Eric Clapton

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British bluesman Eric Clapton wrote the rule book for arrogant, over-ambitious guitarists who take themselves way too seriously and put technical proficiency first. While there’s plenty to be said for the riffs and solos he came up with in The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek and the Dominos, Clapton’s creativity soon dried up and he’s produced nothing but formulaic cheese for decades.

The Edge

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Using ‘The Edge’ as your professional name is a bold (read: ridiculous) statement of intent, and the fact that U2 went from minor Irish punks to stadium rock superstars in a few short years is reflective of the band’s ambition. Still, you’d think that somewhere down the line the guitarist might have developed his technique beyond plucking a few notes drowned in digital reverb.

Carlos Santana

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When Santana emerged in the late 60s, there’s no question the band’s blend of electric blues and Latin groove was unlike anything heard before. Alas, the eponymous guitarist is one of those musicians who found their style early and never progressed. Carlos Santana has been reframing the same essential licks for more than 50 years, and what once was fresh has long since gone stale.

Richie Sambora

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As the lead guitarist of Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora enjoyed a long career of stadium rock adulation, fans seemingly not caring that the band lifted their schtick wholesale from Van Halen and that Sambora himself did little but rip off other, more creative guitarists. Some might praise Sambora’s distinctive use of the Talk-Box, but Jeff Beck, Peter Frampton and others did it years earlier.

Noel Gallagher

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In fairness, Oasis and High Flying Birds guitarist Noel Gallagher has always been self-deprecating about his own musicianship – though he’s always given himself too much credit as a singer-songwriter. Sure, Gallagher gave countless newbie guitarists the first song they learned to play in Wonderwall, but one might think such a successful rock star would eventually advance beyond the basic open chords.

Ace Frehley

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If any act in musical history better embodies the disparaging old adage ‘all sizzle, no steak,’ it must be Kiss. The stadium rock superstars are renowned for their cartoonish stage persona and gargantuan merchandising empire, but their music has never held up well. This is especially true of Ace Frehley’s lead work, which reeks of showing off despite the guitarist’s repetitive, clearly unpolished technique.

Ted Nugent

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Never mind his outspoken opinions: it was Ted Nugent’s guitar playing that brought him fame, and his excessive showmanship that carved him into the popular consciousness. Honestly though, without his outlandish dress sense and over-the-top performance style, it’s doubtful Nugent would ever have been considered a bona fide guitar hero, as there’s something very artificial and formulaic about pretty much all his music.

Matt Bellamy

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We’re not the first to say it, and we won’t be the last: if Radiohead hadn’t abandoned mainstream rock, Muse would never have made it beyond 100-capacity venues. They’re nothing more than a college indie band who got lucky, and Matt Bellamy himself is a tiresome show-off whose pseudo-experimental noodling does nothing to stir the soul, but plenty to grate on the nerve endings.

Yngwie Malmsteen

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Did someone mention soulless show-offs? Swedish guitar hero Yngwie Malmsteen has always been an absurd character, largely overlooked by the mainstream and often joked about in musician circles – but even so, some hold his ultra-flashy brand of classical-infused hard rock in high regard. Clearly, Malmsteen’s technical proficiency is undeniable, but his willful tastelessness and unabashed extravagance results in music that’s plainly and simply laughable.

Billie Joe Armstrong

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Perhaps it’s unfair to declare a punk guitarist overrated, as simplicity has always been key to that particular style of rock. Still, Green Day’s enduring popularity has overshadowed scores of other, arguably better bands that came both before and since the California trio conquered alt-rock. Billie Joe Armstrong might be a guitar hero to millions, but there are millions as good as him – or better.

Keith Richards

For The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards to have been part of a hugely successful band that was competing with The Beatles in the 60s, having taken every substance under the sun and lived to tell the tale, while still performing to sold-out stadiums to this very day… well, it’s nothing short of amazing. To be honest, it’s jealousy that gets him into this list, after all, he’s written some of the most memorable riffs in history.

Jack White

If you have been to any large-scale sports game, you’ll have most certainly found yourself stuck in a crowd chanting a song based around the riff to Seven Nation Army. The catchiness of the riff is painfully annoying and its simplicity leaves you knowing that if you’d have picked up a guitar sooner, you’d have written it first. Let’s face it, Jack White is the real winner here, even if he has never reproduced anything with the same level of commercial success.

Joe Satriani

American guitarist Joe Satriani has sold over ten million records, had 15 Grammy nominations, and has even been labeled a ‘guitar virtuoso’ during his time in the music business. Now, you can’t knock this level of success, but can you name a single Joe Satriani song? It’s easy to liken his music to Yoann Bourgeois’ staircase dance routine, impressive, full of technique, and slightly hypnotic, but you move on from it pretty quickly.


If Slash cut his hair and came on stage without a silly hat on, would the crowd still be cheering him through another unnecessary 20-minute-long guitar solo? That’s 50/50, because admittedly he is a very good guitarist. But ultimately, the big argument is whether Slash is revered as an icon because of his look or because of his ability. It’s unlikely he cares.

Jimmy Page

Much like many of the great musicians, Jimmy Page is not averse to stealing little bits here and there from other artists, sometimes subtle, other times not so. One piece of magic that is his own doing is the incredibly famous Stairway to Heaven riff. Go to any guitar shop, on any continent, and you will hear someone attempting a rendition of it on a guitar they probably won’t end up buying.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the key figures responsible for the blues revival in the 1980s, in his short, 7-year mainstream career. Although many regard him as one of the greatest guitarists ever, Vaughan’s performances mainly consisted of an endless conveyor belt of moody blues licks.

Kurt Cobain

Nirvana were the real frontrunners of the grunge generation of the 1990s, speaking for the kids that felt they had nobody to speak for them. Even Kurt Cobain would likely admit that he and his bandmates weren’t the most accomplished musicians, but ultimately, Nirvana never intended to make pretentious music full of key changes and glitzy guitar runs.

Jerry Garcia

The Grateful Dead changed the way live guitar music was rigged up. They mastered their wall of sound live setup with amplifiers almost touching the clouds, allowing everyone in the crowd, and probably a lot of people in nearby towns, to hear what was happening on stage. Garcia often lazily meandered his way through songs, but the crowds were often so high on life, and other substances, that they just didn’t care.

John Mayer

Unlike a lot of artists, John Mayer managed to escape press scrutiny with his career intact after he made some questionable comments to the press in 2010. This near-career-death experience hasn’t livened up his music, unfortunately, as he is still churning out middle-aged-mother-friendly guitar music.

John Frusciante

Red Hot Chili Peppers have a strong following with many of their hardcore fans thinking that they’re the undisputed greatest band of all time, and John Frusciante is the greatest guitarist to walk the earth. While he has come up with some great riffs, he is a sloppy live player. He does have a surprisingly lovely singing voice though, which unfortunately he doesn’t get out often enough.

John Lennon

The hat trick of Johns is complete with Lennon himself, one-half of the greatest songwriting partnership of all time, and one of the most revered musicians of all time. A truly great rhythm guitarist, as seen most prominently in All My Loving, John Lennon would usually deserve to be inserted into the most underrated guitarists list. However, listening to Revolution 9 and Two Virgins left feelings of intense upset similar to how a toddler would feel after walking in on a horror movie, so the great man will have to be left here for now.

Angus Young

AC/DC have been an important fixture in the world of rock music for decades now. They’re widely loved for their classics, including Thunderstruck, Highway to Hell, and Back in Black. However, Angus Young’s guitar playing has become stale over the years. There is limited variety in the band’s output, and unfortunately, nothing to suggest that Young has any other guitar styles in his locker.

Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen played with so much enthusiasm and with such a big smile you couldn’t help but enjoy watching him. He also had a tendency to try and play so fast that his fingers would almost set alight. Maybe he was more speed over substance, but he was having an incredible time doing so, making it hard to knock him.

Chuck Berry

A commander of a crowd with bundles of flair and the iconic ‘duck walk’, Chuck Berry is one of the most influential artists and songwriters of the 20th century. While he was a fairly inconsistent guitarist when playing live and was known to occasionally dip into the wrong key, Berry’s performances will have inspired thousands of kids to pick up a guitar for the first time. Overrated guitarist? Probably. Overrated artist? Definitely not.

Tony Iommi

When it comes to guitar playing, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi can be slotted into the overrated category. After all, he never played ridiculously over-the-top intricate parts. What’s that? He lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers on his fretboard hand in an accident, changed his playing style because of it, and ended up being one of the pioneers of the heavy metal genre? Statement retracted.


Prince is one of those artists that people will adore throughout their lives, which is understandable when you think about the number of great tunes he wrote. He is, and apologies to any Prince hardcores for saying this, a little overrated as a guitarist. There are two main reasons why Prince is remembered for being a guitarist, one was the While My Guitar Gently Weeps solo at the George Harrison concert, and the other is because he owned a very unique-looking purple guitar.

Tom Morello

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine likes to make silly noises with his guitar. If you’re into numerous effects, wobbly vibratos, and sound effect-style playing, then he may be the guy for you. There’s no doubt that he can play, but listen to too much of it and it does start to leave you aching for some acoustic chord strumming.

Pete Townshend

People try to put him down when talking about his generation of guitarists. He wasn’t a virtuoso, and wouldn’t be able to out-shred the average poster on an online guitar forum, but his work has well and truly stood the test of time. However, destroying as many pristine, expensive guitars as he did in the 60s should be a criminal offense, which is why he has found himself on this list.

Zakk Wylde

Ah, another guy with long hair and a wah pedal. Never seen one of those before. Maybe it will catch on. The problem with Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde is that, to anyone who’s not overly interested in the style of music he makes, he just sounds like the rest of the people that have come before him. Yes, he can play, but he doesn’t seem to add anything that makes him anything more than another long-haired, heavy-music guitar man.

Chad Kroeger

Nickelback have been the punchline for some time now, with the jokes usually being centered around frontman Chad Kroeger’s lyrics and persona. But today is about guitars, and while Kroeger can definitely play, his band is predominantly guitar-driven, and they have dropped a few stinkers in their time. Photograph, especially.

Marilyn Manson

We’ll keep this one as brief as possible. Marilyn Manson is an overrated guitarist, singer, and human, who rose to fame in the late 80s/early 90s. Lacking style, substance, and self-awareness, Manson is highly uncomfortable to watch and be around, and should really not have been allowed to sustain a career for such a long time.

Brian May

Any guitarist will tell you that their job is made a lot easier when they have a charismatic and talented frontman to work with. Queen legend Brian May had this in a way 99.9% of guitarists could only dream of, with Freddie Mercury’s magic distracting listeners away from May’s sometimes unimaginative guitar lines. While he may have been all hair and no flair, it has to be said that May played a huge part in writing some incredible songs with the band.

Ed Sheeran

With a fresh sound, backed primarily by a loop pedal and an acoustic guitar, Ed Sheeran had something unique about him upon the release of his debut album in 2011. Following this, he could have gone one of two ways, evolve his sound and follow an interesting new direction, or start writing formulaic, factory-pop for a huge payday. Unfortunately, he chose the latter. Nevertheless, hope you’re doing alright Ed, if you’re reading.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley. Heard of him? He had all the hits, he had the stage presence, and he had an entire generation of parents up in arms because of the way he shook his legs about on stage. You’ve no doubt seen his iconic stage persona imitated by many a deep-voiced man in a white sequined jumpsuit, but when have you seen an Elvis tribute act perform with a guitar? Elvis was often on stage with one, yet his own tribute acts always overlook this side of his performance. If that doesn’t scream overrated guitarist, what does?

Kerry King

A very serious-looking man with a very serious approach to making music, Kerry King was the co-lead guitarist and songwriter for the very heavy metal band Slayer. A true icon of heavy metal and loved by many, King even has his own range of guitars on the market. But does Kerry King have the musical guile and nuance to record and release a song without turning his amp up to its loudest volume? Doubt it.

Steve Jones

The Sex Pistols were arguably the most influential band of the late 70s and were the main faces of the punk movement. Their 1976 show in Manchester has gone down in history as one of the most important music concerts of the time. Steve Jones was the band’s founding guitarist and stayed there for the entire two-and-a-half years of the band’s existence. However, Jones’ legacy has been tainted by his theft of David Bowie’s drummer’s cymbals at the last ever Ziggy Stardust show in London in 1973. Theft is no joke.


Having been the lead guitarist of Electric Mayhem since 1975, iconic Muppet Janice has failed to reach the heights of most of her contemporaries in the 1970s rock and roll scene. A left-handed player with a tendency to lean towards Gibson Les Pauls, Janice’s lax approach to studio sessions meant that Electric Mayhem never actually recorded and released an album.

Lindsey Buckingham

The arrival of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham into Fleetwood Mac in the 70s sparked a change in fortunes for the blues outfit. Their sound turned pop, with Buckingham playing some incredibly ear-catching guitar, most notably on 1977’s Never Going Back Again, off of the Rumours LP. Unfortunately, Buckingham doesn’t have the greatest stage presence, leading to many claiming his status as icon is undeserved.

Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr invented a new style of guitar playing that spawned a whole new generation of guitarists, inspired by his gorgeous, jangling arpeggios during his time in The Smiths. The way he played guitar made it sound as though there were at least two other guitarists playing with him when he was unaccompanied. However, if he is that good, why was his childhood band White Dice never signed by a record label?

Jimi Hendrix

He may have blown people’s minds with the way he effortlessly glided up and down the neck of his guitar, manipulating notes, divebombing, and transforming his instrument into something nobody had ever seen before. However, the accuracy of Jimi Hendrix’s playing when using his teeth on stage was all off. It’s majorly impressive to look at, but it doesn’t usually amount to a good solo.


While Orianthi is considerably more talented than Alice Cooper – aren’t we all – sometimes a guitarist is only as good as the singer they are supporting. Unfortunately for Orianthi, she can’t help but catch stray bullets for being part of Cooper’s touring band. She also rehearsed for Michael Jackson’s This Is It tour, before his death in 2009.

B.B. King

B.B. King is often seen as one of the most influential artists of all time. With songs like The Thrill Has Gone and Stand by Me in his catalog, King helped to bridge the gap between mainstream music and blues music, in a career that lasted over 70 years. He played a sophisticated style of guitar, with fluid string bends, but he was also vulnerable to mis-hitting notes and seemingly losing his train of thought while playing live.

Mark Tremonti

Mark Tremonti is another guitarist who likes to wear a sleeveless t-shirt, turn the volume up on his amp, and play random notes as fast as he can in no particular order. He was a member of a band called Creed, who sold over 50 million records back in the 1990s and 2000s, before becoming a member of Alter Bridge, who did not shift anywhere near as many units.

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy was a member of the Chicago blues scene and was famously an influence on guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and John Mayer. Now, the eagle-eyed readers would have spotted that all five of these guitarists are on this list, meaning, unfortunately, the great influencer Buddy Guy has to join them. The bitter side of the internet can be a harsh place.

Annie Clark

Annie Clark, or St. Vincent, is effortlessly cool. Her outfits are always on point, she designed her guitars herself, and she performs with a level of confidence only attainable by people who are aware of their talents. And supremely talented she is, although these talents weren’t fully realized in a few places, including on her self-titled record.

George Harrison

George Harrison was the most spiritual member of the Fab Four, expanding his interest in stringed instruments from the guitar to the sitar within four years of The Beatles exploding onto the scene in 1962. George Harrison’s inclusion into this list is purely based on the cover art for his 1987 album, Cloud Nine. It has not aged well, at all.

Thurston Moore

It’s hard to pin down Thurston Moore’s early sound, as he was experimenting with his guitar in all manner of ways, from playing in strange tunings to inserting screwdrivers under his strings. Nothing was off limits for Moore. For effort and experimentation, he gets a 10/10. Shame it didn’t always sound great.

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen is a living legend, a man whose career can boast an extraordinary number of hits and a mind-wrecking amount of sold-out venues all across the world. Springsteen didn’t invent any new techniques or play his guitar in a way nobody had ever seen before, making the average listener greatly question his originality.

Paul Simon

Paul Simon is one of the finest songwriters to ever grace our ears, penning numbers such as Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Sound of Silence. He was handy with a guitar too and, while he wasn’t a virtuoso, he could piece together some fairly technical parts when he needed to. It’s just a real shame that You Can Call Me Al is so overplayed, thoroughly justifying his inclusion in this list.

Dave Davies

While Dave Davies’ brother Ray may get most of the credit for his work as The Kinks’ main songwriter, Dave deserves a hefty slice of praise too. He was known in recording sessions for his ability to make guitar lines up in the heat of the moment, but his finest moment came as he sat down to record the lead for Waterloo Sunset. An already great song, made greater by Dave Davies’ guitar playing. It’s a shame he didn’t offer more on the songwriting front, as Death of a Clown is a great tune.

Carl Perkins

If you were a rocker in the 1950s and 60s, then Carl Perkins was the man. Alongside Chuck Berry, Perkins was responsible for some of the most important songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era, inspiring many artists such as David Bowie, John Lennon, and George Harrison. However, he was highly inconsistent while playing his guitar during live performances.

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson’s guitar playing is as understated and comfortable as his vocal style, which is unsurprising when you realize he’s been playing the same guitar since 1969. However, he isn’t flashy and there are very few examples of overly technical playing in his music, and he never even got near to pushing the boundaries of his own guitar playing.

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson found a lot of fame after his untimely death at the age of 27. He is thought by many to be the first-ever rockstar, with his 1930s recordings being something of a time capsule. Johnson only recorded 29 songs during his short life, but they are regarded by many guitarists as hugely important pieces of work. However, a lot of Johnson’s fame came from a legend that he met with the Devil and not from his musical merit.

Link Wray

Link Wray’s Rumble became the first instrumental to be banned from the radio in 1958, as it was believed to be so hardcore that it could incite gang violence. Wray was respected by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Wray’s distorted tones and aggressive playing style are also believed to have inspired the punk, metal, and grunge genres. If it hadn’t been for Wray, we may not have had to put up with the horror of metal music, making him an easy inclusion into this list.

Mark Knopfler

Mark Knopfler played a variety of styles on his guitar, but one thing always remained consistent: he never used a pick. According to Knopfler, playing with your fingers brings immediacy and soul to a song. It’s easy to hear Knopfler’s soul coming through in Dire Straits’ classic, Sultans of Swing. Unfortunately for Knopfler, Sultans of Swing isn’t enough to mark you down as a true great.

Mick Ronson

Mick Ronson was best known for his exceptional work with David Bowie. His ability is there for all to hear in Moonage Daydream, where his sprawling solos are possibly the most impressive aspect of the track. Ronson’s talents have also been utilized by artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Lou Reed. But, did Ronson write any of the songs that Bowie was singing? No. Therefore he must be placed in the overrated bin.

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck’s style was rooted in blues, but he always had so much more to offer. While he played with an edge, there was always a real artistry and brightness to the way Beck played, not often seen among his contemporaries. But can you name more than five songs performed by Jeff Beck? No. This means he regrettably takes his position among the many shamefully overrated guitarists in this list.

Peter Buck

It is often said that the best drummers are the ones who play for the song, not necessarily the ones who can wow you with complex solos and fills. It is often a similar thing with guitarists, with Peter Buck being a great example. He helped R.E.M. to achieve their success by playing the correct parts in the correct places. However, it does make you wonder what Buck was holding back, and if he could have added even more to his band’s music if he just pushed himself a little further.

Tom Verlaine

Of course, if you are a guitarist and want attention, you can always become a guitar-playing frontman/woman. Tom Verlaine was the frontman of the 1970s rock band Television, who played a more technically astute version of the punk music that was popular at the time. Verlaine could still make a noise if he wanted, he just did it with panache and guile. However, Verlaine was not a consistent live guitarist, and would often accidentally derail songs with loose playing.

Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt was an incredibly important guitarist, helping to break through the barriers put in the way of female guitarists by the men of her era. Raitt became one of the most influential guitarists of the 1970s and 80s blues scene, releasing a string of critically acclaimed albums during this period. However, Raitt’s sound quickly became subdued and hard on the ears toward the 90s and 2000s, which unfortunately reserves a seat for her at the overrated table.

Andy Summers

The Police are known for playing a diverse set of styles, with Sting taking the majority of the credit for their variety. But Ultimately, The Police are vastly overrated, making Summers 1/3 responsible, subsequently saving him a space in the overrated elevator.

Eddie Hazel

Eddie Hazel, most notably of the 60s/70s/80s band Funkadelic, had many memorable moments throughout his career, including a ten-minute guitar solo on Maggot Brain. Hazel had a drive and a strong sense of groove with his playing, attracting notable performers J Masics and Lenny Kravitz. Seriously though, everyone must have been getting weary by the seventh or eighth minute of his solo, could he not have cut it down slightly?

Buddy Holly

Had he not died at the age of 22 in 1959, Buddy Holly would surely have gone on to produce some special, special music. He already achieved enough in his short time, including songs such as Peggy Sue, That’ll Be The Day, and Rave On. Holly quickly became one of the frontiers of the rock ‘n’ roll movement, which would go on to spawn bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Holly was an unashamed capo user though, which is a big no-no for guitar purists.

Matty Healy

Matty Healy is an artist who can effortlessly split a room in terms of people’s opinions of him. His morals often come from a place of good, unless you’re over the age of 50. As for his ability with a guitar in his hand, well, it’s not half as good as his fans will have you believe. But that is always the case with pop artists, who can evoke almost trance-like reactions from their often young fanbases.

Courtney Love

Courtney Love is most famous for her relationship with another member of the overrated alumni, Kurt Cobain. However, she does have a musical career of her own, most notably playing in the grunge band Hole. Hole’s main aim was to make noise, which they succeeded in. However, a lot of this noise was largely incoherent, no doubt a result of substance abuse within the band.

Alice Cooper

The less said about Alice Cooper’s music, the better. When an artist’s biggest hit is about leaving school for the summer, it says enough about the depth of substance to be found in their work. It’s also unadvisable to alienate a section of your audience by labeling them as ‘absurd’ and a ‘fad’, but people do strange things to try and reignite a dying career.

Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher was an Irish guitarist, once regarded by Jimi Hendrix as the greatest guitarist in the world. While he could play, he didn’t have the ability to move with the times and was swiftly left behind following the mass arrival of synth-based music in the 1980s.

Bruno Mars

Although his biggest hits are at most 15 years old, Bruno Mars’ catalog is already beginning to sound dated. He was pulled forward by Mark Ronson for a brief spell with the release of 24K Magic, but overall, lacks the magic of many artists of his time. He is at most, an average guitarist.

Jason Mraz

It’s hard to dig into Jason Mraz too harshly, as he is a fairly innocent soft-pop artist. But the cringe-inducing, I’m Yours, is still swirling its way around mainstream radio stations, despite it being released around 15 years ago. Also, his new song, Pancakes and Butter is a new low for mainstream pop music.


Buckethead is an anonymous guitarist, known for wearing a mask, and, you guessed it, a bucket on his head. The desire to remain anonymous is understandable, but is the bucket really necessary? Much like Slash and his top hat, would Buckethead be as revered if he just let his luscious locks flow?