51 Best Country Guitarists Of All Time

Best Country Guitarists
Photo Credit: Larry Philpot, soundstagephotography.com, CC BY 2.0

Searching for a list of the world’s best country guitarists of all time? In this guide, we’ll explore some of the greatest country guitar players both past and present.

Throughout this compendium of chicken pickers and behind-the-nut benders you’ll find all of the heavy hitters that helped to influence the country music genre as we know it.

In addition, I’ve made sure to include a few fresh country artists that you might not be familiar with yet. This new generation of the country guitar players is currently bust taking the genre to all new levels.

For each musician, I have included a brief bio exploring their play styles and achievements. In addition, I’ve added a video featuring some of their best work so that you can get a quick flavor of their playing.

Note that this list of country artists is in no particular order of greatness!

Best Country Guitarists In The World

1. Brad Paisley

A master of both emotive playing and precise technique, Brad Paisley is the ultimate modern-day country guitar hero. His ability to effortlessly mix complex melodies, impressively technical solos, and often hilarious lyrics has earned him 3 Grammy’s amongst numerous other accolades at the time of writing.

His signature style of blending traditional country music elements tinged with a modern and fresh edge has led to him being regularly named one of the greatest country guitarists of all time.

Personally, I would rate his mainly instrumental sixth studio album ‘Play’ as being one of the best guitar albums ever. It is also a country guitar fan’s absolute wet dream, featuring guest spots from greats such as James Burton, B.B. King, Albert Lee, Brent Mason, Vince Gill, and many more!

Fun Fact! One of Brad’s biggest hits is the song ‘Alcohol’ from his album ‘Time Well Wasted’. Funnily enough, he doesn’t actually drink, instead preferring a slightly more innocent Yoo-Hoo.

2. Keith Urban

Since the video above features Keith Urban along with Brad, it seems to make sense to add the Australian guitar-slinger next! Keith was actually my first real introduction to the world of country guitarists, and it was soon after that I made it my goal to master chicken pickin’.

Keith is an undeniably talented guitar player, known for his superb showmanship and an incredible ability to fuse his country music roots with other genres such as rock and pop. Whether he’s simply strumming an acoustic, or unleashing high-energy riffs, he is a true icon in the world of country guitar players.

Fun Fact! Although Keith grew up in Australia, he was actually born in New Zealand – a Kiwi!

3. Merle Travis

Ever heard of ‘Travis Picking‘? Well, this country music legend invented the fingerpicking technique that revolutionized the guitar and inspired countless generations of musicians!

When hearing Merle Travis for the first time it was surprising for many to discover that there wasn’t a second guitarist playing along with him. His new technique was so innovative that he managed simultaneously to sound like two musicians playing separate parts.

A monumental influence on not just country musicians, but on guitarists as a whole! He has been named one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th century and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977.

4. Chet Atkins

Like Merle Travis, Chet Atkins was the inventor of some of the most important fundamental country guitar techniques. And like Merle, he has also influenced countless musicians worldwide – arguably more so!

So good was Chet at the instrument that he was regularly referred to as ‘Mr. Guitar’. His style combined elements of country music, jazz, and pop, and his use of harmonics, alternating bass lines, and complex chord progressions took guitar playing to new levels.

Rolling Stone magazine has credited him with inventing the Nashville sound, and almost single-handedly bringing country music back into the mainstream. So, yeah, an unbelievably important figure for country musicians the world over!

Fun Fact! Chet was invited to play at the White House by every U.S President from John F. Kennedy to George Bush.

5. Vince Gill

Vince Gill‘s incredible country music chops have been inspiring players for almost half a decade and over 20 phenomenal studio albums.,

He has been awarded an incredible 22 Grammys (at the time of writing), has sold over 26 million albums, and even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Quite the achiever!

Vince can shred with the best, but is also known for his versatile and emotive vocals. His masterful guitar abilities coupled with his singing capabilities have made him one of the most sought-after players in the country music scene and beyond.

Fun Fact! Vince is also skilled at bass, mandolin, dobro, and fiddle!

6. James Burton

Referred to by Keith Richards as ‘the master of the Telecaster’, James Burton is known for being one of the finest pickers in country music and rock. Indeed, he invented the chicken pickin’ playstyle that has since become a staple technique for country guitar players.

He has toured and recorded with an almost endless list of artists including Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Emmylou Harris, Roy Orbison, and many more!

His parents bought him a Fender Telecaster in 1952 for his 13th birthday, and T-style guitars have been his primary instrument ever since. James mixes the best elements of country, blues, and rhythm and blues together, making him one of the most versatile players on this list.

Fun Fact! James was so talented at guitar that at the age of just 14 the local police station granted him a special permit to allow him to play at the town bars and clubs.

7. Johnny Hiland

Johnny Hiland has been setting stages alight with his incredible fusion of chicken picking and rock pyrotechnics for decades. He is definitely one of the fastest country guitarists of all time on the list, and from watching his interviews and live shows, one of the friendliest to boot!

Legally blind, and unable to do most of the things that other kids were doing, Johnny started to play guitar at just age 2. He won various local talent shows, made his first TV appearance at age 7, and got his big break when he won the ‘Talent America Contest’ when he was just 10 years old.

Johnny is currently touring the world with his band, giving guitar masterclasses, and has recently unveiled his new signature Kiesel model.

Learn From Johnny! You can also head over to TrueFire.com where you can check out his various country guitar tuition lessons and courses.

8. Albert Lee

While the majority of country musicians are American, British-born virtuoso Albert Lee bucks that trend. Eric Clapton has referred to Albert as being ‘the ultimate virtuoso’ – high praise indeed!

His hit song ‘Country Boy’ has been credited by many as being responsible for reinventing country music. Watch the video below to hear this track and enjoy one of the finest masterclasses in fast and clean chicken pickin’ around.

Guitar Player magazine has awarded him the title of ‘best country guitarist‘ five times in a row – more than any other player!

Fun Fact! For a long time, he was referred to as ‘Mr. Telecaster’ due to his preference for and mastery of T-type guitars. Although, he now has his own signature model with Music Man!

9. Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton is one of the most iconic singers in country music history. However, she is also an excellent multi-instrumentalist, with the guitar being her main instrument of choice.

When Dolly exploded onto the country music scene the genre was very much a male-dominated one. Her distinctive voice, unique look, and tasteful guitar playing helped to break the hold that male artists had on the industry.

She also helped to bring country music to the masses thanks to her unique country-pop style, and was one of the earliest stars of the genre to achieve mainstream success.

Fun Fact! Dolly’s family was so poor that when she was born they had to pay the doctor that delivered her with a bag of grain!

10. Willie Nelson

At 90 years old at the time of writing, Willie Nelson has become one of country music’s longest-performing artists. In 1993 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, cementing his status as one of the genre’s biggest stars.

Willie’s guitar playing is easily identifiable due to his unique play style which involves ferocious strumming, big bends, and fretting chords with his thumb.

Named after Roy Rogers’ horse, Willie’s guitar ‘Trigger‘ is one of the most iconic and legendary guitars ever. He has been rocking stages with this bruised and battered acoustic since 1969!

Fun Fact! In 1990, Willie owed the IRS $32 million in unpaid tax. To repay the debt, he recorded an album where the government would receive at least 15 cents for each dollar made.

11. Danny Gatton

Although Danny Gatton was capable of playing a myriad of different genres, he was mainly known as a country and rockabilly guitarist. He combined elements of country music, jazz, blues, and rockabilly to create a style of music he coined ‘redneck jazz’.

Steve Vai once described Danny as being “the closest anyone ever came to being the greatest living guitarist”. But despite his phenomenal guitar playing abilities Danny tended to stay in the shadows, earning himself the moniker of ‘the world’s greatest unknown guitarist’.

Sadly, Danny committed suicide in 1994 via gunshot. It is believed that he had suffered from depression for many years.

12. Johnny Cash

Although the ‘Man in Black’ wasn’t known for his virtuoso guitar abilities, it was his simple guitar-playing style that became an integral part of the very DNA of country music.

Johnny Cash‘s trademark guitar sound was a slow chord progression played in a distinctive ‘boom-chucka’ rhythm. Similar to the sound of a freight train, this playstyle is copied by country guitarists to this day.

With his genre-defining guitar playing and trademark baritone vocals, Johnny is undoubtedly one of the most influential musicians of all time.

13. Maybelle Carter

With over 300 songs recorded, Maybelle Carter was the backbone of the Carter Family, country music’s first ‘superstar’ vocal group.

Maybelle developed a style of guitar picking where she played the melody on the bass strings and simultaneously strummed rhythm on the treble strings. This technique came to become known as Carter family picking (or the Carter scratch) and helped to turn the guitar into a lead instrument rather than purely a rhythm machine.

Before Maybelle arrived on the scene the guitar wasn’t actually a very common instrument to find being played in country music. So, to call her an important player in the history of the instrument would be a massive understatement!

Fun Fact! Maybelle Carter became Johnny Cash’s mother-in-law after he married her daughter June.

14. Brent Mason

Brent Mason is one of the most sought-after session players ever, having contributed to over 1000 albums throughout his illustrious career. You’ll most likely find his guitar work on pretty much every album to come out of Nashville since he burst onto the scene.

His innovative style and masterful playing have led to him being named the Academy of Country Music’s Guitarist of the Year a phenomenal 12 times. He was so dominant in this award category that his name had to be ‘retired’ to give other country guitarists a fighting chance!

When quizzed about his longevity he claimed that the key was that “I was always reinventing myself – not playing the obvious, thinking a lot more deeply about the song. I think that’s the key to longevity.”

Learn from Brent! Check out Brent’s course Nashville Style Guitar where he’ll teach you all of his best tips and tricks to improve your country music playing.

15. Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell was a key member of the ‘Wrecking Crew’, a revered group of Los Angeles-based session musicians that appeared on thousands of records throughout the 1960s and 70s.

He was especially adept at lightning-fast scales and licks and often performed elaborate instrumentals for his captivated audiences. Like artists such as Dolly Parton, he found great commercial success by mixing elements of country music and pop to appeal to a wider audience.

Glen released 64 albums and sold over 46 million in total worldwide. After his death in 2017, many of players paid their respects, calling him the greatest country guitarist of all time.

16. Roy Clark

Roy Clark was probably best known for being the co-host of the tv series ‘Hee-Haw’. However, it was his prowess on the guitar (and other instruments!) that made him such a big hit with music fans.

In addition to his popularity on television, Clark achieved 23 top 40 country hits, and by the early 1970s was the highest-paid country musician on the planet!

On guitar, Roy was known for his lightning-fast riffs and solos. He was skilled at many genres including country music, Latin, bluegrass, and pop, and often combined a surf-rock style spring reverb with fiendish rockabilly licks.

Fun Fact! Initially, Roy had pursued a career in sports, focusing on baseball before later switching to boxing.

17. Hank Garland

Also known as ‘Sugarfoot’ due to his huge 1949 hit ‘Sugarfoot Rag’, Hank Garland was a player that Chet Atkins described as the best of the Nashville session country guitarists of all time.

As a session player, his work can be heard on records from many of the greats, including Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, the Everly Brothers, and most famously, Elvis Presley.

His career was tragically cut short due to a car accident, however, he still managed to achieve in a few years what the majority of other musicians would spend their lives working toward.

Fun Fact! Hank was the first player that ignited shred-maestro John 5s passion for the instrument. You can check out John’s incredible version of Sugarfoot Rag in my guide to the best shred guitarists of all time.

18. Jerry Donahue

Jerry Donahue is one of the world’s premier country guitarists. He has pioneered a number of innovative guitar techniques that have become ingrained into the DNA of country music.

One such technique that Jerry helped to pioneer is bending behind the nut, a method that produces a pedal steel-type sound. He is also known for his extreme mastery of string bending, being able to release one bend at the same time as raising another.

Another of Jerry’s tricks is his ‘harptone’ technique which he uses to gain maximum sustain from his guitar, and an almost harp-like sound. For this playstyle, he combines open strings whilst also holding on to fretted notes until the last possible millisecond.

19. Jerry Reed

Jerry Reed has got to be one of the biggest overachievers on this list as not only was he a legendary guitar player, he was a huge movie star to boot! The full package as far as entertainers are concerned.

Jerry’s dazzling picking technique was a huge influence on modern fingerstyle guitarists, and even the great Chet Atkins picked up tips from his innovative playing. In the video below you can watch (and be amazed by) one of the two friend’s most iconic duets.

He is one of only five musicians to have been recognized as a Certified Guitar Player (CGP). This is a prestigious honor awarded by Chet Atkins, and only bestowed upon players who had truly mastered the instrument.

Fun Fact! In total, Jerry appeared in over a dozen movies alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. This includes Smokey and the Bandit, for which he also wrote the title track ‘East Bound and Down’

20. Steve Wariner

Also one of the very few guitarists to be awarded the coveted title of Certified Guitar Player by the legendary Chet Atkins is session ace and songwriter Steve Wariner.

As an artist, he has released 18 studio albums, won 4 Grammys, and 3 Country Music Association awards amongst many other honors.

He is known for his phenomenal fingerstyle technique, something that he claims is thanks to the influence of the late Jerry Reed. Watch his Rig Rundown video below where he talks us through some of his gear and demonstrates why he is considered one of the finest country guitarists of all time.

21. Jimmy Bryant

Country-jazz virtuoso Jimmy Bryant was described as ‘the fastest guitar in the country’ – also the name of his 1967 studio album!

He is known for being the original Fender Telecaster hero, and could very well be the reason that the brand is such a powerhouse today! When Leo invented his first guitar Jimmy was the hottest player in L.A, and he knew that if he could get the guitar into Jimmy’s hands other guitarists might follow suit.

As you might have guessed, Leo’s plan worked! Jimmy loved everything about the guitar from its lack of unwanted feedback to its comfortable, ergonomic design. Soon after, it became the guitar for country guitarists to have!

22. Joe Maphis

Known as ‘the King of the Strings’, Joe Maphis is remembered as being one of the showiest country musicians of the 1950s and 1960s.

He was admired for his lightning-fast and super-clean picking ability, which to this day is envied and copied by many legions of country guitarists. Additionally, he is credited as being the first guitarist to flat pick fiddle tunes.

Jerry was also known for playing his custom double-necked Mosrite guitars, one of which you can see in action in the video above. One of the best country guitar players of his generation!

23. John Osbourne

John Osbourne is one-half of country rockers the Brother Osbourne. The band’s acclaim has skyrocketed in a relatively short period of time to give country music a real boost in popularity.

Taking influences from both southern rock and outlaw country, the band has gone on to win numerous accolades. This includes awards from the Country Music Awards, the Country Music Association, and even a Grammy!

Check out the live video above which features the band’s incredible Tiny Desk concert – you need to see the intro track ‘Muskrat Greene’. This has to be some of the tastiest guitar work to emerge from the country music scene in recent years!

24. Billy Strings

William Lee Apostol, aka Billy Strings, has to be one of the finest flatpickers in the Bluegrass scene at present. Although he is mainly at home on one of his acoustic guitars, he is also an excellent banjo and electric guitar player to boot.

Watching Strings play is an absolute masterclass in how to pour every last ounce of energy into your guitar playing. As a bluegrass guitarist, he has been consistently pushing the genre to the next level with each studio album released.

Fun Fact! His main guitar, a 1945 Martin D-28 was previously owned by Willie Nelson’s late guitarist Jodie Payne. As a tribute, Strings reunited player and guitar by sprinkling some of Jody’s ashes inside the guitar!

25. Tony Rice

Many say that Tony Rice did for the acoustic guitar what Jimi Hendrix did for the electric. That is, he was able to make the instrument express itself in ways that were previously unknown to players.

When Rice started his career, the guitar was very much seen as belonging in the rhythm section. However, his groundbreaking technique and often unexpected improvisational playstyle helped to bring the instrument to the front of the stage.

Other musicians often commented that his very presence was so powerful that jamming with Tony always seemed to bring out the best in their own playing.

26. Norman Blake

As a session musician, Norman Blake played with the great Johnny Cash on and off for over three decades. He has also toured with icons such as Kris Kristofferson and Joan Baez.

As one of the most prominent acoustic guitar flatpickers of his generation, he has written many songs that have become bluegrass standards.

Although he has won a dizzying number of awards over his career he has preferred to stay out of the limelight. As a result, he is often described as being one of the unsung guitar heroes of the 20th century.

27. Andy Wood

Although he is proficient in many styles of music as well as the mandolin, it is Andy Wood‘s incredible country shred licks that he is best known for.

He is as much a fan of country guitarist greats such as Brent Mason as he is instrumental virtuosos such as Steve Vai. His style tends to fuse country guitar with elements from shred and fusion to create a blisteringly fast that is unique to him.

Learn From Andy! If you’d like to learn to play in Andy’s modern shred/country hybrid style, make sure to check out his country guitar lessons on TrueFire.

28. John 5

Wait, John 5 in a country music list?! Although he is primarily known as a metal and shred musician, John is also a KILLER country guitarist!

Over the years he has released many exceptional country-themed solo tracks, including the incredibly tasty cover of ‘Sugar Foot Rag’ that you can watch above. For me, this is one of the best country instrumental performance pieces from a current artist.

He is absolutely worth including in this list as he has helped introduce a legion of rock and metal players to the genre. His unique shred and country hybrid style will have no doubt inspired many bluegrass players to pick up brand-new techniques as well.

29. Doc Watson

Highly regarded for his fingerpicking and flatpicking technique, Doc Watson (Arthel Lane Watson) is one of the most praised bluegrass guitarists of all time.

Blind from a young age, he enjoyed a career spanning almost six decades. Throughout his life, he won an incredible seven Grammy Awards, plus the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. As a result, he is widely regarded as being one of the best country guitar players of all time.

Fun Fact! He received his nickname after a radio presenter commented that his first name was too hard to remember. A member of the audience suggested ‘Doc’, presumably in reference to Sherlock Holmes’ trusty sidekick Doctor Watson.

30. Daniel Donato

As one of the youngest names on this list, Daniel Donato is an entirely new breed of guitar prodigy currently tearing it up on the Nashville circuit.

He is known for his unique ‘cosmic-country’ playstyle that bridges Nashville and the Great West, Kentucky and 1960s California, tie-dye and plaid, it’s a world of his own, and a wide world of musical adventure at that.

Fun Fact! Daniel was actually introduced to the guitar by playing Guitar Hero. What an incredible result to have such a talented new country guitarist to listen to thanks to a video game!

More Best Country Guitar Players

There are obviously a ton of amazing country music guitar players that we haven’t yet mentioned. So, here is a quick list of additional musicians that you might also like to check out!

  • Christ Stapleton
  • Phil Baugh
  • Jimmy Olander
  • Marty Stuart
  • Grady Martin
  • Robbie Fulks
  • Eddie Shaver
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Steve Kimock
  • Billie Bob Boykins
  • Clarence White
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • Dan Tyminski
  • Jim Stafford
  • Kris Kristoffersen
  • Junior Brown
  • Sol Philcox-Littlefield
  • Charlie Worsham
  • Luke McQueary
  • Austin Crumb
  • Lindsay Ell

I have no doubt that I will have missed some incredible country guitarists from this already huge list, so feel free to drop me a quick email if you feel that there is a key player missing. Head to the bottom of this page where you’ll find a link to my contact form.

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Neal Author Bio
Neal has been playing guitar (left-handed!) for over 20 years, and has also worked in various roles within the guitar retail industry since 2012. He started LeftyFretz in 2010. More Info