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With every list out there heralding the biggest and most well-known guitarists of all time, who’s out there representing the little guy who shreds while no one watches? This a list of the five most underrated guitarists of all time. Although some of the bands the guitarists were a part of may have been quite popular, their wicked guitar skills never got the recognition they deserved, so without further ado, here is number five.
#5 Mark Knopfler – Dire Straits
Mark Knopfler has some of the most distinct-sounding guitar playing out there, seen most prominently on Dire Straits’ third studio album Making Movies (1980). In songs like “Romeo and Juliet,” Knopfler brings an energy that is as depressing as it is hopeful in his guitar playing and his vocals. On “Tunnel of Love,” his guitar playing is electrifying throughout, showing his style and intricacy in every lick. Even in more well-known songs like “Sultans of Swing” off of the band’s self-titled debut album Dire Straits (1978), Knopfler’s technique is well-developed and serves as an all-encompassing look at the more complex direction the band wanted to take with its music going forward. All of the band’s albums were commercially and critically successful, all due to the passion and intricacy Mark Knopfler brought to the band.
#4 James Honeyman-Scott – Pretenders
Honeyman-Scott was one of the most original guitarists and lyricists of the ’80s new wave movement. The Pretenders’ debut album Pretenders (1980) was all made possible through Honeyman-Scott’s vision. Songs like “Brass in Pocket” feature a guitar lick that is as catchy as it is elaborate. Honeyman-Scott added melodies to songs that would have suffered without them and would have resulted in a jumble of uncorrelated songs. His legacy and influence were huge, but sadly came to an end when he died in 1982 due to a cocaine overdose. After his death, the Pretenders were never the same and were never again able to reach the critical acclaim they’d had while Honeyman-Scott was a member during the early ’80s. Despite his death, Honeyman-Scott’s legacy lives on, and many guitarists, including Johnny Marr from The Smiths, cite him as a huge influence.
#3 Doug Hopkins – Gin Blossoms
Every so often, bands come along with just one member who makes the entire band successful, like Jim Morrison of The Doors or Robert Smith of The Cure. This was the case with Doug Hopkins of Gin Blossoms. Hopkins wrote incredibly personal songs and played guitar like no one else during the early ’90s. Hopkins defied the grunge movement or the one hit wonder ’90s pop crusade with guitar playing that was neither sad nor happy. Songs like “Hey Jealousy” were exciting and new, and were a breath of fresh air from everything else at the time, all due to Hopkins. But Hopkins was never credited much with the rising fame of the Gin Blossoms until it was too late. In late 1993, Hopkins committed suicide due to his rising alcoholism and the depression he had suffered from since an early age. After his death, Gin Blossoms never was in the limelight again and eventually the band fell apart. Hopkins made Gin Blossoms what it was with his wicked guitar playing and emotional lyricism, and the band suffered greatly from his death.
#2 Lindsey Buckingham – Fleetwood Mac
Who else but Lindsey Buckingham could turn a banjo into stadium rock? Despite Fleetwood Mac being commercially and critically successful, Buckingham’s guitar playing has never received the credit it deserves. The band’s second studio album masterpiece Rumours (1977) showcases Lindsey Buckingham’s versatility and power with a guitar. The song “The Chain” is one of the most dynamic songs ever recorded. Starting with a folksy guitar progression that is slow and moody, the song quickly turns into a chorus that is full of fire and heartbreak (due to Buckingham’s emotional state at the time), finally culminating in the grand finale guitar solo and ending verse, which is all made possible with Buckingham’s guitar technique. Buckingham is able to evoke emotion with his playing and lyricism better than any other artist due to his intricacy in placement of licks and the passion he has while playing. Watching “The Chain” live on YouTube even made me cry. Enough said.
Prince plays guitar? Yes he does, along with 27 instruments on his debut album, For You, in 1978. Prince is primarily recognized for his singing and songwriting, yet his skills on the guitar are just as prevalent on every album he recorded. On songs like “When Doves Cry” off of Purple Rain (1984), Prince showcases his skill on the guitar, which had to be executed to perfection due to the absence of any bass on the song. On songs like “Little Red Corvette” off of his 1982 album 1999, Prince is able to establish a mood in the chorus of intense love and longing using the guitar and the synthesizer. Prince’s incredible guitar playing is never quite seen as prominently live as with his performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2004 induction ceremony. His guitar solo and mannerisms will have you jumping out of your seat cheering his name. Despite Prince being a well-known artist, he is primarily unknown when it comes to shredding on the guitar. In reality, Prince doesn’t belong on a top underrated guitar players list, but on a list of the greatest guitar players of all time.