The Top 40 Most Underrated Guitarists in Rock Part 1

The Top 40 Most Underrated Guitarists in Rock Part 1

The Top 40 Most Underrated Guitarists in Rock Part 1

What makes a great guitar player?  Skill is important, but so is emotion. A guitar is the most versatile instrument in all of music, which range in tones, techniques and effects gives every musician their unique sonic palette. Sometimes the most innovative slip through the cracks, allowing other musicians to borrow and benefit from their sound (often without fully repaying the debt). Or others are workmanlike guitarists, avoiding flashy playing, content with just creating great songs, but overshadowed by the egos of other band members. Or perhaps it’s a multi instrumentalist, whose guitar chops get lost amidst the shuffle. Or a guitarist who made a sizable impact but then vanished into obscurity. It is to all of the above this list shall cover.

For diversity’s sake, I’m excluding anyone who made Rolling’s Stone’s Top 100 Greatest Guitarists. So previously marginalized players Johnny Ramone, Jonny Greenwood, Ron Asheton, Steve Jones, Tom Morello, Johnny Marr, The Edge, J Mascis, Thurston Moore, Link Wray, and Mick Ronson, Peter Buck, (and more, here’s the full list so you can compare my choices) have finally gotten their due. No need to echo that here, same with  those who make the  predictable best of lists in guitar magazines. These will be more left of center choices.

If you want to preview or purchase any of the musicians and songs mentioned, clicking on any of the album images will take you to Amazon. All purchases help keep this site up and running :-).

Let’s get started.

40. Reg Smithies & Dave Fielding

The Chameleons were one of several bands in the early 80’s to weld a gloomy tone, delayed guitars and a melodramatic vocalist, but they were lost in the Goth shuffle amongst bigger acts like The Cure. But they had some great tunes and guitar interplay. Check out the crushing goth stomp on ‘Everyday I’m Crucified’ or the acoustic work on ‘Tears’.


39. Michael Brook

Brook is a film composer as well as a guitarist and was the inventor of the ‘Infinite Guitar’, which played long sustained notes, hence the name. He made a copy for the Edge, who played it to great effect on ‘With or Without You.’ Like the Edge, Brook knows how to play off the cascading notes created by a delayed signal. Check his stellar playing off  Ultramarine,  featured in the film ‘Heat.’


38. Mike Graff

Graff played guitar for the little known Course Of Empire, a TX band which lasted from the late 80’s to mid 90’s. Influenced by bands like Bauhaus, Graff’s ethereal cutting guitar tone, aided by his hollow body guitar was excellent. Sadly they never got much national acclaim, but they had a powerful sound. Their biggest hit was ‘Infested‘ off the album of the same name. (Their work isn’t available on iTunes).


37. Rick McCollum


Now that the Afghan Whigs have reunited, I hope they can get more appreciation. Coming to fruition in the grunge era, they brought elements of soul music to their alt rock sound, with interesting results. McCollum’s distressed tone with his frequent use of slide guitar gave them a one of a kind sound. Check out his awesome riff on ‘Gentlemen’, off the album of the same name.

36. Brian Molko


The Placebo frontman isn’t a virtuoso, but his use of alternate tunings and love of Sonic Youth and  Depeche Mode  made for some novel catchy riffs and tones. One of my favorites is the deceptively simple guitar figure from ‘Special Needs’ or the slamming riff on ‘Brick Shithouse’.

 Click here for my review of the new Placebo Album ‘Loud Like Love.’

35. Dr Know

Bad Brains were in a league of their own. A mix of reggae, jazz, and punk, they were one of the fixtures of the American Hardcore movement of the  80’s. But unlike many of their contemporaries, guitarist Dr Know was unafraid of pulling off wailing metal solos. Check out ‘Pay To Cum’ or their collaboration with Henry Rollin’s on the MC5 cover ‘Kick Out The Jams’ to see what I mean.


34. Justin Broderick

An influence on many industrial bands, Broderick’s brutal guttural tone gave his band Godflesh a disturbing doom laden sound. He also formed the band Jesu, which infuses elements of dream pop and ambient music, showing his experimental nature. Check out his slaying riff on ‘Anything Is Mine’ off  the Godflesh album ‘Selfless’.


33. Will Sergeant

The Echo and The Bunnymen guitarist use of tremolo, delay and the occasional wah-wah pedal give songs like ‘The Killing Moon’ and ‘The Cutter’ a majestic, cinematic air. He’s released several solo albums of much more experimental material, awash in ambient soundscapes.


32. Tracii Guns

L.A. Guns are known for one hit, the crappy  ‘The Ballad Of Jayne’. But they were a great hard rock band, with a nice dark edge and look making them not dissimilar from rock heavyweights Gun’s N Roses. But what many don’t know is that Guns was originally in a band with Axl Rose (hence his last name ‘Guns’ in G’N’R). I have a source who claims Tracii had his hand in many of the songs off ‘Appetite For Destruction’  but whether that’s true or not, the guy has serious chops and would have gone on to more acclaim had the rest of his band matched his skill set. Check out his shredding skills on the arena rock blowout ‘Never Enough’.


31. James Stevenson

James Stevenson Interview

Click here for the SLIS interview with James Stevenson!

Stevenson was in Generation X, the punk band fronted by Billy Idol (his guitar player Steve Stevens is also a badass, but is pretty widely regarded as such at this point), and came up with the riff for ‘Dancing With Myself’. He later went on to play guitar for Gene Loves Jezebel, which were an odd fusion of glam and goth. They could get a little silly, but his knack for a guitar riff and great soloing skills kept them interesting. Check out his playing on ‘Josephina’, ‘Desire’ or ‘Set Me Free’.

Click here to read Albums Revisited:Gene Loves Jezebel’s The House of Dolls 

And Click here for my review of The Cult’s Electric 13 Austin show, which featured Stevenson on rhythm guitar.

30. Kaki King

King is an experimental guitar player,  whose use of tapping and alternate tunings with her acoustic playing give her songs an alien, exotic dimension. Check out her performance on Conan O’Brien from a few years back.

29. Justin & Dan Hawkins

The Darkness Reunited

The Darkness Reunited

The Darkness are a bunch of goofballs, but their guitar chops are no joke. Playing searing double guitar leads and licks out of the Brian May playbook, they are excellent musicians (and having seen them live recently I can attest by my review). Check out the awesome solo in ‘Growing On Me’.


28. Martin Gore

Gore is Depeche Mode’s chief songwriter, occasional vocalist and all around de facto leader. But in-between his synth pop soundscapes he also plays some pretty great blues guitar riffs. He doesn’t show off, but his phrasing is spot on. A great example is his singable melodic solo off the song ‘Home’ from their under-appreciated album ‘Ultra’.

Well that’s it for Part 1!  Click here for Part 2. And you can catch  Parts 1, 2 & 3 of my Most Underrated Vocalists lists herehere, and here and my Best Lyricists in rock list  here.


About SLIS

Middle Aged Gen-Exer obsessed with Alternative rock, metal, cult movies, comic books and cable TV.

Follow Us

Follow Smells Like Infinite Sadness

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

33 Responses to The Top 40 Most Underrated Guitarists in Rock Part 1

  1. Dave Dierksen June 14, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    awww, i love Ballad of Jayne… hehe. Never Enough is killer though. That whole Cocked & Loaded record was pretty great.

    • admin June 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Yeah I loved those first 2 albums, dig the songs ‘One More Reason’ and ‘Magdalene’ a lot too. I think they would’ve been bigger if they had a better singer. Phil Lewis was okay, but nothing compared to Rose.

  2. Tom September 28, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Great list. But James Stevenson (#31), while a great guitarist, was in Generation X AFTER Bob Derwood Andrews left. Derwood was the lead guitarist who came up with the riffs for their songs, including Dancing with Myself.

    • SLIS September 28, 2013 at 11:27 am #


      Thanks for the info; My memories of Generation are hazy (I listened to the albums way back in high school) but I always thought it was Stevenson!

  3. Chains Whipperly February 26, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    The Afghan who???? Who the hell are they?

    • SLIS February 26, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

      A really great 90s alt-rock band. They’ve actually reformed and have a new album coming out. But looks like their guitarist won’t be participating unfortunately.

    • Guitarist July 16, 2014 at 1:13 am #

      What I wonder is why M.Gore is here?, he can’t even play a guitar in a good way and his guitar work is not innovative or unique at all!.

      • SLIS July 16, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

        Gore has a great sense of rhythm and a unique way of using blues phrasing to compliment his synth scapes. He has super memorable solos too.

        • Guitarist August 1, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

          Really? because I play guitar almost for 25 years from post-punk to Black Metal I have studied a lot, and knowing what I’m talking about M.Gore is not a guitarist for sure. I mean, Bernard Summner is not a super guitarist, but his guitars are very good and has his own signature sound, but Gore? he is a very good composser very talented, but not a guitarist, he is just an average one and a bad one, sorry!.

  4. Daniel Watkins March 1, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Good call on naming MIKE GRAFF of COURSE OF EMPIRE!

    Mike was influential to me in my playing, and to a number of other guitarist I know in various parts of the globe. I always thought I heard bits of Duane Eddy as well as that industrial hard edged sound from Killing Joke, in Graff’s playing.

    • SLIS March 1, 2014 at 3:28 pm #


      COE was one of the first (alternative) bands to make waves in Dallas, where I grew up. I saw them in this little dive and they blew me away. His tone and style is really unique. I wish they’d kept going.

      I totally hear that 50’s twang and the KJ sound too! Glad you liked the piece.

  5. mick September 29, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    Here are my additions to this fine list – in no particular order:

    Robert Hampson – Loop
    Colon Newman – Wire
    Sean Mackowiak (Grasshopper) – Mercury Rev
    Brandon Summers – Helio sequence
    Meric Long – Dodo’s
    Johnny Thunders – The New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers
    Ira Kaplan – Yo La Tango
    Simon Rowe and Stephen Patman – Chapter House
    Bill Doss and Will Hart – Olivia Tremor Control
    Jay Ferguson and Patrick Pentland – Sloan
    Robyn Hitchcock – Soft Boys
    Larry Parypa – The sonic
    Randy California – Spirit
    John Squire – Stone Roses
    Ben Shemie and Joe Yarmush – Suuns
    Bill Goffrier – The Embarrassment
    Robert Hampson – Loop
    John Dwyer – Thee Oh Sees
    Eddie Munoz – The Plimsouls
    Ty Seagal
    Tim Presley – White Fence and Darker My Love
    Nick Zinner – Yeah Yea Yeah’s
    Steve Albini – Big Black
    Bradford Cox – Atlas Sound and Deerhunter
    Anton Newcombe – Brian Jonestown Massacre
    Ken Griffin – Rollerskate skinny
    Ripley Johnson – Moon duo and Wooden Shjips
    Eddie Phillips – The creation
    Drake Levin – Paul Revere and the Raiders
    Michal Karoli – Can
    Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge – Swervedriver
    Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean – Love
    Neko Case and Jon Rauhouse – Neko Case Band (Album: Blacklisted)
    Emma Anderson – Lush
    William and Jim Reid – Jesus and Marychain
    Oliver Ackermann – A Place to Bury Strangers
    Adrian Borland – The Sound
    Syd Barrett – Pink Floyd
    Mark Linkous – Sparklehorse
    Wally Bryson – The Raspberries
    Jonathan Hartley – Clinic

    • SLIS September 30, 2016 at 12:41 am #

      Damn, those are a killer list of guitar players! Wire, Mercury, JAMC and Lush are all big faves of mine. Its funny, every time I make a list, I immediately kick myself for all the omissions that never occurred to me. Maybe I should make a part 2 :)!

  6. Mud September 29, 2016 at 9:29 am #

    I’m a little late to the party but I would love to add John Haggerty from Naked Raygun to this list. Abrasive, shrill, menacing guitar work coupled with melodies that get stuck in your head–so catchy that you can’t help but hum them to yourself afterwards.

    • SLIS September 30, 2016 at 12:39 am #

      Good choice, I had forgotten about those guys!


  1. The Top 40 Most Underrated Guitarists in Rock Part 2 | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - June 14, 2012

    […] Here we are with the 2nd installment of the most underrated guitarists in rock. You can catch Part 1 here. […]

  2. The Top 40 Most Underrated Guitarists in Rock Part 3, Tommy Victor | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - June 16, 2012

    […] so now that you’ve read part 1, and part 2, we just have 15 of the most underrated guitarists in rock to go. If you want any of […]

  3. 70 Most Underrated Guitar Riffs Of All Time Part 2, JAMC, STP, C.O.C. | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - August 28, 2012

    […] see you soon for part 3!*To tide you over in the meantime, check my list of most underrated guitarists, singers, and best alt-rock lyricists. About SLIS View all posts by SLIS → […]

  4. 40 Bands That Should Have Been Bigger Part 1, best unknown bands | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - November 6, 2012

    […] What happened?I’ve celebrated underrated musicians recently in lists, (specifically; singers, guitarists, and riffs.). But a lot of bands listed still have a small, loyal set of fans. Some are critically […]

  5. 60 Best Cover Songs Of All Time Part 1, great rock covers, Pixies, U2 | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - January 11, 2013

    […] New Wave quartet do a smooth version of the quirky Door’s […]

  6. Depeche Mode previews new song from upcoming album | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - January 24, 2013

    […] also posted an article where band members  Dave Gahan and Martin Gore discuss the new album, mentioning it sounds like a fusion of “Violator” and […]

  7. The Top 15 Lyricists in Alternative Rock, Jarvis Cocker, Morrissey | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - March 6, 2013

    […] of the band. But actually it was for the best. He was free to pursue his poppier song craft, and Martin Gore was able to right their ship towards darker subject, which truly made them their own unique place […]

  8. Album Review: Depeche Mode 'Delta Machine' | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - March 27, 2013

    […] takes a subdued page from the criminally underrated Ultra album, with Gore’s bluesy guitar work working a hypnotic […]

  9. Vote For Best Bassists in Alternative Rock, Best Alt-rock bass players | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - April 9, 2013

    […] made lists of the most underrated vocalists and most underrated guitarists in rock. But is there any musician more underrated than the […]

  10. An Interview with Tommy Victor of Prong | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - April 26, 2013

    […] then, I was into Bauhaus big time, and Black Flag, and  far as like hard-core I was really into Bad Brains…A cross-section of a lot stuff…I was into everything from Parliament Funkadelic to Yes, […]

  11. Poll Results: Top 10 Alternative Rock Drummers, Bes Alt-rock drummers | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - May 7, 2013

    […] playlist below. And be sure to read our list of best alternative rock bassists, best lyricists, underrated guitarists and underrated […]

  12. The Cult ACL Live Concert Review: An 'Electric' Evening, Electric 13 | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - September 4, 2013

    […] for 80′s goth fans, there was an extra treat; Gene Loves Jezebel guitarist James Stevenson assumed rhythm guitar […]

  13. Placebo 'Loud Like Love' Review, Placebo 2013 Album Review | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - September 17, 2013

    […] track Loud Like Love starts up with pitch-shifted guitar notes, and wistful delivery from singer /guitarist Brian Molko. It has them at their most upbeat in recent memory, but don’t worry, they can still mope in […]

  14. Albums Revisited: Depeche Mode 'Ultra', DM's Underrated Ultra | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - September 25, 2013

    […] been a cottage industry unto themselves. They went dark while other synth pop groups got sappy. And Gore’s guitar playing gave them further separation from their contemporaries of electronic pop at the time. They work at […]

  15. Albums Revisited: Gene Loves Jezebel ‘The House of Dolls’ | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - October 11, 2013

    […] off their album Discover. It flirted with dance beats and benefited from the recent addition of guitarist James Stevenson (formerly of Generation X). He added rock musculature that distinguished them from their more […]

  16. An Interview With Guitarist James Stevenson | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - October 23, 2013

    […] Click here for my list of  the 40 Most Underrated Guitarists […]

  17. 40 Most Underrated Alternative Rock Albums Part 1 | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - November 7, 2013

    […] 40 Most Underrated Guitarists […]

  18. 40 Most Underrated Alternative Rock Albums Part 2 | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - November 11, 2013

    […] The Afghan Whigs were always underrated, but their album Gentlemen impressed fans and critics alike. Unfortunately their follow-up Black Love bombed due to poor marketing. It’s the musical equivalent of film noir, with Greg Dulli’s cinematic lyrics and the band’s soulful riffing painting a bleak yet mesmerizing picture. […]

Leave a Reply