When mainstream music magazines rank the greatest guitarists of all time, the same names tend to linger toward the top of the list: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin‘s Jimmy Page, the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and the bluesmen who inspired them. On a new list of the 100 greatest guitarists from Spin Magazine, not a single one of these names was to be found.
Instead, the alt-leaning magazine took a decidedly anti-Rolling Stone stance, crowning Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo the joint kings of the list. And the left-of-center choices don’t stop there.
“For this list, we veer toward the alternative canon that kicks in with the Velvet Underground trying to erase that form entirely, making guitar solos gauche and using instruments as sadomasochistic tools for hammering out sheets of white heat,” Spin explains.
At No. 10, readers find Run-DMC DJ, Jam Master Jay, who – that’s right – does not play guitar. Spin‘s writes: “In 1980s, the always exact, never wack wrists of Jam Master Jay certainly rocked harder than any Mötley Crüe riff, but often thanks to the way Jay manipulated the work of guitarists ‹ Aerosmith‘s Joe Perry and The Knack‘s Berton Averre both had work done under Jay’s discerning needle. What resulted was a new way of hearing guitars ‹ rubbed and percussive and brutal ‹ an evident influence on everyone from Tom Morello to Korn.”
Two musical supernovas make the top 10 alongside long-under-appreciated players like John Fahey (No. 3) and Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel (No. 9).
Although they’re known in the mainstream more for their eccentricities than their shredding and riffing, Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain comes in at No. 4 and Prince makes the cut at No. 6.
If anyone ever doubted Prince’s playing, he convinced otherwise – once and for all – with his show-stealing guitar solo during a collaborative rendition of “My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction.
However, a handful of classic figures find it into the top 20: Neil Young (No. 20), Black Sabbath‘s Tony Iommi (No. 18), the Velvet Underground guitarists Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison (No. 17), Frank Zappa (No. 16) and U2‘s The Edge (No. 13). Further down the list, vintage session players like James Brown guitarist Jimmy Nolen (No. 22) and Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson (No. 65) make the cut, as does Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett (No. 58).
We have to wonder: Would Spin‘s list be better advertised as the most underrated guitarists of all time? Sound off in the comments section.
–Jillian Mapes, CBS Local