Quick, without thinking.
What genre do you think of when you think of the best guitarists ever?
I bet most people think of the blues.
In other words, the best blues guitarists of all time are also the best guitarists of all time.
At the very least, they are near the top.
No one can argue that the 5 blues guitarists listed below are some of the greatest players to ever pick up the instrument. If not the greatest.
Best Blues Guitarists Of All Time
As mentioned, the following guitarists are not just they best blues guitar players. They are some of the best axemen of all time, period.
Widely regarded as the most impactful innovator and guitarist in the global blues space, Albert King is known for unrivaled musicianship and exquisitely beautiful and unique tone. He is also one of the few left-handed guitar masters.
Albert pioneered a style of blues that seamlessly meshed his old-school influences from big bands, gospel, and rock-esque dynamics, creating a genre that was equally strong in rhythm and core blues elements.
Albert’s career as a blues guitarist took place in Arkansas, where he polished his traditional blues guitar style with the Groove Boys. Throughout the mid-60s, he played with various bands in Indiana and Illinois and developed a keener sense of rhythm-influenced idiosyncrasies, while performing with a number of different professionals.
In the 1970s, he played with symphonic orchestras, launched a tribute record to Elvis Presley, and even played with the Doors in Vancouver, Canada.
Albert King’s ability to adapt to largely dissimilar playing styles and integrate seemingly unconnected influences into his own arsenal, yet retain the core, made him one of the best blues guitarists of all time.
Freddie King was among the pioneers of electric blues. And even though his records never reached the magnitude of success that the other “Kings” enjoyed, he is considered among the top blues masters for his intricate playing style and soulful, heartfelt tone.
Originally hailing from Texas, Freddie’s role as a blues guitarist began in Chicago. He picked up the guitar when he was only six years old and he started playing professionally over a decade later.
It is believed that his journey was inspired by some of the legendary old-school blues acts like Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, and Howlin’ Wolf.
Similar to Albert, Freddie King worked with numerous “cream of the crop” artists in the world of blues, rhythm, and rock, like King Curtis, Sonny Thompson, and Bobby Tench.
Freddie King quickly rose to prominence as one of the most hard-working and eclectic blues musicians. Everyone across all compass points wanted to hear his hauntingly beautiful guitar tone. He was on tour nearly 90% of the time, after reaching stardom.
B.B. King is arguably the most influential, eclectic, talented, and soulful blues guitarist to have ever lived. He has done wonders for music as a whole and he has defined what classy, quality blues should sound like.
Even though he always had amazing musicians backing him up, B.B. always took the spotlight with his exquisitely soulful soloing technique. From spontaneous, yet perfectly, timed bends and impeccable use of vibratos, to outstanding staccato-picking displays, B.B. King’s solos have skill and heart in equal measure.
He entered the blues scene with Singin’ The Blues in 1956. It reached the top of the R&B billboard chart with the tune Three O’Clock Blues almost immediately upon launch.
One of B.B. King’s most popular albums is the one he released quite recently. One Kind Favor from 2008 is a farewell letter to his friends, family, and fans, as well as a compilation of beautiful blues tracks authored by King and combined with a few legendary covers like How Many More Years and Waiting for Your Call.
B.B. King performed hundreds of concerts on average throughout the 1970s and 1980s, released 50+ albums, and left us days’ worth of superb music. This man has more than earned his spot among the greatest in the Blues, Rock and Roll, and National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
The late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan brought another dimension into blues: the powerful dynamics of rock & roll meshed with the subtle, soulful intricacies of the blues genre blended into perfect harmony when Stevie took the stage.
He started building his name as a blues guitarist and frontman in Texas and quickly rose to prominence with his debut Texas Flood. He has played and collaborated with a range of high-profile artists, the most prominent being the iconic David Bowie,. But due to his untimely death in a helicopter accident, he only managed to release four studio albums.
Even though Stevie Ray Vaughan’s reign as one of the Kings of Blues lasted less than two decades, he left a profound mark on the global blues scene with his powerful soloing, masterful song-crafting skills, and unique style.
What separates him from most of his peers is a keen sense of patriotism tied to his Southern roots, which is firmly embodied in virtually all of his live performances and recorded works.
He has been declared among the top 12 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone and was posthumously welcomed into the R&R Hall of Fame alongside his bandmates Layton, Shannon, and Wynans.
Eric is among the scant few icons of blues guitar that are still with us today. He has been performing and innovating for over six decades and is rightly considered the most prolific guitarist and songwriter across multiple genres, including blues and blues rock.
Clapton reached worldwide fame almost from the get-go by joining the legendary Yardbirds, although his tenure with the band only lasted for about two years.
His unique playstyle merged the influences of the “Kings” and other prominent blues artists like Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. It wasn’t long before he joined another superstar act: John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers.
Clapton’s take on blues always had a dash of psychedelic rock, rhythm, and groove to it. It was when he created Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker that he fully realized his true potential as a versatile blues artist and creator. That ultimately led to his international fame.
What separates Eric Clapton from most blues legends is his uncanny ability to craft a catchy, melody-rich tune that can cross all generational borders. There is a reason he has influenced guitarists in many genres, including some on our lists of the top metal guitar players and top rhythm guitar players.
Although they are not necessarily strictly blues tunes, some of his tracks like Layla and Cocaine have retained relevancy for decades and have been dubbed among the best songs of all time by Rolling Stone.
Best Blues Rock Guitarists Ever: Final Thoughts
I have seen every single one of the best blues guitarists listed above at, or near the top, of at least one list of the best guitarists of all time. Obviously there are a few non-blues players that also top those lists, but these 5 blues guitarists are always in the running, too.
What do you think about our picks? Are there any other blues guitarists you feel should have been included over one of the ones we chose? Is there a blues guitarist on the list who you feel does not deserve his place? Let me know in the comments below.
And if you enjoyed this list, you should also check out our rundown of the best jazz guitarists ever.