Is Jimi Hendrix *really* the greatest guitar player in the history of Rock?

I watched some VH1 show last night, “Greatest guitar players”, fully expecting the list to be a battle of who is #2 'cause, you guessed it, Jimi Hendrix was #1.


Now I don’t mean any disrespect - the man was a great guitar player and extremely influential. But let’s face it: his reputation stands on three albums and his work at Monterey and Woodstock, a small body of work that he hasn’t been able to add to in almost 40 years.

But does it still stand that he is the undisputed Champ, the King of Kings, there are no contenders, only pretenders, to the title of “greatest rock guitarist ever”?

(Understand that this question comes from a guy who thinks that the Beatles are the undisputed Greatest Rock Band Ever, and they, too, died about the same time that Jimi did. So it’s not a question of me disrespectin’ the elders or anything.)

Not to me. Jimi was a genius, but in my book, it takes more than that. It takes a lifetime of production at a stellar level. Jimi died too soon to ever get to that plateau. Tough luck, Jimi.

My nominee: Carlos Santana

Too subjective to say but he was great and he’s my favorite.

What made him great were his innovative licks, an unusual playing style, and the introduction of heavy feedback into his music. He’s been imitated and emulated by countless musicians such as Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Carlos Santana? Please.

Hendrix himself always called Terry Kath of Chicago a better guitar player than him. Art one concert, Hendrix eportedly blurted out: “You gotta check out this guy Terry Kath. His band is CTA. He’s the best guitar player in the universe.” He also said flat-out to saxophonist walt Parazaider, “Your guitar player (Kath) is better than me.”

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:

  1. His technique has inspired countless other guitar players.
  2. 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.

In my opinion, yes, Jimi Hendrix is still the greatest. He created the modern vocabulary for rock guitar and was an exceptionally complex composer. Art is not a sport. Longetivity means nothing. Hendrix is the most influential rock musician whoever lived and, for my money, had the most innate talent. He was an adult among kids. There has never been another like him.

Totally disagree. No one ever became a great guitarist on talent alone. It takes years to master the instrument. Jimi Hendrix wasn’t even the best blues guitarist (which is certainly the genre that most of his work was created in). If you asked Hendrix to play nearly anything in the classical music genre with any complexity, he couldn’t do it. You have to be able to do that in order to be called the greatest. It’s as simple as that.

Chet Atkins could do it. Roy Clark could do it. I know Paul Gilbert could, and likely countless others.

You can argue that Jimi was the most influential (though not without reasonable opposition), but you cannot logically argue that he was the greatest all around guitar player.

Why’s that? There are no set criteria for the greatest rock guitarist, I don’t think you can name one and claim it can’t be argued with.

I think it is a futile exercise to debate who was the ‘greatest’ anything.

I think there are a couple dozen guitarists (most of whom you will not have heard of) who are better players than the late Jimi.

Jimi was the favorite of many of them. He was certainly the most influential. He was groundbreaking, innovative. He was one of the first guitar gods.

But is damn near impossible to judge ‘greatness’ across different generations and genres. As I said, there are many who can play better (and we can argue till we are blue in the face and never really agree on what constitutes ‘better’). But they had the advantage of being able to stand on the shoulders of giants. Do you give points for simply how well they play? Do you penalize them for not having come with a new style?

Most importantly, do we discount players who can be technically brilliant but do not want to be flamboyant because it is simply not what they prefer?

But this isn’t what the OP asks about, is it? I take the OP to be asking whether JH is the greatest rock guitarist, not the greatest all-rounder.

Of course it’s an unanswerable question because there is no objective basis for comparison. But the speculation is always fun!

I like Diogenes’s answer about creating the modern vocab for rock guitar. That seems to me to get it right. Hendrix’s reputation (among fans such as myself) isn’t so much to do with whatever he played on a given track or at a given show, important though that is, so much as the infleunce he had, and the way he seemed to transform the way the electric guitar was understood and appreciated. It seems so clear (to fans) that, in terms of the role of the instrument, there was ‘pre’ Hendrix and ‘post’ Hendrix.

Dude no way, it was Phil Keaggy, on the Tonight Show :wink:

Classical, like jazz, rock and blues are vital parts of what the guitar was and what the guitar is as a musical instrument. In fact, if you removed classical music from history, it’s likely the guitar (as we know it) never would have been invented in the first place. When you start throwing words like ‘greatest’ around, you must at least consider the evolution of the instrument to which you are referring.

And furthermore, Jimi wasn’t exactly the creator of the style in which he played. He simply adopted the style of his peers (including Chuck Jackson, Slim Harpo, Tommy Tucker, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson) and made it his own, just as they had before him.

How do you know? He was known for having an incredible ear and being able to duplicate just about anything he heard.

No, playing classical guitar is not a required in order to be a a great ROCK guitarist – not that we have any reason to believbe tht hendrix could not have played classical. he could certainly play jazz, which is every bit as complex as classical. I see a depth and virtuosity in his playing which is every bit as rich and accomplished as someone like a Pagannini or a Chopin.

You have given us no reason to believe that Hendrix couldn’t do it, and to compare him with a dime a dozen sweep wanker like Paul Gilbert is laughable. Roy Clark? very accomplished – not especially influential, more of a novelty act than anything else. Chet Atkins? Again, technically accomplished within a narrow spectrum of genres. I doubt he could ever play something like Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner or as innovative as “1983.”

Few knowledgable people would dispute this.

What reasonable opposition would that be?

I am arguing that he was the greatest ROCK guitar player and there are any number of established guitar gods like Steve Vai, SRV, Eric Clapton and scores of others who have said the same thing.

Respectfully, this is baloney. Hendrix adopted nobody’s style but his own. He sounded like absolutely nobody before him. And where did you get the idea that Sam Cooke was a guitar player?

The thread title is referring to the history of rock guitar. This must include jazz and the blues, for which Jimi was not the best.

In my opinion, and despite the fact that Jimi was a massive influence over him, Stevie Ray Vaughan was the better blues guitarist. And this is considering that SRV knew almost nothing about the key that he was playing in, let alone basic music theory. This is not to say that SRV was the best blues guitarist in the world, it simply illustrates a point that all of this has to be considered in order for the ‘greatest’ player to be taken seriously.

Can we agree that the history of rock guitar begins with Bill Haley and the Comets?

This is patently false. I have an old magazine interview with him where he is very clear that there are many styles for which he hasn’t a clue. During his career, he was constantly asking Les Paul for sound and technique advice. I have recordings of him in the studio recorded by Eddie Kramer where he is just fooling around with classical and jazz pieces and giggles as he makes several mistakes and then just stops and comments about his shortcomings.

Bolding mine.

So either you know nothing about playing the guitar, or you are just ignoring it’s history and the greats that built the fondation for which it stands–for which Jimi is a member of the club.

Do you think that only a guitarist can inspire another guitarist? And speaking of guitarist that inspired him and in many instances were copied by him, we have the likes of Robert Johnson, B.B. King, T- Bone Walker, Les Paul, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Link Wray, Muddy Waters, B.B King, Kenny Burrell, Albert Collins, Guitar Slim, Jimmy Nolen and others. Also, Jimmy Page, Lou Reed, Jeff Beck, Mike Bloomfield and a handful of others had been experimenting with distortion, feedback, volume and other effects before Hendrix burst onto the international scene with his LP “Are You Experienced?” in 1967.

Christ, he wasn’t even that good a player. I won’t argue that he was a huge influence on rock guitar and an absolute treasure chest bursting at the seams as far as innovation, but his playing wasn’t even in the top 10 of his time.

…and you’ll never hear surf music again