It takes a certain mix of luck and skill to become one of the highest-paid guitarists in the world, but people who get there can earn a truly tremendous amount of money. Most of the best-paid guitarists have acquired a few hundred million in their lives, and a few exceed even that. Let’s take a look at the list.
Mark Knopfler – $95 Million
Born in 1949, Mark Knopfler was one of the primary members of the Dire Straits rock band, then transitioned into a solo career after his band split up. He’s sold over a hundred million records, received four Grammys, and obtained numerous other awards and accolades.
Although popular around the world, Knopfler is especially beloved in Norway, where several of his solo studio albums have gone independently platinum. His 2000 album Sailing to Philadelphia was especially well-received, earning 5x platinum in the Dutch region and several more Platinums in other European areas.
Knopfler focuses more on music than some other performers here, and that’s where most of his income comes from.
Tony Iommi – $140 Million
Although not as widely known by name alone right now, Anthony “Tony” Iommi is much easier to recognize if you say he’s the primary guitarist of the heavy metal band Black Sabbath. What’s even more impressive is that he earned his fame and fortune despite losing the tips of two fingers in an accident when he was 17, which permanently affected his style.
Most of Iommi’s wealth comes from albums and other music industry activities, including concerts and collaborations with other artists. His time with Black Sabbath is widely seen as the highlight of his career and is undoubtedly the primary source of his wealth.
Pete Townshend – $150 Million
As one of the founding members of The Who, Pete Townshend is clearly among the most capable guitarists of all time. However, beyond that, he’s also played a range of different instruments for the group and wrote most of their songs.
This is a significant distinction for his wealth, as songwriters usually get royalties separate from any other payments within the band. While exact prices can vary, a physical reproduction of a song in the United States is about nine cents per copy and around 9% of the overall value in other areas.
For someone with over a hundred writing credits in one of the most famous bands of all time, that royalty value adds up fast. (For more about royalties, check out our guide on them.)
Angus Young – $160 Million
As one of the front members of AC/DC, it would be somewhat surprising if Angus Young hadn’t made this list somewhere. Young has confessed to taking inspiration from Keith Richards (also on this list, so clearly a good role model for a guitarist) and is well-known for over-the-top antics on stage.
Most of Young’s wealth comes from the sheer success AC/DC has had over the years. However, he also has some additional income from songwriting credits and the occasional producer role. The band has been active for decades and continues to put out albums every few years, so his net worth will keep rising.
Jimmy Page – $180 Million
As a founding member of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page is one of the most recognized guitarists in history, with both a personal income and a list of awards to back up the claim. He has an unusual style, featuring uncommon tunings and even the use of a cello bow to adjust the sound of his instruments.
Most of Jimmy Page’s wealth comes from his time with Led Zeppelin, whose record-smashing performance means it’s unlikely to lose the throne of recognition anytime soon. However, he’s earned a modest amount from solo and independent work, like his 1994 live album No Quarter. Some of these have gone platinum in their own right, proving he’s capable all on his own.
Dave Gilmour – $180 Million
As part of Pink Floyd, Dave Gilmour has worked on some of the highest-selling rock albums of all time, and he eventually took over as the lead member of the band, producing several albums after Roger Waters left. That would be enough to earn him an impressive income by itself, but he’s also worked in several other areas.
Notably, Gilmour is both a writer and a producer, famously working to bring Kate Bush to fame early in her career. While most of his income comes from work with Pink Floyd, Gilmour has also released several independent albums that have gone platinum in various regions.
That said, his wealth has gone down somewhat in recent years due to active charity work and support for social causes. Without those costs, his net worth would be a decent bit higher than it is today.
Kirk Hammett – $200 Million
As the lead guitarist for Metallica, Kirk Hammett is undoubtedly one of the highest-paid guitarists in history. The band’s famous aggressive style usually mixes hard rock sounds with high-speed metal components, all bolstered by a love for horror and performance onstage.
Most of his wealth comes from Metallica’s performances, many of which have gone multi-Platinum in many regions. He’s earned a smaller amount from other sources, including his solo EP Portals in 2022, but that constitutes a far smaller part of his wealth and is more a passion project than an income stream.
Ronnie Wood – $200 Million
Ronald “Ronnie” Wood is best known as one of the members of the Rolling Stones, though he also joined Faces and The Jeff Beck Group at different times. His work with the band has undoubtedly contributed to his wealth, with Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed performing especially well over the years.
However, Wood also has a range of other albums and releases, including as a session musician for artists including Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr on their releases. A legendary guitarist can earn quite a lot just by helping other artists, and that’s padded Wood’s income to a higher point than some members of bands even more famous than his.
Brian May – $210 Million
As the lead guitarist for the most famous rock band of all time, Queen, the only thing that’s surprising here is that Brian May isn’t even higher on this list than he already is. That said, he also wrote many of their top hits, meaning he has songwriter royalties to pad out his already-enormous income from sales of Queen’s albums.
May’s independent work is much smaller than his efforts with Queen, though he’s earned quite a lot as a session musician for other artists. He’s quite active in animal welfare, and has donated significant amounts of his time and personal wealth to such causes.
James Hetfield – $300 Million
Metallica has more than one member on guitar, so it’s no surprise that there’s more than one band member on this list. As lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for Metallica, Hetfield is best known for intricate playing in support of the rest of the band. However, he occasionally does solo segments or even acts as the lead guitarist for specific segments of a show.
As with his bandmates, most of Hetfield’s wealth comes from Metallica, where songwriting credits pad his already-sizable royalties. However, he’s also worked on a few films and appeared as himself on several shows, for which we can safely assume he earned a tidy fee.