Nashville, known as “Music City,” was and continues to be home to some of the best country musicians worldwide.
From singers to songwriters and famous country guitar players, this Tennessee city is a hotbed of iconic sound dating all the way back to the early 1800s. In the late 1800s, Nashville officially landed on the map when the Ryman Auditorium opened its doors.
In the mid-1900s, Nashville dipped its toes into show business. Performers at the Grand Ole Opry started mixing in some acting and comedy to their musical performances, leading to the showmanship that would define country music.
1. Chet Atkins
Chet Atkins is one of the most influential famous country guitarists of all time.
He’s had many names, like “The Country Gentleman” and “Mr. Guitar,” and famously helped create that twangy sound that Music City is so famous for.
You could say that Atkins inspired many of the great country music guitarists and singers that went after him.
Atkins has an astounding 14 Grammy Awards, and Rolling Stones rates him as one of their 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
Catch Atkins on famous tunes such as “Windy and Warm,” “Please Stay Tuned,” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”
2. Brad Paisley
Brad Paisley is a modern-day Nashville legend.
Ever since he launched his breakout album in 1999, Paisley has been on a musical winning streak comprised of eleven albums, a Christmas record, and plenty of chart-topping singles.
All of his albums are certified gold records, according to the RIAA. With catchy tunes like “Welcome to the Future,” “This Is Country Music,” and “Ticks,” Paisley is a household name for country music lovers.
These days, you can find him spending some time with his family and two sons, Jasper and Huck.
3. Vince Gill
Another modern-day legend, Vince Gill, is one of the most influential country guitar players to switch between genres and create a unique sound all of his own.
He sings, writes, and plays multiple instruments.
Whether Gill is working with his band Pure Prairie League or striking out on his own, Gill produces solid country music every time.
Legends like Merle Haggard and John Prine covered Gill’s work, and he has an impressive 21 Grammy Awards under his belt.
In fact, Vince GIlls has more Country Music Association trophies than any other country music artist.
4. Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson is infamous for being an excellent country music artist and a huge activist.
Nelson is a household name, whether you like country music or not.
From his signature braids to his classic twang, Nelson is in a class all of his own.
Part hippie, and part country star, Nelson sang iconic songs like “On The Road Again.”
He’s also worked with John Mellencamp and Neil Young to support family farmers through Farm Aid.
Nelson also worked with numerous celebrities after 9/11 to support the victims’ families.
5. Merle Travis
His inspired lyrics and down-home vocals made Merle Travis one of the greatest country guitar players and singers of all time.
From his first hit single “Cincinnati Lou” to “Merle’s Boogie Woogie,” Travis sang it like it was.
He even did a bit of acting in the 1950s, playing a musically-inclined soldier in From Here to Eternity and worked with the legendary Chet Atkins on his album The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show.
6. Keith Urban
Keith Urban is a Nashville superstar with just a touch of Australian charm. The multi-talented Urban is famous for writing, singing, and playing modern, catchy country music.
He started his career in Australia in 1991, where he amassed four singles off his debut album. Then, he moved to Nashville, and the real work began.
Urban is no stranger to the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, with his albums and smash hits repeatedly appearing on the prestigious list.
Urban is a prolific singer and guitarist, with 37 chart-topping smash singles and eleven studio albums.
He’s also worked with some of the best in the business, including Brad Paisley.
7. Albert Lee
While many of the people on our list are Americans, there is some representation from across the pond.
Albert Lee is a British guitarist whose unique style and voice earned him a place on our list of best country guitar players.
Most fans know him for his incredible solo career and composition skills.
Lee has worked with some of the top players in the business, including the Everly Brothers, Deep Purple, and Vince Gill, and is the recipient of several Grammy Awards.
8. Maybelle Carter
Maybelle Carter was the famous matriarch of the Carter family and a world-renowned singer and songwriter.
She’s also known as “Mother” Maybelle Carter and one of the founding Carter Sisters.
The Carter Family was a touring rural country music group with catchy guitar tunes and beautiful harmonies.
Maybelle Carter pioneered her own style of guitar playing called “Carter Scratch,” setting the group apart stylistically.
Carter was a pivotal and influential member of the Grand Ole Opry community and toured with icons like Johnny Cash, who later married her daughter June.
9. Roy Clark
Roy Clark was the beloved host of Hee Haw, a variety show with a definite country-music slant with fans from all over the country.
He was one of the primary people that helped take country music to the mainstream with his combination of expert guitar playing, wit, and showmanship.
Clark also branched out into other areas of the entertainment industry.
He occasionally hosted The Tonight Show and even toured in parts of the ex-Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Clark’s secret to success was combining jazz, country, blues, and pop for an addictive, fun sound.
His top hits included “Yesterday When I Was Young” and “Thank God and Greyhound.”
10. Jerry Reed
Jerry Reed was a jack of all trades.
He was one of the top country guitar players of his time, plus a great singer, composer, and actor.
Reed specialized in telling the story of Tennessee’s life through his music and acting roles.
He brought Appalachia to life and humanized mountain people in a way that was rarely done before.
Reed also worked with some of early country music’s biggest names, including Porter Wagoner and Chet Atkins.
Many of his songs were Grammy-winning compilations that can still make your toes tap today.
Tragically, Reed died of emphysema in 2008.
11. Glen Campbell
Even if you don’t know the name “Glen Campbell,” there’s an excellent chance that you’ve heard some of his music.
Glen Campbell was one of the most prolific country music stars.
He wrote and performed music and acted and hosted television shows.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Glen Campbell was a household name thanks to his Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.
Campbell’s breakout song, and the one that cements his place on our list of well known country guitarists, is “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
It’s been a jukebox staple since Campbell released it in 1975.
Others include “Try a Little Kindness” and “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.).
12. Brent Mason
According to Guitar World Magazine, Brent Mason has the distinction of being one of the top session guitarists of all time.
Mason is truly a maestro of guitar, mastering baritone, acoustic, gut string, and six-string bass guitar.
His talents led him to work with some of country music’s industry greats, including Shania Twain, Alan Jackson, and Brooks & Dunn.
The great Chet Atkins mentored Mason, too, helping him climb through the ranks to become a country music star.
Mason has plenty of Grammys to his name, plus a line of unique guitars.
13. Luther Perkins
Luther Perkins is arguably the most famous member of the Tennessee Three, performing with the legendary country music star Johnny Cash.
Music enthusiasts and scholars often credit Perkins with pioneering the sound that would become rockabilly music.
Perkins was also famously chilled out on stage, causing Johnny Cash to joke that he’d been dead for several years.
Perkins’ influence exceeded the country music world.
Apparently, Keith Richards used to go to his shows to watch Perkins play guitar.
It’s not an exaggeration or stretch to speculate that Perkins’ rockabilly sound influenced rock ‘n roll greats like The Rolling Stones.
Summing up Our List Of The Greatest Country Guitarists
From modern-day maestros to legends of country music, these are some of the best country music guitar players that ever graced the stage.
These artists were able to go across genres and explore new styles while keeping true to the ethos of country music.
If you don’t have a few of these on your playlist, download some of their work today.
You will not be disappointed, and you might even discover a new favorite artist.