Top 10 Unsung Guitarists of All Time

Guitar World delivers the ultimate list of unsung rock guitarists.

There’s a saying in professional soccer that there are both piano players and piano movers: the forwards (the players), who with skilled footwork and finesse score goals, and therefore score with the fans; and the backs (the movers), whose grunt work, though important, doesn’t appear in the stats. The point is, you can’t have success without both.

In the world of guitar, this metaphor is best illustrated by AC/DC’s Young brothers: while Angus does most of the “playing,” it’s Malcom, with his yeoman-like rhythm work, who really moves pianos. And in doing so he’s become the ultimate unsung rock guitarist. Here are some others.

10: Brad Whitford – Aerosmith The man who has spent the better part of three decades in the shadow of lead guitarist and songwriter Joe Perry is, don’t forget, one half of the prototypical hard-rock duo. Do you think he cares that we often can’t remember his name?

9: Robby Krieger – The Doors Onstage and offstage, everyone in the doors took a backseat to the pharmaceutically inclined Jim Morrison. But it was Krieger, with his blues and jazz licks, who served as the backbone – or perhaps Back Door – to the Lizard King’s music department.

8: Lindsey Buckingham – Fleetwood Mac For those of you who still associate Fleetwood Mac with their classic Rumours-era sound, wake up! On 2003’s Say You Will, Buckingham breaks out into wild and frisky extended jams loaded with musical ideas that flirt with spontaneous combustion.

7: Jeff Hanneman – Slayer Sure, Kerry King and Tom Araya supply Slayer with its visual identity – after all, Jeff Hanneman doesn’t have quite the tattoos that King has. But Hanneman’s a true triple threat – he pens the lyrics, writes the music and plays guitar – which makes him Slayer’s real angel of death.

6: Lonnie Johnson Robert Johnson and Charlie Christian are two of the most decorated and respected guitarists in music history, but it was Lonnie Johnson who served as an inspiration to both of them. He was the very first “modern-day” guitarist – fluent in pop, jazz and blues.

5: Peter Green Green’s fascination with the guitar style of B.B. King helped him become the first great white blues player. And his work with Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan has become an integral part of England’s vastly important blues-rock scene, which, of course, spawned Page, Beck and Clapton.

4: Robert White, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina, Dennis Coffey, Wah Wah Watson, Marv Tarplin, Cornelius Grant It may have been driven by personality, but the Motown sound had to be played by someone, right? These guitarists provided the label with the signature sound that kept the folks dancin’ in the streets – all with very little acknowledgment, appreciation, recognition, or remuneration.

3: Steve Cropper – Booker T. & the MGs As the guitarist for the house band at Stax Records, Southern white boy Cropper played on virtually every great soul and R&B disc that came out on that label in the ‘6os. His clipped, sparse, trebly Telecaster – heard best in Booker T.’s groovin’ quartet – has since become the tasteful blueprint for R&B guitar.

2: Lowell George – Little Feat It wasn’t until he died and left Little Feat to its own devices that fans began to realize what a master Lowell George really was. Having cut his teeth with Zappa – another unsung monster – George was equal parts tasteful and funky, and all genius.

1: Ace Frehley – KISS One listen to the band’s milestone Alive disc proves that the Spaceman’s soloing was the glue that, musically, held the band together. He couldn’t write worth a lick, but he could take mediocre material and make it soar. – even if that wacky guitar gun of his did shoot fire-retardant blanks.

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Guitar World Staff

Since 1980, Guitar World has been the ultimate resource for guitarists. Whether you want to learn the techniques employed by your guitar heroes, read about their latest projects or simply need to know which guitar is the right one to buy, Guitar World is the place to look.