I recently read an article on GuitarWorld.com, 30 On 30: Thirty Great Guitarists — Including Steve Vai, David Gilmour and Eddie Van Halen — Pick the Greatest Guitarists of All Time, in which they asked 30 great guitarists who they thought is the greatest guitar player of all time. There were some interesting answers, but many of them chose a guitarist who they felt was underrated rather than the greatest guitarist of all time. So here are some of my guitarist lists.
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5 Guitarists I Feel Are Underrated
[In no particular order or ranking]
Dave Murray & Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden)
Okay, 2 in 1, but you can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. While K. K. Downing and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest kind of pioneered the twin heavy metal guitar attack, I think Dave Murray and Adrian Smith took it to an even higher level with their harmonizing twin guitar leads and killer riffs. Iron Maiden is a huge, long running, internationally successful, heavy metal powerhouse, but they get sporadic radio airplay (at least in Las Vegas) and occasional coverage in music magazines. As a consequence, they are overlooked when great rock and heavy metal guitarists are discussed.
Here’s video I shot at an Iron Maiden concert in Las Vegas, NV on September 12, 2013.
Jake E. Lee (Ratt, Rough Cutt, Ozzy Osbourne, Badlands, Red Dragon Cartel)
He’s no Randy Rhoads or Zakk Wylde, but the guy can flat out play. Yet he’s rarely mentioned in lists of great guitarists and has been largely forgotten since he left Ozzy’s band after “The Ultimate Sin.” He played some great riffs and solos on both “Bark at the Moon” and “The Ultimate Sin” albums and did a remarkable job bridging the gap between Randy and Zakk, two of rock/heavy metal’s greatest guitarists. Even Ozzy downplays Jake’s significance and contributions. He rarely, if ever, mentions him in interviews and his books and only three songs, “Bark at the Moon,” “You’re No Different” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel” are included on Ozzy’s multi-disc anthology, “The Essential Ozzy Osbourne.”
Jake E. Lee with Red Dragon Cartel
Tony MacAlpine & Vinnie Moore (Solo, Vicious Rumors, UFO)
I’m putting these two guitarists together because, along with Yngwie Malmsteen, MacAlpine and Moore contributed greatly to the rise of neoclassical metal in the 1980s. Yet MacAlpine and Moore are largely forgotten and left in Malmsteen’s shadow. They are also paired together because they occasionally worked together on albums and on stage. For me, what sets them apart from Yngwie Malmsteen is the soul in their solos. I’m not putting Yngwie down by any means; he’s a technical master and can play slow when the song dictates, but his solos always struck me as sterile. MacAlpine’s and Moore’s solos never felt that way to me. While Yngwie Malmsteen’s name pops up now and then today, you rarely hear anything about Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore today; hell, you rarely heard much about them in the 80s either unless you read guitar magazines. I learned about them by searching through the bins in record stores. Take a look at the videos below.
[Yes, that’s an 8-string guitar he’s playing.]
NOTE: Neoclassical metal isn’t all about speed and technique. It’s mostly about using classical music modes in modern rock and heavy metal. In the key of C, these are:
- Ionian = C D E F G A B C
- Dorian = D E F G A B C D
- Phrygian = E F G A B C D E
- Lydian = F G A B C D E F
- Mixolydian = G A B C D E F G
- Aoelian = A B C D E F G A
- Locrian = B C D E F G A B
The neoclassical guitarists, notably Ricthie Blackmore, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore, brought these modes to the mainstream. Countless guitarists have incorporated them into their music ever since.
John 5 (Solo, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson)
I won’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of John 5. He’s not in the mainstream. But this guy can play. And not just metal. He can pretty much play anything. He’s done instrumental covers of “Welcome to the Jungle” (Guns ‘N’ Roses) and “Beat It” (Michael Jackson). He’s played in Rob Zombie’s and Marilyn Manson’s bands. He can play rock, metal, country, you name it. He’s awesome. See for yourself in the Sugar Foot Rag video below.
He’s released 18 #1 songs on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and 32 top 10 songs. He’s the 2008 CMA and ACM Male Vocalist of the Year. But what many people don’t realize, he’s a really good guitar player. Listen to his solos on “Welcome to the Future” and “American Saturday Night” and you’ll see what I mean. Meanwhile, watch “Time Warp” below for Brad Paisley at his guitar best.
Technically, I’ve listed 7 underrated guitarists, but I only count them as 5 because Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore belong together by virtue of the fact they contributed heavily to the rise of neoclassical heavy metal. And you can’t mention Dave Murray or Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden without mentioning the other.
Honorable Mention: Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Malcolm Young (AC/DC), Prince, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club), Dave Meniketti (Y&T), Neil Schon (Santana, Journey, HSAS), Gary Richrath (REO Speedwagon), Kirk Cobain (Nirvana), Lita Ford (The Runaways, Solo), Joan Jett (The Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts)
My 5 Greatest Heavy Metal/Rock Guitarists of All Time
Here’s my list of who I think are the 5 greatest rock and/or heavy metal guitarists of all time [in no particular order or ranking].
It all starts here. He changed the way a lot of people played guitar. He influenced so many guitarists. He pioneered the use of guitar amplifier feedback, the wah wah pedal and more. From Wikipedia:
Hendrix was inspired musically by American rock and roll and electric blues. He favored overdriven amplifiers with high volume and gain, and was instrumental in developing the previously undesirable technique of guitar amplifier feedback. He helped to popularize the use of a wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock, and was the first artist to use stereophonicphasing effects in music recordings. Holly George-Warren of Rolling Stone commented: “Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source. Players before him had experimented with feedback and distortion, but Hendrix turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues with which he began.”
Randy Rhoads (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne)
There’s so much that has been said about Randy Rhoads. He was at the forefront of neoclassical metal using his classical music education in his riffs and solos. He alone probably popularized the neoclassical metal movement, taking the reigns of the genre from Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow) and paving the way for Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore and a host of others. Countless guitarists consider Randy a major influence in their guitar playing and even for picking up a guitar in the first place. Yet, he used this neoclassical styling within the context of the song rather than simply a shred fest, like many that came after him did. He was as comfortable with an acoustic guitar as he was with an electric guitar, as evidenced on his song, “Dee,” which was written for his mother, Delores. “Crazy Train” is probably his most famous and most covered song, but rather than embed that video, I’ve linked to it. Instead, here’s Randy with his first band, Quiet Riot, on “Laughing Gas” with an extended guitar solo. As you can see in the solo, he had incorporated right hand tapping that Eddie Van Halen made famous. The solo also includes an early version of “Dee,” finger picking, some humor and maybe even the early seeds of “Crazy Train.”
Eddie Van Halen
While people mistakenly attribute the two-handed tapping technique to Eddie Van Halen, he certainly popularized and expanded upon the technique. Today’s heavy metal lead guitarist’s tool box isn’t complete without the two-handed tapping technique. He also made copious use of the whammy bar to make those awesome dive bombing sounds heard throughout his songs, but especially so in “Eruption.” He also inspired guitar manufacturing companies to offer custom guitars, as he built his own “Frankenstrat” from a variety of guitar parts. I’m speculating when I say that websites like Warmoth.com sprouted up in the Internet age due to guitarists wanting to build their own guitars, but it’s entirely plausible that his homemade creation inspired guitarists worldwide to build their own axes and gave rise to websites that sell guitar parts and kits to the masses online.
Joe Satriani (Solo, Deep Purple, G3, Chickenfoot)
Joe is considered a technically proficient guitarist and a guitar virtuoso. He’s mastered a variety of guitar techniques: legato, extreme whammy bar effects, arpeggio tapping, volume swells, harmonics and more. He was a guitar teacher whose students include Steve Vai (Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, solo, David Lee Roth), Alex Skolnik (Testament, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Alex Skolnic Trio), Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and a host of others. Frequently, his songs, almost all of which are instrumental, make reference to various science fiction stories and ideas. He has the second most Grammy nominations, 15, of any musician to never have won.
Jimmy Page (Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, The Firm, The Honeydrippers, Them Crooked Vultures and others)
When it comes to Jimmy Page, most people instantly think, Led Zeppelin, but he was an accomplished session guitarist well before Led Zeppelin. In fact, Led Zeppelin wasn’t his first big rock band gig. That was The Yardbirds. But it’s no mistake, Page’s greatest contribution to rock and heavy metal was with Led Zeppelin, which combined memorable guitar riffs, lumbering rhythms, psychedelic blues, groovy, bluesy shuffles and hints of English folk. Along with the other guitarists on this list, countless guitarists list Jimmy Page as a major influence. He shows he’s still got it at 64 (he turned 70 this year) in the video below with the Foo Fighters.
Honorable Mention: B.B. King, Jeff Beck (Solo, The Yardbirds), Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds, Derek and the Dominos, Cream, Solo), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Dimebag Darrell Abbott (Pantera, Damageplan), Steve Vai (Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Solo, David Lee Roth, G3), Slash (Guns ‘N’ Roses, Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, “Solo”)
My 5 Favorite Guitarists of All Time
[In no particular order or ranking]
I’ve mentioned several of these guitarist already, so I won’t discuss them at length.
Dave Murray & Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden)
Iron Maiden is my favorite heavy metal band so it’s only natural that they are two of my favorite guitarists. As I stated previously, you can’t mention one without the other. They play off each other so well, write some incredible riffs and solos, and are extremely tight with the rest of the band. So many good Iron Maiden songs to choose from, but my favorite is “Wasted Years.”
Randy Rhoads (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne)
I was blown away and an instant fan when I heard Ozzy’s Blizzard of Oz. Randy was taken from us way too soon, but he left some classic riffs, solos, songs and a legacy. Like so many others, my favorite song is “Crazy Train.” “I Don’t Know” is a close second.
Joe Satriani (Solo, G3, Chickenfoot)
So technically proficient and fast, but so melodic and soulful. He has so many good songs, but my favorite is “Surfing with the Alien.”
“Dimebag” Darrell Abbott (Pantera, Damageplan)
Dimebag Darrell was an iconic guitar virtuoso. His band, Pantera, originally started out as a hair metal band. But when Phil Anselmo joined the band, the music took a harder edge. He is most well known for his chugging, grooving riffs, pinch harmonics and harmonic squeals, extreme whammy bar effects, chromatic runs and blistering solos. He was heavily influenced by Ace Frehley (KISS, Frehley’s Comet), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Eddie Van Halen, Pete Willis (Def Leppard), Kerry King (Slayer), James Hetfield (Metallica) and Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society). He was killed while playing on stage in Columbus, OH on December 8, 2004 by a lone, schizophrenic gunman. Three others were killed in the attack and seven were injured. My favorite Dimebag song is the first one I ever heard, “Cowboys From Hell.”
Slash (Guns ‘N’ Roses, Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, “Solo”)
I love Slash’s guitar work. He’s not a technical master like many of the neoclassical metal guitar players are, but he’s got plenty of chops. His solos are typically melodic, fitting into the song. I think that’s a big reason his solos, riffs and fills are so memorable. He’s very particular about intonation and being in tune. Slash has the ability to adapt his playing style to the song, whether it’s rock, heavy metal, country, blues, etc., though he’s not comfortable with jazz and fusion. He’s on record saying that you won’t hear him play jazz or fusion. Funny story about his iconic top hat: he stole it from a store on Melrose St. He also stole a conch belt from the store next door. He cut down the belt to fit around the hat. My favorite Slash song is “Welcome to the Jungle.” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is a close second. Here’s Slash performing Guns ‘N’ Roses smash hit “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with his latest band, Slash featuring Miles Kennedy and the Conspirators.
Bonus: Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club)
I had to get Tom Morello in here somehow. With Rage Against the Machine, which was sort of a rap-metal band, Tom not only had to hold down all the guitar work, but also come up with ways to add sound effects, like those heard on rap records. He did this with a variety of pedal effects as well as guitar trickery. He’s a guitar wizard! I like Rage Against the Machine, but what really turned me on to him is his work as The Nightwatchman, which is usually just Tom, his acoustic guitar and a harmonica. He’s active politically with his music through Rage Against the Machine and especially The Nightwatchman. He’s a card carrying member of the Professional Musician’s Union Local 47 (23+ years) and Industrial Workers of the World so his union messages sung as The Nightwatchman are not idle words; he believes in them wholeheartedly. You may not agree with his message, but you cannot deny his guitar wizardry (some of which is seen in the “Bulls on Parade” video – volume swells, wah wah pedal and guitar trickery). In the video below, he plays The Nightwatchman song, “Union Song,” at a union rally in Wisconsin.
Honorable Mention: Neil Schon (Santana, Journey), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Gary Richrath (REO Speedwagon), Angus Young (AC/DC), Rudolph Schenker (Scorpions), Ace Frehley (KISS, Frehley’s Comet), K. K. Downing & Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest), Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne, Badlands, Red Dragon Cartel), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Tom Scholz (Boston), Joan Jett (The Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts), Lita Ford (The Runaways, Solo), George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob, Solo)
Agree? Disagree? Who are your favorite guitarists? Which guitarists do you think are underrated? Who do you think are the greatest guitarists of all time? Tell me what you think below.