Far to often music publications, such as Rolling Stone, Ultimate-Guitar, Mojo, Spin, and Guitar World, release lists of the __ best guitarists!. These lists make me want to explode in fashion similar to Micheal Jackson's hair, circa the mid 80's. These lists are impossible because there is far to many musical genres that have guitar in them to judge all of those excellent caliber guitarists.
I can't judge guitarists from all genres but I can compare within one genre and time period. So I have decided to compile a list of my top 5 classic rock guitarists who's prime was within the scope of 1965 - 1980. Candidates were judged on playing ability, influence, and on stage attitude - three attributes I feel define a classic guitar rock star.
5) Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend defines what has become know as the stereotype for rock guitarist. In his band, The Who, he has written some of the most well known guitar riffs of all time, including but not limited to, Baba O' Riley, Won't get Fooled Again, Magic Bus, and the timeless My Generation. Pete's overdriven, windmill marshall tone has become a staple sound in rhythm guitar playing. What really puts Townshend on this list however is his dynamic on-stage personality. The man has coined some of the most iconic rock star moves, such as the power slide, smashing the guitar, and the unforgettable windmill that thousands of aspiring guitarists have hurt their hands trying to imitate. (Not saying that is something I would do, I would never cut my hand on the ceiling at band practice because I'm to tall...)
4) Tony Iommi
If you walk into any given guitar shop in the world, more likely then not you will hear someone showing Iommi's influence on them through the Black Sabbath powerhouse, Iron Man. Commonly known as the godfather of metal, Iommi's demonic, heavy, hand of bricks style of playing has influenced millions of guitarist, probably the most of any of the guitarists on this list. With the utilization of dark, monsterous, fuzz pedal based riffs, Iommi has penned some of the great classic rock staples including, the hefty Iron Man, psychotic Paranoid, and profound War Pigs.
3) Angus Young
All I have to is hum Thunderstruck (Albeit from 1990) and everyone will know why Angus is in this position. His charismatic, wild schoolboy, onstage appearance is heard in his playing. The way in which Young chugs out the most rockin' riffs is a distinct style all of his on and is immediately recognizable. Unlike the previous two guitarists Angus Young is well known for his wild solo's. Playing with such intensity and energy, all while running around the stage in a kilt is something only the forever young, Angus can do.
2) Jimi Hendrix
Ahh Hendrix, when speaking about his lucid, dreamlike playing it's hard to say something that hasn't already been said. A true visionary and master of his art. By successfully blending blues, fusion, and psychedelic rock Hendrix created a style both beautiful in nature and honest at heart. The way in which he made use of his wah-wah pedal and effective dynamics, made it appear as if his guitar was crying, bearing it's soul, one string bend at a time. The odd thing about Hendrix is that during his time his popularity was relatively small in terms of the mass audience. Only after his death was he immortalized as one of the true rock icons.
1) Jimmy Page
When I started writing this article I knew who was going to be at the top of my list. Few players posses such diverse skill, legacy, and presence. His work with The Yardbirds is enough to set him as at least a contender for this list, but he is immortalized in his work with Led Zeppelin. When I look at rock guitar, I look at it in terms of pre-Page, and post-Page. Tracks like the backbeat Heartbreaker that have a rapid fire, unaccompanied solo mid-way through, show off his knack for new ideas. Others like the epic Stairway to Heaven defined what the rock epic should sound like, setting the bar for guitarist and composers still to this day. Unlike the other guitarists on this list he as an equally tremendous acoustic guitar player. His blended fingerpicking style revolutionized the way people thought about acoustic guitar, transforming it from an accompaniment instrument, to a lead melodic instrument. I cannot think of any guitarist in classic rock that is as well rounded and influential as page is, and that is why he receives the number one seat.
Notable Mentions: Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton (More of a Blues Player to me), Brian Robertson, Brian May, and Ritchie Blackmore.