Rig Report

Five Extremely Underrated Guitarists

When we get together around the proverbial water cooler, everyone brings their own perspective to the inevitable “favorite guitarists” talk. When all the big boys are brought up and then passed, it’s cool to hear some more underrated guitarists that everyone brings to the table.

And there’s one completely terrible thing about discussing underrated guitarists:

THERE'S AN ENDLESS NUMBER OF THEM.

Here at Tone Report, each of us could name twenty or thirty players that we all feel don’t get proper recognition. Unfortunately for those players, only one of us is writing this, so I get to play favorites here. These picks are mine and mine alone and do not represent the views of TRW as a whole or even as a half. We expect everyone here to have a favorite player to highlight—let's turn the spotlight to players who deserve to be talked about a little more than they are!

Photo Credit: Musicradar

Adrian Utley/Portishead

Despite taking a back seat to Beth Gibbons in almost every track, Mr. Utley is responsible for almost every other aspect of Portishead’s music. And as most fans can tell you, there is much more to the sound than just vocals. Portishead is one of the most mysterious bands out there, and Utley’s gear changes fairly frequently, so the scattered pictures of his gear aren’t a glimpse into his whole sound. As Portishead’s fans can attest, Utley’s guitar prowess isn’t that of a shredder, it’s more indicative of an accomplished soundtrack composer or Foley artist—he’s more responsible for moody atmospheres and haunting tones than he is for sweet licks. However, his contributions to the band cannot be overstated enough, though he is often thought as the sidecar to Ms. Gibbons’s motorcycle. What a shame.

Photo Credit: Joby Sessions

Graham Coxon/Blur

Though more popular in the UK than the States, Blur’s Graham Coxon has amassed a rabid following among fans of the band, and relative unknown status everywhere else—even within prominent guitar circles. Like Mr. Utley before him, Coxon’s gear is constantly changing as he provides not only innovative sounds but an uncanny ability to contextualize the innovation—a bridge severely untrodden in the guitar community. Despite being known to casual fans of music as “the guy who played guitar on ‘Song 2,’ (a.k.a. the ‘woo-hoo’ song)” from Blur’s eponymous 1997 record, the band has actually released eight albums since 1991, on which Coxon has dazzled fans of electric guitar music. Despite his backseat position in Blur, Coxon is also an accomplished solo artist, a fact that escapes even many of Blur’s listeners.

Photo Credit: Yonatan Gat

Yonatan Gat/solo/Monotonix

Fans of pure guitar mastery likely have never crossed over to the side of the tracks that Yonatan Gat’s old band Monotonix used to play. Billed as a raucous, out-of-control punk-sludge hybrid from Israel, many folks preferred the live show to the actual music; a show at which drum kits were set on fire, sprinkler systems were torn from venue rafters and fire marshals were routinely summoned. During his time in Monotonix, Gat played through a Gallien-Krueger bass rig to offset the band’s lack of a bassist. Since Monotonix sadly broke up, Gat has established himself as an improvisational guitarist with a full line of solo albums that are incredible. He routinely tours with an ensemble of equally underrated musicians and his live shows—though with much less blood and fire than his Monotonix days—are still the stuff of legends, with concertgoers, myself included, leaving with mouths agape.

Photo Credit: Debi Del Grande

Kevin Parker/Tame Impala

Tame Impala’s Parker is something of a neo-guitar hero to the younger generation of musicians, which is to say that he is wholly underrated. Listening to Tame Impala’s music is more of a “whole product” than many other bands out there, because the sounds are expertly layered. Because of his seamless cogsmanship, Parker’s prowess on the gitbox is overshadowed almost every time guitar players are discussed. This shouldn’t be the case, however. When a band seeks to resurrect a genre left for dead in the ‘70s—psych rock in this case—many old-school proponents of the craft put their feet down and declare a moratorium. However, old-school players would be wise to check out Tame Impala and their fluid implementation of effects mixed with great tone and technical proficiency.

Photo Credit: Indieairradio

Brad Whitford/Aerosmith

You know, the other guy in Aerosmith, who is easily as good as yet destined to be eternally overshadowed by his counterpart, Joe Perry. There’s not much more to say than that, except that he's also a super cool guy who is happy to do meet and greets with fans who get to film him showing off his stuff:

Honorable Mention: Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley is largely remembered for his otherworldly voice, but it’s a little-discussed fact that he was an absolute baller on guitar. Unfortunately, there’s no video of him performing this song live, but listen to his rendition of Edith Piaf’s “Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin” and imagine attempting to manage all that fingerpicking while singing your heart out—or at all.

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56 Comments

  1. Bull

    Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) players player over 25 years.

  2. Dave Moeller

    Eddie Glass former Fu Manchu guitarist went on to form Nebula. Very under rated bluesy guitar player. Don’t think he’s done anything in the last 10 years but you should really do a piece on him an his rig, it would be killer.

  3. Bruce B.

    Great list!  There are a couple of people I’ve never heard of and I definitely am interested in checking out more Blur now. 

    When I think of underrated guitar players, I think of David Maxim Micic. Dude deserves a lot of credit for his awesome playing and composition. 

    Thanks for the interesting read, I’m always excited to see these pop up in my inbox!

  4. Vic Dyer

    I could add two more. First, Reeves Gabriel, whom has played with David Bowie and is currently touring with “The Cure”.  The second is Steve Hill who lives in Canada. Check out his song, “I’m Dying for You”.

  5. Holly Homan

    I’m disappointed, no mention of Dave Davies. Hi iconic riff in You Really Got Me has been copied by many many bands over the last four decades, five decades. Without Dave’s driving force on guitar the Kinks would not have been the band that they were.

  6. Thomas McCampbell

    What about Andy Cohen of Silkworm?

  7. Steve S.

    Phil X.  Check him out on frettedamericana.com

  8. Donny

    Robbie Krieger Wrote all the Doors big hits.

  9. Colin

    Great list! No idea who the third guitarist is but wholeheartedly agree with the others.

  10. James Haviland

    Snowy White,  take a good look at The Wall, Live In Berlin.

  11. Blair Penney

    I think Steve Winwood is an awesome guitarist, who is very underrated.

  12. Michael Gorman

    John Herrington who plays with Steely Dan is a very underrated guitar player-you never see his work being mentioned in all the rock media-he has a nerdy image but man he can play.

  13. dean

    As a huge Joe Perry fan i couldn’t agree more..Brad Whitford is so good at his role to keep things on time and allowing Joe to move freely..not to mention he does some great lead work on nobody’s fault and back in the saddle..yes that is brad..

    Also Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and Dickie Betts are two of the greatest !

  14. DC

    Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest. Routinely overlooked, under-appreciaeted and under-rated. Yet, one of the most brillaint guitarists in the history of hard rock and metal.

  15. Richard Toth

    Terry Kath. Chicago. Very underrated.

  16. Web

    J Mascis, Dinosaur Jr. One of the few 90‘s guitarist who can play the guitar vs use it as another precussion. Closely behind Dave Navarro Janes Addiction, P Lisher? Campervan Beethovan, Joey Santiago Pixies, and lastly D Kessler/P Banks Interpol. The Interpol guitarist are not an attempt to squeeze in an extra player, it speaks to their ability to play together as one. Their playing is rather simple and pedestrian but sometimes less is more. Really enjoy Andy’s tutorials and reviews of gear. Keep up the good work.

  17. Guedzilla

    John McGeoch, of Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Armoury Show, P.I.L… A master!

  18. Allen B

    Brian Setzer is one of the most underrated guitarist out there today.  If you get a chance to see him play live, worth the ticket

  19. kerry kruger

    I’d throw Dominic Miller into that mix…did awesome stuff with Sting for years, nobody wanted to know.

  20. Don

    Good list, I would add Bob Mould.

  21. Steven Allen

    Bill Nelson from Bebop Deluxe has always been one of my favorites - just listen to the solos in “Crying To The Sky”...beautiful!

  22. Cal

    I am compelled to mention Duke Levine as a seriously overlooked guitarist.  Chops for days and taste for weeks, with perfect tones for all occasions.

  23. Benjamin Fuqua

    I saw Yonotan Gat alone, as one of five people in the crowd for their show, and I’ve gotta say, I was completely blown away. It was incredible and he deserves to be here.

  24. Art Behrman

    I’m a sucker for these kinds of lists. The only way it could be better is if we were discussing the gear of the top five underrated guitarists after the top five underrated guitarists, etc.

    Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy! Amazing player never given his due. I had the privellage of seeing Thin Lizzy at seattles show box theater a number of years ago and I heard him play complexly structured, hook laiden parts that I’d previously thought were performed by people like Gary Moore, Snowy White, and John Sykes. I’d always thought of him as the second string to more famous lead players. I realized that night that he was the brains behind Thin Lizzy’s melodic structure and that these more famed or flashy players were brought in to back him. Check out Bad Reputation. He took over all guitar duties when Brian Robertson was injured in a brawl and was instrumental in arranging one of Thin Lizzy’s most cohesive and tasteful recordings.

    Honorable mentions go to Buck Dahrma and Greg Sage.

  25. Gianfranco Gurnari

    My favourite guitarist is very underrated: Robbie Robertson.

  26. Kern

    I’d love to see more recognition for…
    Audley Freed &
    Ty Taber.

  27. Ramon

    Robin Trower, seriously underrated. Still putting out great music today.
    Jim Suhler, Texas Blues with Monkey Beat and touring guitarist in George Thorogood and the Destroyers.

  28. Ben Little

    Don Felder
    Jay Grayden
    G.E. Smith
    Walter Becker
    Ian Moss

  29. Drusca

    Nick Drake
    Michael Gregory Jackson - check out his playing on Oliver Lake’s ‘Zaki’ to hear what an impact he had on Bill Frisell
    Charles Bullen [This Heat]
    Geordie [Killing Joke]
    John Dietrich & Ed Rodriguez [Deerhoof]

    Boubacar Traoré
    Joe Morris (avant jazz)
    Keith Levene [Public Image Ltd.]
    Sir Richard Bishop
    Keiji Haino

  30. Jason

    Steve Hillage has been at the cutting edge of guitar technology since the late 60s. Incredible music with Gong, solo albums through the 70’s, and then pioneering the rebirth of Ambient with The Orb, huge amount of techno/House records with System 7, collaborations with Derrick May, Carl Craig, Juan Atkins, Laurent Garnier, Ritchie Hawtin etc.

    Also, Robert Fripp rarely gets a mention, despite Heroes, with Bowie, pioneering looping with Eno, as well as his own method for guitar instruction, and working with Future Sound of London on the ISDN album.

    Ed Wynne from the Ozric Tentacles is also an incredible guitarist, segueing smoothly from shredding to blissed out solo passages, eastern scales and dub.

    I’ve always liked Barry Melton, from Country Joes and the Fish also. Incredibly emotive playing on their first 2 albums.

    Nice to see Adrian Utley mentioned, but he is also a proficient Jazz guitarist, used to play with the Tommy Chase quartet back in the 80’s.

  31. Marco

    Don’t see Carson McWirther in this list, such a shame…

  32. art s

    WARREN HAYNES

  33. Vernon Tweed

    I respect everyone’s picks for most underrated guitarist. My pick is definitely: Terry Kath from Chicago. ( Even Jimi Hendrix told members of the band that Terry was a better guitar player than himself )

  34. David Williams

    Good read and it’s always interesting to hear about players you have never heard of before. There was only one I knew of. The last one obviously. Lol! But with that said, for every guitar player that are considered unrated there are thousands of guys equally as good out there playing the bars or streets that are killer players. Some choose to be happy with that but, there are a lot of strong players that haven’t been lucky enough to fine the right mix of others to have the kind of success to be noticed. Howard Roberts the Jazz great once told me. To make it, or to even get recondition for what you do is like winning the lottery. In other words, luck, being there at the right time, right place, plays a big role in this business.

  35. Stuart A. Watson

    Susan Tedeschi - ...great blues player…listen to The sky is crying…...successful band leader…and in combination with her husband Derek Trucks…just amazing.
    Graeme Duffin - Wet Wet Wet. Shy, retiring - talented guitarist….and a brilliant Producer also.

  36. Miami Metal

    ROCKY GEORGE.

  37. Duderino

    Mickey Melchiondo from Ween… another damn fine player

  38. Mike

    Mike Campbell
    Warren Haynes
    Dickie Betts
    Ty Tabor
    Roland Orzabal
    Keith Richards
    Ronnie Wood
    Mick Taylor
    Gary Richrath
    Billy Duffy
    Johnny Marr

  39. Dave Brinton

    Bruce Cockburn
    Ed Bickert
    Red Shay
    Michael Occhipinti
    Don Felder

  40. Ryan R.

    +1 for Mike Campbell. Every time the topic of underrated guitarists comes up, he’s the first one that comes to mind for me.

  41. Alex D

    Rory “Jimi says I’m the best” Gallagher.

    True story.

  42. Wolfboy1

    Buck Dharma (aka Donald Roser) of Blue Oyster Cult. The man has been doing it a long time now and is as good as he ever was. Don’t Fear The Reaper, Godzilla, Astronomy etc.

  43. stockport viaduct

    “Despite taking a back seat to Beth Gibbons in almost every track, Mr. Utley is responsible for almost every other aspect of Portishead’s music. And as most fans can tell you…”

    Er, Geoff Barrow? Funny when Tone Report tries to get cool and drops a clanger.

  44. Dave Nelson

    Great list….I would throw Steve Marriott into the mix, because his great guitar playing was so overshadowed by his singing.

  45. Bruce S

    Yes to Mike Campbell and Brian Setzer. 
    Add Dave Edmunds to the mix.
    And you never hear the obvious one- George Harrison, who played EXACTLY the right thing on every Beatles’ song, but isn’t mentioned with Eric, Jimi, and all the rest

  46. Johnboy

    There’s so many great ones.  Here’s to all the Nashville session players who are some of the greatest guitarists in the world that get absolutely zero recognition.

  47. Bob Malin

    MATTHIAS JABS of THE SCORPIONS ?

  48. Tim Mungenast

    Thanks for this. I learned a lot. I saw Jeff Buckley play solo, just him and his Telecaster at the Middle East in Cambridge, Mass, right before he broke out, and I must agree with you—his guitar playing was every bit as mesmerizing as his voice. It was in my top ten lifetime shows. If I may suggest a few more unsungs: Frank Gerace of Dreamchild;  Charles Hansen of Ross Phasor;  Miche Fambro;  and Mac Randall.  As you say, there are thousands upon thousands of exemplary players who remain hopelessly obscure.

  49. Walter Peters

        What about Joe Bonamassa…  Erik Clapton….  Buddy Guy….  Knoffler…  These guys are pretty good Players…......

  50. Brandon Wagner

    Love most of the guys listed here (comments, too), but nobody listed John Squire, and I feel that’s an unfair missed call.  Now I can’t remember if anyone me tioned Johnny Marr in the comments or not, so I have to bring him up, too…  And for pure gorgeous minimalism, but by no means a shredder, how about Jason Pierce/J. Spaceman?  And how can we leave out Kevin Shields? That is all. Just some killer guitarists, IMO, especially Squire.

  51. Brandon Wagner

    Also just pure fun and really freaking great:  Ritzy Bryan from Joy Formidable

  52. Gwugluud Barcher

    Brian James of The Damned, particularly his work on their debut album of 1976.

  53. Screamin Armadillo

    Derek O’Brien is the most criminally unknown guitarist in the world.

    Charlie Sexton, Tab Benoit and Eve Monsees all should be better-known as well.

  54. Taylor

    This list is alright, but I can’t believe you put Kevin Parker on there. He’s a great songwriter, but that dude is not a good guitar player - 25 for this post.

    Here’s a better list of underrated guitar players

    1. Parker Griggs - Radio Moscow
    2. Matt Pike - High on Fire and Sleep
    3. Kaki King
    4. Robin Guthrie - Cocteau Twins and solo works
    5. Barry Richman and Mike Martin - google em

  55. nobsartist

    Jerry Miller.  If you are ever in Tacoma, check him out.

  56. Noah Anderson

    Unknowns Luis Ortega & Keith Lawson with KLK Trio and Chop House. Jazz infused blues and wicked acoustic work. Ortega was killed in a car wreck on the Oregon coast, Lawson now plays only studio dates, uncredited. Phenomenal players with only a small body of released work. Lawson can be seen occasionally at music festivals in the Northwest.

    Love the article, Jeff Buckley should have rated higher.