The other day, I got into a heated argument with some of my close musician friends about who the most underrated guitarists were. Before I knew it, we had been talking for two hours.
Here’s my humble roundup.
8 Most Underrated Guitarists of the 70s
The 1970s is the most iconic decade for rock music. This span of ten years produced rock legends like David Gilmour and Jimmy Page. But let’s be honest—sometimes, they hog the spotlight.
1. Eddie Hazel
As the guitarist for Funkadelic, Hazel’s most lauded for his instrumental jam album Maggot Brain.
But he had plenty of other accomplishments before sadly succumbing to liver failure. He brought new ideas to the acid R&B genre by layering heavy, bold funk sounds.
2. Tommy Bolin
Bolin was a bright talent known for mastering one style of playing and then shedding it for the next. A versatile guitarist with roots in jazz and reggae, Tommy was a master.
3. Lita Ford
Lita Ford entered the scene as lead guitarist for the all-female band The Runaways with her slick guitar solos and awesome shreds.
Referred to as the Mother of Metal, Ford is a masterful player who left an undeniable impression on rock music.
4. Joni Mitchell
While Mitchell may have garnered more awards than I can count on one hand (including multiple Grammys) the world doesn’t give her enough credit for her guitar skills. Mitchell employs unorthodox methods like open tuning, capo, percussive slaps, and the coolest fingerpicking I’ve seen.
5. Brian May
This Queen guitarist is often left out of mainstream conversation—probably because the world is still obsessed with Freddie Mercury. Don’t get me wrong, Mercury made Queen what it was but he couldn’t have done so without May’s mind-bending guitar riffs.
6. Rod Price
As the guitarist for Foghat and king of the “slide” technique, Price and his signature playing style were the magic behind such hit tracks as ‘Slow Ride’ and ‘Drivin’ Wheel.’
7. Gary Richrath
Richrath could unleash some of the most explosive guitar solos out of the 1970s. He was the heart of REO Speedwagon and put on daring live performances.
8. Phil Manzarana
Manzanera is a master at layering sounds. His weird guitar riffs on tracks like “Ladytron” earned him recognition in the music industry, and today he tours with other titans like David Gilmour.
5 Most Underrated Guitarists of the 80s
Once the 1980s hit, the world shrugged off disco music and moved into something a little harder: hair metal rock.
9. Jack E. Lee
The fact that Jack E. Lee’s name often gets left out of guitar legend conversations is bad luck. Lee was the guitarist who filled the gap between Randy Rhoades and Zakk Wylde for Ozzy Ozburne. Because Rhoades and Wyldes are such titans in the industry (and one had a rather flashy albeit tragic death), it’s easy to graze over Lee.
But doing so is a profound disservice to both Lee and hair metal rock. It was Lee who anchored Ozzy and the band after Rhoades death and the chaos of the ’80s.
10. Joey Santiago
If you don’t know the name Santiago, you’re missing out on a critical influencer of not only 80s music but of the 90s, too. Santiago was the frontman for The Pixies, and his angular, bent, and open sound was the magic behind the Pixies’ aura.
After the band broke up in the early 90s, Kurt Cobain openly admitted to ripping off the Pixies’ sound.
11. Carlos Cavazo
When we think of hair metal, we often don’t know who exactly to credit. If music heads are to credit anyone, it surely would be Cavazo.
People don’t talk enough about Cavazos’ bold style and sheer loudness on the guitar. This loudness separated Quiet Riot’s sound from mainstream rock, which created an entirely new subset of music: hair metal rock.
12. Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy was the co-founder of The Cramps and helped shape punk into what it is today. The Cramps redefined punk and rock in America with their twangy, viscous, borderline psychotic rockabilly sound—and it was in big part thanks to Poison Ivy’s insane guitar skills.
13. Vinnie Vincent
Kiss guitarist Vinnie Vincent is why the band adapted from disco rock in the 70s to the full-on hard 80s rock we know today.
The album that basically brought Kiss back from the dead was Lick It Up, where Vinne co-wrote eight out of the ten songs. His fearless talent was enough for the rest of the band to ditch the gimmicks and makeup and focus on the music.
7 Most Underrated Guitarists of the 90s
Bleach-soaked rocker Kurt Cobain and other grunge alternative musicians dominate the 90s. But just because Kurt Cobain has taken up all the spotlight, there are a plethora of other players from the 90s that influenced not only this decade but decades after.
14. Jennifer Batten
Michael Jackson’s partner-in-crime, Jennifer Batten, shreds the guitar so hard that she’s in a league of her own. Watching her perform live is a treat, and the fact that she’s rarely mentioned in conversation is a rock and roll tragedy.
15. Mike McCready
McCready is the lead guitarist of the band Pearl Jam known for switching between classic blues and whipping out ear-melting rock solos. Though he doesn’t get as much limelight as Eddie Vedder, McCready is a master at the guitar.
16. Billy Corgan
Corgan is the guitarist for Smashing Pumpkins, whose bad press and rumored sour personality typically overshadows any credit he gets for his guitar skills. Personally, I think the true magic of that band lies in their first album, where the guitar was the dominant sound.
17. Nick McCabe
Though aloof and challenging to work with, McCabe is a true maverick on the guitar. His gorgeous psychedelic sound oozes talent. As the lead guitarist of The Verve, he quickly propelled himself and his band into legendary status.
18. Keith Urban
I know, I know: how can a musician as big as Keith Urban possibly be on my list of underrated guitarists? It’s because Urban’s never spoken about for his raw skill—only for his high-profile relationship.
But Urban is known to bust out some insane solos while playing live, which cements him as an impressive, jaw-dropping guitarist.
19. Kenny Wayne Shepherd
If you’re a diehard blues fan, chances are you’ve heard of Shepherd. But for the rest of us, there’s never really a time to get exposed to KWS, as he’s not in the mainstream. Still, he employs rock solid technique to create tight, powerful music.
20. Ad Rock
You may know the Beastie Boys for their over-the-top vocals and classic 90s beats. But those tracks hinge on daring guitar work. Who was wailing on the strings? None other than Ad Rock.
5 Most Underrated Guitarists of the 00s
Let’s be real, many guitarists who emerged in the spotlight after 1999 have gotten the short end of the axe. Most praise is geared toward guitar legends from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. We hardly ever recognize the massive talents who are still making music to this day.
21. Josh Homme
Homme is an incredibly creative, versatile guitarist. The Queens of the Stone Age frontman’s tone is authentic and unique and is always easy to pick out on a track.
22. Wes Borland
Limp Bizkit is, without a doubt, a polarizing band. Some people shudder at the angsty lyrics. Me? I think there’s some great skill in the music that shouldn’t be discounted.
Those hard, mature, clean guitar riffs from Wes are the perfect juxtaposition against Durst’s high-pitched, gnarly vocals.
23. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
Omar is known for his experimental albums from the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group. The guitar in the first track hits you like a lightning rod and never lets you go.
24. Tosin Abasi
If you have yet to hear of Tosin Abasi, you’re missing out on one of the most talented guitarists of the modern era. Abasi plays juicy, thick tones that keep you coming back for more.
25. Jonny Greenwood
Greenwood is the guitarist for Radiohead. Through his subtle, melancholy sounds, he’s an undeniable force that shaped Radiohead’s sound and propelled them into fame.
7 Most Underrated Blues Guitarists
When we think blues, we often think of B.B. King. Here are more guitarists that should be on your radar.
26. John Lee Hooker
Hooker was a musician who is sometimes referred to as the king of the endless boogie. With a grooving, hypnotic sound, he inspired many of the greats, including Jimmi Hendrix. Hooker played with such intuition and instinct that’s impossible to teach.
27. Gary Clark Jr
Looking for a modern guitar king? Look no further than Gary Clark Jr. The guitarist who’s picking up where blues greats left off, Clark is revitalizing the blues genre with a brilliant melding of funk, hip-hop, blues, and rock and roll—all in one, smooth sound.
Rising star Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is quickly ascending through the ranks of the blues music scene. At just 22 years old, Kingfish has mastered a unique blues sound that oozes talent, confidence, and riffs that pierce through the silence to grab a hold and soothe you in a blues cocoon.
29. Jimmie Vaughan
Vaughan is a polarizing guitarist. This is mainly because he often plays behind the beats. He also puts oomph on every note he plays, whether it’s a hammer or a bend. He’s very stylized, he’s very expressive, and he’s courageous.
30. Elizabeth Cotton
Cotton is an innovative player who invented a new guitar-picking technique. This unique fingerpicking style, dubbed “cotton picking,” describes when Cotton uses a right-handed guitar the other way around. She did this without restringing it and while also using banjo techniques.
31. Otis Rush
I’ll never understand why so many forums and discussions leave Otis Rush out of the debate for best blues players. He had a clean sound that burst with passion and excitement. Rush also could put on a mean performance without the use of pedals or shredding.
32. Alvin Lee
Alvin was a master guitarist in the 1960s who blended blues and rock. It was his fast-playing style that catapulted Lee to stardom. Named “The Fastest Guitarist in the West,” Lee pioneered what would later be called shredding.
4 Most Underrated Rhythm Guitarists
If any guitarist is underrated it’s the rhythm guitarists. They don’t get the flashy spotlight that leads get from their solos or melodies.
33. Pete Townshend
While Townshend of The Who may get recognition for his vocals or his role as founder of one of the most influential bands of the 20th century, we don’t talk enough about his steady rhythm work, masterful timing, and great instincts.
Sure, he can get flack for being too flashy on stage, but don’t get it twisted: Townsend is in a league of his own.
34. Malcolm Young
Malcolm was a guitarist so dedicated to the craft he was buried with his guitar. As the guitarist for AC/DC, you can thank Young for the backbone of AC/DC’s sound. His smashing, loud chords created a legendary sound, rocketing Young and the rest of AC/DC to fame.
35. Nile Rodgers
Rodgers is the driving force behind Chic. His music is full of energy and passion; it’s hard not to fall in love with Rodgers and his guitar skills. He also influenced such greats as Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” and Blondie’s “Rapture.”
36. Bob Weir
While Weir went on to found and play in many other bands, people best know him as one of the founding members of The Grateful Dead.
Weir was a rhythm guitarist who was one of the first, if not the first, to use unique chords to play in a diverse, rhythmic way.
6 Most Underrated Country Guitarists
Don’t get me started about how the world snubs one of the best genres: country music. Enjoy some of these immensely talented country guitarists.
37. Johnny Hiland
Hiland’s one of those guys who can effortlessly blend styles from country to rock to blues. But it’s country music where he truly shines. Some say he’s one of the fastest guitar players ever and he is a master at chicken picking.
38. Danny Gatton
Often referred to as the world’s best unknown guitarist, Gatton was a deeply talented musician who would often dominate in head-cutting jam sessions.
Though country was his home base, Gatton had an exceptional ability to dominate any genre he chose to pick up.
39. Mother Maybelle Carter
It’s a travesty that Maybelle Carter has fallen into the recess of music history.
Before Carter, the guitar was only used as a rhythmic instrument. Carter revolutionized the instrument by developing a fingerpicking method. This method allowed Carter to play both the rhythm and the melody all at the same time.
40. Vince Gill
Vince is a monster on the guitar. As a mesmerizing performer, Gill wows any crowd he performs for.
41. Albert Lee
Lee is a phenomenal player who carved a name with a hybrid picking technique and excellent fingerstyle.
42. Buck Owens
Buck is a true genius at picking. As a country guitarist from Bakersfield, California, Ownes embodied the sound of rural America in his own enchanting, mesmerizing way.
3 Most Underrated Acoustic Guitarists
As the electric guitar quickly overpowered acoustics, full acoustic guitars are harder and harder to come by.
43. Beppe Gambetta
Hailed as one of the best flat pickers in guitar history, Gambetta is an Italian acoustic guitar player who uses high-caliber techniques like open tunings, flashy licks, intricate cross-picking patterns, and fluid slides to create a truly original sound.
44. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Are you a fan of Eric Clapton? How about Johnny Cash, Chuck Barry, or Elvis Presley? If so, you have Sister Rosetta Tharpe to thank.
Tharpe was a profoundly talented gospel singer in the 1930s. Referred to as the Godmother of Rock and Roll, Tharpe would throw down (and win) guitar battles at the Apollo. On other nights she would sing gospel music among stripped-down showgirls.
45. Memphis Minnie
Minnie was a blues guitarist who was a bright talent on the guitar. The original writer of “When The Levee Breaks,” Minnie had as much songwriting talent as she did talent for the guitar.
5 Most Underrated Bass Guitarists
There’s plenty of bass player talent to look up to, namely Les Claypool and Paul McCartney. But they’re not the only ones.
46. Tina Weymouth
The bassist of The Talking Heads, Tina gave the band their distinct sound and is the magic behind hits like “Psycho Killer.” She’s known for marrying minimalist bass art-pun with funky riffs that became the Talking Heads’ signature sound.
47. Cliff Williams
Cliff was the bassist of AC/DC. He produced an intense sound that became the bedrock for their powerful, crushing sound.
48. Mark Sandman
Mark is best known for his time as bassist for Morphine, where he developed and pioneered the technique of playing the bass with a slide.
49. John Paul Jones
While Robert Plant and Jimmy Page stole the spotlight, bassist Jones was the anchor that allowed Plant and Page to take off with their explosive sound.
50. John Taylor
John plays with booming, powerful bass lines that influenced the 1980s music in a raw way. Not only could he play the bass but he could sing while doing so, too.
Underrated but Deserving
Anyone can argue that their favorite guitarist is the most underrated. It boils down to personal preference. If this list taught you anything, the pool of talent over the history of music is never-ending.
Who is the most underrated guitarist?
Alex Lifeson from RUSH is the most talked about underrated guitarists.
Who is the most respected guitarist?
Jimmi Hendrix is one of the most respected guitarists.
Who is the most unique guitarist?
Wes Montgomery is one of the most unique guitarists as he developed a new guitar style with the use of his fingerpicking and his octave melodies.
What is the best guitar solo ever?
“Stairway to Heaven” by Jimmy Page is arguably the best, or at least the most well-known, guitar solo.