17 Heavy Metal Guitarists You Need To Listen To (right now!)
Heavy metal is such a powerful genre, with so many talented guitarists spanning so many decades. To make this list readable without losing its entertainment value, we’ve decided to limit our choices to just heavy metal guitarists. Let’s explain exactly what we mean by that.
The Beginnings Of Heavy Metal
Without the early jazz and swing guitarists pushing for louder instruments so they could be heard above other band members, there would never have been electric guitars. Once the guitar was electrified, early players started pushing the boundaries with the sound they could produce. This led to the blues, rock and roll, blues/rock, psychedelic rock, progressive rock and so on.
With every new genre or subgenre the bands were pushing to create new and exciting sounds, with the guitarists introducing more and more innovative ways of standing out. Distortion, loud guitar playing, alternate tunings and of course the riff, melodies and solos.
Types Of Metal
The earliest pioneers of the heavy metal sound were bands like; Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin who proved to be extremely popular to audiences who were getting bored of the same old, same old that was being repeated and regurgitated by groups during the early to mid 60s.
Then along came bands like Judas Priest that removed any blues influences from their sound. As the punk movement started to influence the music scene, bands like Motorhead introduced faster riffs and vocal styles imitated from the punk sound.
Heavy metal became sub categorised into subgenres like Thrash metal (Slayer, Metallica, and Anthrax) Glam Metal (Bon Jovi) and New metal (Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park).
With so many types and bands to choose, it would be easy to get carried away and add great guitarists from other genres. We’re not going to do that, we’re going to stick to just heavy metal guitarists. So here goes, in no particular order, it’s time to share our 17 heavy metal guitarists we believe you need to listen to.
If you play guitar, there’s a distinct possibility you’ve at least attempted to play one of Ritchie’s compositions. There can’t be a guitar shop that doesn’t hear the first few bars of “Smoke on the Water” at least twice a day. Ritchie has produced some exceptional solos over his long and illustrious career.
His use of heavy riffs, legato and alternate picking techniques have made him as vibrant today as he’s ever been. For some great examples of Ritchie’s guitar playing listen to; Highway Star, Child in Time, Soldiers of Fortune or Smoke on the Water.
Even without knowing his story, you’d have to say Tony was a heavy metal guitar legend. But once you hear about the loss of the tips of his middle and ring fingers in an accident at work, you realise just how good he is. After his accident, he thought his guitar playing days were over, but after an acquaintance got him to listen to Django Rheinhardt play guitar and he learned about his loss of fingers too, Tony persevered.
Tony made plastic tips for his fingers and continued to play the guitar in the same way he’d been learning before his accident. He said he tried to play the guitar using the opposite hands but couldn’t get on with it so he just continued the way he always had. He says he can’t feel the strings and there are a few chords he can’t play, but what an inspiration.
Members of the medical profession told him he’d never play the guitar again, thankfully he never listened to them. For some of Tony’s great guitar work, listen to; War Pigs, Iron Man, N.I.B, and Paranoid.
Best known as the lead guitarist with Damageplan and Pantera, Darrell is probably one of the most influential guitarists of the thrash metal/groove metal world. A self taught guitarist who had no time for music theory but boy could he play! Famous for his pinch harmonics, legato runs and alternate picking style.
He was sadly shot dead by a fan suffering from a mental illness while playing onstage with Damageplan. If his life hadn’t been cut short, just imagine where his guitar playing would be by now. For some fine examples of his work listen to; Domination, Cowboys from Hell, Floods and Revolution is my Name.
Randy was a classically trained guitarist, classical music was his first passion, you can hear the classical influences in all of his work. He came into the spotlight after auditioning for Ozzy Osbourne who said “He played this fucking solo and I’m like, am I that fucking stoned or am I hallucinating or what the fuck is this” It turned out that Randy was just warming up.
He had a great versatility about his playing and his main influences were The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Gary Moore, John Williams and Ritchie Blackmore. To hear some great examples of his musical prowess listen to; Crazy Train, It’s Not so Funny and Mr. Crowley.
Best known as the guitarist with Metallica, Kirk has influenced a generation of guitarists with some of the best guitar riffs of all time. Known for the distinctive tape across his hand, which incidentally is to protect his hand from getting cut during his aggressive playing. For examples of some of his best riffs, listen to; Enter Sandman, Creeping Death and Ride the Lightning.
Some of Kirk’s influences include; Jimi Hendrix, UFO, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Joe Satriani. He also had private lessons with Satriani.
Considered by many to be the best rhythm guitarist in the heavy metal genre, James is a singer, songwriter and guitarist legend. He’s not only responsible for some of the best rhythm supporting guitar work in the metal world but he also plays some ripping solos of his own. A power chord master, James cites Aerosmith as a major influence and the reason he took up the guitar in the first place.
No heavy metal guitarist list would be complete without Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner. With his roots set firmly in the blues, and his Hendrix/Wylde inspired solos he has to be a top 5 contender. For great examples of Richie’s work listen to; No surrender, Rising from Ruins, Sea of red and March of Damned.
A self-taught guitarist, Padge, learned how to play on a nylon stringed acoustic. His influences include Jimi Hendrix, SRV, Kirk Hammett, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. For some great examples of the Bullet For My Valentine guitarist’s work listen to; Bittersweet Memories, Tears don’t Fall,Your Betrayal and Alone.
Known best as the guitarist with Slipknot and Stone Sour, Jim’s playing features drop tunings, power chords and heavy riffs. He cites his influences as the Beatles, Overkill, Megadeth and Anthrax. He says he prefers Gibson and Fender guitars which was how he saw all the best guitarists playing as he was growing up. For great examples of his work check out; Purity and Me Inside.
Best known as the guitarist for the Greek heavy metal band Firewind and also for his work with Ozzy Osbourne. He is a traditional shredder, with fast pentatonic runs. He cites his influences as Santana, Pink Floyd and the Eagles. He has said it was Frampton Comes Alive that inspired him to start playing the guitar. Some great examples of his work are Mr. Manson, What Lies Below and I Am The Fire.
Best known as the lead singer and guitarist with the band Megadeth and the original lead guitarist with Metallica, Dave is a great guitarist because he keeps it simple. The beauty of his sound is it’s not all sweeping, it’s about technique. He cites his influences as; UFO, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, AC/DC, David Bowie and the Scorpions. For some fine examples of Dave’s work check out; Holy Wars, Peace sells, In my Darkest Hour and Symphony of Destruction.
Herman is the driving force of Dragonforce’s sound. Many other guitarists use “Through The Fire And Flames” to earn their guitar playing spurs and sadly many don’t even come close. Full of all of the best techniques for heavy metal guitar, tapping, sweep picking,whammy bar and runs, Dragonforce are a force to be reckoned with and Herman is their main man. Good examples of his work are tracks like; Through The Fire And Flames and Inhuman Rampage.
Nita is not always playing for the Alice Cooper band, her solo album “Controlled Chaos” is pure heavy metal. With sweep picking and the full use of the fretboard she is in a league of her own.
Best known as the lead guitarist and co-founder of the band “Cynic”, Paul has a knack for fusing jazz and metal to create a refreshingly new sound for heavy metal fans. Many metal guitarists were influenced by Paul’s work.
Dave is a classically trained guitarist who specialises in death metal. Best known as the frontman for the band “Revocation” and one of the best modern heavy metal guitarists on the scene today. Dave plays awesome guitar while adding great vocals to the mix too.
Mike has to create the most original lead guitar work of any metal guitarists ever. Opeth would just be a run of the mill progressive metal band without his amazing axe skills. Powerful, emotive solos and mellow acoustic passages all work to create an amazing back catalogue of Mike’s work.
Whether playing with the Canadian heavy metal band “Strapping Young Lad” or playing as a solo artist, Devy is a real life modern day genius with the guitar. He plays live shows and sounds like they’ve been produced in a studio while still keeping the vocals together.
Who’s Your Favourite?
That’s our 17 heavy metal guitarists we feel you need to listen to, did we include yours? Let us know in the comments.