I'm definitely a bit of a contrarian when it comes to the music I listen to.
I think most of us are, but when it comes to guitar players, I tend to value weird things about how they play. This is essentially a list of guitar players that I think are really good but haven't gotten much credit or recognition over their careers.
It's my own subjective list of the 24 most underrated guitarists.
Before we jump in, I want to clarify what I mean when I use the term "underrated guitarist."
- Not simply a lack of notoriety
- Not someone who is simply not as popular as bigger bands
I would not consider Joe Satriani underrated, even though he's far less popular than someone like Matt Bellamy (of Muse) who is on this list.
The reason is the amount of recognition Satriani does have is already linked with him being a great guitar player. With Bellamy, that's not really the case.
This list also is not meant to focus on obscure players that people know nothing about. Because there are some amazing guitar players out there (most of them probably have a YouTube channel) but we'll never hear of them because they aren't widely popular.
These guitar players are widely known, but not often recognized for their guitar work.
Our List of the Most Underrated Guitarists
We'll list and give a brief intro to 24 guitar players that deserve a lot more credit than they tend to get. Feel free to jump in with questions and suggestions in the comments section below.
24. Seth Morrison of Skillet
Youngster Seth Morrison replaced former Skillet guitar player Ben Kasica back in 2011, and has since helped form the band's strongest and most successful core group. He's a great example of what it means to be a modern-voiced, aggressive guitarist, even in a rock scene that isn't leaning as heavily on guitar as it once did.
23. Ben Wells of Black Stone Cherry
Though Ben Wells is not as prominent on BSC's material as lead singer Chris Robertson, he's an underrated player in a low-profile band. Wells has plenty to offer on both the lead and rhythm side of the guitar, churning out tons of heavy chord progressions alongside soulful, melodic lead lines.
22. Lzzy Hale of Halestorm
Lzzy Hale's strongest play is her vocals, but she's a capable guitar player as well, handling a mix of Halestorm's rhythm and lead guitar work.
21. Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit
I think most people would agree that Wes Borland has always been a lot better than Limp Bizkit as a whole. His power chord riffing has always been good, but it's his arpeggio-laden, melodic verse patterns that often capture my attention and admiration.
20. Korey Cooper of Skillet
Korey Cooper has been playing guitar for Skillet for a lot of years, though it has really just been in the past decade that they've seen a significant amount of commercial success. Her heavy riffing and drop-tuned power chords are a big part the group's sound, while she has also been known to handle synth, piano, and certain vocal elements.
19. Chad Kroeger of Nickelback
Like Borland, Chad Kroeger is a far better musician than what you would gather from observing his band as a whole. While Nickelback's popular radio side doesn't yield much from Kroeger's fretboard, the band's deep tracks - throughout the years - have been riff heavy and laden with strong chord progressions from Kroeger, and Ryan Peake as well. He's also known to handle most of the band's lead guitar work.
18. James Shaffer of Korn
From the early '90s on, modern metal didn't get a more cohesive pairing of guitar players than James Shaffer and Brian Welch. Shaffer's role was almost entirely limited to rhythm while Welch handled the more melodic pieces. Shaffer's chord progressions were the backbone of the band through long stints with and without Welch. He's one of metal's most underrated guitarists on the rhythm side.
17. Brent Hinds of Mastadon
Brent Hinds is known for being a lot more technical and faster then a lot of the guitar players on this list, yet he seems to get a limited amount of recognition. His style relies heavily on quick lead riffs and legato, pulling from a lot of minor pentatonic patterns. He's the first mentioned on this list that we'd consider a bit of a shredder.
16. Brian Welch of Korn
As mentioned in Shaffer's paragraph above, Welch's role with Korn has been mostly melodic or rhythm layering. Though it's tracked and recorded to be more subtle in the mix, you can often hear Welch's tremolo picking as he puts together melodies. I've always been impressed with how well those melodies compliment want Jonathan Davis is doing vocally.
In other words, Welch doesn't just throw together filler to go over bass lines and heavy riffs. He puts an incredible amount of thought and feeling into what he's doing, which I think is part of what has made his career in Korn so successful.
15. Dan Donegan of Disturbed
Outside of Adam Jones (we'll get to him later) I'd have a hard time naming a better rock rhythm guitarist than Dan Donegan. As a band, Disturbed is incredibly tight, rhythmic, and somehow fast without sounding chaotic. Donegan's guitar playing always seems to keep perfect pace. His work with Disturbed over the years deserve a lot more recognition.
14. Chris Robertson of Black Stone Cherry
Black Stone Cherry's front man Chris Robertson is another on this list whose guitar playing has taken a back seat to a lead vocal role. Yet, he's an incredibly talented musician who handles the bulk of the band's lead guitar duties.
23. Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge
Mark Tremonti is the guy in Alter Bridge world, but a lot of people miss the contribution that Myles Kennedy also makes on the guitar. He's not doing as much as Tremonti, but it's enough that Mark is definitely not a one-man show. Kennedy plays PRS guitars through Mesa amps, producing a lot of heavy and percussive rhythm riffs with some lead work sprinkled in.
13. Billy Howerdel of A Perfect Circle
Sometimes being a great guitar player is about subtlety and nuance, or being able to play something without it insisting on itself or being overtly noticeable. Billy Howerdel is masterful at this concept, as his guitar work in the studio with A Perfect Circle is almost always just enough, but never too intrusive.
He is somehow able to be really heavy and "out front" while also playing with a lot of touch and subtle smoothness.
In my humble opinion, he's a far better player than James Iha.
10. Matthew Bellamy of Muse
Matt Bellamy is an avid piano player and well-read musician, with roots in Spanish guitar and classical music. What I didn't realize when I first started listening to Muse was that Bellamy was the group's only guitarist. Like many of the other lead singers in this list, his guitar work takes a back seat to his singing, but he's one of the more talented musicians in the modern UK rock scene.
9. Graham Coxon of Blur
Graham Coxon has been around for a long time And whether with Blur or one of his side projects, he has been producing top-notch guitar work for just as long. Even back when Blur was more widely known, Coxon didn't get the credit he deserved.
8. Dave Grohl
It's hard to believe Dave Grohl turned 50 last year (at least when this piece was published). He has accomplished more in the world of rock and roll than anyone could hope for, given a similar time frame. Though his guitar playing didn't come into play until after Nirvana, Grohl's work with the Foo Fighters and a slew of other musical contributions has been voluminous.
7. Kim Thayil of Soundgarden
For years Kim Thayil contentedly (at least it appeared so) hung out in Chris Cornell's shadow, rolling off memorable riffs and licks for "Black Hole Sun," "Pretty Noose," and a bunch of other songs that owed their success to Thayil's guitar playing. He's an unsung hero of the early '90s grunge scene and vastly underrated.
6. Adam Jones of Tool
I have to make a personal note here:
Without question, there is no guitarist that has been more influential for me than Tool's Adam Jones. As a rhythm player, I've pulled so much technique and tendencies from him over the years, so I'd have him at number one if I picked solely based on my own preference.
But aside from my fanboy pontificating, Jones has been underrated throughout Tool's tenure. Perhaps that's true of the band as a whole. For years Jones has put together rhythmic, percussive power riffs that have not only kept up with, but keenly complimented Danny Carey's drumming.
Jones is not a speedster, but that doesn't matter. He's fantastic at what he does.
5. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead
What a lot of people don't realize about Radiohead is that Jonny Greenwood is regarded as one of the greatest living guitarists, due in part to his excellent overall musicianship.
He can play a wide range of instruments, but his guitar work has been a huge part of Radiohead's success and core to their sound for several years.
His playing style is unique, creative, and at times subtle, though he's a great example of a guitar player that can do a lot without needing to be flashy.
4. Brad Paisley
Brad Paisley's guitar playing gets a bit overshadowed by the fact that he's firmly in the country music scene. Though I would contend that even outside of country music, he's one of our generations greatest guitar players, especially in terms of speed and solo construction.
He's fast, but all of his lead work sounds like it's going somewhere, and doesn't feel fast for the sake of being fast.
3. Mike Mccready of Pearl Jam
Mike McCready has never been a "big name" in the guitar world, partly because he often split guitar duties three ways with Stone Gossard and Eddie Vedder. But he's an exceptional player who carried the bulk of Pearl Jam's chord progressions and rhythm riffs. His style is also heavily blues-oriented, which makes a lot of what he plays a mix of lead and rhythm.
It always impressed me how Pearl Jam's guitar playing seemed to be both melodic and percussive at the same time, and McCready was a big part of that.
The same could be said of Gossard.
In terms of press, I think Stone got more than Mike did, but I would argue the latter was a better all-around player.
2. Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Outside of "Blue on Black" we don't really see Kenny Wayne Shepherd on the radio or in any kind of mainstream capacity. Yet he's one of the best blues guitar players to come out of the late '90s and early 2000s with a ton of technical blues and melodic rock licks spanning eight studio albums over nearly a quarter century. When it comes to blues and lead rock, he deserves a lot more recognition than he gets.
1. Joe Bonamassa
Joe Bonamassa is younger than Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, though I'd argue he deserves a seat at the table with players of that caliber. After opening for B.B. King at 12 years old, Bonamassa has gone on to have a career that has revolved around his bluesy lead style, but has always seemed limited in terms of the recognition he receives. Comparable to Shepherd in playing style, he's arguably the best pure blues guitarist on this list.
Yet, outside of some blips on the indie and blues charts, he hasn't seen much on the way of commercial success and still lives in the shadows of names like Slash and John Mayer.
I would argue he's one of the best and is a victim of being about two decades younger than Satriani, placing him in a decade that was significantly less interested in root blues musical styles.
What do you think of our list?
Who did we miss? Who should get the boot?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below and we'll hash it out.