The Most Overrated Guitarist Of All Time May Surprise You

If you couldn't tell by the name, here at Grunge we're mad about music. And we know from what articles get your clicks and what videos on our YouTube channel (thanks for watching, by the way!) get you fired up in the comments section that you guys do, too. That's why we've decided to ask the experts — we mean you, as if that needed explaining — to help us settle some of the most controversial debates that have been occupying the minds of music fans for generations.

In recent months, you've helped us decide on the greatest hip-hop artist of the 1990s, the classic rock band that most people would want to join, and, more recently, the greatest guitarist of all time. Now, it's time to flip the question, and get to the bottom of an equally important — if admittedly more cynical — question: who is the most overrated guitarist of all time?

Our in-house statisticians ran the numbers to compile what we believe to be the shortlist of the most potentially overrated guitarists of all time, and the names that came back were: Eric Clapton; Pete Townshend; Keith Richards; Jimi Hendrix; Joe Satriani; and Carlos Santana. We then put the list to you, the Grunge readership (675 of you, in fact), to give us your response.

Now, if we were all as chilled out as, say, Paul McCartney, we might want to respond with something like: "You know, I think they're all fab," then give a cheeky double-thumbs up and go about our day. But McCartney is, as we all know, the nicest man in show business, while the rest of us are habitual internet denizens for whom internet disputes and cyber snark are as important as our daily bread. So let's just take a look at those results.

No sacrifice for Santana, and Clapton's still the Cream

The guitarist who came out best in our poll was evergreen fusion stylist Carlos Santana (pictured), who just 9% of our readership believes needs to be brought down a peg or two. As well as being technically brilliant — as any live footage of Santana will show — perhaps the reason that Santana's guitar playing on such classics as "Smooth" and "Black Magic Woman" remaining so well-loved is its undeniable 'earworm' quality: be honest, once you read the word "Smooth," you heard those insanely catchy opening bars, didn't you? Our statisticians are also currently working on a hypothesis that Santana's chances have been helped by the fact that, by the year 2024, 96% of the adult population of the U.S. will have been made to watch the Woodstock version of "Soul Sacrifice" at a party.

Narrowly behind Santana with nearly 11% of the vote is the Yardbirds and Cream bluesman Eric Clapton, who similarly commands the quiet respect of many Grunge readers decades after his heyday. Part of Clapton's appeal may be that he continues to be active across a range of projects that both harken back to his roots and widen his audience: he collaborated with the legendary B.B. King for the Grammy award-winning "Riding With The King" in 2000, while in 2016 he was joined in his Tokyo residency by pop guitarist Ed Sheeran, per Where's Eric?

Nothing divides the middle of the pack

We knew it'd be tough dividing some of these legendary guitarists, and the results prove it, with less than a 1.5% margin dividing Jimi Hendrix (pictured), Pete Townshend, and Joe Satriani. The "Hey Joe" maestro comes out best, with just over 17% of the vote, with readers perhaps singling him out due to his image, even today, remaining ubiquitous as an icon of 20th-century counterculture. Not that the famously humble Hendrix would mind: in a famous interview on the Dick Cavett Show via YouTube, his response to being described as one of the best guitarists in the world was to reply: "How about one of the best sitting in this chair?" A class act.

Just ahead of Hendrix with just under 17.5% of the vote is The Who's Pete Townshend, a guitarist responsible for some undoubtedly classic albums — the re-release of The Who's "The Who Sell Out" came out in February 2021, to widespread acclaim from outlets like Rolling Stone — while udiscovermusic reports that Townshend continues to write after the success of the studio album "WHO," released in 2019. Townshend, however, is a multi-instrumentalist, and so there is a good chance that much of his vote is actually a protest by those who wish he would turn his attention back to the accordion. 

Meanwhile, the hard rock guitar-for-hire and instrumental guitar hero Joe Satriani — who has accrued an eye-watering 15 Grammy nominations, according to the official website – is, according to Grunge readers, the second-most-overrated guitarist of all time, taking 18.3% of the vote.

Keith Richards is overrated (it's official)

But the guitarist who attracts the most derision from Grunge readers is The Rolling Stones stalwart Keith Richards, who takes a huge 26.2% of the overall vote and therefore takes home the gong for being — decisively, I might add — the most overrated guitarist ever to walk the face of the earth. You think that. You. Yes, you do.

Richards has grown into something more than a guitarist; like fellow hellraisers Hunter S. Thompson and Keith Moon, the hedonistic side of his rock and roll lifestyle has become a caricature that has engulfed his creative accomplishments. Meanwhile, his outspoken persona has helped to encourage tribalism among music fans when it comes to his own musicianship: he once describes Prince as an "overrated midget," though he later retracted this according to The Wrap. No wonder Grunge readers came out in droves to turn the tables on Richards.

But then again, these debates are just a bit of fun. Music is there to be felt, not argued over — and really, who gives a hoot what other people think of our listening preferences? As rock's great survivor Keith Richards himself put it: "Rock and roll: music for the neck downwards." An underrated sentiment.