Acoustic guitars are probably one of the most instantly recognizable instruments in the world, but they can be compelling. When they play well, they have an amazing ability to hold their audience’s attention whether they play alone or as part of a group.
In this post, we will introduce 13 of the greatest and most popular acoustic guitar players around the world. They are all expert in the instrument, and each has a unique style that has a lot to teach us how to play it beautifully.
1 – Tommy Emmanuel (1955-)
With a career spanning five decades, Tommy Emmanuel is a legendary guitarist and two-time Grammy Award nominee. He is famous at his home in Australia, but he has also earned many loyal fans all over the world.
Considered a child prodigy, Emmanuel received his first guitar at the age of four but never took any lessons.
Instead, he was self-taught and educated by listening to the radio and watching his mother play the guitar. And at the age of six, he was already playing in a band with all his family.
He is known for his amazing energy and techniques. He is also known for his use of percussion effects on the instrument.
Although Emanuel’s music incorporates many influences and styles, including jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk, and rock, it is this type of country finger-style playing that is the core of his musical style.
2. Django Reinhardt (1910–1953)
while Jan was born Reinhardt, better known by his pen name Django, was the first European jazz musician to make a major contribution to jazz.
He was a self-taught guitarist from Rome who was at the forefront of the popular style of music in the 1930s and 1940s that he called “gypsy jazz”.
His playing was, at times, joyful, fierce and lyrical. His intensity has inspired many other musicians around the world.
One of the most technically capable guitarists of his generation, his ability is even more impressive when you know he only plays with two fingers!
He did not use his fourth and fifth fingers in his left hand due to a fire burning in them.
3 – Andy Mackie (1979-)
The finger-style guitarist from America, Andy Mackie, became famous when his videos went viral on YouTube. Collectively, they have received hundreds of millions of views.
Known by his fans on YouTube as “Tone the Chiefrocca”, he has released six albums, 2 EPs, and one live album.
His journey with acoustic guitar started in his teens when he started teaching himself how to play the guitar. His guitar-playing cousin encouraged him to keep learning.
Fast-forward a few decades and today, Andy Mackie is considered one of the best acoustic guitarists in the world because he can magically transform a steel string guitar into a full orchestra using his signature two-handed style.
4 – Michael Hedges (1953-1997)
Famous Michael Hedges, known mostly for his peculiar hand-picking style, was an accomplished acoustic guitarist and an accomplished composer as well.
Hedges was ten years old when he learned to play the flute and guitar.
After high school, he attended Music School in Baltimore, Maryland, where he studied composition with classical background for steel-string acoustic guitar. Learn about electronic music at the Peabody Conservatory, too.
The talented guitarist is known for picking both ends of the instrument simultaneously and has described his music as “heavy metal”, “acoustic thrash” and “new edge”.
5. James Taylor (1948-)
The next musician on our list needs no introduction, James Taylor is a legendary artist who rose to fame in the 1970s with a string of hit songs.
His career spanned decades, winning five Grammy Awards and in 2000, Taylor was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.
Into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the French government named him Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
In addition, he is known as a great singer and songwriter, winning several platinum records and receiving the National Medal of Arts in 2011.
Taylor is still admired as a great songwriter and performer. He performed for many politicians, including Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren, as well as at charity concerts, raising money for bombings.
6. Paul Simon (1941-)
Another guitar legend, Paul Simon is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and actor. He has a long career spanning six decades.
He is incredibly talented and has become one of the most popular songwriters in popular music.
Simon’s career as a musician began when he met Art Garfunkel at the age of 11. They sang in a production of Alice in Wonderland and began singing together when they were thirteen years old.
In addition, Simon developed an interest in jazz and performed with Garfunkel at High School Dance.
He is a multi award winning artist and considered one of the greatest musicians of all time. It has received 12 Grammy Awards and five Grammy Award nominations for Album of the Year.
He is also one of only six artists to have won Album of the Year more than once as the Leading Artist.
7- Nick Drake (1948-1974)
English singer and songwriter Nick Drake is best known for his songs and guitar playing although he hates live performances. In fact, there are no known video footage of him playing as an adult!
He was educated at the prestigious Cambridge University, where he sang for the first time as a folk singer.
Drake released his debut album, Five Leaves Left, in 1969. He recorded two more albums and then withdrew from public viewing for several years.
Drake suffered from depression most of his life, particularly during the latter part of his life, a fact that is often reflected in his words.
His life was tragically cut short from an overdose of medication in 1974, although it is not known if this was intentional.
He recorded during Nick Drake some of the most influential music ever from the British folk rock scene.
8. Chet Atkins (1924-2001)
Famous acoustic guitarist Chet Atkins started playing musical instruments when he was a young child.
Beginning with the ukulele, he turned to playing the violin before guitar became his obsession often as he fell asleep holding his guitar, a habit that continued throughout his life.
He abandoned violins and steel guitars for a more pop-friendly approach that brought more fans into country music, better known as the Nashville sound.
He was mainly a guitarist but played many other instruments, such as mandolin, banjo, ukulele, and violin.
Atkins has also been known as a songwriter, record producer, and occasional singer.
He has received numerous awards, including 14 Grammy Awards, a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement, and 9 Country Music Association Awards, and is ranked by the Rolling Stones at number 21 on their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
9- Mabel Carter (1909-1978)
Guitarist Mabel Carter was born in southwest Virginia and grew up learning traditional Appalachian songs.
She learned to play guitar as a teenager and later became part of a trio, The Carter Family.
During this time she developed a distinctive style of guitar playing that combined rhythmic chords and plucked melody with her thumb that became known as “Carter’s lick”.
Carter’s voice, widely known as one of the preeminent voices of country music, has appeared on many recordings, but is often uncredited.
One of her most commercially successful projects was her collaboration with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their album Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Over the course of her life, her awards and achievements have been numerous and in 1966 she was awarded a tribute to the text “The Mother of Country Music”.
She and the original Carter family were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1970. This great occasion made Carter the first female artist to be inducted into the institution.
10- Charo (1951-)
Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza, better known as Charo, is known for her stunning stage presence and her trademark catchphrase “cuchi-cuchi”.
Unbeknownst to most fans is the fact that she is a respected and classically trained flamenco guitarist.
Born in Spain, she trained on guitar at the age of nine, under the supervision of famous Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia.
She released several albums of disco, salsa and traditional sounds and stated that she plays guitar for 3 hours every day.
Still active in the show business industry. Her most recent project was a featured guest in 2020 at Rupaul Drag Race.
11. Elizabeth “Liepa” Cotten (1893-1987)
Elizabeth Cotten, better known as “Lipa,” bought her first guitar at the age of 12 and taught herself how to play it. However, she never learned to read music and play by ear.
She started singing to her own tunes and soon she was writing her own music.
She was a left-handed guitarist and played her guitar upside down, which led her to develop her signature technique known as “cotton picking”.
She gave up playing when her family started, and 25 years later, when she was working as a maid, her talent was noticed by the family she worked for. With their encouragement, I began to relearn the guitar.
She continued to tour and release albums when she was in her eighties. In 1984, it won a Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording.
12- Joni Mitchell (1943-)
Another name to have on this list, Joni Mitchell, is one of the most influential artists of our time. She is a legend who has fascinated audiences with her music for over 60 years.
Joni Mitchell recorded her debut album in 1968, followed by several highly successful albums. She won her first Grammy Award for Best Popular Performance for her album in 1969. Since then, she has won eight Grammy Awards and is considered an icon in the music industry.
Over the past four decades, Mitchell has won numerous Grammy Awards in various categories, including traditional pop, pop music, and lifetime achievement.
In 2007, Mitchell released Shine, her nineteenth and final studio album. This politically charged and environmentally conscious album was a Billboard hit.
13. John Fahey (1939-2001)
Finally, we have American guitarist John Fahey who was a professional on steel-stringed acoustic guitar and played it as a solo instrument.
His playing style was hugely influential and is often described as the basis of the primitive American guitar genre.
So much so that Rolling Stone magazine placed him at number 35 on their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
Fahi was such a giant of American music of the twentieth century that in 2006, four albums were presented in his honor.
Summing up the list of the greatest acoustic guitar players
We hope you are inspired by the music legends who make music their own way.
These popular audio players are changing the face of music and paving new paths for other aspiring musicians.
We’ll be adding to this list so if you think we’ve missed any of your favorites please let us know and we’ll add them.