Rolling Stone has a list titled “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. Not “…of the specific time and style of music my little world encompasses,” and “…where great means “even I sort of understand it, it’s got a good beat, nice to dance to”: greatest of all time. It is the kind of list made by an intellectually and artistically incurious hack who thinks music was invented just when he started listening to a single kind of it and never left, and of course such people have every right to make lists. The mystery is why RS, which has some pretensions to deserving the attention of paying customers and serious people, would publish it.
The list is sort of interesting because of its wilful artistic tunnel vision and ignorance, and because there seem to be no women on it. But it’s most interesting because it wasn’t made by an overworked inkstained wretch in a cubicle under deadline, but by a long list of guitarists. I have a lot better idea what’s wrong with popular music today: it’s because the musicians seem to be living in a sealed bubble listening only to people who (from any reasonable perspective) whose collective style and vision runs the gamut all the way from do to, um, re flat? It’s highly cautionary about, for example, academic league tables of economists made up by economists and maybe about peer review of scholarship the way we do it.
I didn’t go through the whole thing, because I got to 20 before I hit Les Paul and 21 before I got to Chet Atkins. 30 is Elmore James, for Pete’s Sake, and I bailed out because by then we still have not hit any of (in no particular order, and off the top of my head, and I am not a musicologist):
Andres Segovia, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Luiz Bonfà, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Mauro Giuliani, Niccolò Paganini, Rafael Rabello, Kenny Burrell, Charlie Byrd, Marco Pereira, Wes Montgomery, Carlos Paredes, Dino 7 Cordas, Narciso Yepes, Merle Travis, Christopher Parkening…
No women in my list either, blush. Here’s a page of women rock guitarists [link corrected 13/I/12], in partial penance. There’s definitely something wrong with all these lists being so relentlessly male.
Comments are of course open to folks who want to hip the rest of us to your overlooked favorites, and since I have Paredes on my list (guitarra portuguesa) I’ll even broaden the scope to charango, très Cubano, ukulele, and cavaquinho. But no banjo, oud, lute, balalaika or mandolin; those are for another post on another day.