Guitarists are a dime a dozen. Unique guitarists are not. And then there are those who stand in the rarified air of having their unique guitar playing styles widely imitated.

The very definition of the word “unique” goes beyond technique and into a special realm that can be hard to comprehend. But we can surely enjoy the beautiful music created by these outliers. Here are the top five guitarists with unique playing styles.     

Wes Montgomery

Arguably the most influential jazz guitarist ever, Wes Montgomery developed unique playing styles out of sheer desire and necessity. His wife and neighbors complained that his late-night practices were too loud – so he would play with his thumb instead of a pick. But the sound that came out with his thumb was not loud enough for him. To compensate, Montgomery started playing melodies in octaves and developed a unique playing style that became widely imitated over the years.  

Alan Holdsworth

An absolute master of the instrument, Holdsworth – referred to as the greatest technical guitarist to ever live. He developed a unique way of playing chords and in the process defied traditional harmony for the guitar. His unique playing style also involved wide stretches that would be unattainable by most hands. Holdsworth also had blistering speed with an angular melodic vocabulary. To be able to copy or imitate Holdsworth, a guitarist would need to command a very high level of proficiency on the instrument. And this is the only reason his playing could not be more extensively imitated. 

Eddie Van Halen

The album Van Halen (from the band with the same name) marked the arrival of a new prophet for rock guitar. Eddie Van Halen displayed a visceral technique and touch and made the world experience a ferocity rock had not seen. Through the unique use of tapping and other techniques, Eddie Van Halen showed the music industry that you could be a virtuoso guitarist and play extremely catchy rock songs at the same time. Van Halen single-handedly destroyed the dreams of droves of guitarists that thought they were good enough to make it.

Jeff Beck

Despite an odd way of approaching the instrument, Jeff Beck is one of the most imitated guitar players ever. The way he combines the use of the volume knob with his pick and thumb is truly unique. The ways in which he uses his pick are even more unique. Add to this an unorthodox use of the whammy bar, slide, and an extremely musical mind, and you have one of the most unique playing styles ever. Albums like Blow by Blow and Jeff’s Garage are a must-listen for any guitarist. Though I’d have to argue that nothing compares to seeing him live and being hopelessly in awe of a supremely gifted musician.

Jimi Hendrix

With Jimi Hendrix there is a before and after for the electric guitar. His use of feedback, distortion, wah, and even teeth were unprecedented when he exploded on the British scene in the Sixties. He is the guy that made impossible sounds become possible. And besides the technical stuff, Jimi Hendrix was also unusually charismatic (especially for a guitar player). To say he was a unique guitarist is a massive understatement. 

The contribution of each of these unique guitar players is immense. They all went well beyond chords and scales to develop their own distinctive voices. You can recognize their playing immediately. Their uniqueness has passed the test of time and guitarists will keep on learning from them for years to come. 

If you enjoyed this article on unique playing styles, check out one of our other pieces which features 5 of Today’s Best Fingerstyle Guitarists. 

Leave your comments below and let us know which guitar playing styles you enjoy listening to or playing most!