21 Of The Most Famous Classical Guitar Players You Should Know

Written by Andre Roberts
Last updated

The classical guitar is a beautiful instrument with an expressive power far greater than its size would imply. Plucked stringed instruments, like the lute and the lyre, have long provided highly aesthetic entertainment for the music-listening public. 

Classical guitar as an institution first saw respected formalization with practitioners in the early 15th and 16th centuries. Following a decline in popularity at the beginning of the 20th century, 21st-century guitar players have brought back the popularity of the instrument.

In this article, we’ll cover the 21 guitar players who are arguably producing the most significant music on this instrument today. Let’s get started.

1. Andrés Segovia

Famous teacher, guitar player, and arranger Andrés Segovia was born in Spain in February of 1893.

Segovia’s work is best remembered for his tireless addition of classical, romantic, and baroque works to the classical guitar repertoire. He was reportedly a joy to watch in performance, with a highly expressive attitude that he poured into the music.

Many of Segovia’s students went on to lead notable lives as guitar players. Of particular interest, the illustrious career of John Williams (see below) began under the tutelage of Segovia.

Segovia’s name will be remembered for helping to bring in new listeners and greater respect for the guitar as a serious instrument of the classical repertoire.

2. John Williams

A name that is one of the most, if not the most, recognizable personalities on our list of classical guitarists is John Williams.

Though born in Australia, Williams is English through and through. His father, also a musician, founded a Spanish guitar academy in London when the son was still young.

If any musician were to be given sole credit for the expansion of classical guitar as an institution in the modern classical eye, it would be Williams.

His first BBC appearance saw a massive growth in the popularity of the instrument and commenced a fabulous international career for Williams himself. 

Now 82 years old, Williams lives with his wife Kathy Panama in London, peacefully enjoying his twilight years.

3. Pepe Romero

Born in Malaga, Spain, in 1944, Pepe Romero comes from a talented family, as his brothers and father both play guitar like him.

As a musician, he has been responsible for bringing a studied sophistication to the fiery Flamenco guitar. In fact, Romero can be seen as something of a Flamenco specialist.

As a solo guitarist, he has toured all across the world, from the United States to Europe to China to the Middle East. His music synthesizes the Flamenco sounds of his native Andalucia with a classical sensibility.

As a teacher, Romero has said that true music is about a connection between souls: feeling that in the atmosphere of a theater is, for him, the peak experience of life.

4. Julian Bream

An Englishman with a penchant for classical guitar and lute, Julian Bream is one of the biggest names in classical guitar in the 20th century.

Like many of the musicians on our list, Bream came from a talented musical family, and his earliest childhood memories include strumming along on his own guitar as his father riffed with his jazz guitar.

Bream’s influence was not confined to the classical guitar. He played a significant role in reigniting interest in the lute, an instrument that had seen its popularity wane over the years, during the 20th century.

5. Ana Vidović

Wildly popular on YouTube, Ana Vidović is a classical guitarist originally from Croatia. She has virtuosic talent that, for such a young age, demonstrates incredible technical skill and emotional maturity.

She has been known to capture the minds and hearts of her fans, wowing the audience with not just her beautiful playing but her powerful stage presence as well.

As a virtuoso, Vidović played her first live concert when she was eight years old and won her first competition when she was 13. When asked about her influences, Vidović cites John Williams as a major inspiration. 

To date, Vidović has released six solo CDs and two DVDs. She remains as well-liked and popular as ever.

6. Sharon Isbin

Up next is Sharon Isbin, an American classical guitarist originally from Minneapolis. Since 1971, Isbin has had a long and influential career.

Most notably, she is the founding director of the Juilliard School’s guitar department. In this capacity, Isbin has trained many of the up-and-coming talents in music for the next generation.

Besides her work as an educator, Isbin has been a prolific performer. She has played in over 200 orchestras across the globe and has been responsible for more guitar commissions than any other guitarist working today.

Now, Isbin is probably best recognized by the public for the documentary about her life and work, entitled Sharon Isbin: Troubadour.

7. David Russell

Northern Irish guitar player David Russell is best known today for his impeccable (some have said flawless) technical skills and wide musical reach. This earned him the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist in classical music. 

Though born in Glasgow, Russell and his family moved to Menorca (a Spanish island) when he was just five. On this island, Russell’s developing brain was steeped in the tradition of Spanish guitar. It was here that he first came into contact with the likes of Julian Bream and Andrés Segovia.

After his studies, Russell began an impressive solo career. Today, he continues to be active in his musical pursuits and even received another Grammy nomination at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards.

8. Francisco Tárrega

Francisco Tárrega

Today considered the Father of Classical Guitar and one of the best guitarists of all time, Francisco Tárrega began his life innocuously, bathed in the Mediterranean heat of his native Spain

Though Tárrega’s father reportedly had a good deal of talent on the guitar, he was employed as a watchman at a nearby convent.

When Tárrega’s father was at work, the boy would pick up his father’s guitar and attempt to mimic the beautiful sounds of the father.

Tárrega is now best remembered for his compositions — like “Capricho árabe,” “María,” and “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” — which play an important part in the modern classical repertoire.

9. Christopher Parkening

American guitarist Christopher Parkening is still a very active instrumentalist who employs his great talent in teaching today at Pepperdine University.

Parkening, whose equally famous cousin Jack Marshall first introduced him to the guitar of Segovia, began his career as a young boy admiring the greats. After steeping himself in an intensive classical education, he embarked on a wildly successful professional career at the age of 19.

In addition to his performing and teaching careers, Parkening is also known for his role in creating the Parkening International Guitar Competition. The winner receives a gold medal and a substantial cash prize.

10. Xuefei Yang

Another member of the newer generation of classical guitarists, Xuefei Yang, hails from China. Born in Beijing, she is credited as one of the first Chinese musicians to have internationally established herself in the field of classical guitar.

What has regularly impressed commentators about Yang is her ability to gain such mastery over an instrument in a country with such a slight classical guitar tradition.

Now a great touring artist, Yang has traveled well beyond her native China, spreading guitar music throughout the world. She has performed in more than 50 countries at numerous prestigious venues, including Wigmore Hall in London, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and the Philharmonie Berlin.

11. Narciso Yepes

Another Spaniard makes our list in the highly-beloved figure of Narciso Yepes. Born in Lorca, this classical guitarist had a long road before him to become the famous virtuoso he’s remembered to be today.

This long road, as a boy, was literal. When Yepes was young, his father bought him a guitar and guitar lessons. Because the family was impoverished and lived rurally, Yepes’ father took him on a donkey five miles to and from lessons three times a week.

Yepes is best known for his interpretation of the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquín Rodrigo, which became one of his signature pieces. But perhaps what most distinguishes his career is his 10-string guitar, which he introduced in the 1960s.

12. Liona Boyd

Up next is Liona Boyd, an Englishwoman who grew up Canadian. Her skills as a classical musician, which has spanned six decades, earned her the appellation of the First Lady of Guitar.

A guitarist whose career brings together many of the guitarists on this list, Boyd took lessons as a young woman from Narciso Yepes, Andrés Segovia, and Julian Bream, among others.

A well-known recording artist, Boyd has also recorded with the likes of Eric Clapton, Yo-Yo Ma, and Olivia Newton-John.

13. Manuel Barrueco

Originally from Cuba, Manuel Barrueco is a world-renowned classical guitarist recognized for his exceptional artistry, technical brilliance, and profound interpretations. His journey in music began in his native land, but it was in the United States that he truly flourished as a performer and recording artist.

Barrueco’s recording career has been nothing short of extraordinary. Known for his keen musical insight and virtuosic technique, he has recorded over a dozen albums, exploring a wide range of repertoires from classical to contemporary works.

However, his impact on the classical music world extends beyond his performances and recordings. As a respected educator, Barrueco has played a significant role in shaping the next generation of classical musicians at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

Now 70 years old, Barrueco continues to wow the classical world with his technical prowess and expressive capabilities.

14. Fernando Sor

Born in 1778, in Barcelona, Spain, Fernando Sor is a renowned composer and classical guitar virtuoso, considered even a pioneer in the world of classical guitar.

Sor composed numerous works for the guitar, which elevated the instrument’s status in the genre. His notable works are numerous, but a few examples are “Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart,” “Grande Sonata,” and his collection of studies.

His innovative techniques and playing style significantly influenced the development of the classical guitar as an instrument. Sor advocated for the use of the fingertips instead of the nails for plucking the strings, arguing that it produced a purer tone. This approach is still widely used by many classical guitarists today.

15. Craig Ogden

Recognized for his virtuosic performances, the Australian musician Craig Ogden has carved out a significant place for himself within the realm of classical guitar.

His versatility as a performer allows him to delve into a wide range of musical styles, from traditional classical pieces to contemporary works. This broad repertoire has made his music accessible and appealing to a diverse audience.

Ogden’s discography is impressive, with many of his albums topping the UK Classical Charts. His debut album, Craig Ogden and Friends, was met with critical acclaim. Other successful albums include Summertime and The Guitarist.

In addition to his performing career, Ogden is also dedicated to education. He is a senior lecturer at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, sharing his knowledge and experience with the next generation of classical guitarists.

16. Alirio Díaz

Venezuelan Alirio Díaz was a highly accomplished classical guitarist. He initially taught himself to play the guitar before moving to Caracas to study at the Escuela Superior de Musica under the tutelage of Raúl Borges.

Later, he continued his studies with the legendary Andrés Segovia. These experiences refined Díaz’s technique and deepened his understanding of classical guitar.

His career as a concert guitarist took him around the globe as he performed in prestigious venues and earned international acclaim.

Díaz passed away in 2016, but his influence continues to resonate in the world of classical guitar. His performances and recordings remain a source of inspiration for many guitarists, and his contributions to the classical guitar repertoire have enriched the genre.

17. Miloš Karadaglić

Our next guitarist, Miloš Karadaglić, began learning the guitar at the age of eight. His talent was evident early on, and at 16, he was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied under Michael Lewin.

He debuted in 2011 with the album Mediterraneo. It proved successful, as it earned him the Gramophone Young Artist of the Year and Echo Klassik Newcomer of the Year. This was followed by more successful albums like Latino and Aranjuez.

However, Karadaglić’s career faced a significant setback in 2016 when he developed a hand injury that forced him to stop playing for a time. But showing great resilience, he made a triumphant return to the stage in 2019 with the release of his album Sound of Silence.

18. Eliot Fisk

Another student of Andrés Segovia makes this list: Eliot Fisk. Hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this prominent classical guitarist became recognized for his remarkable talent.

Throughout his career, Fisk has performed with orchestras around the world, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Chamber Orchestra of Geneva. His diverse repertoire spans from the Renaissance to contemporary works, including numerous pieces written specifically for him by composers such as Robert Beaser and Nicholas Maw.

Beyond his performance career, Fisk is also a dedicated educator. He founded the guitar department at the Yale School of Music and later taught at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg, Austria.

19. Mauro Giuliani

Born in 1781, Italian musician, singer, and composer Mauro Giuliani was talented on many instruments. Not only was he a cellist, but he was also a highly influential guitarist. His compositions for the guitar have significantly shaped the classical guitar repertoire.

Among his most famous works are his “Grand Overture,” often performed today as a showpiece for classical guitar, and his numerous studies for the guitar. These studies, particularly his “120 Right Hand Studies,” remain a foundational part of pedagogical literature for the instrument.

Giuliani passed away in 1829, but his impact on the world of classical guitar continues to be felt today. His compositions are still widely performed and recorded, and his pedagogical works continue to form an essential part of classical guitar education.

20. Krystof Meisinger

Recognized for his technical prowess and expressive performances, Polish musician Krzysztof Meisinger has made a significant name for himself in the world of classical guitar.

Meisinger began studying guitar at a young age, demonstrating exceptional talent early on. His studies took him to the esteemed Academy of Music in Wrocław, Poland, where he graduated with honors. Later, he continued his education at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Over the years, Meisinger has distinguished himself through numerous concert performances across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. In addition to his live performances, he has also recorded a number of albums. His discography showcases an extensive repertoire, from Baroque to contemporary pieces.

21. Thibaut Garcia

Born in 1994, in Toulouse, France, Thibaut Garcia has made significant strides in the music world at a young age. In fact, he is the youngest on this list.

Garcia began playing the guitar when he was just seven years old, entering the Toulouse Conservatoire only two years later. By the time he was 16, he had already won several international competitions, including the Ana Amalia in Weimar, Germany.

However, it was his win at the prestigious Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) competition in 2015 that launched him into the international spotlight. This victory led to a concert tour of over 50 cities in North America.

In addition to his performance career, Garcia is dedicated to recording. He has released several albums, featuring works by composers such as Bach, Piazzolla, and Rodrigo.

Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest Classical Guitarists

As you have read, we’ve covered some of the biggest names in classical guitar, including the likes of Xuefei Yang, Narciso Yepes, and Manuel Barrueco. Each of these artists has made significant contributions to the world of classical music, shaping the genre with their unique styles and innovative techniques.

We hope you enjoyed reading and listening just as much as we enjoyed compiling this list! Whether you are a seasoned listener or new to the genre, there is so much to explore in the world of classical guitar. Enjoy the journey!