Rick, I sure do respect your choice of players. I am probably the most ardent Roy Buchanan fan in the world, I saw him in London in 1972 and he played a eight minute improvisation of "Sweet Dreams" that was simply breathtaking. His death and the manner of his death was horrific. His best work was surely to come.
And how can one compare a master of the Telecaster with a master of the steel strung acoustic? Or for that matter as kendall points out, with a master of the classical guitar?
Well, for me, the answer is that it is the emotional impact you feel after a performance that counts. Clapton, Knopler and Chet Atkins are all clever guitarists for sure, but they are essentially all "showmen". You enjoy their playing, you admire their technique, but does it hit you on any deeper level?
I guess what I am saying is that you actually have to see Tony play to appreciate the awesome impact that a solo guitar can create. Sans voice, sans accompaniment, just a acoustic guitar played with breathtaking fluency, speed and musicality in both fingerpicked and flatpicked mode.
At the end of the day, the only people who would quibble with my description of him as the world's greatest guitarist are people who have not seen him play. Seeing is believing.
Hey, even John Renbourn has called him the best guitarist in the world . And he should know.