Top 5 Guitarists Of The 80s


2. Slash

Artist: Guns ‘n Roses

Others appearing later Slash image by Edvillin the decade, such as Slash, took cues from earlier influences such as Jimmy Page and certainly AC/DC’s Angus Young.  The wide open Gibson Les Paul sound that Slash used at times may have overshadowed his significant technical proficiency.  His hard edge was also complimented by his knack for coming up with fluid, melodic lines such as the lead off riff of “Sweet Child ‘O Mine”.

Guns ‘n Roses | Sweet Child ‘O Mine (Slash guitar only)


1. Eddie Van Halen

Artist: Van Halen

Ushered in by the release of Van Halen’s debut in 1978, rock in the 80s took on a hard edged tone, most commonly fueled by the same Marshall amp sound that Eddie Van Halen made famous with his work on tracks like “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and “Runnin’ With The Devil“.  In the 80s Van Halen continued to amaze everyone with his original riffs and fancy fretwork, with almost every solo featuring his special hammer-on and finger-tapping techniques.  Here are some great isolated guitar track examples of Eddie’sEddie Van Halen by Carl Lender work, spanning the 80s:

Van Halen | Little Guitars (Eddie Van Halen guitar only)

Van Halen | Loss Of Control (Eddie Van Halen guitar only)

Van Halen | Panama (Eddie Van Halen guitar only)

Van Halen’s work made such an impact that most, if not all, 80s rock guitarists seemed determined to demonstrate their best imitation of his style.  Some managed to take that style in a new direction, though.  One underrated and often overlooked example would be Reb Beach of Winger.  Beach, who along with Winger bandmates suffered endless ridicule after unflattering references in MTV’s Beavis and Butthead series, is a talented axeman who took Eddie’s influence and added his own unique spin to it.  Regardless, Van Halen’s work continues to stand on its own as the most significant display of guitar technique and inventiveness.  Often overshadowed by his leads, his rhythm guitar work, ability to invent riffs, and unique tone (which was a result of his experimental tinkering with guitars, pickups and amps) were all also spectacular.

Although there is not isolated track material available for all of the 80s top guitarists, here are a few other examples that show some other sometimes overlooked talents in action:

Elliot Easton:

Underrated axeman for new wave/rock pioneers The Cars, Easton’s tasty and inventive guitar parts played the perfect role in the keyboard/guitar fueled sound of the group.  Easton brought rock, country and jazz influences to his parts, which always seem to somehow both fit in and stand out at the same time.

The Cars | Just What I Needed (Ben Orr vocal, bass, Elliot Easton guitar solo)

Mark Knopfler:

The leader of blues/swing powerhouse Dire Straits who arrived in style with the 1979 track “Sultans Of Swing“, Knopfler took an MTV-ready turn with the crunchy “Money For Nothing”.  The tune, which famously featured a cameo vocal from Sting, came off their great guitar-laden 1985 release Brothers In Arms and became a mega-hit for the group.

Dire Straits | Money For Nothing (Mark Knopfler guitar only)

George Lynch/Don Dokken:

As the twin guitar threat in 80s rockers Dokken, the two combined acoustic guitars with ripping solos from Lynch as in the example here.  The group saw the most success with their 1984 debut album Tooth and Nail, which owed much of its sonic excellence to producer Roy Thomas Baker, who worked with Queen and The Cars.

Dokken | Alone Again (guitars only)

Mick Mars:

Playing guitar for Mötley Crüe was an exercise in survival with all the drug and alcohol-fueled antics of the band, but founding member Mars (who is also credited with coming up with the group’s name) wrote or co-wrote most of the band’s material and laid down some great fretwork that helped define 80s rock.

Mötley Crüe | Looks That Kill (guitar only)

For more from the 80s, check out these tracks and enjoy.

Image credits: Eddie Van Halen “Frankenguitar”: Incase/, Kirk Hammett: markwainwright/, Slash: edvill/, Alex Lifeson: ceedub13/, Eddie Van Halen Carl Lender/

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