The fingerstyle guitar technique, sometimes synonymous with fingerpicking, is used by guitarists and bassists. More often, it’s paired with acoustic instruments rather than electric. The musician directly plucks the strings using fingertips, fingernails or picks attached to fingers.
Used across multiple genres, it’s a technique that showcases exceptional skills, especially during live performances. Here are the top fingerstyle guitar players.
1. Tommy Emmanuel
Born in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia, Tommy Emmanuel spent his early years touring Australia with the family band, The Emmanuel Quartet.
Inspired by Chet Atkins, Tommy developed his fingerstyle skills into his teen years, gaining national notoriety by winning talent contests.
He’s collaborated with various artists, such as Goldrush, Southern Star Band, and Tina Turner. In addition, he performed at the opening 2000 Summer Olympics ceremony (with Phil Emmanuel).
Tommy Emmanuel has received multiple nominations and awards throughout his career. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2010 and awarded the honorific title of Kentucky Colonel by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear in 2012.
2. Sungha Jung
Sungha Jung is a South Korean guitarist who gained notoriety through acoustic covers and arrangements played by ear. His uploads of covers and original songs earned him more than 6 million subscribers on YouTube.
American artist “Acoustic Ninja” Trace Bundy discovered nine-year-old Sungha Jung’s uploads. Bundy soon invited him on tour through South Korea and the United States. Since then, Sungha Hung’s online popularity has continued to expand.
Although described as a “prodigy,” Sungha Jung prefers the descriptor “guitarist.” He has released several solo albums and has performed with notable artists, including Jason Mraz, Narsha, BIGBANG, and 2NE1.
3. Sergio Altamura
Sergio Altamura, born in Molfetta, in Bari, Italy, graduated from the University of Bologna’s Department of Music with a thesis on music semiology.
His performance career began in 1985 by touring with various rock groups. He later turned his attention to acoustic guitar, with a dedicated pursuit starting 1993.
His achievements involve collaborations, such as theater, films, documentaries, and various discography projects.
His style, characterized by incorporating percussive rhythm and layers created with a looping pedal, are particular features of his film contributions.
4. Chet Atkins
Known as “Mr. Guitar,” famous country guitarist Chet Atkins inspired countless musicians with his innovative style, including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler, Doc Watson, and Jerry Reed.
He was also a notable producer and became instrumental in curating the “Nashville Sound,” developing artists like Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed, Willie Nelson, and Charley Pride.
Chet Atkins’s achievements include 14 Grammy Awards, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Billboard’sCentury Award, and 9 Country Music Association awards (Instrumentalist of the Year).
He was also inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
5. Don Ross
Canadian Indigenous musician Don Ross was born into a musical family. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who began studying fingerstyle guitar as a teenager.
Ross is the only person to win the US National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship twice (1988 and 1996). In addition, his album “Huron Street” placed in the top ten on Billboard’s New-age chart.
In 2005, he was the first artist to sign with US-based indie record label CandyRat.
With compositions that combine blues, jazz, folk, and classical music, Don Ross’ most renowned works are from his solo career.
However, he has collaborated with other artists, including three tours with the Men of Steel group and regular performances with Andy McKee, Brooke Miller, and Jordan O’Connor.
6. Joe Pass
American guitarist Joe Pass, born in New Jersey, began performing at age fourteen. After multiple ups and downs during early touring, he met the owner of World Pacific Records, a clinic sponsor at the Synanon rehabilitation center.
His many collaborations and performances earned momentum, eventually launching an international career after signing with Pablo Records in 1970.
He recorded multiple solo albums and worked with notable artists, including Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, and Ella Fitzgerald.
He won the 1974 Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance for the album The Trio, collaborating with Oscar Peterson and Niels-Henning Ørsted.
7. Martin Taylor
British Jazz musician Dr. Martin Taylor, MBE, was born in Essex into a family with a musical heritage and Gypsy traditions.
He’s performed and recorded as a soloist and a collaborator. Notable collaborations include artists Bill Wyman, Chet Atkins, David Grisman, George Harrison, Jamie Cullum, and Gary Burton.
His earliest collaboration was playing gypsy jazz with violinist Stéphane Grappelli, which expanded his fame and opportunities.
Taylor’s music has garnered numerous achievements, including 14 British Jazz Awards as a guitarist, several albums featured in top 10 charts (the US and Europe), and solo concerts at Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall.
8. John Mayer
John Mayer is an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist born in Connecticut. His musical journey began after seeing Marty McFly’s on-screen performance which inspired his childhood initial interest in guitar.
But after beginning lessons in his early teens, his versatile style was informed by blues guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Otis Rush, and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
He had some early success with indie EP recordings, including a brief two-person band, LoFi Masters.
John Mayer gained an online following in the early 2000s, leading to singing with a major label and tours with notable musical groups. His many achievements include 7 Grammy awards.
9. Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny is an American composer and guitarist born in Kansas City. His style incorporates fusion and jazz.
He switched from trumpet to guitar lessons at age 12 and began performing regularly at age 15.
Some of his diverse collaborations include David Bowie, Steve Reich, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Jim Hall, and Milton Nascimento.
He’s won Best Jazz Guitarist multiple years for Guitar Player magazine, JazzFM’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, and was inducted into the Missouri Music Hall of Fame in 2016.
In addition, he’s won 20 Grammy Awards in 12 different categories, including Best Rock Instrumental, Best Jazz Instrumental Solo, Best Contemporary Jazz Recording, and Best Instrumental Composition.
10. Paul Simon
Among his many awards, Paul Simon has won 12 Grammy Awards and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 for the duo’s body of work.
In addition, he was inducted into The Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1982 and later received the institution’s Johnny Mercer Award.
His 2001 entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame separately celebrates him as a solo artist, as well as a member of Simon and Garfunkel.
In 2006, Time Magazine included him in the “100 People Who Shape Our World.”
11. James Taylor
James Taylor is a Boston-born six-time Grammy Award winner. His style features complex and advanced techniques, making his particular blend challenging to emulate.
Although he received some early success, his initial claim to fame was as the first non-British artist to join the Beatles’-founded Apple Records. He went on to sign with Warner Brothers Records, his first LP earning triple platinum.
After multiple successful records, he switched to Columbia Records (Sony), where he continued to find success.
In 1999, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won the Billboard Century Award. He joined the Songwriters Halls of Fame in 2000.
12. José Gonzalez
Although his career began with hardcore punk bands and a rock band, he established his trademark melodic indie-folk sound with his solo album in 2003.
He has collaborated with various artists for performances and recordings, including Zero 7 with regular member Sia Furler. He is also a member of the band Junip.
Gonzalez records earned platinum in the UK and Sweden and gold in Australia and New Zealand.
Other notable achievements include a 2004 Swedish Grammy Award for Best New Artist, 2006 European Border Breaker Award, and a Swedish Music Publishers Association (SMFF) for Best Swedish songwriter of the year.
13. Antoine Dufour
Montreal-born French-Canadian guitarist Antoine Dufour began playing at age fifteen, later studying at the CEGEP in Joliette.
His teachers introduced him to influences such as Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges. Notably, he later toured with Don Ross, another of his early influences.
Characteristics of his playing style, inspired by his many influences, include highly percussive playing and frequently adding slaps and natural harmonics.
His accomplishments include first place at the 2006 Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Championships and third place at the 2006 International Fingerstyle Guitar Championship in Winfield, Kansas.
Additionally, he has gained a sizable online following.
Summing Up Our List of the Greatest Fingerstyle Guitarists
Those are thirteen of the most remarkable fingerstyle guitar players. Did we miss any of your favorite guitarists?
We hope our lists celebrated your top picks or introduced you to some new favorites.
For any new names you’ve discovered, we encourage you to take time to listen to their extraordinary talent.