Top 20 Most Underrated Guitarists



Top 20 Most Underrated Guitarists

These guys can shred! For this list, we'll be ranking the guitar players that may just deserve a little more love and respect outside of their hardcore fanbase. Our countdown includes Robert Fripp, Graham Coxon, Buckethead, Prince, Eddie Hazel, and more!

Top 20 Underrated Guitarists

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Underrated Guitarists.

For this list, we’ll be ranking the guitar players that may just deserve a little more love and respect outside of their hardcore fanbase.

Who are some of your favorite underrated guitarists? Let us know in the comments!

#20: Robert Fripp

King Crimson
The world of progressive rock is an interesting microcosm where its best musicians are often deified by a devoted, cult fanbase, while simultaneously existing in a vacuum that’s far away from the mainstream. Robert Fripp is certainly one of those aforementioned guitar gods, although King Crimson is a bit more commercially successful than your average underground prog band. This is in part due to Fripp’s quirky, heavy and influential guitar playing, a sort of mad genius that’s never stopped moving creatively forward. Fripp embraced a wide array of influences across the board…oh, and did we mention that he even created his own tape loop system called Frippertronics? Yup, Robert Fripp is truly one of a kind.

#19: Poison Ivy

The Cramps
Poison Ivy was a trailblazing guitarist for the weird and wild genre known as Psychobilly. Ivy also co-founded one of its most important and popular bands, the Cramps, and stood out as a beacon for the often male-dominated world of punk rock. Her style was ferocious, and her stage presence captivating from the very first note, embracing genres as disparate as surf rock, blues and proto-garage attitude. And then, of course, there’s that ever-present aggression that permeated nearly every note of her fiery playing, ensconcing Poison Ivy as a cult phenomenon for everyone lucky enough to hear her play.

#18: Eddie Hazel

Parliament & Funkadelic
Fans of Parliament and Funkadelic will tell you: the most obvious entry point for the legacy of Eddie Hazel is also his best. The song is called “Maggot Brain,” and it’s often cited as one of the best and most epic guitar solos ever recorded. Legend has it that the groups’ main man, George Clinton, instructed Hazel to play as if his mother was dead for part of the song, imagining how he would respond to the news. The results influenced countless guitarists in its wake, while Hazel’s too-brief career showcased a guitarist with soul, fire and an arsenal of far out, psychedelic licks.

#17: Izzy Stradlin

Guns N’ Roses
Oh, sure Slash may receive a lot of the credit when it comes to the guitar department of Guns N’ Roses, but we’re here to sing the praises of his former partner in crime, Izzy Stradlin. The man has sleazy riffs burning in his blood, not to mention a serious set of songwriting chops. Stradlin wrote or co-wrote some of the band’s best early hits on “Appetite for Destruction,” and even took the lead vocal position on songs like “Dust N’ Bones,” “Double Talkin’ Jive” and “14 Years.” In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to describe Stradlin as something of a secret weapon for GNR: a triple threat natural at his craft, with an enviable amount of talent.

#16: John Sykes

Whitesnake, Blue Murder & More
We use the word “more” here to describe John Sykes because the man has been a go-to guitar hero for a number of high-profile rock and metal bands. Chief among them is probably Whitesnake, but Sykes has also spent time on stage and in the studio with artists as varied as Thin Lizzy and the Tygers of Pan Tang, as well as his own band, the supremely underrated Blue Murder. Sykes’s fast and aggressive playing style is notable for incorporating tons of pinch harmonics and influencing future stars like Zakk Wylde. Beyond this, Sykes also has an ear for composing great melodies. If there’s one guitarist on this list that truly deserves a larger audience, it may just be John Sykes.

#15: Ani DiFranco

Is the world of folk music a place where impressive guitar playing is a key to success? Sometimes, but not always. Ani DiFranco has the songs, but she also has the musical chops, utilizing her dynamic finger-style technique to get the most out of her instrument. DiFranco’s vocals have always soared over her alternative rock-influenced material, while her taped-up fingers seem to tell a story every time. Sometimes that story is aggressive, like in “The Million You Never Made,” or melancholic and bittersweet, á la her hit “Dilate.” Either way, what remains the same about Ani DiFranco is her consistent evolution and dedication to a fresh and confessionally personal style.

#14: Neal Schon

Santana & Journey
Melody isn’t important to every guitarist out there, but it seems to be absolutely essential for Neal Schon. It’s written all over his playing, the way Schon makes his guitar sing, and writes solos that his fans can practically hum from first note to last. Schon is another musician whose talents have been consistently in demand since he was a teenager, having joined Santana at the tender age of seventeen. From there, he would co-found Journey, while also finding time to play in projects like Hardline, Bad English and HSAS alongside Sammy Hagar. Through it all, Schon’s style has been distinct and immediately recognizable: a jazzy amalgamation of melody, emotion and feeling.

#13: Graham Coxon

Yes, we all know and love “Song 2,” but that's just the tip of the iceberg for this English guitarist. A multi-instrumentalist, Graham Coxon has had his biggest impact as guitar-slinger for Brit-rock band Blur, however he has seen success as a solo artist as well. Primarily a Telecaster guy, Coxon has been known to use other models like Gibson Les Pauls, ES-335s, and SGs when required. Regardless of the guitar in his hands, it is likely to be plugged into a Marshall amp delivering his signature overdriven riffs.

#12: Nancy Wilson

Heart is definitely not your average classic rock band, just as Nancy Wilson isn’t your average guitarist. She’s incredibly talented, just like her sister Ann, and packs a playing style that’s powerful, bombastic and full of feeling. Nancy knows when it’s time to rock, like on “Barracuda,” and when it’s time to take a step back and allow the music to breathe. Wilson’s classical influences also make her playing dynamic, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t possess a real soft spot for Heart’s polished and glammed up material from the 1980s. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter which decade of Heart you pick: Nancy Wilson is always killing it.

#11: Rory Gallagher

Our next entry can absolutely be described as “a guitar player’s guitar player.” His name was Rory Gallagher, and he influenced some of the best to ever pick up the instrument. Players as varied as Slash, Brian May, the Edge and Johnny Marr have all namechecked Gallagher as an inspiration, thanks to his revelatory approach to playing the blues. Gallagher’s solo career, combined with his early years with the power trio Taste, left behind a treasure trove of studio and live albums that all sparkle with life. Meanwhile, Gallagher’s ability to move from fragile, folky beauty to some of the heaviest blues riffs ever written made him a legend in his own time, and an icon forever.

#10: Robert Smith

The Cure
Guitar playing is an art that can take many forms. It’s not always about who plays the fastest or hardest, but sometimes how dynamic and focused a guitarist is to their craft. Robert Smith is one of those once-in-a-lifetime players, a man whose style is distinct and recognizable, yet simultaneously impossible to mimic…at least not to a “T.” It’s not just about Smith’s unique approach to detuning his instrument, but also the attack of his picking style, as well as the tone he achieves both in the studio and in concert. The Cure has incorporated a variety of different styles throughout their longevity, from post-punk minimalism to this layered sense of gothic grandeur. The uniting factor through it all? Robert Smith’s devastating guitar playing.

#9: Steve Clark

Def Leppard
While hardly a member of an obscure band, in the hallowed halls of guitar heroes, the late Steve Clark is often rudely overlooked. As one half of Def Lep’s “Terror Twins,” Clark maintained a weaving guitar style with co-guitarist Phil Collen, trading riffs, lead, and rhythm with each other throughout songs with no established roles. Referred to by the band as “The Riffmaster,” Clark wasn’t the technical champ that Collen is, but instead played pure, inspired, mood-driven solos and leads by avoiding speed and flash in favor of feel. And we say it worked out pretty well.

#8: Gary Moore

Thin Lizzy
Depending on whom you ask, the late great Gary Moore is probably best known for his tenure in Irish hard rock group Thin Lizzy. Picking up the guitar at age eight and going pro at sixteen, Moore was actually left-handed but played the instrument right-handed. Known for his aggressive vibrato and speedy alternate picking, Moore often used a middle and index finger fretting style similar to Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt, although the results were worlds apart. Thin Lizzy aside, Moore played in multiple genres ranging from rock, jazz, metal, country, dance, and blues - lots of blues.

#7: Lindsey Buckingham

Fleetwood Mac
Seventh in a long line of underrated guitarists, Lindsey Buckingham’s presence in Fleetwood Mac was so weighty that it actually took two guys - Rick Vito and Billy Burnette - to replace him when he quit in the late ‘80s. Unlike his predecessors in the band, Buckingham uses a unique banjo-like finger-style, despite early suggestions by the band to use a pick. Upon joining Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham played a Gibson Les Paul at Mick Fleetwood’s request, but abandoned it completely when he found the Rick Turner Model 1, which has been his main guitar ever since.

#6: Billy Gibbons

ZZ Top
With a tone the size of Texas and chops from Oklahoma to Mexico, “The Reverend Willy G” is a lot more than just a bitchin’ beard. Forever linked with hot rods and ‘80s Playmates, it’s easy for many to miss the man that oozes the blues, which is a shame. A picker since the age of thirteen, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons makes frequent, tasteful use of pitch harmonics as well as thick distortion, and has the unique ability to make almost any guitar sound like his beloved 1959 Les Paul, Pearly Gates.

#5: Buckethead

Guns N’ Roses
While no one is quite sure what’s going on under the bucket, we do know there’s definite madness happening on the fretboard with him. Born Brian Carroll, Buckethead has recorded over 100 studio albums and has guested on at least fifty more. Dwelling largely in the shadows of his KFC headgear, Buckethead’s biggest brush with the mainstream was his four-year stint with Guns N’ Roses. Buckethead also auditioned for the Red Hot Chili Peppers at one point and was offered a gig by Ozzy Osborne, but turned the offer down when Ozzy wanted him to ditch the bucket.

#4: Nuno Bettencourt

You may know the acoustic ballad “More Than Words,” but that doesn't mean you know Nuno Bettencourt. Portuguese by birth and raised in Massachusetts, Bettencourt drew influence from Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Prince, and Al Di Meola, all of which filtered into Extreme’s Van Halen-meets-Chili Peppers sound. Bettencourt’s talents have been recognized by the Washburn guitar company, which has produced a series of guitars designed by him that are perfectly suited to his fast, slick shred ability and fretboard tappery. Outside of Extreme, Bettencourt has formed a number of other side projects and even toured extensively with R&B star Rihanna.

#3: Mark Knopfler

Dire Straits
There may be other flashier, thrashier guitar heroes, but how many of them have a dinosaur named after them? Left-handed, Mr. Knopfler plays right-handed, which the guitarist claims gives him a stronger, controlled vibrato. A confirmed Sultan of Swing with a Stratocaster MK becomes a whole new player with a Les Paul or a Telecaster in his hands, but he plays them all with his signature claw-like finger-style. With Dire Straits, Knopfler has sold over 120 million records. He also holds three honorary doctorates in music, which, if you ask anyone who’s listened to him, he’s totally earned.

#2: Alex Lifeson

Wedged sonically between the bass of Geddy Lee and the drum virtuosity of Neil Peart (not purt!), Alex Lifeson may be the most underrated player in his own band. Largely self-taught, Lifeson’s style is rich with open strings, drone notes, hammer-ons and pull-offs, while coloring over the band’s frequent use of odd time signatures. Lifeson is closely associated with the Gibson ES-355 guitar, but has used a wide range of guitars, amps, and equipment throughout his career, including Strats, PRSs, and Les Pauls equipped with whammy-ready Floyd Rose bridges.

Before we name our number one pick, here are some shred-tastic honorable mentions!

Larry LaLonde, Primus
From Death and Thrash Metal to Prog Funk in the Blink of an Eye

Annie Clark, St. Vincent
Technical Chops for Days

Chris Poland, Megadeth
Brought Jazz Fusion Influence Into Thrash Metal

Terry Kath, Chicago
The Guiding Guitar Force to Chicago’s Early Jazz-Rock Success

#1: Prince

The Revolution
A multi-instrumentalist who recorded all twenty-seven instruments on his debut album, Prince had guitar chops that were only overshadowed by, well, Prince. With his huge vocal range, production skills, and songwriting capabilities, The Artist was obviously more than just a guitarist! But his funky domination of the fretboard easily put him in the same league as Carlos Santana or Jimi Hendrix. Prince had the personality and the talent to be an icon, but he was ultimately an underrated guitarist in his time and that’s why he’s on top of our list.