Spain became the birthplace of the guitar, as it was the first place we know to feature a plucked-string instrument with a similar shape to what we call a guitar today, with the earliest ones we know of popping up around the 15th century. Both classical guitar and flamenco music were also born in Spain alongside the instrument. Given the history of the instrument, it’s no surprise that numerous influential guitarists were from Spain.
In this article, we’ll be going over 15 of the best Spanish guitarists of all time.
1. Andrés Segovia
In his own right, Andrés Segovia was a guitar virtuoso who reinvented the sounds of classical and baroque music. Instead of strumming the chords with his fingers, he preferred to pluck them with his fingernails, a technique he also demanded of his numerous students. Segovia’s teaching career saw him serve at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and the Musica en Compostela and mentor many of the greatest classical guitarists of the 20th century. He will be remembered as one of the preeminent figures to help make the guitar a concert instrument that was respected instead of only an accompanying instrument.
2. Fernando Sor
Fernando Sor’s career during the late 18th century saw him become one of the most prolific classical guitarists and composers of solo guitar music of his time. His peers saw him as the best guitarist in the world, but one of his biggest influences was as a teacher. Known for composing didactic music, Sor’s guitar manuals were made to be accessible by guitarists of any skill level. 24 Very Easy Exercises, Op. 35 to the ridiculously difficult Introduction and Variations on Mozart’s “Das Klinget So Herrlich,” Op. 9. There was always something anyone could learn from Sor’s work. Over the last 200 years, numerous original works of his have been regularly played and reprinted.
José Fernández Torres’ specialized Roma flamenco style as a guitarist and composer has labeled him one of the greatest Spanish guitarists to bless a stage. His ability to blend jazz elements with flamenco music is a testament to his skill as a guitarist. His six solo albums have won him two Latin Grammy Awards, and he’s also appeared in several collaborations. The beginning of Tomatito’s career was alongside famous flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla and saw him playing next to another flamenco legend in Paco de Lucia. Tomatito additionally wrote music for the film Vengo, which won César Award for Best Music Written for a Film in 2001.
4. Miguel Llobet
Studying under the next entry to this list, Miguel Llobet was a renowned classical guitarist and a virtuoso who toured across Europe and America. He’s best known for his work transcribing piano compositions that would go on to be published by Andrés Segovia and his specialty of turning Catalan folk songs into arrangements for solo guitar. Llobet would watch Tárrega play the guitar, memorize the notes, then experiment with them on his own to create a unique style.
5. Francisco Tárrega
Francisco Tárrega was one of the greatest classical guitarists and Spanish composers of the late Romantic period. Many have called him the Father of Classical Guitar thanks to his enormous contributions as a pioneer in bringing the guitar out of the accompaniment role, and into a concert spotlight. While he composed over 80 original works, only around 20 were published during his lifetime.
6. Vicente Amigo
Raised in Cordoba, Vicente Amigo studied under Manolo Sanlúcar before moving on to a highly successful solo career. He played as a sideman for the likes of Paco de Lucia, Sting, John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, and Luis de Cordoba. Ciudad De Las Ideas, one of Amigo’s albums won the 2001 Latin Grammy Award for Best Flamenco Album and the Ondas Award for Best Flamenco work in 2022. The most influential part of his work was helping to bring Spanish music into the mainstream and helping advance the art of flamenco music.
7. Paco de Lucia
Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gómez would become one of the most influential and famous Spanish guitarists, impacting the careers of guitar greats like Eric Clapton. He’s considered a virtuoso on guitar and is one of the most proficient flamenco guitarists of all time. His repertoire extends beyond flamenco, though, dabbling with classical music and jazz as well. In his career, de Lucia has worked with Al Di Meola, Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin. Some of his most popular songs include Rio Ancho, La Barrosa, and Gloria al Niño Ricardo. The revolutionary influence on flamenco music has caused him to be considered the greatest musical export to come out of Spain.
After starting his performing career at the age of seven, Sabicas’ early style was influenced by Ramón Montoya. He moved away from Spain during the Spanish Civil War, spending time in Latin America before moving to New York City and incorporating elements of jazz music into his work. He’s best known for his skill at laying down incredibly fast scales and perfect rhythm that made him an ideal musician for dancers.
As one of flamenco’s greatest guitarists, he would also become one of the genre’s best composers by creating new solo guitar opportunities. Sabicas is also notable for playing in all sorts of venues, making his music accessible to audiences of all social classes.
9. Pepe Romero
Born into a musical family, flamenco was in Pepe Romero’s blood. His first professional appearance came at the age of seven, and he would record more than 60 albums—his work in flamenco-inspired numerous classical guitarists to pen works specifically for him. In 2000, he was knighted by King Carlos I of Spain and had a prestigious teaching career as a guitar professor at a few universities. One of Romero’s most important works was the guitar method La Guitarra, which describes the intricacies of the flamenco guitar.
10. Laura Almerich
Laura Almerich was one of the most gifted female Spanish guitar players, and her time duoing with Lluis Llach would hone the art of Catalan music. She was almost solely responsible for Catalan Nova Cançó becoming a mainstream style of music. Two of their most famous songs include the two songs Lluis Llach dedicated to her, Laura and Roses Blanques. In addition to being an amazing guitarist, Almerich was also a gifted pianist, having studied the instrument at the Barcelona Conservatory before beginning her training on the guitar.
11. Ramón Montoya
Ramón Montoya didn’t start his life as a musician; he started as a cattle trader. Eventually, he saved up enough of his earnings to purchase his first guitar, and by age 20, he was playing in local cafes. Alongside Antonio Chacón, he would go on to find the form of traditional flamenco music that we recognize today. Traditionally, the guitar was in a supporting role, but he was one of the very first to challenge the status quo, and his strong playing often overpowered his singers. He’s widely credited with establishing the guitar as a solo instrument in flamenco and made the careers of other artists like Sabicas and Manuel Molina possible.
12. Narciso Yepes
Yepes was one of the most acclaimed classical guitarists of the 20th century and exclusively used a 10-string guitar. He’s credited with developing the A-M-I method for playing notes on the guitar thanks to studying under teachers who weren’t guitar players and adapting techniques from other instruments. One of his claims to fame from that training and technique was the ability to play the guitar as fluidly as one could play the piano and even reach some of the same notes and qualities.
13. Manolo Sanlúcar
Alongside other flamenco guitarists like Paco de Lucia, Tomatito, and Vicente Amigo, Manolo Sanlúcar is one of the most important figures in modern flamenco music and one of the people who helped define the evolution of the guitar in the genre. Two of his best works are Tauromagia and Locura de Brisa y Trino, but he’s also composed a flamenco opera: Ven y Sigueme.
14. Carlos Montoya
Nephew to the renowned Ramón Montoya, Carlos Montoya would become a founder of modern-day flamenco music. During the 1920s and 30s, he toured extensively across Europe, North America, and Asia before World War II began and headed for the United States. While there, he incorporated blues, jazz, and folk music into his skillset and became the first flamenco guitarist to tour with symphonies and orchestras. With over 40 albums to his name and the ability to transform flamenco beyond being a simple accompaniment for dance, he would dominate the genre in the United States.
15. Paco Peña
Known as one of the most well-regarded and prolific flamenco guitarists and composers of the modern day, Paco Pena started out like most flamenco guitarists as an accompanying musician. Despite his traditional flamenco style, he didn’t like the role and moved to London to become a soloist. Aside from his acclaimed solo works, Pena has collaborated with several other guitar legends, including playing concerts alongside Jimi Hendrix and working with John Williams.
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