6 of the Greatest Guitarists You Might Not Think Of

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool, karl@whenitwascool.com)

Anyone who is a fan of music probably has their own list of personal guitar playing favorites.  My own list would include obvious choices like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Alex Lifeson of Rush, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Lyndsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath.

Alex lifeson of Rush demonstrates a "guitar"

Alex lifeson of Rush demonstrates a "guitar"

Of course, the experts will tell you of legends like Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and the like.  Music is an amazing thing.  It's simultaneously clinical, technical, and scientific, yet also moody, emotional, and atmospheric.  This muddled chemistry of technical skill and emotional resonance makes music also very subjective.  Those who loathe my Alex Lifeson might get great joy from a Keith Richards.  Your list might include such diverse players as B.B. King or Eddie Van Halen and it really doesn't matter does it?  Music is both quantifiable and subjective at the same time.

I offer some examples of guitarists who are incredible in their own right that, perhaps, you might not have thought of.  Maybe their biggest claim to fame is singing instead of the guitar.  Maybe they are thought of as comic hams instead of serious maestros.  But here I offer to you some of the greatest guitarists you might not normally think of.

Roy Clark (Hee Haw Ham)

Many people my age (or the "When It Was Cool" demographic I might say) probably remember Roy Clark best from his years as the comedic co-host of the country music sketch comedy Hee Haw.  But before he was Buck Owens co-host on the long running, low-brow comedy, he was actually "Lightening Fingers" Roy Clark and a master of the guitar.  In the first clip, "Guitar Wizard", Roy Clark gives even accomplished thrash metal players a run for their money.


Glen Campbell (Rhinestone Cowboy)

You probably know him best from the 1970's country music classics Rhinestone Cowboy, Galveston, or Southern Nights, but Glen Campbell was also an exceptionally accomplished guitarist.  Sadly, in 2017, it was announced that Campbell, who has been battling Alzheimer's disease for years, can no longer play the guitar.


Prince (Purple Clad Singer-Song Writer)

Yes, those who know their music already knew that Prince is far more than just a vocalist.  However, it was surprising when he died just over a year ago how few people wrote of his amazing guitar skills.  Make no mistake about it, Prince was one of the best guitarists in music and a performer in a league of his own.


Terry Kath (Soulful Chicago Singer)

When you think of Chicago (the band) you probably think about the blues heavy horn section or the pop-balled singing of Peter Cetera.  However, Chicago once had a guitar master in the band and his name was Terry Kath.  Kath was killed in a gun accident in January 1978.  Guitar legend Jimi Hendrix once called Terry Kath a "better guitarist" than him and Joe Walsh also sings his praise.


Vince Gill (Country Lite)

Vince Gill is best known as a lighter-than-air country singer with tunes like When I Call Your Name and Go Rest High (On That Mountain) but what you might not know about Amy Grant's husband is that he is a very highly respect guitarist.  Vince Gill has won many awards including a staggering number of Grammy awards and is a long time member of the Grand Ole Opry but if there was a guitar player Hall of Fame then Vince Gill would probably be in that too.  Another guitar great, Mark Knopfler, once tried (unsuccessfully) to recruit him into Dire Straits.


John Mayer (Your Body is a Wonderland)

I'm not sure how to classify John Mayer.  Pop? Soft rock?  Soft pop rock?  I don't know.  My first real exposure to John Mayer (besides his songs on the radio which I avoided like a plague) was seeing him team up with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead (re-titled Dead & Company) in St. Louis a few years ago.  I was highly impressed with John Mayer's guitar skills.  Little did I know at the time, but many guitar greats consider John Mayer an exceptionally gifted player.  Even Eric Clapton called John Mayer a "master".  High praise indeed.

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