World of Rock music has produced some outstanding talents that have lured the listeners with their magical fingers strumming the guitar. The most distinguished type of guitar players are the lead guitarists. Lead guitarists are the ones who play melody lines, instrumental and interludes in the form of guitar solos or riffs within a song. They are often the ones that give an edge to their band.
With so many eminent lead guitarists in various bands, it’s difficult to pick 10 lead guitarists out of them, because there is always a possibility for some great musicians to be left out. However, the list is created considering their style, contribution to their bands and of course personal preferences.
Here is the list of 10 lead guitarists from famous bands –
1. George Harrison [The Beatles] –
Amidst John Lennon’s amazingly written lyrics, Ringo’s drum fills, and Paul McCartney’s bass lines, what stands out is George Harrison’s lead guitar, which is the most elusive element in the band. Moreover, his lead guitar was never “lead” in the conventional sense. However, its inexplicable loneliness is something that makes his guitar style unique. George Harrison also had an affinity towards Indian music and his lead solos were highly influenced by it. Either it is a raucous “Twist and Shout” or a spiritually soothing “Yesterday”,it is George Harrison’s lead guitar that creates the compelling essence of The Beatles.
2. Jimmy Page [Led Zeppelin] –
Jimmy Page is one of the most influential guitarists of all time. The music scene was in a state of transformation when Jimmy Page had founded Led Zeppelin. At that time, Pop was giving way to Rock, and new studio techniques were opening up which were creating new sound possibilities for a musician. Page has composed solo lead for one of the most listened and celebrated tracks – Stairway to Heaven. Moreover, it is regarded as his finest eight minutes with the lead guitar. He has been ranked number 2 in Gibson’s list of “Top 50 Guitarists of all time” and number 3 by Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of all time”.
3. Slash [Guns N’ Roses] –
With idols like B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Perry and Eric Clapton, Saul Hudson or popularly known as Slash happens to be lead guitarist who had created a style that was amalgamation of all his idols’. In his career with Guns N’ Roses, Slash has been impressive with both – electric and acoustic lead (the one he played in song “Patience”). The most notable solo leads by the lead guitarist Slash are the solo in “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “November Rain”. After G N’ R fallout, Slash plays lead for his band Velvet Revolver.
4. Angus Young [AC/DC] –
If there is a guitarist who takes the track to an ultimate crescendo with his guitar solo, it is Angus Young and it is quite evident when he makes “Born to be Wild” even wilder. Angus Young’s style of playing, as he explains, it is based on the fact that, “You need to play the guitar hard if you want to get the whole spectrum of tones out of it.” Moreover, the most unique thing about the lead guitarist Angus Young is that he doesn’t try to do too much. He tries to use the simplest chords and scales to induce musical tension and excitement, which subsequently imbues a unique brand of rhythm to the band. His most notable leads are “Highway to Hell” and “Thunderstruck”. Also, Angus is currently the only member remaining from the original AC/DC.
5. David Gilmour [Pink Floyd] –
David Gilmour is best known as the member and the lead guitarist of Pink Floyd. With a fresh approach towards the instrument, David Gilmour became a true innovator in rock music. His style of lead guitar was more inclined towards psychedelic rock. The idiosyncratic strumming and soft plucking between the solos induce an unworldly soothing sensation. Either it is “Comfortably numb” with two cathartic explosions or “Wish you were here” which had a stunning opening acoustic lead solo, it’s David Gilmour’s lead guitar that makes Pink Floyd’s songs indelible and timeless.
6. Mark Knopfler [Dire Straits] –
Mark Knopfler is the lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter of the band Dire Straits. He rose to fame in 1977, when Dire Straits recorded a five-track demo that included tracks like “Sultan of Swing”, “Down to the Waterline”, “Sacred Loving”, “Water of Love” and “Wild West End”. Mark Knopfler is a nimble-fingered guitarist who has a sly, languid and fluid fingerpicking style. It enables him to have great control over the fretboard. He has composed leads in a variety of rock songs, right from slow and soothing “Brothers in Arms” too fast and exhilarating “Money for Nothing”. Along with that, his most notable composition is “Sultan of Swing”.
7. Brian May [Queen] –
Brian May is the lead guitarist of the renowned British rock band Queen. He is probably the only guitarist with a degree in astrophysics. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Jimi Hendrix were among the influences for Brian May. His lead guitar style is the combination of blues, metal, classical and traditional jazz. He uses the coin as a pick and his focused and alternative strumming is quite impressive. According to May, “Lead solos are the ones that you can sing as well as the melody line.” In his illustrious journey with Queen, he composed various lead solos for tracks including “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Crazy little thing called love” and “You are my best friend”. But his best work remains “Killer Queen“, which has the essence of the Queen band.
8. Joe Perry [Aerosmith] –
Joe Perry is basically a traditional old school Beatles or Rolling Stones kind of lead guitarist, who improvises his lead solos with pentatonic and Mixolydian scales. Paradoxical it may sound, but he has always followed no-rules approach. Moreover, as the lead guitarist of Aerosmith, he experienced the best phase in the 70s in which he played a lot of riffs for the band. In the middle of the effect of backing vocals, drum, and bass, it is Joe Perry’s riffs that gave the shape of a power-ballad to various songs by the band. Some of the best riffs by Joe Perry are “Dream On”, “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion”.
9. Don Felder [Eagles] –
All those who are into rock music must be very much aware what Don Felder’s fingers can produce when they strum the guitar strings. Don Felder is best known as the lead guitarist of the band Eagles. What started with adding just a few slide guitars to Eagles’ “Good Day in Hell” and some guitar leaks to “Already Gone” soon turned into an incredible stint with the band as the lead guitarist. His style is simplistic yet eminently listenable, because he strums in such a way that all the guitar voices become separate and identifiable. His best lead solo can be observed in Eagles’ unarguably the best song “Hotel California”.
10. Kirk Hammett [Metallica] –
Kirk Hammett once self-effacingly said, “Although I am a lead guitarist, I’d say that a good 95 percent of my time onstage, I spend playing the rhythm.” Contrary to that, if we have a poll for best lead guitarists, Kirk would definitely and always make it in the top 10 list. This is because of his humongous fan following around the globe. Being a master in distortion, he despises it telling that, “Distortion lets you get away with murder”. However, the riffs he has played in distortion are as good as the solo ones. Hammett’s style of playing guitar has its roots in blues. It is also based on fast 16th note repetitive patterns that induce intensity in the piece. Kirk Hammett’s best lead solos are in “Master of Puppets” and “Disposable Heroes”.
Lead guitarists are the hearts of their respective rock bands. Each of them has their distinctive style, which takes inspiration from the composition of legends from the history of music that have set the precedent, but what differentiates them is how they improvise the pattern using their own sound sense. The list of lead guitarists mentioned above is not in the order of preferences because it’s impossible to choose the best from them.