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10 Best Fingerstyle Guitarists of All Time

Watching the best fingerstyle guitarists of all time is like enjoying a dance spectacle and finger magic rolled into one.

While anyone who has the patience to learn the tricks can pick and pluck guitar strings, only the virtuosos with deft digits can make fingerstyle guitar-playing seem effortless.

It is not easy identifying who deserves the accolade of the best fingerstyle guitarist because there are many.

Your next-door neighbor might even have a trick up his sleeve that mainstream musicians have never heard before.

The best fingerstyle guitarist must not only be proficient in his craft; the musician must also contribute substantially to the growth of guitar-playing.

In this article, we will explore ten of the best fingerstyle guitarists of all time.

 

Mike Dawes

Mike Dawes

As a contemporary fingerstyle guitarist, Mike Dawes draws inspiration from rock, pop, and folk music to hone his fingerpicking techniques.

Total Guitar and MusicRadar named Dawes the best contemporary acoustic guitarist, underscoring his phenomenal fingerstyle.

Dawes’ fans love his complex harmonies and melodies in heavily syncopated percussive effects.

 

Antoine Dufour

Antoine Dufour

One of the leading fingerstyle guitarists today is Antoine Dufour, a French-Canadian who drew inspiration from the styles of Michael Hedges, Don Ross, and Leo Kottke.

His fingerstyle prowess landed him the top spot at the Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Championship in 2006.

He also placed third in an international competition for fingerstyle guitarists.

Dufour’s playing style incorporates natural harmonics and slap techniques, mainstays in Tommy Emmanuel’s repertoire.

 

Paul Simon

Paul Simon

The Boxer, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Mrs. Robinson, and The Sound Of Silence continue to mesmerize contemporary audiophiles not because of their inspiring message but because of Paul Simon’s magical play of the strings.

As part of the Simon & Garfunkel duo, Simon showcased his fingerstyle techniques in hits after hits.

He has a dozen Grammys, five Grammy nominations, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Oscar nomination, and is a Grammy Hall of Fame inductee.

 

Jerry Reed

Jerry Reed

Country musician, Jerry Reed, is not only a master of fingerpicking, but he is also a well-loved actor.

Reed’s fingerstyle is a product of decades of strumming the guitar, often his only confidant in a world of despair.

He is famous for his intricate and unique guitar picking technique, which many of his contemporaries could ever replicate and what many video instructional sites are now hoping to spread.

One of Reed’s masterpieces is Guitar Man, a single that peaked at the number 53 position in the Country Charts.

 

Merle Travis

Many fingerstyle guitarists consider Merle Travis a legend because he created the Travis picking technique all guitarists must know.

His technique calls for the simultaneous plucking of the bass notes and guitar chords to create a syncopated style.

Travis is an inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame – both proofs of his contribution to the growth of folk, country, and blues music in the mid-20th century.

 

Leo Kottke

Leo Kottke

Known for polyphonic and syncopated melodies, Leo Kottke is a master of the fingerstyle technique.

He loves open and lowered guitar tunings to give his instrument a distinct twang, perfect for instrumental composition.

Kottke draws inspiration from folk, jazz, and blues music, incorporating the various elements in his fingerpicking style.

The fingerstylist has an expressive baritone voice, which he loves to play with to create songs that many consider oddly bizarre and comical but fascinating, nonetheless.

 

Mark Knopfler

Mark Knopfler

Dire Straits’ frontman also happens to be one of the finest fingerstyle guitarists of the 20th-century.

Knopfler is peerless as a virtuoso and craftsman, capable of injecting dizzying guitar fills into punk thrasher music. 

Mark Knopfler is Rolling Stone’s 27th all-time greatest guitarist and a four-time recipient of the Grammy Awards.

This virtuoso is also an Edison Awardee, an Ivor Novello Awardee, a Steiger Awardee, and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer as a Dire Straits member.

 

Michael Hedges

If not for a freak car accident that cut short this fingerstyle guitarist’s life in 1997, Michael Hedges would have been as legendary as Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel.

The Sacramento, California native used his classical guitar knowledge and skill to create a mesmerizing fingerstyle guitar-playing repertoire that inspired contemporary guitarists.

Atkins and Emmanuel’s influence on the young lad is evident in Hedges’ style of play, incorporating harmonics, percussive effects, and tapping into a new fingerpicking style.

 

Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins

Many of the world’s best fingerstylists owe their craft to the legendary Chet Atkins.

Mr. Guitar, as Atkins is fondly called, created the popwise Nashville sound and forever save country music from eternal damnation.

Rolling Stone listed Atkins as its 21st greatest guitarist in humankind’s history.

The Nashville, Tennessee native also has 14 Grammy Awards under his name, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and nine Country Music Association accolades. 

Atkins is an inductee to the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

 

Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel4

 

Tommy Emmanuel is a fingerstyle guitarist from the Land Down Under, who the guitar-loving world admires for his percussive effects, energetic performances, and complex fingerstyle technique.

Although Emmanuel was effective as a session player for various bands, he was more successful as a solo artist.

This fingerstyle guitarist is an Australian Roll of Renown Hall of Famer and a two-time Grammy Award nominee. 

An acolyte of Chet Atkins’ Travis picking technique and a proponent of hybrid picking, Emmanuel’s most enduring contribution is mimicking an electric tremolo system on an ordinary acoustic guitar using a method he invented.

Emmanuel also has a repertoire of cascading harmonic progressions and rapid virtuoso licks that never fail to wow the audience whenever he is on stage.

 

Conclusion

It is always mesmerizing to watch the best fingerstyle guitarists of all time play their instruments.

While the melody and tune are unquestionably beautiful, it is the dance-like movements of their fingers that can put you in a trance.

You can also become a legend of this guitar-playing technique, but only if you dedicated your life to perfecting the craft.

If that is not your thing, listening to the songs of these phenomenal guitarists is more than sufficient.

 

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