Top 10 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists



Top 10 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
Wimps and posers, leave the hall...these are the Riff Master Generals. For this list, we'll be ranking the most talented, influential and important guitar players from the heavy metal genre. Our countdown includes Kerry King, Dave Mustaine, Tony Iommi, and more!

Top 10 Heavy Metal Guitarists

Wimps and posers, leave the hall...these are the Riff Master Generals. Welcome to, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Heavy Metal Guitarists.

For this list, we'll be ranking the most talented, influential and important guitar players from the heavy metal genre. We'll be excluding guitarists known primarily for their instrumental "shred" abilities, such as Yngwie Malmsteen, and trying to keep a focus on a more "total package" criteria of riffing, arranging and songwriting. Lead and rhythm players from all metal genres will be considered for this list, but guitar teams will have to be examined at another time.

#10: Scott Ian


There are few rhythm players out there tighter than Scott Ian, who has been laying down the riffs with Anthrax since they first formed back in 1981. Ian's burly stage presence may belie a friendly and fun loving personality, but make no mistake, Scott's all business when it comes to making the metal. It doesn't matter whether Ian is laying down killer mosh riffs with Anthrax's "Indians" or creating a hardcore/crossover metal classic with S.O.D.'s classic "Speak English or Die" LP, if Scott's somehow involved... well, you just know it's going to be heavy.

#9: Kerry King


Slayer's second album "Hell Awaits" was aptly titled, because that's exactly what the band's sound evokes: pure, unfettered hell on earth.Much of this thrash metal intensity is thanks to guitarist Kerry King, who, alongside his former partner Jeff Hanneman, wrote some of the genre's most defining and enduring classics. King's leads sound like dying hellhounds, while his riffs can move from slow, brooding creepiness to Def Con 1 level severity in the blink of an eye. Don't search for any subtlety here. Instead, seek out Kerry King if you want your hair blown back and teeth knocked out. You'll thank him for it later.

#8: John Petrucci

Dream Theater

What can we say about Dream Theater's resident guitar god John Petrucci? He's quite simply a guitar player's guitar player, able to switch between styles with amazing ease and assuredness. Petrucci is also one of progressive metal's elder statesmen, and as such is quite comfortable jamming out heavy riffs one minute, and fragile melodies the next. There's a virtuosic texture and complexity to his playing, yet Petrucci and his bandmates have also proven themselves to be strong songwriters, who allow their music to breathe, while still showing off their musical chops.

#7: Dave Murray

Iron Maiden

The membership charter of Iron Maiden reads as a virtual who's who of heavy metal guitar gods. Adrian Smith, Dennis Stratton and Janick Gers are all gifted, but we're going to go with the one man who's been with Maiden since the start, Dave Murray. Fans may always expect to see Murray's smiling visage at the band's shows, but the man's musical contributions to their discography cannot be understated. There's a smooth sense of melody to Dave's playing which fits perfectly alongside the fire of an Adrian or Janick, while Murray's symbiotic dual lead ability has gone on to define the Iron Maiden sound.

#6: Kirk Hammett


Kirk Hammett cut his teeth with Bay Area Thrash icons Exodus prior to landing the lead guitarslot with Metallica early on in their career. Since then, however, Hammett's reputation as one of heavy metal's defining guitar players continues to grow, just as Metallica's music continues to win over fans young and old. The key to Kirk's success in the group perhaps owes itself to band mate James Hetfield's decision to primarily focus on rhythm, leaving Hammett free to flaunt his Scorpions and UFO influences, while at the same time showcasing his melodic and dexterous fret board talents out on stage every night.

#5: Dimebag Darrell


Darrell Abbott, a.k.a. Dimebag Darrell, has been an influence upon generations of younger guitarists since Pantera first cracked the commercial metal charts. Darrell was chasing the dream early on, pounding the pavement with Pantera in a glam/speed metal style prior to picking up vocalist Philip Anselmo and venturing towards heavier pastures. Darrell's groove-heavy, sonically punishing style thrilled audiences around the world with both Pantera and Damageplan, before Dimebag's life was tragically cut short when he was shot on stage by a crazed fan in 2004. Abbott may be gone, but his legacy as one of metal's most influential guitarists remains forever secure.

#4:Dave Mustaine


Mustaine was an important part of Metallica's early years, but after his dismissal – which opened the door for Kirk Hammett – he formed Megadeth as a sort of technical speed metal alternative to Metallica's evolving, compositionally minded songwriting. Eventually, Mustaine hooked up with shredder Marty Friedman to create what many fans feel was the definitive Megadeth lineup, alongside bassist Dave Ellefson and drummer Nick Menza. Dave Mustaine was the backbone of Megadeth's dizzying, mathematical style of speed metal, composing songs which, even today, stand as blueprints for precise, pounding thrash.

#3: Eddie Van Halen

Van Halen

It would be easy to argue that, without the first Van Halen album, the landscape of hard rock and heavy metal would look very different today. This isn't hyperbole, either, as Eddie Van Halen literally changed the landscape of rock and metal guitar from the very first notes of "Runnin' With the Devil" and "Eruption," a track that essentially pioneered the two-handed tapping technique. Eddie wouldn't stop there, either, challenging legions of bedroom guitarists to up their ante to just try and compete with what Van Halen was laying down in the studio and on stage.

#2: Randy Rhoads

Ozzy Osbourne/Quiet Riot

Ozzy Osbourne employed many inspiring and insanely talented guitarists over the years, including Badlands bluesman Jake E. Lee, wild man Zakk Wylde and even Night Ranger's Brad Gillis. None of them, however are linked quite as closely as the immortal Randy Rhoads, who played on Oz's first two solo albums. Rhoads was plucked from the early lineup of future hair metal stars Quiet Riot, and blew the minds of everyone lucky enough to catch the man live. Classically trained and naturally gifted, Rhoads was one of kind, a unique guitar playing talent who burned bright as the sun, and hot as hell.

Before we name our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions!

Chuck Schuldiner

John Sykes
Whitesnake/Thin Lizzy/Blue Murder/Tygers of Pan Tang

Glenn Tipton
Judas Priest

#1: Tony Iommi

Black Sabbath

Sure, proto-heavy metal sounds were around before Tony Iommi, but not even bands like Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly could approach Iommi and company's gothic, grandiose heaviness. An accident at work left a young Iommi without the fingertips on two of his fingers, but homemade prosthetics and a will to persevere led to Tony hammering down on those frets, while in the process creating that doomy, gloomy heavy metal sound we know and love today. Beyond Iommi's heaviness, however, lies an underrated lead player, and a songwriter whose melodies and style have defined the genre for just about every band in his wake.