10 of the Most Underrated Guitarists

alex-then Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson.

We've all most likely seen plenty of lists ranking the top guitarists in music history which almost always feature the usual suspects such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan crowding at the top. While their place in guitar history is well-deserved, there are numerous unsung players whose skills on the guitar deserve more praise than they are usually given. While passionate music fans and musicians fully know the prowess of their skill, these ten guitar players seem to remain underrated when compared to their guitar god peers for one reason or another.

Jonny Greenwood

When your singer is known for delivering one of the most enveloping performances in rock, it can be easy to get looked over. Such is the life of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Not only is he a highly skilled guitar player, winning numerous awards for his signature aggressive style, he is also a talented multi-instrumentalist, able to play the drums, banjo, viola, harmonica and more. Still, for such a talented musician, he's not found near the top end of the "greatest guitarists" lists as often as he should.

Mike McCready

For a band so driven by such a huge guitar sound, it's surprising how many fans of Pearl Jam or one of their many hits fail to give Mike McCready the guitar cred he deserves. As one of the pioneers of grunge music, Pearl Jam (second only to Nirvana) took an an entire genre and made it mainstream on the back of McCready's howling riffs. Whether he's laying down thick power chords on "Alive" or beautifully piecing together poignant note after note on the ethereal "Yellow Ledbetter," McCready's guitar can just as easily bring tears to listener's eyes as it can melt their faces. Maybe if it wasn't for Pearl Jam's often polarizing frontman, more would be singing McCready's deserved praises.

Lindsey Buckingham

Not only was Lindsey Buckingham responsible for singlehandedly holding down all of the guitar parts during Fleetwood Mac's most prolific years, but he was also the man behind some of their most well known songs. Unfortunately, it seems as though his amazing skills as both a guitarist and singer-songwriter were overshadowed by the band's penchant for inner-group drama. Check out his fingering work on the seemingly straightforward but highly technical track "Never Going Back Again" for just a small slice of Buckingham's prowess on the guitar.

Alex Lifeson

While plenty of rock fans have finally embraced what die-hard Rush fans new for decades, it seems as though guitarist Alex Lifeson still isn't getting the notoriety his ax skills deserve. Even during Rush's quieter, just under the mainstream portion of their career, plenty of journalists, fans and musicians alike were singing the praises of frontman, singer, keyboardist and bassist Geddy Lee's multi-skill virtuosity while relegating Lifeson's guitar work as somewhat of a second act. And while Lee's masterful multi-instrument performances still tend to steal the show, you only need to pay attention to the various licks, riffs and solo's to realize just how much Lifeson's guitar work played in Rush's distinctive sound.

Roy Buchanan

While guitar geeks and blues fans fully know the prowess of Roy Buchanan's highly influential style and sound, he never did attain the mainstream stardom that unfortunately often goes hand in hand with highly celebrated musicians. A guitarist and blues musician who is often credited with pioneering the venerable "Telecaster sound," Buchanan made his name as both a sideman and a solo artist, achieving two gold records early in his career along with a couple of later solo albums hitting the Billboard chart. Although he does get plenty of recognition from fans and musicians, even being praised by Guitar Player as having one of the "50 Greatest Tones of all Time," mainstream music often overlooks  the unappreciated Buchanan.

J Mascis

Although Mascis definitely gets praise from both fans and musicians from time to time, even ranking number 86 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time," he's never nearly as high up as many believe he should be and rarely ever mentioned among guitar gods like Hendrix or Page. Best known as the singer, guitarist and main songwriter for Dinosaur Jr., Mascis's high energy style and technical skill is on par with the best of them. Just take a look at the video below for a small sample of Mascis's underrated ax expertise.

Jerry Cantrell

While Jerry Cantrell is well respected and regulary ranked high in the scope of hard rock guitarists, the Alice in Chains frontman doesn't get enough admiration for the full range of his talent as a pure guitarist. While his heavy tones, unique use of the wah pedal and regular use of odd time signatures defined Alice in Chains, his musical range also extends into elements of blues and country which can be heard on his solo albums. For a guitarist this creative and talented, we feel he doesn't get enough applause these days.

Joey Santiago

Despite his unique style and immense role is creating the very influential, often monstrous yet stripped down sound of The Pixies, lead guitarist Joey Santiago is rarely mentioned among the guitar elite. His highly expressive soloing featuring his signature heavy bends (which can be heard prominently on "Where is My Mind" and "Hey") has been named as an influence of several younger guitarists looking to capture a similar raw energy.

Chris Shiflett

Although Chris Shiflett is very much well known and lauded in the modern punk rock community for his time with No Use For A Name and supergroup cover-band Me First And The Gimme Gimmes, few knew of him, let alone tremendous ability, before joining the Foo Fighters in 1999.  Since then, he has earned himself a good deal of respect among guitarists and rock fans but not nearly as much as his talent deserves. It's tough getting full recognition when Dave Grohl is the frontman of your band.

Frank Zappa

Most of the underrated guitarists on this list are usually victims of a more prominent band member. In the case of Frank Zappa, it seems as though his eccentric choice in subject matter and the experimental nature of his songs is the culprit. While most of the younger generation probably best know Zappa for "Valley Girl" (or naming his son Dweezle), fans of his work readily know the breadth of his skill. With amazing solos and guitar work behind tracks such "The Muffin Man" and "Rat Tamago," it's shame more haven't giving Zappa the credit he deserves as a pure guitar player.

Your Turn to Sound Off!

Who do you feel are some of the most underrated guitarists?

Sound off in the comment section below!

4 thoughts on “10 of the Most Underrated Guitarists”

  • David

    Elliott Easton (The Cars)
    Rick Nelson (Bebop Deluxe)

  • scam

    Fantastic list! A couple others that I don't feel get the recognition that they deserve (in no particular order).

    Tom Verlaine of Television - I now he's highly influential amongst guitarists but many of the masses have never heard of Television, let alone Tom Verlaine.

    Prince - I know just about everyone knows who Prince is, but he rarely gets the recognition he deserves for being one of the greatest guitarists alive. Check out the youtube video of his solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. He easily holds his own with some of the world's other greatest guitarists. If you didn't already consider him one of the greats, I guarantee that this performance will change your opinion on that.

  • Ron Free

    Danny Gatton!

  • Ernie Santella
    Ernie Santella July 10, 2015 at 3:28 am

    Tommy Bolin - Listen to Billy Cobham's Spectrum album. Amazing.

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