Everyone knows Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix are great guitarists, but what about all the underrated guitarists who have made incredible music through the years? This post is dedicated to those criminally underrated players.
While you may have heard of a few of these guitarists, most are totally underrated and unheard of for the average person. For the few musicians on this list you have heard of, you probably didn’t realize they were such incredible guitar players. I hope this list helps you find some amazing new guitarists and new music to listen to.
Make sure to also check out my list of the most underrated guitar songs.
Now let’s get into the 30 most underrated guitarists of all time:
Jimmy Herring is one of the most unique and expressive electric guitarists I know of. With Herring’s masterful use of chromatics, arpeggios, legato licks, and soaring bends, he effectively blends blues, jazz, fusion, and much more. Herring has played in Widespread Panic, the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz is Dead, and many other bands.
Jimmy is also good friends with master slide guitarist Derek Trucks, who you can tell has influenced Jimmy’s playing lately. If you listen to Jimmy’s song Aberdeen above, for example, you can tell he is imitating the sound of a slide guitar using volume swells, long sustaining notes, and extensive slides.
If you’re a bluegrass aficionado, you may already be familiar with Norman Blake. Unfortunately, he otherwise goes largely unnoticed. That’s unfortunate, because in addition to being an amazing songwriter, Norman is one of the best guitarists in all of acoustic music.
You can hear his long flowing lines of extremely articulate picking on display above. And of course, the masterful way he blends strumming and leads and walking bass simultaneously.
Billy Strings is one of the young up and comers of the bluegrass flatpicking guitar world. But make no mistake – he has the talent to roll and play with the best of them.
Billy has a unique, fast-paced style that is an amalgam of many of the bluegrass greats such as Doc Watson and Tony Rice.
Robin Trower is an English rock guitarist and vocalist who achieved success with Procol Harum throughout 1967–1971, and then again as the bandleader of his own power trio known as the Robin Trower Band.
Bill Nelson is known in the music world mainly as the founder of the experimental rock group Be-bop Deluxe. The band blended progressive rock, jazz, blues, and other genres to create a completely unique sound unlike anything else.
Nelson is an incredible lead player, and his solo over Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape (above) is one of my favorite guitar solos ever and remains criminally underrated.
Robben Ford is an American blues, jazz, and rock guitarist. He was a member of the L.A. Express and Yellowjackets and has collaborated with Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Larry Carlton, Rick Springfield, Little Feat and Kiss.
While he’s most well known as a bluegrass flatpicking master on the acoustic guitar, Bryan Sutton also plays the mandolin, banjo, ukulele, and electric guitar. Influenced primarily by Clarence White and Tony Rice, Sutton has done everything from working as a Nashville session guitarist to playing in some of the best bluegrass bands on the scene.
Bryan is also passionate about teaching his craft to other guitarists. With Bryan Suttons’ ArtistWorks bluegrass guitar course you get access to one of the very best bluegrass guitarists ever, as he walks you through his playing step by step.
This is my #1 recommendation if you really want to cut your learning curve and become great at playing bluegrass guitar.
You can read more about Bryan’s excellent course here.
Frank Vincent Zappa was an American musician, singer, composer, songwriter and bandleader. His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity and satire of American culture. Zappa has entire albums devoted solely to guitar solos, such as the Shut Up n’ Play Yer Guitar album.
Paco de Lucia
Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gómez, known as Paco de Lucía, was a Spanish virtuoso flamenco guitarist, composer, and record producer. A leading proponent of the new flamenco style, he was one of the first flamenco guitarists to branch into classical and jazz.
Jean Reinhardt, known by his Romani nickname Django, was a Belgian-born Romani-French jazz guitarist and composer. He was one of the first major jazz talents to emerge in Europe and has been hailed as one of its most significant exponents. Django had a big impact on Jerry Garcia and countless other guitarists to come.
Stephen James Howe is an English musician, songwriter and producer, best known as the guitarist in the progressive rock band Yes across three stints since 1970. Born in Holloway, North London, Howe developed an interest in the guitar and began to learn the instrument himself at age 12.
Al di Meola
Albert Laurence Di Meola is an American guitarist. Known for his works in jazz fusion and world music, he began his career as a guitarist of the group Return to Forever in 1974.
Between the 1970s and 1980s, albums such as Elegant Gypsy and Friday Night in San Francisco earned him both critical and commercial success.
Jerry Garcia is most well known as the frontman of the legendary jam band the Grateful Dead. But what’s less known is that Garcia got his start in the bluegrass tradition, playing banjo for Old & In the Way. Later, Garcia returned to his fondness for the bluegrass flatpicking style, releasing The Pizza Tapes, which featured him playing with longtime friend David Grisman and bluegrass legend Tony Rice.
Given his versatility, I think Jerry Garcia is a relatively underrated guitarist. Plus, many accuse Garcia of “noodling” aimlessly. All you have to do is watch the video above to put that accusation to rest.
John McLaughlin is an English guitarist, bandleader, and composer. A pioneer of jazz fusion, his music combines elements of jazz with rock, world music, Indian classical music, Western classical music, flamenco, and blues. Mclaughlin has played with Santana, Jimmy Herring and many others.
Glen Campbell was an American guitarist, singer, songwriter, actor and television host. He was best known for a series of hit songs in the 1960s and 1970s, and for hosting The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS television from 1969 until 1972.
Few people are aware that Glen Campbell was actually a wildly successful session guitarist. Most of his best guitar playing happened live. Check out the solo he rips out over Galveston (above).
Peter Frampton is an English and American rock musician, singer, songwriter, and producer. He was previously associated with the bands Humble Pie and the Herd.
Although widely known today, not many are aware of just how talented Frampton is on the guitar. This is because most of his best solos occur in his live tracks, like the one above.
Brian Setzer found widespread success in the early 1980s with the 1950s-style rockabilly group Stray Cats, and revitalized his career in the early 1990s with his swing revival band, the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Neil Young is held in high regard for his achievements as a singer songwriter, but his guitar playing often goes unnoticed. In particular, his electric guitar playing. Neil has a very unique approach to soloing that you can hear on tracks like Hurricane (above).
Most people know Alex Lifeson is the guitarist for Rush, but Geddy Lee and Neil Peart often steal the “limelight” (see what I did there?) from Alex’s guitar virtuosity. Plus, he’s appeared in multiple hilarious episodes of Trailer Park Boys. How could you not love the guy?
Robert Fripp is a British musician, songwriter, and record producer, best known as the guitarist, founder and longest-lasting member of the progressive rock band King Crimson.
Fripp is a key part of King Crimson’s unique sound, which he achieved with techniques rarely used on the electric guitar, such as crosspicking.
Robert William Gary Moore was a Northern Irish musician, singer and songwriter. Over the course of his career he played in various groups and performed an eclectic range of music including blues, hard rock, heavy metal, and jazz fusion. My favorite Moore album, and the first I ever listened to, is Blues Alive.
Peter Green was an English blues rock singer-songwriter and guitarist, best known as the founder of Fleetwood Mac. Green’s guitar skills are rarely acknowledged, even though he has excellent use of phrasing and dynamics, on full display in the song above.
Roy Clark was an American singer and musician. He is best known for having hosted Hee Haw, a nationally televised country variety show, from 1969 to 1997. Clark was an important and influential figure in country music, both as a performer and in helping to popularize the genre.
Buckethead is a pseudonymous guitarist whose identity is still a mystery to all. He is one of the most prolific music artists ever, having released a wide array of instrumental music across many different genres.
Guitar Slim was one of Frank Zappa’s biggest influences on the guitar. Slim was a New Orleans blues guitarist in the 1940s and 1950s, best known for the million-selling song “The Things That I Used to Do” (above), produced by Johnny Vincent for Specialty Records. It is listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Albert Collins is unique in his use of a capo on the electric guitar. But no one can deny he is a master blues musician. Collins was sometimes known as the “ice man” and regarded as a master of the telecaster.
Wes Montgomery may not be familiar to you unless you’re a jazz player. Among guitarists, Wes was very influential for his extensive use of octaves in his solos. Montgomery often worked with his brothers Buddy and Monk and with organist Melvin Rhyne.
In addition to inspiring a host of today’s finest bluegrass guitar players, Clarence White is one of the main influences of Tony Rice. If you listen to the two bluegrass masters, you can clearly hear the influence.
White employs fantastic crosspicking and an excellent use of melody to form complex but memorable bluegrass leads.
Yes, John Mayer is pretty well known. But among guitarists, he’s sometimes laughed off or dismissed as a sell-out because of his pop music career. I think John sometimes gets a bad wrap considering his skill on the guitar. Some of his riffs are beautifully constructed and also just plain fun to play, particularly Why Georgia (above).
Speaking of underrated, one of the most underrated bands ever is Ween, and their guitarist is none other than Dean Ween. If you’re new to Ween, I recommend their album Chocolate and Cheese. One of my favorite songs from it is Roses are Free (above).
In my opinion, Derek Trucks is the greatest slide guitarist since Duane Allman. He is also a songwriter, and founder of The Derek Trucks Band. Derek became an official member of The Allman Brothers Band in 1999. In 2010, he formed the Tedeschi Trucks Band with his wife, blues singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi.
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