Jimi was indeed a stellar guitar player. Whether or not he was the best in the world is both unlikely and unprovable.
The problem is that there is no way that you can determine such a thing even if you nail down the official criteria for everything that should be taken into account in determining such a thing. There are so many styles of guitar music and so many different techniques within each of the styles that in order to be the best you’d almost certainly have to master them all, and that would take an entire lifetime (if it at all is even possible), and Jimi didn’t have a lifetime to make it happen.
The variation of style and technique is also why Carlos Santana could never be the greatest guitar player, because although he is one fine guitar player, he only plays within his style.
The two main reasons why Jimi is considered to be the best is because:
- His technique has inspired countless other guitar players.
- He died in his prime.
This is precisely why some argue that Randy Rhodes was the best, or–currently–Dime Bag Darrel (which is laugh out loud funny on a number of levels).
Example: If Eddie Van Halen would have died right after the release of the 1984 album, he would be widely known as the greatest guitar player that ever existed, at least as much as Jimi is. He would have been a guitar martyr.
If you want to realistically consider someone for that title, you need to look for the true masters of the guitar or those that have spent their entire long lives playing and can cover almost every style. The first two that come to mind are Chet Atkins and Roy Clark. I’d also nominate Paul Gilbert as a likely possibility, because the man can play anything. I am certain that there are many others. You also have to consider all of those people that you never heard of because there are thousands over the years that spent their entire lives mastering the guitar, yet only a handful of people even knew that they played. For every Jimi Hendrix there are a hundred guys you never even heard of.
And furthermore, anyone that mentions the likes of Steve Vai or Satriani or the like as candidates should be strangled with a rusty low E string.