The Most Influential Acoustic Guitar Players


Who are the most influential acoustic guitar players?

There’s a massive difference between “the best” and who was the most influential.

Tommy Emmanuel, for example, could possibly be ranked #1 on the best list. Few would argue. Well, I might… I’d probably say: Shared with Bob Brozman, Django Reinhardt, and Michael Hedges.

But it’s all subjective really. And what does “best” mean anyway? So instead of getting into all that, let’s replace “best” with “influential” and see who we instead may fit on such a list.

For the sake of not writing a novel here, let’s limit that list to just five acoustic guitar players.



Robert Johnson – The original

This could be #1 or #5 on the most influential list. I’ll let you decide.

Apparently, he famously sold his soul to the devil, got some incredible guitar chops, and ended up leaving a collection of blues songs still played today.

I’m sure there were at least a few more like him around at the time, what really set him apart is that he recorded his songs.

Did he write all those songs? Maybe, probably, who knows? All we know is, that he recorded these songs and therefore shall forever be known as the original.

If you haven’t had a listen to the maestro for a while, above you can hear him with the beautiful Little Queen Of Spades.

Who did he influence?

Eric Clapton must be Mr. Johnson’s biggest fan and possibly his greatest interpreter too! Clapton even released an album called Me and Mr. Johnson in 2004.

Over a decade prior to that, he performed Malted Milk on the fabulous Eric Clapton Unplugged album. One of my personal favorite performances.



Paco De Lucia – The legend in the world of Flamenco guitar

Ask a man on the street to name a flamenco guitar player and you’ll probably get Paco de Lucia’s name more often than not.

The Flamenco guitar world is its very own thing. It’s got its own techniques, musical language, and even dance moves!

It’s survived as a movement thanks to the dedication of its practitioners, the strong culture, heritage, and the stars. Paco is the star that stuck worldwide.

He may not be “the best” to the experts, but he is definitely a household name and that makes him the most influential flamenco guitarist.

For me, Paco had his finest moment when he took to the stage with John McLaughlin and Al do Meola.

Above, you can hear them play the incredible Mediterranean Sundance.

Who did he influence?

Anyone who attempted playing flamenco guitar? Probably.



Chet Atkins – Master of his signature style

Yes, Chet Atkins didn’t only play acoustic, he played semi-acoustic electric guitars mainly but also Mandolin, Banjo, and Ukulele.

Since his home didn’t have electricity, he spent his early years mainly playing his semi-acoustic acoustically. It was during this time that he developed his finger-picking playing.

Atkins’s main influence was Merle Travis who he heard on the radio, interpreting his picking style as being played with three fingers (Merle actually played with two). As the 40s didn’t have YouTube, Chet unknowingly developed a new fingerstyle technique by copying Travis picking licks by ear.

Not just a guitar player, Chet Atkins literally invented the Nashville sound as he worked as a record producer for RCA. Can you be more influential than that?

Above, Chet brings you his hilarious There’ll Be Some Changes Made, a track off an album he made later on in his career with Mark Knopfler.

Who did he influence?

Mark Knopfler, Tommy Emmanuel, country music’s switch to “The Nashville Sound”. Albert Lee and all the other electric country guitarists we’ve seen since Chet emerged in the late 40s.



MICHAEL HEDGES – CONTEMPORARY COMPOSER FOR ACOUSTIC GUITAR

According to the man himself, he’s not that interested in fancy guitar tricks. This may seem outrageous, especially considering how many unique techniques Michael Hedges developed.

Instead, Michael saw himself as a composer, the techniques coming from searching for the composition, from the actual writing of the song. I don’t know about you, but I believe him.

Above you can hear Michael with one of my favorite compositions of his, Ragamuffin, played on his trusted Martin D28 named Barbara (after being played in so many bars).

Who did he influence?

Following in Michael Hedges’s guitar style we find Kaki King, Andy McKee, Jon Gomm, and anyone signed to the record label Candyrat.



BOB DYLAN – THE SONGWRITER THAT CHANGED MUSIC

How can Dylan possibly be on this list?!?

Best known for his songs and lyrics, Bob revolutionized pop music by writing about things that mattered. Not just boy loves girl songs.

He did it, performing with only one acoustic guitar and the entire world followed suit.

Who did he influence?

Dylan influenced songwriters to take to the acoustic guitar and start writing serious songs. Can you be more influential than that? I don’t think so…


TOP FIVE MOST INFLUENTIAL ACOUSTIC GUITAR PLAYERS

These are my top five, most influential acoustic guitar players:

  1. Robert Johnson
  2. Paco de Lucia
  3. Chet Atkins
  4. Michael Hedges
  5. Bob Dylan

Hang on… Maybe it should be the other way around…

  1. Bob Dylan
  2. Michael Hedges
  3. Chet Atkins
  4. Paco de Lucia
  5. Robert Johnson

I’m not sure, either way, it’s a fine lineup!


Who is my biggest influence?

Perhaps it’s appropriate to reveal who my biggest influence is. It’s an easy choice for me, it’s Eric Clapton.

At the age of 15, I spent an entire summer with his unplugged album on repeat, a TAB book, and one acoustic guitar in hand. Nothing shaped me more as a player.

I can’t believe I’ve been waffling on her without mentioning Joni Mitchell… I mean what she’s done for music in general and women playing acoustic guitar in particular… Oh well, I knew fitting five names on a list was going to backfire at some point…

Looks like I should go back to studying tunes instead of players. Maybe, that’s what you should do as well?