11 Famous Guitarists Who Couldn’t Read Music

guitarists who couldn't read music

I recently wrote a post on whether or not guitarists should learn to read music.

Just to prove my point that guitarists don’t necessarily need to learn how to read music, I wanted to put together a list of some of the greatest guitarists who couldn’t read music either.

Hopefully the list will give you some inspiration of what’s possible, even without formal musical training. Take a gander, because I bet you’ll recognize some names 🙂

How to Listen to These Guitarists for Free

If you want to listen to these famous guitarists who couldn’t read music, I recommend doing so with Amazon Music Unlimited. With Amazon Music’s free trial, you get access to over 60 million songs completely free – and you can listen anytime, anywhere. You can check it out here (link to Amazon).

Now without further ado, let’s discover these 11 famous guitarists who couldn’t read music.

1. Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson was one of the earliest innovators of blues guitar, going on to influence everyone from Eric Clapton to B.B. King. It’s worth noting that many guitarists (I’m talking the vast majority) in the blues tradition could not read music. BB, Buddy Guy, Guitar Slim, etc.

2. Elvis Presley

The King himself was no aficionado when it came to music theory, and yet it’s clear he didn’t let that limit his success.

3. The Beatles (yes – all of them)

We all know the Beatles, but few people new that none of the band members knew how to read music. Even with this supposed roadblock, the became the most famous band in history, writing songs that are still legendary to this day

4. Eric Clapton

The mighty “slow hand” himself never did learn to read music, and yet he’s one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived.

5. Stevie Ray Vaughn

SRV is another guitarist in the blues tradition who couldn’t read music. It didn’t seem to hinder his guitar solos… Just give them a listen if you don’t believe me.

6. Eddie Van Halen

Although he couldn’t read music, Eddie Van Halen would notoriously practice his guitar technique alone in his room for hours on end. This kind of dedication is what made him one of the greatest electric guitarists of his generation.

7. Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel is perhaps the most accomplished acoustic guitarists in the world, playing across a variety of genres and styles, all without the ability to read music.

8. Slash

Slash of Guns N Roses fame is one of the most celebrated electric guitarists in the Rock N Roll world.

9. Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix was known for being a bit outside of the box, (playing a right handed guitar even though he was left handed, for example).

10. Bob Dylan

Yes, the greatest song writer of the 20th century couldn’t read music.

11. Bob Weir

Weir is most famous for his time in the Grateful Dead, and is an amazing rhythm guitarist. Weir is dyslexic, and thus never learned to read music.

Learn Guitar Without Reading Music

Wondering how to get started learning the guitar without being able to read music? Don’t worry, I have a ton of resources for you!

Check out my guide to the best youtube channels to learn acoustic guitar for free.

PS: Another tip for you – one of the fastest ways to progress on the guitar is by learning as many of your favorite songs as possible. That’s why I wrote up a resource on FIFTY acoustic songs that are perfect for beginners. You can check it out here to start learning. Have fun!

Ready to Get Better at Guitar, Faster?

Whenever you’re ready to take your guitar playing to the next level, check out a few of my favorite resources below:

The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings – A unique polymer coating makes these guitar strings last for months or even years at a time, making for an exceptional value. They provide the perfect mix of boom, range, twang, and brightness that acoustic music is known for. — CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE

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Chords, Tabs & Video Lessons for 100 Epic Songs – This free guide that I created for fellow guitarists gives you chords, tabs, and video lessons for the 100 best songs to learn on guitar… I spent many hours putting this guide together to help you get better at guitar, faster. — CLICK HERE TO GET IT FREE

Fingerpicking vs Flatpicking Guitar – Learn which picking style is right for YOU by exploring examples, history, and popular players of each style. Discover essential techniques and pros and cons of each approach. — CLICK HERE TO GET IT FREE

Corbin Buff

Corbin has played guitar for over a decade, and started writing about it on Acoustic World in an effort to help others. He lives and writes in western Montana.

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