed to solely represent the personal preferences of their editor. Recently the lists have gotten better as they use a “panel” of musicians and critics to select which is an improved system. And in any list, there is a lot of judgement, and should be a little fun.

Even with these improvements, in my opinion, Rolling Stone botched the Top 100 Guitarist list. The list is far too tilted to the past; their #1 guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, DIED OVER FORTY YEARS AGO. Thus my methodology includes “relevance” in the calculation, and someone who died over forty years ago, correspondingly scores lower. I read through the list carefully, consulted outside sources, reviewed my own music, and built a “methodology” that resulted in my own list.

Alternative Methodology:

In reading through the list Rolling Stone and the musicians doing the evaluations obviously employed a lot of criteria. This isn’t the “most talented” list, or we’d be looking at Steve Vai and John Petrucci as #1 and #2, but they don’t make the Rolling Stone(nor mine)list at all. Rather than use a “subjective” evaluation criteria, I made my own up, and made it more explicit.

– Skills – ranked 1-3, with Neil Young a 1 and Eddie Van Halen a 3
– Innovation – ranked 1-3, with Jimi Hendrix a 3 and Nick Mars a 1
– Relevance – ranked 1-3, with Dave Grohl a 3 and Hendrix a 1
– Songwriting – ranked 1-3, with Neil Young a 3 and Yngwie Malmsteen a 1
– “Bonus” – an arbitrary category I added which allows for 0-2 points to be added for outsized contributions beyond the above categories. Dave Grohl gets 2 points for being the best rock drummer in the entire world; Matthew Bellamy gets 1 point for being the best singer on the entire list

In the process you were either a “top 100” guitarist or you weren’t; then I started scoring the methodology on the top 100. Then I looked at the results and seemed if they made sense, and adjusted the scores accordingly.

Results of the Analysis:

As a result, the list I came up with is dramatically different than the Rolling Stone list, since it doesn’t just contain dead blues or rockabilly musicians and it weighs newer contributions higher than what happened 40+ years ago.

– only 46 of the 100 guitarists on the RS 100 list made the adjusted list
– 4 of the top 10 in the adjusted list weren’t even ranked in the Top 100 by RS
– 13 of the top 25 guitarists in the adjusted list weren’t even ranked in the Top 100 by RS

Here are my top 10:

1. Matthew Bellamy, Muse – he is like Brian May and Freddie Mercury rolled into one. He is riding a pop culture wave with the vampire movies but on the other hand he is bringing heavy, guitar arena rock to the masses. Go see Muse in concert and see for yourself

2. Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters – another highly relevant guitarist his band the Foo Fighters are filling stadiums and bringing NEW guitar rock to another generation of fans. It’s been 20 years since Nevermind, time to move on

3. Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails – you need to work backwards from the monstrous guitar riffs on songs like “Head like a Hole”, “Closer” and “The Hand that Feeds” and remember who created them. On top of that he basically invented modern industrial rock and won a grammy for his film score, as well as having epic battles with his record company and being in the forefront of modernizing the music business (inadvertently)

4. Jack White – Colbert summed it up best on one of his shows when someone asked a rock critic what band he liked and the answer was “whatever band Jack White is in”. Also a genius in business and fashion like Reznor he too is keeping the guitar flame alive

5. Jimmy Page – not just a guitarist but an epic songwriter and performer

6. James Hetfield / Kirk Hammett, Metallica – been to a sporting event in the last decade? Chances are you are hearing their riffs which I find astounding since as a kid we waited for days to see them along with the scrubs of humanity and now they are one of the biggest bands in the world, with crossover success

7. Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day – like Bellamy, Grohl and Reznor also off the RS 100 list, but his absence is even more of a head-scratcher considering that Green Day brought punk to the mainstream, breathed new life into the concept album, and spawned a highly successful musical, to boot

8. Prince – Prince can obviously sing, write original material, play guitar, and set trends across the globe. A modern genius.

9. Eddie Van Halen – here for his originality, and the fact that he is still trying to be relevant. And also that his music is the “official drunk music of the Bears tailgate” although we argue whether VH I or II is the “true” Bears #1 album

10. Stevie Ray Vaughan – ripped apart blues rock from the moment he stepped on stage, his death after sobering up still one of the worst things to happen in rock and guitar music history

And then you get 11-25, in no particular order:

– Rivers Cuomo, Weezer – he is one of the few relevant songwriters today on the radio and doing collaborations that actually plays a damn guitar solo
– Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath – invented metal, missing 2 fingertips to boot
– Dave Mustaine, Megadeth – not only a great guitarist, gets bonus for being alive
– Trey Anastasio, Phish – while I am not a “jam band” fan the fact that he wasn’t on this list is criminal. The guy is astoundingly accomplished and his fans travel the world to see them
– Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age, others – a great guitarist and singer, leading one of the few hard rocking and musically and critically relevant bands around
– Tom Sholz, Boston – also an astounding omission by RS. Don’t they remember the 70’s? He defined guitar rock
– Angus Young, AC DC – ’nuff said
– Brian May, Queen – seminal riffs with Queen
– Lindsay Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac – cannot believe he was ranked #100 by RS. A producing, playing, songwriting genius who also defined the 70’s and much of the 80’s
– Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins – singer / songwriter / scene stealer from the height of Chicago grunge. Another astounding RS omission
– Dave Murray / Adrian Smith, Iron Maiden – Who would have thought that Iron Maiden would be one of the biggest bands in the world in 2012? But they are. And much of that is owed to their twin guitar attack
– Dan Auerbach, Black Keys – one of the few bands on the rise with actual heavy, hooky guitar and cool aesthetic
– The Edge, U2 – responsible for their shimmering guitar sound that still packs them in on monster tours with new material of good quality
– Jimi Hendrix – here he is, 40+ years gone
– Noel Gallagher, Oasis – another astounding omission by RS, Oasis was the biggest band for a decade of guitar heavy rock

Everybody else, ranked 26-100

Jeff Hanneman / Kerry King (Slayer)
Rudolf Schenker / Uli John Roth (Scorpions)
Caleb Followhill / Matthew Followhill (Kings of Leon)
Adam Jones (Tool)
Mark Knopfler
Jerry Garcia
John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Kurt Cobain
Joe Perry
Bruce Springsteen / Nils Lofgren
Brent Hinds (Mastodon)
Glenn Tipton / K.K. Downing (Judas Priest)
John Mayer
Win Butler (Arcade Fire)
Richie Sambora
Kid Rock
Dave Keuning (The Killers)
Frank Black (The Pixies)
Keith Richards
Pete Townsend
David Gilmour
Carlos Santana
Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine)
Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Modest Mouse)
Joe Walsh
Alex Lifeson (Rush)
Steve Howe (Yes)
Chad Kroeger (Nickelback)
Nick Mars (Motley Crue)
Walter Becker (Steely Dan)
Dean DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots)
Mike McCready / Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam)
Ace Frehley (Kiss)
Scott Ian (Anthrax)
Nick Valensi / Albert Hammond Jr (The Strokes)
Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand)
Eric Clapton
George Harrison
Neil Young
Billy Gibbons
Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead)
Dickey Betts / Duane Allman (Allman Brothers)
Andy Summers (The Police)
J Mascis
Peter Buck (REM)
Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains)
Bob Mould (Husker Du)
Mick Jones (The Clash)
Yngwie Malmsteen
Joe Satriani
Gary Rossington / Allen Collins (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Ted Nugent
Phil Collen / Steve Clarke (Def Leppard)
Rodrigo Sánchez / Gabriela Quintero (Rodrigo Y Gabriela)
Frank Zappa
Randy Rhoads
Ritchie Blackmore
Robert Fripp
Dimebag Darrell (Pantera)
Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth)
Kim Thayil (Soundgarden)
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Andy Partridge (XTC)
Steve Stevens (Billy Idol)
Rick Nielsen / Robin Zander (Cheap Trick)
Mike Ness (Social Distortion)
Jeff Beck
Mick Ronson (David Bowie)
Mike Campbell (Tom Petty)
Michael Schenker (UFO)
George Thorogood
Johnny Ramone
Robert Cray

And here’s the ones that were on the RS list that weren’t on my list

B. B. King
Chuck Berry
Albert King
Freddie King
Derek Trucks
Les Paul
James Burton
Chet Atkins
Buddy Guy
Bo Diddley
Scotty Moore
Elmore James
Ry Cooder
Curtis Mayfield
John Lee Hooker
Mick Taylor
Steve Cropper
Mike Bloomfield
Hubert Sumlin
Link Wray
Stephen Stills
Muddy Waters
Clarence White
Otis Rush
John Lennon
Albert Collins
Rory Gallagher
Peter Green
Robbie Robertson
Ron Asheton
Johnny Winter
Duane Eddy
Leslie West
T-Bone Walker
John McLaughlin
Richard Thompson
Robert Johnson
Dick Dale
Joni Mitchell
Robby Krieger
Willie Nelson
John Fahey
Buddy Holly
Lou Reed
Nels Cline
Eddie Hazel
Carl Perkins
Bonnie Raitt
Tom Verlaine
Dave Davies
Paul Simon
Roger McGuinn
Steve Jones

Like any list, it is a matter of judgement and personal preference. Enjoy!

Cross posted at LITGM

24 thoughts on “Rolling Stone Botches Top 100 Guitarists”

  1. Buckethead is the best guitar player ever born. By a fair bit. Now he thinks Shawn Lane is the best so I’d guess Shawn is at #2.

    Jeff Beck is at the top otherwise in my old book. Some of your top ten would make my top one hundred but not all of them.

  2. Agreed. This is not about the “Best” guitarists. It is about the “greatest” guitarists as measured across a wide spectrum of capabilities, including songwriting, innovation, etc… I also like Buckethead and have some of his stuff. He was no where near this list, though.

  3. Just a fun thing, I know, but, other things being equal, older stuff somehow loses worth (“relevancy”), is lesser somehow, simply by the comparative age,….that doesn’t make much sense IMO.

  4. I call it the 100 Years test.
    Which of these names will be even a footnote that far on?
    Satriani looms large, large, large.

  5. No he would not be on any of those lists. He is in another category. Far greater.

    I just hope the gods don’t take him for their own amusement.

    I would actually refuse to listen to most of the people on your list. I am a bit spoiled though brought up on Hendrix and the greats of the 60s and 70s.

    I have about $8,000 worth of stereo sitting around in my fifth wheel. I’m poor now but that stuff will never be sold. I do take my music seriously.

  6. I respectfully disagree with both of your lists. Of course, that’s what keeps us from beinng clones….

    But you are off base discounting players just because their ouvre is older than you…

  7. Wayne Kramer and the MC5 paved the way for many. While that isn’t necessarily a criteria, I would include him in the list – as well as Greg Ginn (Black Flag) again, for pioneering.

  8. Oh well … why not. I have developed over these, many, years a real dislike for some musicians.

    Eric Clapton … why, you could have been a god.
    Stevie Ray … why rip off a god.
    Joe Satriani … oh please.
    Metallica … all of em’

    There are of course others but these are egregious. My problem with them … talent pissed away in one way or another or just really bad taste..

  9. I may be in the extreme minority on this, but I think Jimmy Page is intensely overated. Furthermore, Led Zeppelin’s music did not age well whatsoever.

  10. Mike: I actually saw Roy live in Takoma Park some 35 years ago. he was good. But B.B. King is the best.

  11. I think Mark Knopfler should be much further up the list. He’s pioneered a number of sounds, including re-popularizing the steel guitar. He also deserves bonus points for being an excellent writer of lyrics and for both fronting a top selling rock band and having a highly successful solo career.

    I take it that this list purposefully excludes bass players, even though bass guitar is a type of guitar.

    Why is Barry Goudreau not on the list? Sammy Hagar? (Eddie Van Halen is in the top ten, so it’s a bit odd that Sammy Hagar doesn’t feature at all…)

    What about Iva Davies? He’s incredibly talented. But I guess Icehouse is (was) more popular here than over there.

  12. I was a bassist, not a guitarist, but J. J. Cale, Jeff Beck, and Steve Cropper were among those I often heard praised and admired by other guitarists for technique and taste.

    As for influence, some of the older guitarists left off your list were the foundation of what came later. Robert Johnson brought the blues north, and then it was an arms (or fingers) race among the younger blues guitarists in the next decades. The Englishmen on your list were even later.

    Chuck Berry and Ike Turner (“Rocket 88”) were the hillbilly-blues hybrids who kicked off rock and roll. Paul Burlison (Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio) put the distortion into rock guitar when he dropped his amplifier and liked the sound the loose tube made. Some of the names on your list copied his licks, and many more got them second-hand without realizing it.

    Hendrix was our Paganini. There is only one, and you just look silly imitating him, but you had better understand what he did. His friend and bandmate Randy California was one of the few who could keep up with him.

    I’m assuming this list is just rock guitarists, not classical, jazz, or Latin, but it looks like some folk, blues, and country guitarists are sprinkled in.

  13. Mitch – in reference to Burlison, story I heard was that holes got accidentally punched in his amp’s speaker cone which caused it to fuzz out. A “loose tube” wouldn’t work at all; though could be that it knocked a pre-amp tube’s innards around enough make it fuzz but keep working. That would be tough to consistently duplicate, though; much easier to be able to punch holes in a speaker ’till it sounded right!! I think the Kinks made the same discovery later, and doubtless other players looking for the sound.

    A lot of that early Rock & Roll distortion was achieved by just turning your amp up way loud and whacking the heck out of your guitar. Back then electric guitar strings were generally heavier than today’s players string up with, so hit ’em hard and you could put a lot of signal through an amp and overdrive the pre-amp tubes. Rockers liked that distorted sound, so they kept getting louder.

  14. I actually played bass so someday might make a “bass” list.

    Thanks for everyones’ comments, the point of a list like this is to spur thought.

    From my perspective, guitar rock is dying. Look at the top 100 songs of the 00’s per VH1… very few feature guitarists much at all and I excluded a couple like “Train” to boot.

    So I am trying to heap extra praise on those trying to be relevant today else guitar rock will be something for historians :)

  15. Jr – you are right. Since Hendrix is rightfully on everyone’s list, and Hendrix himself said Terry Kath was better then he was, it stands to reason Kath cannot be left off the list.

    Also, any such list is nothing more than a beauty/popularity contest. I am sure there are and long have been classical and flamenco guitar players who can play circles around any of these folks – we just haven’t heard of them because they are outside of the popular mainstream.

  16. I need to add this one story. 43 years ago when I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I went to a dance/concert at Ida Noyes Hall one evening.

    I walked in with one of my roommates, who turned to me before we got into the room where the event was being held, and said: “wow, there are two fantastic guitarists in that band”.

    He was wrong. There was only one. It was Magic Sam, backed by drum, bass, and piano. Sam was a legend in Chicago, but he only made a few records, and they did not capture his guitar chops that well. read about him:

    Sadly, Sam died within a year of that concert. But that night he was cosmic.

    I feel like I should mention some other Chicago guys, such as Mike Bloomfield and Buddy Guy, before I go.

  17. I cannot understand why Eddie van Halen is deemed a great guitarist. He can hit the notes and run the scales but so can any guitar student after five years of lessons. Any of his solos I have heard seem to be “showing off” his prowess at running scales regardless of how it “fits” the tune (the Van Halen version of “Ice Cream Man” is perhaps the clearest example). Perhaps I have not heard sufficient Van Halen to render judgement.

    I have listened to a lot of Frank Zappa, though, and he was one of the greats. A wide variety of musical genres (often satirized) with amazing solos such as on “Packard Goose” and “Watermelon in Easter Hay”. His “Hot Rats” LP from 1969 is my personal favourite.

  18. Nice list. Impossible to make “final” judgments, but here are some names not on either list…no ranking, just like them a lot

    1. Junior Brown — the guy can play and he is a pretty good singer, too
    2. Marshall Crenshaw — underrated guitarist; great singer-songwriter
    3. John Cippolina — lots of fun to listen to (Quicksilver — first two albums only)
    4. Doc Watson

    Probably showing my age here. However I will go out and listen to some of the new folks mentioned.

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