Friday Top: 29 Greatest Blues Guitarists of All Time

As voted by UG community.

Ultimate Guitar
Friday Top: 29 Greatest Blues Guitarists of All Time

This week's traditional Wednesday Question saw the people of UG community discussing the matter of the greatest blues guitarists of all time. Based on votes and more than 250 comments, we summed this one up into a Top 29 rundown.

And before kicking things off, the honorable mentions are:

  • Howlin' Wolf
  • Jack White
  • Roy Buchanan
  • Gary Clark Jr.
  • George Thorogood
  • Jorma Kaukonen
  • Robben Ford
  • Mike Bloomfield
  • Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
  • Albert Collins
  • Sonny Landreth
  • Les Paul
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • Charley Patton
  • Jeff Healey

The full rundown awaits below.

29. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

One of the pioneers of modern music, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was best known by her gospel recordings from the 1930s and 40s. Referred to as "the godmother of rock and roll" and "the original soul sister," she influenced musicians such as Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley.

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28. Alvin Lee

Best known as the lead guitarist and vocalist of Ten Years After, Alvin Lee grew up in a family that listened to jazz and blues, but was inspired the most by rock 'n' roll music. He was praised for his fast playing and is considered by many as the pioneer of shredding.

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27. Warren Haynes

Gregg Allman chose Warren Haynes for The Allman Brothers band for a reason. The guy really feels his music. User domea comments:

He can play a song by Neil Young one minute then get onstage with Jason Newsted and play Black Sabbath the next... One of the most versatile musicians ever in my opinion.

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26. Jimmy Page

Heavy metal comes directly from the blues music, and Jimmy Page proves it. He is not only a master of heavy riffs but is also a man who singlehandedly (or twohandedly, since you need two hands to play guitar) pushed the boundaries of blues music and gave it its own different twist.

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25. Lightnin' Hopkins

Samuel John Hopkins, or Lightning Hopkins, discovered the power of music at the age of 8 when he first met the legendary Blind Lemon Jefferson. After some difficult times, he finally managed to do a recording with a pianist named Wilson Smith, and two of them got nicknames "Thunder" and "Lightning."

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24. John Lee Hooker

Born in Mississippi as the youngest of 11 children, John Lee Hooker got introduced in blues music by his spet father. As a teenager, he ran away from home and performed in various clubs in Memphis, Tennessee. He adapted delta blues to electric guitar and developed his driving-rhythm boogie style of playing.

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23. Hubert Sumlin

He is best known as being a member of Howlin' Wolf's and Muddy Waters' band. Our own N-D comments:

Second guitar of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, real legend

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22. Duane Allman

After playing in various bands, as well as a session musician, Duane and his brother Gregg founded The Allman Brothers Band in 1969. He was praised for his improvisation abilities and slide guitar playing. Even though he died at the age of 24, he is still an inspiration to many guitar players around the world.

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21. Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa is where old and modern playing meets in the best way possible. While being only 12 years old, Bonamassa started touring with his band and under the nickname of Smokin' Joe. And now he has 12 studio albums, 15 live albums, and has set the bar so high for all the other guitar players of today. He is also one of the biggest guitar nerds and guitar collectors.

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20. T-Bone Walker

Aaron Thibeaux Walker, known as "T-Bone" Walker, is a multi-instrumentalist who pioneered the electric blues music. He was raised in a family of musicians who's friend was Blind Lemon Johnson. Imagine having Blind Lemon in your home as a visitor. Who wouldn't be inspired to become a blues musician?

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19. Leadbelly

Another multi-instrumentalist on this list. Huddie William Ledbetter, known as Leadbelly, a nickname he earned while serving his time in prison, also played piano and accordion besides guitar. He is also known for his unique and strong vocals.

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18. Elmore James

UG user horseman308 commented:

Without him, we don't get Duane Allman, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, or any of the top tier slide guitarists that we think of today. He did more to set the stage, so to speak, for that aspect of blues guitar playing than anyone.

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17. Son House

Delta blues guitarist and singer who became known for his slide playing and emotionally charged vocals, something he learned after spending years as a preacher and church pastor. At the age of 25 Son House turned to blues music and channeled all his intensity of preaching to the genre which was new to him.

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16. Johnny Winter

Johnny, along with his brother Edgar started playing blues at a very young age. But the first time Johnny got a big break when he was invited to sing and play guitar with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper in 1968 at the Fillmore East. One of his most recognizable traits is his slide and his thumb pick techniques.

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15. Peter Green

B.B. King's comment about Fleetwood Mac founder pretty much sums it up:

"He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats."

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14. Derek Trucks

Even at young age Derek Trucks played blues and felt it like he was decades older. By the age of 20, he already managed to accumulate a lot of experience in performing, even with some really big names like Bob Dylan. In 1999 he became the official member of The Allman Brothers Band and recorded three albums with them. He is best known for his outstanding slide guitar skills.

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13. Rory Gallagher

User *Stranger* explains very well:

His sense of melody and pure raw emotion in both singing and playing is insane. Listened to calling card and deuce last week. Amazing records, especially calling card which is still one of the most diverse albums I know.

underrated genius.

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12. Freddie King

One of The Three Kings, Freddie King started his career in the 1950s and has been known for his distinctive style of playing and singing which made a huge impact on many guitarists who came after him.

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11. Muddy Waters

While growing up Muddy Waters looked up to blues musicians like Robert Johnson and Son House. His first recordings come from 1941, and two years later he moved from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Chicago. Most of his success comes from the 1950s and 1960s.

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10. Billy Gibbons

Thick, groovy, tasty. Pretty simple and straight to the point. What else could be said about the man who founded ZZ Top?

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9. Albert King

Born in 1923, one of the Three Kings grew up on a cotton plantation as one of the 13 children in the family. Even though his youth was rough, nothing stopped him to take up the guitar and through the years easily popularize Gibson's Flying V model. He was left-handed but played right-handed guitars flipped over. He is also known by the nickname of "The Velvet Bulldozer."

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8. John Mayer

Now here is a young guitarist who combined some modern styles with the good old blues. User local_hero commented:

The guy has complete control over his instrument and does what he wants with it. Even if I do not always agree with the direction he chooses, I still have to admit that he is a master guitar player

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7. Buddy Guy

And here is a guy so great that inspired greats like Hendrix, Clapton, Jimmy Page, and many others. And even though he is 81 years old, he still performs live to this day.

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6. Eric Clapton

The legendary Slowhand is not only a guy who changed guitar playing but one of the most influential musicians in modern music. He is the only one to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times, as a solo artist, as a member of Cream, and as a member of Yardbirds. After all, Clapton is God.

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5. Jimi Hendrix

Although he died too early, Hendrix could easily be credited for popularising guitar and heavier music around the world. Even to this day, he is an inspiration for guitar players, and musicians in general, of all genres.

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4. Gary Moore

Northen Irish guitarist Gary Moore needs no further introduction. His music spanned throughout different genres but is most recognized as a blues guitarist. During his solo career, he has recorded 21 studio albums and has worked with Thin Lizzy. And not anyone can work with Thin Lizzy.

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3. Robert Johnson

The King of the Delta blues. Without Johnson's recordings from 1936 and 1937, which heavily influenced rock and roll, we wouldn't have music we have now today. His guitar playing was revolutionary because he did kinda sell his soul to the devil so he could play some amazing blues.

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2. B.B. King

Coming in second is the best known of the three kings of blues guitar, B.B. King. A musician with such a huge legacy that spans even way outside blues music. Born way back in 1925, he started his life on a cotton plantation, but at a young age was inspired by music in Pentecostal Church of God in Christ. There he started learning guitar, and the rest is just history. During his lifetime he recorded 43 studio albums.

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1. Stevie Ray Vaughan

And the absolute winner as voted by UG community is the legendary Dallas, Texas-born Stevie Ray Vaughan. By far one of the best (if not the best) interpreters of Jimi Hendrix. He was not only a great guitar player but also an amazing vocalist and a frontman of his band Double Trouble. He was also known for working with various artists, including David Bowie, Johnny Copeland, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, and many others. His life was cut short in August of 1990 in a helicopter accident, but his music still lives on and inspires generations of musicians worldwide.

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That's all folks! Feel free to post more great blues guitarists in the comment section below. And we hope you enjoyed the top, stay tuned until next week for another WQ!

62 comments sorted by best / new / date

    What the *&$# are these blues-rock guys doing on a blues guitarist list? UG should have more delineation so there can be a uniform definition on what is a blues guitarist is. Joe Bonamassa, Gary Moore & Jimmy Page all time great blues guitar players; But Albert Collins, Howlin' Wolf, & Roy Buchanan don't make the cut?!?! Piss off...
    You are aware that this list was solely based on user input? Whether or not they are masters of their craft, they simply didn’t get enough votes to be featured outside if the honorable mention section.
    finally someone that understands how this top works
    Thanks for the update. The main point I was trying to make is...even though we're on the internet; It's not unreasonable for whomever is posting the article for voting to define the criteria for nominations more clearly (Which sometimes UG does). Of course to purists like myself when it comes to defining a genre, it looks like the inmates are running the asylum when a mod or editor asks in an article: "Who is the best Blues Guitarist?" and you have a popularity contest littered with Blues-Rock guys. Not that there isn't a lot of talent and great music on the list. But there ain't a lot of blues players either. All are blues influenced. That would be the better name for the list: who is the best/greatest blues influenced guitar player?
    Very good points.  Hopefully, our writers/pollsters take note of some of the excellent points/suggestions brought up.  
    I'm really disappointed how low Derek Trucks is, maybe it's because he isn't strictly a blues player like B.B for example was. Still he's my favourite, but SRV deserves the top spot the most
    How is John Mayer, Trucks, Gibbons, hell half the list, higher than Duane Allman. Duane Frickin Allman
    whoever came up with this list wouldn't know blues if came up and slapped them in the face. John Mayer and Joe Bonamassa on the top part of that list with so many others that were totally missed. Do your homework man
    Under the title, it says "As voted by UG community."   
    Shocked howling wolf only made honarable mention
    That being said, I dont know if you would go to see Howlin' Wolf for his guitar playing.  If this list was for Bluesmen, then easily top 5.
    Hubert Sumlin made the actual list though.  Pretty sure he was primarily Howlin' Wolf's guitarist.  Wolf is a singer not a guitarist so to make the honorable mentions is a feat in and of itself
    the wolf played some good guitar too you know and his music deserves in the top 5 but his skills on the guitar are surpassed by many. thats why he got hubert who is great blues guitarist.
    I get what you're saying but he was a singer first, guitarist second.  Thus why I labeled him as a singer.  Hubert was the man.  Thankfully I saw him a few times before he passed.  Once on a small lawn in front of about 75-100 people and it WAS AWESOME
    As for modern players, I would also recommend Simon McBride. Sometimes he tends (similarly to Bonamassa) to "overshred" his solos, but he has got some really fine blues-rock tunes.
    solid list, I think jack white is underrated, but a lot of people hate him. i would too if i only heard 7nation army.
    I think it's his tone that turns off a lot of people, me included. For me, sing the whammy pedal on "Ball and Biscuit" solo ruined an otherwise killer solo.
    SRV is a legend. The greatest guitarist ever IMO and my absolute favorite. It's because of him I even play guitar today. I'm just upset I will never get to watch him live. We were robbed.
    So many people complain about these "lists" and its funny because UG doesnt pick these, they just go by the comments on the wednesday question and tally them up. They didnt pick it, the fans did
    kind of expected this but can't agree. i love Gary Moore but no way does he deserve to be that high on the list (and i'd bet he'd agree). SRV #1 over BB, RJ or Muddy Waters c'mon stevie wouldn't agree either. Alvin Lee but not Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Howlin Wolf or Robben Ford. does the guy that assembled this list actually listen to blues? 
    If this list encourages younger players to look up some of the old blues players, then the list has done its job. Some great bluesmen on that list, whether or not you agree on the order.
    Albert King is #1  clearly a sharp dressed man smoking the pibe on stage, how blues is that!?? Did you ever watch "in Session" and the amount of respect that SRV pays to the real king? 
    The question is how you define the greatest blues guitarist? Is it the greatest artist making art with his instrument or is it the artist that makes the most influence on blues music during decades. I think the latter and most often it is their riff's and licks that you and I are playing today. Therefore Albert King, Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, BB King...  
    Can blue men play the whites? I'm disappointed that Paul Kossoff didn't make the list and that Peter Green was so low. And that SRV was top of the list. He was good, but he was no Gary Moore, Eric Clapton or Rory Gallagher
    Gary Moore, Eric Clapton and Rory Gallagher are good but they are no SRV
    Sorry, but SRV was a one trick pony in my book. He did one thing fairly well and he did t over and over. Unlike Gary Moore, who was just on a whole other level from most people. And Eric Clapton, who was responsible for taking British blues from the London pub scene of the 60s and turning it into a worldwide phenomena. As well as the Les Paul + Marshall sound we all know and love today. And of course, Rory Gallagher, who was a titan among guitarists.  And compare them to SRV. Who might have made blues popular in the US in the 80s, but he didn't innovate like Clapton, Moore or Gallagher.
    I guess we should be grateful that Rory Gallagher is in this the way where is Angus Young????
    Wouldn't have thought that UG users would make John Mayer end up this high. Not that I mind, I think it's great. It just surprised me a little. He is indeed a master guitar player.
    This is supposed to be a blues list so why are there white guys on it? Whites can't play or sing the blues, instead they play a diluted version known as blues rock. The question should've been: The greatest blues and blues rock guitarists of all time.
    Wow. Albert Collins, Jeff Healey, Howlin' Wolf, and Blind Lemon Jefferson are only "honorable mentions?" Get real.
    Wake up People! Matt Schofield, Harvey Mandel,  Magic Sam, Nick Black, and (dare I say it) Conrad Warre (Bees Deluxe) are all missing from your honorable mentions! BTW: Matt Schofield should be ranked in the top ten.