Those of us who have entered a conversation about “the best” – whatever arena that thing or person may be the best in – have to accept that the most ferocious of all such debates is the one about the best guitarist ever. This is a debate that frequently ends in violence, particularly if the debate itself is between two or more guitarists. After all, what makes a guitarist “the best”? The many variables in the debate make it one that seems pretty much insoluble. It is surely a matter of opinion – although, to many people, that’s a bit of a cop-out in itself.
Some people look for technical perfection in a guitarist. These people will hold up guitarists such as Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton as the best there ever was. Others disagree vehemently and argue that emotion and soul are more valuable commodities, as evidenced by the likes of Jimi Hendrix or Robert Johnson. There are so many differing opinions that consensus is hard to reach. And all the time that this is going on, there are more and more people picking up guitars hoping one day to be the subjects of such debates.
In the end, the person you choose as your own favorite guitarist may, or may not, in some way be the best guitarist ever. But the true importance of this admiration is the influence they will have on your own playing. Few of us will be able to play exactly like Hendrix, or be as acclaimed as Clapton. However, if listening and learning helps us get where we want to go, it is time well spent.