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
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
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
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
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.