YouTube is littered with virtuoso guitarists that had all but perfected the instrument, and who will make your jaw drop with their technique and chops. Back in the 1980s, those kinds of guitarists stood atop the music industry and helped to define the sound of 80s metal. For better or worse, axemen like Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, and Eddie Van Halen drove a musical scene (especially the latter).
Both the 70s and the 80s were good times for guitar music, allowing rock music to stand side-by-side with pop in terms of appeal to music fans. During the 80s, guitarists became flashy and in truth, it was hard to tell one from another. However, during the decade, numerous guitarists emerged who probably don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Before detailing three 80s guitarists we think are underrated, it’s good to get a disclaimer out of the way. This is an online list and sure, we get it, people are not going to agree with everything we say. That’s part of the wonder of the internet, a place you can watch movies, play at the online casino NetBet, watch YouTube, and argue on online lists.
So, let’s get started with the list of the top 3 underrated 80s guitarists.
White Lion is what we call a sub-level 80s rock band. This means the band enjoyed solid success but was never in the top echelons alongside the likes of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue. White Lion was a B-player with some minor hits. One problem was many of the bands’ most popular songs were poppy or sappy ballads.
Delving deeper into White Lion’s catalog will expose you to the wonder that is Vito Bratta. Here’s a guitarist that seemingly had it all. Sure, he followed most 80s axe men by copying Van Halen’s style, but Bratta added his own unique voice and excellent feel for melody, coupled with extreme technicality.
It’s worth noting he was not underrated at the time, winning Guitar World’s “Best New Guitar Player” in 1988 and making the same publications top 20 of the decade. However, Bratta quickly dropped off the scene due to personal reasons and injury. He has not put out any music since and has become largely forgotten to most people.
Jake E. Lee
Jake E. Lee has one major problem in being recognized as an amazing guitarist. In fact, two big problems. Their names are Randy Rhoads and Zakk Wylde. Yes, Jake is one of the people who came and went in the career of Ozzy Osbourne and is only remembered by guitar aficionados. Even many of those fail to recognize just how good Jake E. Lee is.
Here’s the hot take, Jake E. Lee is and was a better guitar player than Zakk Wylde. That’s taking nothing away from Ozzy’s long-time collaborator and musical best friend, it’s just Jake E. Lee was that good.
It did not help that he replaced Rhoads after his tragic death in 1982. This was a time when Ozzy was at peak crazy and Lee reportedly could not cope with the wild frontman. His time with Ozzy’s band came and went all too briefly.
We guess this will be controversial. Not because of any doubt in Sambora’s quality, but because it may be a tough sell to call a guitarist who has sold 120 million albums, played 3,000 shows, and was a co-songwriter in one of the biggest bands ever, underrated. Still, we’re going to try.
Most recognize Sambora as the musical driving force behind Bon Jovi, but he rarely gets mentioned in a conversation of the best 80s guitarists. There are several reasons why he should. He largely stayed away from becoming a direct copy of Eddie Van Halen, something 95% of 80s guitarists failed to do.
Instead, Sambora took a more 70s approach of blues playing that was focused on elevating the song. Sure, he could shred and get technical, but Sambora was never flashy. Bon Jovi is often accused of sounding the same on all its songs, but that’s not true. Delve through the bands’ catalog and you’ll find a diverse collection of songs. That’s largely down to Sambora’s versatility as a player.