Somewhat improbably, Lindsey Buckingham exists as a sort of underrated guitar giant these days. That’s almost sacrilege to say against the man who created the iconic guitar lines to ‘Rhiannon’, ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘Never Going Back Again’, and ‘Big Love’, among scores of others. But when the greatest classic rock guitarists get compiled onto various internet lists, how often do you see Buckingham’s name towards the top?
More than anything else, Buckingham’s playing style is so unique that it’s almost impossible to replicate. Employing folk chord shapes, banjo-style fingerpicking, and stinging electric lines, Buckingham also wasn’t afraid to hang back at let his playing compliment a particular song. Flash was never at the forefront of Buckingham’s mind, something that made him an anomaly in the frenetic hard rock scene of the 1980s.
When sitting down with Guitar World Acoustic back in 2012, Buckingham had some opinions on those kinds of flashy guitar players, specifically calling out one of the most beloved six-string strummers of all time. “I’ve always believed that you play to highlight the song, not to highlight the player. The song is all that matter,” Buckingham stated. “There are two ways you can choose to go. You can try to be someone like Eddie Van Halen, who is a great guitarist, a virtuoso. Yet he doesn’t make good records because what he plays is totally lost in the context of this band’s music.”
Buckingham uses a country great as a counterpoint. “Then there are guitar players like Chet Atkins, who weren’t out there trying to show themselves off as guitarists per se, but were using the guitar as a tool to make good records,” Buckingham said. “I remember loving Chet’s work when I was a kid, but it was only later, when I really listened to his guitar parts, that I realized how much they were a part of the song’s fabric, and how much you’d be going ‘Oh, that song just isn’t working,’ if they weren’t there.”
Buckingham also cited Atkins as an inspiration when it came to playing without a pick, a relative rarity in the world of rock and roll. “A lot of the session players, like Chet Atkins, they played with fingers or a pick,” Buckingham explained. “Then I listened to a certain amount of light classical guitar playing. And of course later on, when the first wave of rock ‘n’ roll kind of fell away, folk music was very popular and very influential in my style.”
They might not have been direct competitors since they worked at opposite ends of the rock music spectrum, but Van Halen and Fleetwood Mac did compete for the title of America’s Biggest Rock Band throughout the 1980s. Both were multi-platinum juggernauts with incomparable guitarists and a revolving door of singers. Buckingham’s comments aren’t really against Van Halen’s abilities, but rather Van Halen’s sound as a whole. It’s still a diss, but a relatively mild one at best.
Check out both players laying down some of their best work and decide for yourself who you prefer down below.