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.
Dave Matthews – $300 Million
Good enough to name his band after himself, Dave Matthews is a shockingly prolific person. After starting to play the guitar at just nine years old, he has since taken a range of roles from singer and songwriter to producer and even the owner of a record label. He was the single highest-selling act in the 2000s, which is no mean feat.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Matthews has done some acting, owns a vineyard, and bought more than a thousand acres of land in Virginia. On top of that, he frequently works as a collaborator for other artists’ albums, and his continued efforts mean his net worth is likely to keep rising significantly over time.
Dave Grohl – $320 Million
It can be hard to make a big change in your music career. Dave Grohl’s performance as part of Nirvana would have been sufficient to make him independently wealthy all on its own, but he kicked things up after leaving them and forming the Foo Fighters, where he’s the main songwriter, lead singer, and guitarist.
Grohl has collaborated on a range of projects with different bands, including Tenacious D, and has a long mix of singles and collaborations (often for his drum work) further padding his income. With two hit bands and a range of other credits, it’s no surprise that he’s accrued so much wealth.
Toby Keith – $365 Million
Toby Keith isn’t just one of the most recognized country singers of all time, he’s also incredibly prolific. It’s not rare for him to release an album every year, and that’s on top of a range of singles. Much of that is continuing a strong start, though, when his debut song was the top country song throughout the 90s.
Although he’s earned plenty of money from his consistent releases and frequent tours, that alone isn’t “beating Led Zeppelin” big. What really jump-started his wealth was an investment in Big Machine Records, a label that’s hosted many of country music’s other biggest stars. His early investment saw tremendous returns, catapulting him up to this place on our list.
Bob Dylan – $375 Million
Robert “Bob” Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman, is one of the most-recognized singers and songwriters of the last century. He’s gone by many names over the years, but he was especially popular in the 1960s when some of his songs became popular anthems for the Civil Rights Movement.
Dylan is impressively prolific, having released an album every few years since 1962. Earning royalties for hit albums across decades, many of them multi-Platinum ensures there’s no way he wouldn’t be high on this list.
Dylan has also appeared in many documentaries, collaborations, music videos, and more which have augmented but not seriously influenced his already-incredible revenue stream.
The Edge – $400 Million
Born David Evans, The Edge is both the lead guitarist and a backing vocalist for the rock band U2. He’s known to have an understated way of playing, often incorporating delays, effect units, and harmonics to create a more complex sound.
His income comes primarily from U2’s works, with most of their albums certified multi-platinum in multiple regions. Some concert videos and compilations have sold similarly well, supporting the band’s already-impressive sales numbers with even higher royalties.
Eric Clapton – $450 Million
Few people have had the kind of impact Clapton had on the entire history of rock music. Despite this, his wealth comes more from his independent work than from his time with many different bands. He didn’t need much time to establish himself with the Yardbirds or the Bluesbreakers, though, because people took notice when he played.
As you’d expect for someone with this kind of income, Clapton has multiple platinum-level releases, including singles and albums. He’s also earned significant royalties from his music appearing on television and in movies over the decades, with further wealth coming from owning many Ferraris, a clothing shop, property, and more.
Keith Richards – $500 Million
Sometimes known just as Keith Richard instead, Richards is a co-founder, guitarist, and one of the principal songwriters for the Rolling Stones. Between band income, writing royalties, and appearances in other areas, he’s earned a truly phenomenal amount.
Beyond his musical career, Richards has earned money as a producer and director for other bands, alongside additional fees for appearances on assorted albums from other artists. However, these are a relatively small part of his lifetime income. Constant sell-out shows with one of the greatest bands of all time are the real source of money at this level.
Bruce Springsteen – $500 Million
Although ostensibly a member of the E Street Band, they’re better understood as a backing group for Springsteen’s performances. It’s wrong to say that Springsteen is a solo artist, but there’s a bigger separation between him and his band than is common at this level of income for the highest-paid guitarists.
Like many of the wealthiest guitarists, Springsteen has the benefit of frequent releases across the decades, starting with his first album in 1973. He’s also run near-constant tours between albums, resulting in explosive ticket sales to line his already-impressive royalties for the albums.
Springsteen has earned a huge range of awards across his career, from 20 Grammys and an Academy Award to the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Never content to sit and rest on what he’s already earned, it’s no surprise that a career full of hits (and concerts) has resulted in being so high on this list.
Jimmy Buffett – $600 Million
Making people laugh is a sure way to get attention, and few people represent this better than Jimmy Buffett. He’s especially well-known for his Margaritaville brand, with a kind of island escapism that appeals to most people. His style ranges from country and rock to pop, folk, and even Caribbean-influenced calypso styling.
Buffett has a long discography, usually releasing albums every few years. He was especially prolific in his early career, sometimes releasing multiple albums in the same year. The albums have mostly been well-received, although not to the same level of fame as bands like Metallica and Led Zeppelin.
Although independently successful with his music and concert sales, Buffett has also earned a lot of additional income from his other business ventures. These include a range of restaurants, a footwear company, and even a planned retirement village in Daytona Beach. That’s the real secret behind his money and shows that music alone only goes so far.
Paul McCartney – $1.2 Billion
The Beatles need no introduction, and neither does their rhythm guitarist, Sir Paul McCartney. During his time with the band, he took on a range of roles, including songwriting and work as a lead vocalist. He’d eventually become the lead member of the group, though it eventually disbanded and he moved on to a solo career.
His time alone has shown that McCartney’s skill is real, with multiple independent platinum releases. McCartney has also appeared in a jaw-dropping number of collaborations and videos, alongside the epic royalties that come in every time the Beatles songs get played.
There’s no denying his initial success with the Beatles, but it’s McCartney’s continued work across the decades that make him the highest-paid guitarist in history. As a side note, he released quite a lot with his wife Linda McCartney before her passing in 1998, where she was an impressive performer in her own right.
Richest Guitarists In The World, Final Thoughts
When you look at the highest-paid guitarist, it’s easy to see why the position has so much admiration. Guitarists are central to many bands, and those who truly hit it big have become some of the highest-earning musicians of all time.