Great as they are, it doesn't hurt that such guitar giants as Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young, and Pete Townshend all possess flashy on-stage personalities and a love of the spotlight. At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, are superb players who prefer to ply their skills from the shadows. Each of the following players?four of whom, sadly, are deceased?deserve more public recognition than they've received thus far.

Randy California

Anyone who's heard Randy California’s stellar guitar work understands why Jimi Hendrix was such an ardent fan. Versatile beyond measure, California could reel off soaring jazz-rock instrumentals, stinging Chicago-style blues, and otherworldly pyrotechnics in the manner of Hendrix himself. When he died in a drowning accident eleven years ago, California left behind an extraordinary body of work that far too few people have heard.



Marv Tarplin

Quite rightly, Smokey Robinson has championed Marv Tarplin as one of Motown’s unsung guitar heroes. A member of the Miracles during the group’s ’60s heyday, Tarplin’s melodic riffs?once described as “fluttering”?were the inspiration behind such hits as "Tracks of My Tears," Going to a Go-Go," and "My Girl Has Gone." Tarplin also co-wrote the Marvin Gaye classics "Ain't That Peculiar" and "I'll Be Doggone."



Terry Kath

Years before Chicago slid into the land of schlock balladry, Terry Kath was the backbone behind the group's innovative jazz-rock style. A pioneer of hammer-on harmonics (check out his solo in "Free Form Guitar"), Kath powered the classics "25 or 6 to 4," "Make Me Smile," and "I'm a Man" with skills that, years earlier, had prompted Jimi Hendrix to say, "This cat blows me away." Tellingly, Kath's death by gun accident in 1978 marked an end to Chicago's glory years.



Robert Quine

No punk-oriented guitarist was more intent than Robert Quine on using his guitar to serve the song at-hand. Even at its most fractured and discordant, Quine's playing served as a backdrop against which a composition could shine. His work on Lou Reed's underrated 1982 classic, The Blue Mask, is one of rock's best examples of the marriage between great guitar work and great songwriting.



Bernard Butler

As co-founder of rock’s greatest post-’70s glam band, Suede, Bernard Butler upheld six-string traditions first laid out by Mick Ronson and Marc Bolan. As was the case with Bolan, Butler was also a gifted songwriter who penned most of Suede’s music. After leaving the band in 1994, Butler lent his guitar prowess to such diverse artists as Aimee Mann, Neneh Cherry, and Teenage Fanclub.



Mick Ralphs

Even at its most unabashedly rocking, Mick Ralphs's guitar work has always been marked by elegance and a sense of the understated. From the swinging, three-chord churn of "Can't Get Enough" to the astral solo that caps off "Ballad of Mott the Hoople," Ralphs has always put melody front and center. Like the late Mick Ronson, Ralphs was born to the role of sideman extraordinaire.



Keith Levene

After serving as an early member of the Clash, guitarist Keith Levene joined forces with ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon in 1978 to form Public Image Ltd. The band's second album, Second Edition, saw Levene perfect a metallic, brittle style that deeply impacted such notables as U2's The Edge and Gang of Four's Andy Gill. Levene also gets bonus points for encouraging the members of the Slits to form their influential all-female band.



Maybelle Carter

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, producer T-Bone Burnett characterized Maybelle Carter's style thusly: "Her guitar style is basically everybody's guitar style: rock and roll, country. She taught everybody." Utilizing a technique that involved playing melody lines on the bass strings while strumming the others (the "Carter Scratch"), she helped shift the role of guitar from rhythm to lead instrument.



Phil Manzanera

Frontman Bryan Ferry (and, early on, Brian Eno) got the bulk of attention, but without Phil Manzanera's stylishly innovative guitar work, Roxy Music would have been an altogether different band. Tracks such as "Amazona" and "Street Life" saw Manzanera sport an effects-laden sound that was as thrilling as it was song-serving. His first solo album, 1975's Diamond Head, remains a little-known treasure.



Trevor Rabin

Long before his tenure with Yes, Trevor Rabin was an acclaimed session player in his native South Africa and even a teen-idol in the pop-rock outfit, Rabbit. Still, it's his on-again, off-again relationship with the veteran prog-rock group for which he'll likely always be best known. Rabin's songwriting and six-string work--technically brilliant and inventively melodic as the same time?made Yes's 90125 album a classic.