15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Country Guitar Players Of All Time

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Written by Andre Roberts
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Since around the 1920s, the south and southwestern parts of the United States has given us a unique music genre loved by many: country (sometimes called Western).

The sound of country music is well-known for being replete with the twang of guitars, whether acoustic, electric, or resonator. As a result the genre has given birth to many amazing guitarists.

Thus in this post, we’ll take a look at 15 of the greatest and most famous country guitar players who, in one way or another, made an impact on the music industry. Let’s read on!

1. Chet Atkins

First on our list is undoubtedly one of the most influential country guitarists of all. In fact, country music might not be the same without the guitar skills of Chet Atkins, who helped create that softer twang in the Nashville sound.

His, and other artists’, innovation of this sound helped country music reach a broader audience during the 1950s. They removed the honky-tonk tunes and replaced it with crooning sounds that appealed more to the masses.

Atkins’s finger-picking style also inspired many great country music guitarists and singers that followed. His songs “Yakety Axe” and “Mr. Sandman” took #4 and #13 place on the Hot Country chart, and soon he was earning Grammy Awards as people praised his work.

2. Merle Travis

Chet Akins would not be who he was if it were not for the influence of Merle Travis, an old-school country music icon from Rosewood, Kentucky, who sang about the woes of blue-collar people who worked in the mining industry.

1940s and ’50s songs like “Divorce Me C.O.D.,” “So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed,” and “Too Much Sugar for a Dime” gained him a wide following, and his inspired lyrics and down-home vocals made him one of the greatest country singers of all time.

As a guitarist, Travis was an innovative player and loved to use thumbpicks. He was also well-known for rapidly changing from finger-picking to flat-picking using the thumb pick (by gripping it like a flat pick), called by most at that time Travis picking.

3. Vince Gill

A 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 initially gained success as frontman of the band Pure Prairie League, but reached greater heights once he struck out on his own in 1983, capturing fans’ hearts with his virtuoso guitar skills and soothing tenor vocals.

Gill produces solid country music every time, gaining Grammy Awards for “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” “The Reason Why,” and “When My Amy Prays,” among other accolades.

The guitarist’s works have landed him spots on three halls of fame—Oklahoma, Nashville Songwriters, and Country Music—as well as his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

4. Les Paul

Whether country or not, any hardcore guitarist should know who Les Paul is. A self-taught player, Paul trailblazed the use of solid-bodied electric guitars.

Also a luthier, Paul had several guitar innovations under his name, notable was a prototype he created that became the inspiration for the Gibson guitar named after him.

Paul’s mix of jazz, country, blues, and rock made him a fan favorite. His works and songs, like “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “How High the Moon,” and “Vaya con Dios,” solidified his reputation as a country best and honored him spots on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and National Inventors Hall of Fame.

5. Bonnie Raitt

Female country guitarists are rare on this list, and our first is Grammy winner Bonnie Raitt. The singer-songwriter and musician taught herself to play first acoustic and then slide guitar and often accompanies herself when performing.

Her 10th album, Nick of Time, was such a great success that not only did it become #1 on Billboard’s 200 chart and won a Grammy, but it has also been preserved in the US National Recording Registry.

Raitt has had numerous accolades over the years. Notable are her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame two years later, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022, and recently, the 2023 Song of the Year Grammy for “Just Like That.”

6. Willie Nelson

Our next guitarist, Willie Nelson, is one of the forerunners outlaw country. He is known for his powerful style and sweeping, merciless strumming that he’s gouged groves on his acoustic guitar.

The 1970s and ’80s were Nelson’s peak years, with songs like “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” “Georgia on My Mind,” and “Always on My Mind” helping him to become a household name.

A huge activist, Nelson has worked with John Mellencamp and Neil Young to support family farmers through Farm Aid. After the tragic 9/11, he has also worked with numerous celebrities to support the victims’ families.

7. Keith Urban

Up next is a Nashville superstar with just a touch of Australian charm—Keith Urban. The multi-talented guitarist 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.

A prolific singer and guitarist, Urban is no stranger to the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, with 11 studio albums and 37 chart-topping smash hits, including “You’ll Think of Me,” “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” and “One Too Many.”

Urban partnered with Yamaha to create the Keith Urban guitar, and for those interested in learning to play like him, the guitar includes an interactive app with lessons taught by the man himself.

8. Albert Lee

While many of the people on our list are Americans, we have 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, particularly with “Country Boy,” which has been credited for redefining country guitar.

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, including a Best Country Instrumental Performance for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

9. Maybelle Carter

Our next female guitarist is Maybelle Carter, who was the famous matriarch of the Carter Family and a world-renowned singer-songwriter and pioneer musician.

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.

As one of the early female country guitarists, Carter was considered the Mother of Country Music. She was also a pivotal and influential member of the Grand Ole Opry community and toured with icons like Johnny Cash, who later married her daughter June.

10. Roy Clark

Virginian singer and musician Roy Clark was the beloved host of Hee Haw, a variety show with a definite country-music slant and fans from all over the country.

He was one of the primary people who helped take country music to the mainstream with his combination of expert guitar playing, wit, and showmanship.

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.”

He also branched out into other areas of the entertainment industry. Clark occasionally hosted The Tonight Show and was soon named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music.

11. Jerry Reed

Influenced by the style of Merle Travis, Jerry Reed created his own syncopated playing technique and perfected it. His picking style earned him the nickname the Claw, for how his fingers sometimes looked while he played.

A jack of all trades, Reed was one of the top country guitar players of his time, plus a great singer, composer, and actor. He specialized in telling a story through his music. “Guitar Man,” “Remembering,” and “Are You from Dixie (‘Cause I’m from Dixie Too)” are among many of his songs that epitomize this.

Reed’s extensive work earned him awards, including several CMA Instrumentalist of the Year and Best Country Performance Grammy Awards.

12. 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. Having learned to play the guitar as a child, by the time he was a teen, he was playing at fairs, radio stations, and clubs.

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. Other songs of his that are well-known are “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.”

His work has influenced many others and earned him several Lifetime Achievement Awards from various organizations, including a Grammy and a Country Music Hall of Fame induction.

13. Brent Mason

According to Guitar World magazine, Brent Mason has the distinction of being one of the top session guitarists of all time. He is truly a guitar maestro, mastering baritone, acoustic, gut string, and six-string bass guitars.

Mason’s 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 accolades to his name, including ACM Guitarist of the Year for nine years straight (1993 to 2001), plus a line of unique guitars.

14. Luther Perkins

Our second to last guitarist, 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. His simple creativity and embellishments on the guitar also helped create Cash’s boom-chicka-boom sound.

Perkins continued performing with Cash, famously always laidback on stage, causing Cash to joke often that he’d been dead for several years.

Sadly, Perkin’s career wouldn’t last long. In 1968, he passed away from smoke inhalation after falling asleep with a lit cigarette.

15. Brad Paisley

Lastly, we have Brad Paisley, a modern-day Nashville guitar legend and member of the Grand Ole Opry. He received his first guitar before he was ten and has been performing since, though not professionally.

Then, in 1999, he launched his breakout album, Who Needs Pictures. From there, Paisley has been on a musical winning streak comprised of 11 albums, a Christmas record, and plenty of chart-topping singles.

All his albums have been certified Gold records. With catchy tunes like “She’s Everything,” “When I Get Where I’m Going,” “Ticks,” and “Then,” Paisley has become a household name for country music lovers.

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 who have ever graced the stage. These men and women 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.