He beat showmen such as the late Freddie Mercury and Robert Plant in a poll conducted by musicians' website Musicradar.com.
Rose was a huge star in the late '80s but - apart from occasional live shows - faded from view for many years until 2008, when Guns N' Roses released the long-awaited but poorly received Chinese Democracy album.
The hard rocker is known for his shrieking performances on tracks such as Sweet Child O' Mine and Welcome To The Jungle.
Musicradar said: "We can't think of a more contentious choice for the greatest lead singer of all time. Forget the moustachioed, cornrowed croaking caricature of recent years and think back to the late 1980s. Axl Rose: dangerous, lean, angry, confrontational, controversial."
Axl welcomed the plaudit, telling fans on his Facebook page: "THANK YOU! And special thanks to MusicRadar for holding the poll and letting people speak. - Axl"
No female stars figured in the list until 24th place, which was taken by Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks.
Mercury, who died in 1991, was runner-up in the poll, with Led Zeppelin star Plant in third position. Beatles stars John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney both figured in the top 10, in fifth and 10th places respectively.
Rolling Stones frontman Sir Mick Jagger finished in 14th place.
Singers from more contemporary bands failed to break the top five, but Matt Bellamy, from rock band Muse, came in at number nine and Thom Yorke from Radiohead was at number seven.
The late Kurt Cobain came in at number eight, while Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson was number six and Ronnie James Dio from Black Sabbath was number four.