Top 10 Greatest Rock Keyboardists and Pianists

Keyboardists were chosen for their skill, creativity, influence, impact, musical depth, expression, and lasting popularity in rock music.
The Top Ten
1 Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake and Palmer) Keith Noel Emerson was an English keyboardist and composer. Emerson played in a number of bands before he found his first commercial success with the Nice.

With all due respect, this list is a joke. For instance, take Ray Manzarek. As much as I loved him, he was highly simplistic in his playing and stuck there. He was innovative, and there would hardly be any Doors without him. But anyone with any real musical knowledge knows that Ray was no technician or even a highly skilled player. Nor did he pretend to be.

Keith Emerson, on the other hand, blew them all away and more. No one in rock comes close. He's even turned some heads in the jazz scene, which is saying a lot because jazz musicians too often carry airs of superiority and have little or no respect for rock musicians. Keith was also the foremost composer and arranger in classical-rock. Even a number one position for Keith on lists such as this is an understatement.

2 Dave Greenfield (The Stranglers)

Dave Greenfield, to me, epitomises and dictates the Stranglers' sound, as much as JJ's grinding bass sound or Hugh's choppy psychedelic sound. In my humble opinion, he is one of the most underrated, forgotten legends of the keyboard, a national treasure, a psychedelic wizard, and a thoroughly decent, approachable musician!

From soaring Doorsesque riffs, Europop, stark industrial sounds, to Sci-Fi dystopian menace, classical, and to a little number with odd time signatures played on a harpsichord! This man can and has done it all, with such surgical precision, with speed, panache, and a pint in hand. Man's a bloody legend!

3 Jon Lord (Deep Purple) Jonathan Douglas "Jon" Lord was an English composer, pianist, and Hammond organ player known for his pioneering work in fusing rock with classical or baroque forms, especially with Deep Purple, as well as Whitesnake, Paice Ashton Lord, The Artwoods, and The Flower Pot Men.

Too often, people overlooked Deep Purple because of the constant turmoil that surrounded the band. Case in point: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had to posthumously allow one of the greatest keyboardists into their ridiculous club. Allowing bands like The Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Guns and Roses, and the Sex Pistols in ahead of so many worthy artists is a damned shame.

It was a rare alignment of the solar system. Somehow, Deep Purple had the greatest keyboardist (Jon Lord), the greatest lead guitarist (Ritchie Blackmore), and one of the greatest lead vocalists (Ian Gillan) of all time...

4 Rick Wakeman (Yes) Richard Christopher "Rick" Wakeman is an English keyboardist, songwriter, television and radio presenter, and author.

Incredibly technically gifted. Not a fan of his early solo work (it has not aged well), but my God, this man's fingers are so agile!

He is just a magician with his hands. A virtuoso. A great composer too, although here we vote for the better pianist. He, Jon Lord, and Ray Manzarek are the best. Although I think of Lord and Manzarek as better musicians, because their orchestration skills are superior, Rick is the top-notch pianist of them all. Lord is the maestro, Ray is the pioneer and the dreamer, and Rick is the VIRTUOSO.

5 Richard Wright (Pink Floyd) Richard William "Rick" Wright was an English musician, composer, singer and songwriter. He was the main keyboardist and a backup vocalist for the psychedelic and progressive English rock band, Pink Floyd .

Wright made keyboards a vehicle to show his soul, inventiveness, art, and technique all at once. Without him, there's no real Pink Floyd (as The Final Cut, no matter how good, proves). He has always been underrated as a keyboard player, but no one else has propelled the instrument to the stratospheric heights at which he excelled. Rick was more of a virtuoso than he seemed but generally chose to lay the musical carpet for others to stand over and play.

He was also the better composer of melodies in Pink Floyd, as well as a good lead singer. His quiet, peaceful, and very good nature kept him a step below the fight for leadership between Waters and Gilmour. For me, after the Barrett era (when Rick was clearly Syd's right-hand man) and with absolute respect for his fellow bandmates, Wright has been the most important member of Pink Floyd.

6 Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) Jordan Rudess is an American keyboardist and composer best known as a member of the progressive metal/rock band Dream Theater and the progressive rock supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment.

Composes classical music, invents and creates both new electronic instruments and software packages, and plays as well as anyone who has ever stroked the electric keys. Listen to your favorite keyboardist and then check out some of the videos online of Jordan playing. And weep.

Rudess is a monster. He's fast, technical, melodic, and will do things with a keyboard that will put a smile on your face. He's crazy, but also a complete genius in this field. Emerson might be your hero, but Rudess will always be the God of Keyboards.

7 Ray Manzarek (The Doors) Raymond Daniel Manczarek, Jr., better known as Ray Manzarek, was an American musician, singer, producer, film director, and author.

The original great rock/prog keyboard player. Made so many Doors tracks memorable. I'm a huge fan of others on the list and listen to some more than RM, but he was the daddy of them all.

Ray should be way higher. The way he combined Renaissance music with rock to create one of the biggest psychedelic experiences is phenomenal. The Doors were about three things: astonishing vocals from Morrison, weird Robby Krieger solos, and, most of all, Manzarek's keyboards. A very intelligent musician. Just listen to Break on Through, Light My Fire, or The End. He also wrote great compositions.

8 Tony Banks (Genesis)

Banks is the number one keyboardist in the rock era. Wakeman and Emerson are more technically proficient and achieved many highs, but much of their work is too noodly or discordant in the mix. This results in tedious exercises or whacked-out space sounds. Banks (and Genesis) blend a lot better into an overall composition piece. Nothing from ELP or Yes can approximate the beauty and majesty of Cinema Show - when the song takes flight, Banks's solo lifts you up to behold a chorus of angels. It gives me goosebumps every time after 40 years.

With many more examples of these eargasms, he's the only keyboardist that reaches that emotional and spiritual peak usually reserved for Gospel or spiritual music. Simply listening to Genesis makes a listener more intelligent - for this reason, Banks far surpasses the others.

9 Elton John Sir Elton Hercules John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight; 25 March 1947) is an English singer, pianist and composer. Collaborating with lyricist Bernie Taupin since 1967 on more than 30 albums, John has sold over 300 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has... read more

What to say - the man is a very gifted player. I personally loved his earlier stuff, where he showed off his playing, such as on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. But his pop song longevity somewhat blocks out his keyboard brilliance.

Terrible and delusional list by an obviously unqualified group of fans - not musicians or those with any musical knowledge! Elton is the greatest rock pianist, and according to Van Cliburn (you know, the greatest classical pianist of all time - he won the prestigious Tchaikovsky piano tournament in Moscow in 1957 before an all-Soviet judging panel) who stated, and I quote, "That Elton John fellow is the finest improvisational player I've ever heard! His mastery of irregular and difficult chords, and his alacrity of playing these sets while singing, is nothing short of incredible!" Enough said!

10 John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) John Baldwin, better known by his stage name John Paul Jones, is an English multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer, arranger and record producer. He is best known as the bassist for the English rock band Led Zeppelin... read more

I'm happy to see JPJ in the top 10! Not only did he come up with the best bass lines and riffs ever, but his keyboard skills were also amazing! Just listen to the songs Trampled Under Foot, Thank You, and Fool in the Rain.

John Paul Jones was really cool in how he could perform so well, like in Misty Mountain Hop. His playing in that song really gave it something special.

If anyone's heard live versions of Thank You, this guy would be in the top 5, or at least higher than Freddie Mercury. (Nothing against Freddie, but this guy was better.)

The Contenders
11 Freddie Mercury (Queen) Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara, 5th September 1946 - 24th November 1991) was a Zanzibari-born British singer of Indian descent, songwriter and record producer, known as the lead vocalist and songwriter of the British rock band Queen. He also became known for his flamboyant stage persona and four-octave... read more

Underrated pianist. Everybody calls him the greatest singer, but he was also a very good pianist.

Top 2 in vocals, now top 3 in piano? I can say that Freddie is one of the greatest musicians who ever lived. I'd like to learn to play piano too and try to play Bohemian Rhapsody first...

Underrated pianist. He played by his own rules.

12 Garth Hudson (The Band) Eric Garth Hudson is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist. As the organist, keyboardist and saxophonist for Canadian-American rock group the Band, he was a principal architect of the group's unique sound.

Just listen to Chest Fever. A more epic organ solo has not been done!

13 Billy Joel William Martin Joel is an American singer-songwriter, composer and pianist. Commonly nicknamed the "Piano Man", he has been making music since the 1960s, releasing popular albums throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s.

As a pianist myself, it's a disgrace that this man is not in the Top 10. Why is Freddie Mercury ahead of him? Freddie was an incredible singer, but his piano playing was pretty basic. Apart from basic chords, there was nothing special he did as a pianist. Meanwhile, Billy Joel is a master of putting emotion into his piano playing, and his finger rolls are stupidly fast.

I voted for Emerson, but it needs to be said that this guy is a monstrous keyboardist. Everybody's aware of his stunning songwriting talents, but one listen to his playing on songs like "Prelude/The Angry Young Man", "Root Beer Rag", "The Entertainer", "Travelin' Prayer", "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", "Stiletto", "Great Suburban Showdown", "Los Angelenos", "James", "New York State of Mind", and... man, the list is endless!

14 Geddy Lee (Rush) Gary Lee Weinrib, known professionally as Geddy Lee, is a Canadian musician, singer and songwriter best known as the lead vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist for the Canadian rock group Rush.

Geddy Lee is one of the most disciplined and hardworking rock and rollers of all time.

How can the Keyboard, Bass, Vocalist not be in the top 10? Sad.

15 Patrick Moraz (Refugee, Yes)

A unique style, completely different from Wakeman's, a cleaner player on another note. I love Rick, but guys like Moraz or Emerson are much more technically proficient. Rick will always throw in a bad note during his keyboard licks. Emerson is near perfection, same for Moraz. But my truest idol is Tony Banks.

Exceptional contribution in Yes' album Relayer and great talent live in the Relayer tour. Made us nearly forget about Rick!

16 Jonathan Cain (The Babys, Journey) Jonathan Cain is an American musician, singer and songwriter best known for his work with The Babys, Journey and Bad English.

He's top in my book. Most famous opening of the most downloaded song.

You and your wife, Tane, were second to none in what you did. Yay, JC! His playing defined arena keyboard rock.

17 David Bryan (Bon Jovi) David Bryan Rashbaum, best known as just David Bryan, is the keyboard player of the popular American Rock band Bon Jovi, with which he has also co-written songs and performed backing vocals.

Highly underrated like every other member from Bon Jovi. Watch him play 'Keep the Faith' live, and you will realize his talent. He literally plays five keyboards at a time. He has also played beautiful piano on songs like 'Always' and 'Bed of Roses'.

An extremely versatile keyboardist, his musicianship ranges from being a supporting instrumentalist in songs like 'Livin' on a Prayer' and 'It's My Life', to being a driving force on songs like 'Bad Medicine' and 'Runaway'.

Are you kidding me? He plays five keyboards at a time and improvises each show! Amazing technique and playing. Plus, Memphis is a piece of work. I dare anyone to play that piece as well as him, as well as some other piano versions of the full rock band songs!

18 Eddie Van Halen Edward Lodewijk "Eddie" Van Halen (January 26, 1955 – October 6, 2020) was a Dutch-American musician, songwriter, producer, and inventor. He was best known as the lead guitarist, occasional keyboardist and co-founder of the hard rock band Van Halen.

Revolutionary guitarist, pretty good at piano/keyboards, and he can also sing pretty well. This dude is amazing.

He makes great melodies on the keyboard and plays guitar too. One of the best, I think.

19 Leon Russell

Really? #17? I'm pretty sure if you surveyed the 16 above him, most would put Leon a lot higher. Just ask Elton!

Leon was the best. He is being underestimated at #16. Definitely should be in the top 5, if not #1.

Very disappointed. There will never be another Leon.

20 Eddie Jobson (UK)

Second attempt to type this on the train. Eddie was not just a talented keyboard player of the piano, CS80 Yamaha Synth, Hammond Organ, and Mini Moog - he also played the violin through a Cornish customised pedalboard. As far as I'm concerned, he mastered the CS80 just as good as Vangelis. But playing live showed he was not just a studio keyboardist.

He is totally underrated because he never got the opportunity with UK for the band to be appreciated, despite the other talented artists such as Terry Bozzio, Bill Bruford, John Wetton, and Allan Holdsworth. A real shame.

21 Nicky Hopkins (The Rolling Stones)

Nicky Hopkins didn't just play with The Rolling Stones. He also played with The Kinks, The Beatles, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, The Jerry Garcia Band, and The Jeff Beck Group.

Hopkins doesn't get as much recognition because he wasn't really with one band, but he was possibly, arguably, the greatest session keyboard player.

He played on more really great rock songs than any other musician, keyboard or otherwise. The greatest keyboardist, especially for Sympathy for the Devil and Edward the Mad Shirt Grinder. God bless. (Really... Keith Emerson... how pathetic).

22 Nick Oosterhuis

A list of rock keyboardists without this man is not complete. He played on many records, toured with many artists as a hired gun. Bobby Kimball from Toto, Andrew Strong, Ian Cussick, etc. He had his own rock band, Lone Age, in the early 90s and was also the founder of the Brotherhood of Rock and Soul, featuring Kingsize Taylor and Chris Thornton Jr. He is also a skilled guitarist.

This cat is absolutely underrated. He played on so many records, toured half the world, and is an excellent guitarist and singer as well.

23 Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen, Stratovarius, Dio)

Listen to his solo stuff to get a true taste of this legend's talent. Enigma Suite is a cool place to start. It blends all sorts of styles, like jazz and neoclassical elements. He also played temporarily with Sonata Arctica and Spastic Ink. An absolute legend in the European melodic metal scene.

This guy is a master and very fast.

24 Steve Winwood (Traffic) Stephen Lawrence Winwood is an English rock musician whose genres include progressive rock, blue-eyed soul, rhythm and blues, blues rock, pop rock, and jazz.

That Steve Winwood would be this low on a keyboard list is baffling. He invented rock and roll organ with Spencer Davis, and his organ work remains untouchable to this day. If you listen to his work on "Blind Man" from the "Last Exit", Traffic album, you've got to think, Winwood was doing Prog keyboards before that genre was truly identified. His piano work is untouchable, and he also plays synthesizers. Don't hate him because he is awesome. Just listen.

Steve Winwood owns the Hammond Organ and the piano. You will have a hard time finding someone greater with those instruments. Furthermore, his composition skills are amazing. He has never written a bad melody. He is number one in my book, though Keith Emerson has to be up there as well. Winwood is top three minimum.

25 Dr. John
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