The 10 Best Guitarists of the 1970s


The 1970s was a dynamic and transformative era for the guitar, as it birthed a new wave of iconic guitarists who left an indelible mark on the landscape of rock and roll. This decade was characterized by a fusion of genres, innovative guitar techniques, and the rise of virtuoso players who expanded the horizons of what could be achieved with the electric guitar. From the hard rock riffs of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page to the jazz-infused stylings of Al Di Meola, the 1970s saw guitarists pushing the boundaries of creativity and skill.

Each guitarist of this era brought their unique flair and influence, contributing to the rich tapestry of music that defined the 1970s. Whether it was through pioneering new sounds, embracing diverse musical influences, or mastering complex compositions, these guitarists helped shape a decade of musical exploration and diversity. In this article, we dive into the world of 1970s guitar heroes, exploring the lives and legacies of some of the decade’s most influential players. 

Eric Clapton (Derek and the Dominos, Solo Artist)

Fender Stratocaster neck

Eric Clapton’s work in the 1970s, both as a solo artist and with Derek and the Dominos, solidified his status as one of rock’s greatest guitarists. His emotive style, rooted in the blues, reached new heights with the release of “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos, featuring one of the most memorable guitar riffs in rock history. Clapton’s solo career in the 1970s also flourished with hits like “I Shot the Sheriff,” showcasing his ability to blend rock with other genres like reggae.

Clapton’s deeply personal album, “461 Ocean Boulevard,” marked a turning point in his career, reflecting his struggles and triumphs. Songs like “Wonderful Tonight” and “Cocaine” became staples of his repertoire, highlighting his soulful playing and songwriting skills. Clapton’s impact on guitar music in the 1970s was profound, influencing generations of musicians with his passionate and expressive approach to the guitar.

Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

Jimmy Page’s work with Led Zeppelin in the 1970s solidified his reputation as one of the most influential guitarists of all time. His innovative playing and songwriting were pivotal in the development of hard rock and heavy metal. Page’s mastery is evident in songs like “Stairway to Heaven,” where his intricate fingerpicking and soaring solo created one of the most iconic pieces in rock history. In “Kashmir,” his use of alternative tunings and orchestral arrangements showcased his versatility and willingness to push musical boundaries.

Beyond his technical skills, Page was a pioneer in studio production. His experimental recording techniques, as heard in “Whole Lotta Love,” contributed to a unique and immersive listening experience. Page’s legacy extends beyond Led Zeppelin; his influence is evident in the countless guitarists who have sought to emulate his style and approach to music.

David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)

Stratocaster control knobs

David Gilmour’s guitar work with Pink Floyd in the 1970s was integral to the band’s groundbreaking sound. His ethereal solos and innovative use of effects were hallmarks of albums like “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here.” Gilmour’s guitar on tracks like “Comfortably Numb” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” displayed a rare combination of technical prowess and emotional depth, helping to define the progressive rock genre.

Gilmour’s approach to the guitar was not about flashy playing; instead, he focused on melody and tone, creating solos that were as lyrical as they were impressive. His contributions to Pink Floyd’s conceptual and sonic landscapes were invaluable, making him one of the most respected guitarists of his generation.

Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)

Tony Iommi’s guitar playing with Black Sabbath was foundational in the creation of the heavy metal genre. His powerful riffs and dark, downtuned guitar tones created a new sound that was heavier and more ominous than anything before. Tracks like “Iron Man” and “Paranoid” featured some of the most influential guitar riffs in rock, while “War Pigs” showcased his ability to craft epic and heavy compositions.

Iommi’s style was a product of necessity, having lost the tips of two fingers in an industrial accident. He developed a unique way of playing that contributed to his distinct sound. His legacy in the 1970s is not just in the riffs he created, but in the entire genre, he helped birth, influencing countless bands and guitarists in the decades to come.

Carlos Santana (Santana)

Carlos Santana’s work in the 1970s with his band Santana brought a unique fusion of rock, Latin, and jazz influences to the mainstream. His fluid, melodic guitar style, characterized by its sustained notes and expressive vibrato, gave songs like “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” a distinctive sound. Santana’s ability to blend complex rhythms and harmonies from Latin and African music with rock and blues created a groundbreaking and danceable sound.

Santana’s impact on the 1970s music scene was both musical and cultural. He was one of the first guitarists to successfully integrate world music influences into rock, paving the way for future cross-genre collaborations. His performances, such as the legendary set at Woodstock, helped bring his unique style to a wider audience. Carlos Santana remains a pivotal figure in the fusion of different musical traditions, and his work in the 1970s is a significant part of his enduring legacy. It was also in Woodstock where Jimi Hendrix presented one of his most iconic performances. To know more about Woodstock and other popular 60s music festivals, head over to our article, The Most Iconic Music Festivals of the 1960s.

Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow)

old electric guitar

Ritchie Blackmore, with his work in Deep Purple and Rainbow, stood out as one of the most skilled and influential guitarists of the 1970s. His fast, precise playing and pioneering of neo-classical metal were evident in songs like “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star.” Blackmore’s riffs and solos were not just technically impressive; they were catchy and memorable, helping to define the hard rock sound of the decade.

Blackmore was also known for his flamboyant stage presence and his willingness to experiment with different sounds and styles. His work with Rainbow, particularly on songs like “Stargazer,” showcased his ability to blend hard rock with elements of classical and baroque music, further cementing his status as a guitar innovator.

Brian May (Queen)

Brian May’s guitar work with Queen throughout the 1970s showcased his unique approach to the instrument. His homemade “Red Special” guitar and his use of multi-track recording techniques allowed him to create a distinctive, layered sound. May’s playing on songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You” featured some of the most recognizable and innovative guitar work of the decade.

May’s style, combining melodic playing with technical virtuosity, was integral to Queen’s eclectic sound. He was able to seamlessly transition between genres, from rock and pop to opera and folk, making him one of the most versatile guitarists of his era. His contributions to Queen’s success and his unique sound have made him a legend in the guitar world.

Peter Frampton (Frampton, Humble Pie)

Peter Frampton emerged as a prominent guitarist in the 1970s, first with Humble Pie and then as a solo artist. His use of the talk box effect, particularly on hits like “Show Me the Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do,” became a signature aspect of his sound. Frampton’s ability to craft accessible rock songs with impressive guitar work made him a standout artist of the decade.

Frampton’s live performances, especially those captured on his breakthrough live album “Frampton Comes Alive!” showcased his charisma and skill as a guitarist and performer. His melodic solos and catchy songwriting have influenced a wide range of artists and helped define the sound of 1970s rock.

Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)


Mark Knopfler’s distinctive fingerstyle guitar playing was a highlight of Dire Straits’ music in the 1970s. His clean, precise technique and melodic sensibility set him apart from many of his contemporaries. Songs like “Sultans of Swing” and “Down to the Waterline” featured Knopfler’s unique approach to the guitar, blending elements of rock, blues, and folk.

Knopfler’s understated playing style and focus on tone and melody over technical flash were refreshing in an era often dominated by guitar pyrotechnics. His work with Dire Straits in the 1970s laid the foundation for the band’s success in the following decades and established him as one of the most tasteful and influential guitarists of his generation.

Al Di Meola (Return to Forever, Solo Artist)

Al Di Meola’s work in the 1970s, both as a member of the jazz fusion group Return to Forever and as a solo artist, showcased his exceptional skill and speed as a guitarist. His playing on tracks like “Mediterranean Sundance” and “Race with Devil on Spanish Highway” displayed his mastery of complex rhythms and lightning-fast runs. Di Meola’s fusion of jazz, rock, and world music influences created a sound that was both innovative and technically demanding.

Di Meola’s contributions to albums like “Romantic Warrior” with Return to Forever and his solo album “Elegant Gypsy” were landmarks in the fusion genre. His precision and speed, combined with his ability to convey emotion through his playing, have made him an influential figure in the world of guitar. His work in the 1970s continues to inspire guitarists across genres, from jazz and rock to classical and flamenco.


The 1970s were a golden era for guitar music, marked by the emergence of some of the most iconic and influential guitarists in the history of rock and roll. These ten guitarists, each with their unique style and approach, not only defined the sound of their respective bands but also left an enduring impact on the music industry as a whole. From Jimmy Page’s groundbreaking techniques to Al Di Meola’s lightning-fast runs, their contributions extended beyond mere technical prowess, embodying the spirit of innovation and experimentation that characterized the decade.

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