27 Best Metal Guitarists Of All Time

Metal. Just the word alone brings to mind fierce riffs, blistering solos, and an aggression that’s purely primal.

So, let’s honor some of the guitarists who’ve truly defined the genre:

1. Tony Iommi

Known for: Black Sabbath

Why he’s monumental: Tony Iommi, often regarded as the godfather of heavy metal, laid the groundwork for many metal genres with his iconic riffs in songs like “Paranoid” and “Iron Man.” Overcoming adversity like losing the tips of two fingers, he continued to inspire and define the metal sound.

2. Kirk Hammett

Known for: Metallica

Why he’s monumental: If solos were stories, Kirk would be a master storyteller. His soulful play on tracks like “Enter Sandman” and “One” is mesmerizing. And of course, his trademark love for the wah-wah pedal!

3. Dimebag Darrell

Known for: Pantera, Damageplan

Why he’s monumental: With southern rock influences infused into his metal sound, Dimebag’s legacy is built on relentless riffs and unforgettable songs like “Cowboys from Hell” and “Walk.”

4. Randy Rhoads

Known for: Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot

Why he’s monumental: Randy’s legacy, though short-lived, continues to inspire. His classical infusion into metal created iconic tracks like “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley.”

5. Dave Mustaine

Known for: Megadeth

Why he’s monumental: From his days in Metallica to pioneering thrash with Megadeth, Mustaine’s riffs in songs like “Holy Wars” and “Hangar 18” are pure metallic adrenaline.

6. Zakk Wylde

Known for: Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society

Why he’s monumental: Wylde’s solos are like a roller-coaster ride, fast, thrilling, and unexpected. His unique sound and pinched harmonics leave a lasting impression.

7. Marty Friedman

Known for: Megadeth, Solo work

Why he’s monumental: Friedman’s playing style is an eclectic mix of Eastern scales, unique bends, and scorching solos, making him a standout in the metal community.

8. Adrian Smith

Known for: Iron Maiden

Why he’s monumental: As one-half of Iron Maiden’s iconic dual-guitar setup, Adrian’s harmonies and solos are crucial to tracks like “The Trooper” and “Wasted Years.”

9. Dave Murray

Known for: Iron Maiden

Why he’s monumental: Completing Iron Maiden’s dual axe assault, Murray’s solos and riffs are just as crucial, driving songs like “Run to the Hills” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

10. John Petrucci

Known for: Dream Theater

Why he’s monumental: For sheer technical prowess combined with soul, Petrucci stands tall. His work in songs like “Pull Me Under” and “Metropolis” is a masterclass in progressive metal guitar.

11. Michael Amott

Known for: Arch Enemy, Carcass

Why he’s monumental: Amott’s aggressive yet melodic style has shaped the sound of melodic death metal. His fretwork in tracks like Arch Enemy’s “Nemesis” showcases his raw energy and passion.

12. James Hetfield

Known for: Metallica

Why he’s monumental: Hetfield’s rhythm guitar isn’t just about keeping time. It’s about laying down some of the heaviest and tightest riffs in metal history. Songs like “Master of Puppets” and “Seek and Destroy” are testimony to his unmatched skills.

13. Alexi Laiho

Known for: Children of Bodom

Why he’s monumental: Hailing from Finland, Alexi Laiho’s blend of neo-classical solos and thrashy riffs made Children of Bodom stand out. His ability to play at lightning speed yet maintain melodic precision was remarkable.

14. Chuck Schuldiner

Known for: Death

Why he’s monumental: Often referred to as the “Godfather of Death Metal,” Chuck wasn’t just a phenomenal guitarist but also an influential songwriter. His progressive approach to extreme metal is still celebrated today.

15. Mikael Åkerfeldt

Known for: Opeth

Why he’s monumental: Mikael is the mastermind behind Opeth’s evolution from a death metal band to prog-rock giants. His guitar work is diverse, touching everything from crushing riffs to soft acoustic passages.

16. Adam Jones

Known for: Tool

Why he’s monumental: Tool’s music isn’t easy to categorize, and that’s largely due to Adam Jones’ unique approach to guitar. His riffs are atmospheric, haunting, and layered, creating a soundscape rather than just a song.

17. Yngwie Malmsteen

Known for: Rising Force, Solo work

Why he’s monumental: Yngwie is the poster child for neoclassical metal. Taking inspiration from classical composers like Bach and Vivaldi, he introduced sweeping arpeggios and harmonic minor scales to metal, creating a style that’s distinctively his.

18. Tosin Abasi

Known for: Animals as Leaders

Why he’s monumental: A modern guitar virtuoso, Tosin Abasi has taken progressive metal to new horizons. With 8-string guitars and a technique that blends jazz, progressive, and djent, he’s truly in a league of his own.

19. Cliff Burton

Known for: Metallica

Why he’s monumental: Though a bassist by trade, Burton’s influence on Metallica’s early compositions cannot be ignored. His intricate bass solos, like in “Orion,” often mirrored guitar solos, blurring the lines between guitar and bass in metal.

20. Alex Skolnick

Known for: Testament

Why he’s monumental: As one of the original shredders in thrash metal, Skolnick brought a level of musical sophistication to Testament’s music. His jazz influences make his solos not only fast but also intricate and melodious.

21. Richie Blackmore

Known for: Deep Purple, Rainbow

Why he’s monumental: Blackmore’s influence on rock and metal guitar cannot be understated. With hits like “Smoke on the Water” and “Stargazer,” he demonstrated a unique blend of technical ability and songwriting prowess.

22. Tom Morello

Known for: Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave

Why he’s monumental: Morello isn’t just a guitarist; he’s a sound innovator. From using his guitar to emulate DJ scratching to his iconic whammy pedal tricks, Morello constantly reinvented how a guitar could sound in rock and metal.

23. Steve Harris

Known for: Iron Maiden

Why he’s monumental: Another bassist who’s massively influential in the guitar realm, Harris’s galloping style and knack for writing intricate bass lines that complement the twin guitar attacks of Iron Maiden make him a force to be reckoned with.

24. Brian May

Known for: Queen

Why he’s monumental: While Queen isn’t a “metal” band per se, May’s influence on guitarists in both rock and metal is undeniable. His solos are melodic, intricate, and often multilayered, giving them a distinct texture.

25. Glenn Tipton

Known for: Judas Priest

Why he’s monumental: Together with K.K. Downing, Tipton was responsible for some of the most iconic riffs and solos in heavy metal. Tracks like “Painkiller” and “Electric Eye” are evidence of his brilliance.

26. Scott Ian

Known for: Anthrax

Why he’s monumental: Ian’s chuggy and rhythmic guitar style is one of the defining sounds of Anthrax and the thrash metal genre. His riffs are always catchy and provide the perfect backdrop for mosh pits everywhere.

27. K.K. Downing

Known for: Judas Priest

Why he’s monumental: The other half of Judas Priest’s iconic dual-guitar setup, Downing’s solos and riffs are legendary. He brought a raw energy to the band’s music, making it unforgettable.

Concluding Notes:

Metal, in all its forms, owes a debt to these guitarists. From the early days of Black Sabbath to the progressive technicality of modern bands like Animals as Leaders, it’s clear that metal guitar playing is an art form that continually evolves.