In pop culture, lists are everything. They lend a sense of order to an otherwise orderless world. From film and literature to music, critics and readers alike love to put things in tidy rows. It is with this in mind that Popdose presents Listmania, a weekly series counting down the staff’s favorite things.

Just one clarifying point before diving into this week’s installment of the Top 50 Guitarists: there were many comments about the selection criteria for entries included in the list, which was, simply, “List your favorite 50 guitarists.” That’s it. These might not be the most technical, they might not be the most proficient, but they do represent the staff’s favorites.

If you missed last week’s installment, you can catch up here:

Top 50 Guitarists (50-36)

So without further delay, here are numbers 35 though 21 of the Popdose staff’s list of top guitarists …

35. Mike Bloomfield. Born in Chicago, Bloomfield got his start there with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He became a sought-after session player, hooking up with everyone from Mitch Ryder during his Detroit Wheels heyday to Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited.  He did some smokin’ records with Al Kooper under the aegis of Super Session, and released some pretty good solo records in the 1970s. And he was the guitarist for Electric Flag, which cut one legendary record and played at Monterey. With his Telecaster and Les Pauls, Bloomfield played clean, searing blues without the aid of distortion or much feedback. Despite heavy drug use, he made it that far. Guitar blues diehards wonder if Bloomfield and his British counterpart Peter Green would have made Clapton the undisputed bronze-medal player if they’d kept clean. – Mojo Flucke
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34. Mick Taylor. Historically speaking, Mick Taylor has made a career of playing second fiddle. First replacing Peter Green when he left John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, followed by filling the vacancy left by Brian Jones in The Rolling Stones; leaving the former when working with Keith Richards proved to be more difficult than he could bear. His contributions to the Stones’ cadre came during what is arguably the band’s golden age, adding his singing tone to Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St. and Goats Head Soup. Ironically, it was Taylor that brought Ron Wood into the fold, and with “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)”, he ended his time with the Stones. – Michael Parr
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33. B.B. King. They call him the “King of the Blues,” and God have mercy on your soul if you don’t understand how perfectly that title fits B.B. King. As an artist, B.B. King (and his trusty guitar, nicknamed “Lucille”) has been active in the business for more than 60 years now with over 15,000 gigs notched into his touring belt. Almost like the blues version of the Energizer Bunny, King has outlasted many of his contemporaries and inspired a countless number of musicians. And at 84 years of age, King continues to be an inspiration, with an understated style of playing that proves sometimes indeed, less is more. – Matt Wardlaw
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32. Slash. You can’t talk about Slash without also talking about his Corsican twin. I suspect he knows as much although he has tried to greater (Velvet Revolver) and lesser (also Velvet Revolver) extent to diverge from this. Lord knows Axl Rose understands but would never, ever say it. They are ying to yang and anything Guns ‘N Roses without both of them isn’t really Guns ‘N Roses. The two singlehandedly brought the sleaze back to hard rock, just as Mötley Crüe slipped into pop metal and Poison started sounding more like country. It is Slash’s solos that rescue and redeem “November Rain”, that chug-a-lug that rams the steam engine of “Paradise City” down the rails, and few guitarists are known instantly for an eight figure riff such as that which opens “Sweet Child O Mine”. If Mick and Keef are the Glimmer Twins, then Slash and Axl must be the Gutter Brothers. One can only dream of a reconciliation. – Dw. Dunphy
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31. Albert King. The blues guitarist known as the Velvet Bulldozer, he was one of the three kings of the blues guitar along with Freddie and B.B. He found commercial success with the support of Stax the other Kings never did. A good example is “Born Under a Bad Sign,” written by Booker T. Jones and backed up by the MGs, to this day a blues standard, covered by everyone starting with Cream. Other notable anthems include “Crosscut Saw” and “Blues Power.” Playing his Gibson Flying V left-handed and upside down, usually dressed to the nines and smoking a pipe, King influenced guys like Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.– MF
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30. Steve Howe. Sure, maybe the other members of Yes fancied themselves as neo-classical minstrels, their compositions often as over-the-top as Rick Wakeman’s spangled cape, but that’s what made Steve Howe such a necessary component to the band. His heroes were not sixties axe-slingers but sterling examples of the old guard — Les Paul and Chet Atkins, to name two. It clearly showed on albums like The Yes Album and Fragile where he stole the spotlight, again and again, with his solo contributions. Then he blew doors off hinges with his ecstatic electric solos such as the closing part of “Starship Trooper”. Howe’s altogether different approach gave the band what it desperately needed — a little red clay under the fingernails. – DW
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29. Steve Lukather. Toto was a band best known for its passionate ballads — songs like “Rosanna,” “I Won’t Hold You Back,” and “I’ll Be Over You.” But they were also cheerfully vulgar enough to cut a cheeky, awful covers album that contained Totofied versions of songs like “Living for the City” and “Watching the Detectives” — not to mention issuing a press release some years back explaining keyboard player David Paich’s absence from a tour by saying he was getting a sex change. And that’s Toto guitarist Steve Lukather in a nutshell: a guy who could go from romantic and tasteful to loud and crude in the time it took to tune. Check the liner notes of your favorite records, and odds are good that you’ll find his name in there more than once; even now, long after the golden era of the studio musician, Luke’s services remain in high demand. When it comes to guitar, the guy can play anything. – Jeff Giles
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28. Brian May. Multi-track recording had been around for a while by the early Seventies, but no one used it quite like Queen.  While a chorus of Freddie Mercurys sounded daunting, they were evenly matched, note for precious note, by the symphony of guitars painfully constructed by Brian May. Using his Red Special guitar, a set of effects, and an ear for the possibilities of the studio, May led the band through compact statements that put their expansive sound and unique structures on display (think “Seven Seas of Rhye,” “Long Away,” “Death on Two Legs” from their early records). He is, however, first and foremost a rock guitarist and soloist (“We Will Rock You,” “Dragon Attack,” “Tear It Up”), and one of the best at that.  And, because the band’s popularity saw them play on the largest stages on the planet, we have ample proof of his prowess as a live player (um, Live Aid, anyone?). Say what you will about Queen’s bombast and flamboyance — they were a great, great band, and their musical foundation emanated from the fingers and imagination of one Brian May. – Rob Smith
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27. Pete Townshend. When Pete Townshend said something to the effect: “I know how it feels to be a woman because I am a woman,” there was a lot of damage control from Roger Daltrey who went to great lengths to say that Pete was just a regular fella like himself. But if we take Pete’s quote and apply it to his guitar playing, Townshend, to me, is a player who alternates between male and female archetypes in terms of style. The balls to the wall bombast of “The Real Me” and the delicacy of songs like “Love Reign O’er Me” or “Tea & Theatre” show that he’s able to play the guitar with a wide range of emotions. And his own solo work expands on his ability to convey that range with more subtle contrasts.If there is a dominant style that the Who excel in its swagger and rage, but as a solo artist Townshend is able to throttle back on that aggression and craft songs that showcase the guitar as part of a larger community of instruments rather than solo instrument that demands the spotlight. There’s no doubt that Townshend can bring it when the song demands that he rock, but he’s also the kind of musician who, because of his own spiritual quest for unity, isn’t afraid of exploring other, less aggressive qualities of guitar playing.  So, if Pete was being metaphorical and not literal about being a woman, I think one listen to his work with the Who and as a solo artist will confirm that the male and female musical archetypes of his guitar playing are an integral part of his artistry. – Ted Asregadoo
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26. Tony Iommi. Tony “Fucking” Iommi (as he’s accurately referred to in the Popdose inner circles) has to be on any list of the top guitarists, after all he is probably the #1 metal shredder that ever lived. Iommi’s the Godfather of doom metal and pretty much every doom and stoner band playing today owes something to him and/or Black Sabbath as a whole. In the ‘70s, his plodding, dark riffs combined with psychedelic passages were like the soundtrack to a really good acid trip. In the ‘80s he laid down more power riffs to go along with Ronnie James Dio’s fantasy inspired lyrics and brought it all back around with  Heaven & Hell in 2008. Today, even at the age of 62, it’s not hard at all to imagine more killer metal riffs coming from this guy. And he does it while missing the tips of two fingers on his right hand. Ain’t no way I’m going to play the guitar if I get my fingers chopped off. – Dave Steed
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25. Chuck Berry. If Prince is the greatest singer, guitarist, composer, and crossover artist of the 1980s, Chuck Berry is number one of all time. He played blues and country before he jumped into rock ‘n’ roll and took over the scene with anthems like “Maybelline,” “Back in the USA,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and many other hits. Dynamic and charismatic, his singular grinning, well-dressed, duck-walking stage presence mesmerized teens of all hues in an age of segregation. Later, every 1960s pop-rock band from the Beatles to the Beach Boys to the Stones to the MC5 acknowledged their debts to Chuck Berry. Well, OK, the Beach Boys acknowledged their debt only after a judge ordered them to pay for misappropriating “Sweet Little Sixteen” and calling it “Surfin’ USA,” but you get the idea. – MF
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24. Frank Zappa. There is a moment during the opening passage of “Black Napkins” that says virtually everything that you need to know about Frank Zappa, the guitarist. The Bm7–Cmaj7 cadence, quiet and majestic, carries the weeping legato line with nary a wasted note. It was this economy of notes, and knowing when to toss that economy out of the window, that set him apart from his contemporaries. In his lifetime he released not just one, but two guitar-centric records — 1981’s Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar and 1988’s Guitar. As a composer, Zappa was unparalleled; as a guitarist, he was nothing short of a master. – MP
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23. Alex Lifeson. It’s understandable why critics loathe prog – the song almost never comes first. If anything, the song is just a vehicle to indulge in musical masturbation. How is everyone going to know how awesome I am if I don’t show off my mad skills at every single opportunity? Come on, people, look at me! Alex Lifeson is not that kind of guitarist. One possible explanation for Lifeson’s reserved approach in a genre ruled by excess is that he’s in a band with a bassist and drummer that are among the world’s finest, and the best way to stand out is by not trying to compete with them. We’d prefer, however, to believe that after a little youthful indiscretion, Lifeson learned that it’s better to do what’s best for the song and, as the band’s only guitarist, he knew that he would get plenty of moments to shine, even when Geddy Lee was on that big keyboard kick. But that still doesn’t highlight the greatest weapon in Lifeson’s arsenal: his chords. Listen to the opening of “The Camera Eye,” that gonzo C chord in “Double Agent,” the D-tuned oddness in “Stick It Out,” or the chorus to “Digital Man”; the fact that he can shred with the best of them is a plus, but it’s his rhythm work that best demonstrates Lifeson’s depth and personality as a guitarist. Balance and restraint: in a perfect world, they’d be the new black – David Medsker
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22. Ritchie Blackmore. One of the most infuriatingly brilliant guitarists to ever strap on a Strat, Ritchie Blackmore is best known for the hard rock he played with Deep Purple and early Rainbow, as well as the more commercial fare of the later Rainbow years. Fleet of finger and given to whammy bar theatrics (often while standing stock still onstage) Blackmore forged unique forces with the likes of Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnett, and Joe Lynn Turner, none of whom ever sounded the same after being cast aside by the guitarist. His ways with the riff were legendary—not just the rudimentary whomp-whomp-whomp of “Smoke on the Water,” but also the Godzilla crush of “Maybe I’m a Leo” and “Perfect Strangers.” His insistence of beginning live versions of “Man on the Silver Mountain” with a little folky picking exercise bode ill for the future, though, as he eventually abandoned rock to dress up in Renaissance Fair finery and play folk music with his wife in Blackmore’s Night. While he’s earned the right to do as he wishes, there will always be a part of me that looks upon his current direction as a waste, and hopes he will one day plug in again. Long live rock and roll. – RS
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21. Andy Summers. Unlike a lot of guitarists on this list, Andy Summers isn’t particularly known for his smoking solos, but just try to imagine the Police without his distinctive tone. (That sound you’re hearing? Sting’s solo career. Case closed.) Through his work with a long list of artists — including Eric Burdon and Robert Fripp — Summers has made a persuasive argument for tight, economical playing devoid of flash; he may never attract as much attention as the shredders, but a Summers track can usually make you feel something. And most importantly, he wrote “Behind My Camel,” the song that Sting hated so much he refused to play on it — and which then won a Grammy. Suck it, lute boy! – JG
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