Heavy metal is one of the most important genres ever, with millions of fans worldwide. When you think about heavy metal, there are so many great musicians, especially guitarists, but being subjective is inevitable when choosing them for the “best” list. In this article, we will look at our favorite heavy metal guitarists of all time.
Let’s have a look with us.
Heavy Metal Guitarists You Must Listen
A complete list of the greatest guitarists of all time, including early innovators, the best heavy metal, rock, metal, death metal, and acoustic metal and rock performers – and the top guitarists until now…
Who is the best heavy metal guitar player ever?
- Tony Iommi
- Randy Rhoads
- James Hetfield
- Dave Mustaine
- Adrian Smith
- Ritchie Blackmore
- Chuck Schuldiner
- Zakk Wylde
- Marty Friedman
- Jeff Loomis
- Devin Townsend
- Adam Jones
1. Tony Iommi
Black Sabbath‘s legendary guitarist Tony Iommi is on our list. He was born on February 19, 1948, in Birmingham, England. Living in an industrial country led him to work in a factory like many other British people. He always wanted to join a band. But at 17, Iommi lost the tips of the middle and ring fingers of his fret-board hand in an industrial accident on his last work day in a sheet metal factory.
“I’d given my notice in to leave because I was going to turn professional with a band, go to Europe,” Iommi said in an interview. “I’d auditioned with this band, they liked me and I was about to get ready to go away, which would have been the first time for me. I was really excited about it.”
After trying various approaches, Iommi made fake leather fingertips, which lasted for about a month during his tours before they had to be replaced.
He recalled the early days of this new approach as “like starting from scratch, and worse. … Suddenly I’m there, faced with not being able to play a full chord. And that’s what made me come up with the Black Sabbath thing … trying to make the thing sound bigger to fill in for the full chord.”
Tony Iommi’s passion blessed us with so many great songs with Black Sabbath. The way of playing guitar, inventions, and his one-of-a-kind riffs makes him a legend. He was chosen as the best guitarist in the world on March 2008.
Long live the legend.
2. Randy Rhoads
Born on December 6, 1956, Randy was always interested in the sound of a guitar. At the age of six, he started taking classical guitar lessons. As Randy Roads grew older, his musical tastes expanded. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix inspired him a lot.
Randy’s breakthrough came when he met Ozzy Osbourne. Together, they created the iconic album “Blizzard of Ozz.” Songs like “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley” became instant classics, and Randy’s guitar solos became masterpieces. He created a signature sound that would influence generations of guitarists to come.
Randy’s career was tragically cut short on March 19, 1982. At just 25 years old, he died in a devastating plane crash while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. The world mourned the loss of a guitar virtuoso who had barely shown his unique talent.
Although his time on Earth was tragically short, his music lives on, and his legacy will continue to inspire generations of guitarists for years.
3. James Hetfield
Born on August 3, 1963, James found himself in music. His love for hard rock and raw energy introduced him to bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC. Inspired by their rebellious spirit, he knew that music was his future.
James met a drummer named Lars Ulrich, and they founded Metallica, a band that would redefine the definition of heavy metal. James Hetfield’s aggressive down-picking style and ability to create infectious riffs quickly became the backbone of Metallica’s sound. His commanding stage presence and raw, emotive vocals made the band’s performances unmatched.
Songs like “Enter Sandman,” “Master of Puppets” and “Nothing Else Matters” showcased his profound songwriting abilities, earning Metallica a dedicated global following.
He shared his inspirations and thoughts about the two guitarists who made him play guitar.
He also said, “I’m kind of a little bit of a barbarian when I play. I’m always interested in the riff. It was the foundation of the song. Tony Iommi, he’s ruling the song with his riff and everything else joins him. You know, Johnny Ramone, lots of down picking lots of you know, just fast down picking. That helped develop my style. So kind of a combination of punk rock and heavy rock at the time you know, turned into just the down picking style and with melody along with it.”
As he continues to forge his path, we can’t wait for the next chapter in this remarkable artist’s life.
4. Dave Mustaine
When Dave Mustaine was born on September 13, 1961, in La Mesa, California, his musical journey began when he picked up his first guitar at 13.
Dave’s guitar skills saw the attention of Metallica‘s Lars Ulrich, and he joined the band as their lead guitarist. However, his time with Metallica was over due to internal conflicts and personal struggles. Despite this adverse situation, Dave channeled his frustrations into forming his band, Megadeth, in 1983. With Megadeth, he set free his artistic vision and aggression, creating a sound that was uniquely his own.
He created one of a kind band and system. Once he told in an interview:
“I’ve always looked at myself as a utility player. Many people wonder how we divide the solos up, and it’s simple: if the rhythm is easy, then it’s better for me to solo over it, and I’ll have the other guy play rhythm. If the rhythm is difficult, then it’s better for me to play that and have the other guy do the solo. I’m a very advanced rhythm guitarist who can play complicated rhythms and sing over the top of them.”
His perfect vocal tones, characterized by his raw power and specific jam, added an extra layer of intensity to Megadeth’s music. Dave’s songwriting prowess shone through as he crafted powerful lyrics that tackled social and political issues, especially the Rust In Peace album, all while maintaining a fierce sense of individuality.
5. Adrian Smith
Born on February 27, 1957, Adrian Smith‘s musical journey began with humble beginnings but would soon catapult him into rock history. His father introduced him to the wonders of classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
Also, inspired by the stunning sounds from those records, Adrian found inspiration within the six strings of his guitar. In 1980, Adrian Smith joined Iron Maiden as their second guitarist, solidifying their iconic dual-guitar attack.
Adrian became critical of Iron Maiden’s signature sound with his melodic sensibilities and harmonized guitar solos. His songwriting talent contributed to some of the band’s most memorable anthems, including “Wasted Years,” “2 Minutes to Midnight,” and “Fear of the Dark.”
In one interview, he was asked about Rory Gallagher and Thin Lizzy because they covered the song “Whiskey In The Jar” with Dave Murray, and he announced his inspirators and said that;
“I was probably more of a Thin Lizzy fan; Gary Moore. I mean, I like Rory Gallagher but Gary Moore, and all the Thin Lizzy guitarists were one of my main influences.”
Beyond his work with Iron Maiden, Adrian also pursued solo projects and collaborations. In the early 1990s, he released two critically acclaimed solo albums, “Silver and Gold” and “Universe,” showcasing his versatility as a songwriter and guitarist.
6. Ritchie Blackmore
Born on April 14, 1945, Ritchie’s love for the guitar began at an early age. Fascinated by Bach and Beethoven, Ritchie appreciated mixed melodies and harmonies.
In the early 1960s, Ritchie The Maestro and Rod Evans formed the iconic rock band Deep Purple. Ritchie’s magic touches became the cornerstone of Deep Purple’s sound. Songs like “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star,” and “Child in Time” showed his mastery as a guitar icon.
Throughout his career, he developed a reputation for his creative vision. These traits often led to tensions within the band, ultimately resulting in his departure from Deep Purple in 1993.
Ritchie Blackmore forged ahead and founded the band Rainbow. Songs like “Stargazer,” “Man on the Silver Mountain,” and “Gates of Babylon” showcased his passion for epic storytelling through music.
In the 1990s, he delved into acoustic and Renaissance-inspired music, forming the band Blackmore’s Night with his wife, Candice Night. With Blackmore’s Night, Ritchie delved into a more folk-oriented sound.
7. Chuck Schuldiner
On May 13, 1967, the creator of death metal was born.
Chuck Schuldiner‘s passion for music began at a young age, with bands like Kiss and Black Sabbath. In the early 1980s, Chuck founded the band Death, which would become the flag carrier of the death metal genre.
Chuck’s guitar playing was characterized by its technical precision. Songs like “Zombie Ritual,” “Crystal Mountain,” and “Pull the Plug” became famous songs for a new generation of metalheads. Chuck’s songwriting was a testament to his intellectual depth and reflective nature. His lyrics delved into themes of mortality, spirituality, and the human condition, offering a profound and philosophical perspective rarely seen in heavy music.
Once he said that “I was lucky to start playing guitar in the Eighties when so many great players were around to inspire me, like Yngwie Malmsteen, Van Halen, and especially Dave Murray and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden.”
Tragically, Chuck’s life was cut short when he succumbed to brain cancer on December 13, 2001, at 34. The news devastated the metal community as they mourned the loss of a visionary artist and pioneer. As we reflect on Chuck Schuldiner’s remarkable journey, we remember him as the architect of death metal.
May he rest in metal!
8. Zakk Wylde
Born on January 14, 1967, Zakk Wylde started to go serious in guitar at an early age inspired by guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He spent countless hours mastering the instrument and developing his signature sound.
In the late 1980s, Ozzy Osbourne, searching for a new guitarist, called him to join his band. Zakk’s audacious playing style lead him to join the iconic rock legend’s band. With Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Wylde unleashed his guitar skills, solos, and aggressive riffing catching fans worldwide. Songs like “No More Tears,” “Crazy Babies,” and “Miracle Man” showcased his technical mastery.
Beyond his work with Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Wylde formed the band Black Label Society, carving his path as a frontman. Songs like “Stillborn,” “In This River,” and “Fire It Up” solidified Zakk’s place as a modern guitar icon.
9. Marty Friedman
Born December 8, 1962, he was inspired by guitar icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Randy Rhoads. Marty Friedman dedicated himself to mastering the instrument and engaging himself in the world of guitar virtuosity.
His breakthrough came when he joined Megadeth in 1990. Songs like “Hangar 18,” “Tornado of Souls,” and “Symphony of Destruction” lead him to the throne.
His love for Japanese culture led him to move to Tokyo in 2003. Marty’s musical horizons expanded further in Japan as he delved into Japanese pop and traditional music, blending it with his unique guitar style. His solo albums, such as “Loudspeaker” and “Tokyo Jukebox,” showcased his ability to combine various genres.
He reunited with Megadeth on 27th February 2023 in a Japan concert for three songs, “Countdown to Extinction,” “Tornado of Souls,” and “Symphony of Destruction.” He recalls this event in an interview and told that “It was just like a perfect exclamation point on everything that we had done together up until this point. You couldn’t have written a better way for the whole thing to play out. It was just perfect timing, just a very natural and organic way to do it.”
His melodic sensibilities and technical talent inspire musicians worldwide.
10. Jeff Loomis
He was born on September 14, 1971. Yngwie Malmsteen and Jason Becker inspired him.
In early 1990 she joined the progressive metal band Nevermore. As the lead guitarist, Jeff’s blistering solos and complex, layered compositions became the center of Nevermore’s sound. Songs like “This Godless Endeavor,” “Born,” and “The River Dragon Has Come.”
Jeff became an influential figure in the guitar community as his reputation grew. Guest appearances on various projects, collaborating with artists like Conquering Dystopia and Keith Merrow.
Once he said that he doesn’t know much about music theory and added “I really rely on what I think sounds good to my natural ear, and I think whatever sounds good is good as far as when you are recording stuff.”
When you think about this, continuity and passion are the primary keys to success. Jeff embarked on a successful solo career, releasing albums such as “Zero Order Phase” and “Plains of Oblivion.”
He’s currently working with Arch Enemy.
11. Devin Townsend
Born on May 5, 1972, Inspired by a wide range of artists, from Frank Zappa to Meshuggah.
Devin first gained a reputation as the lead vocalist and guitarist for the band Strapping Young Lad. His intense vocal range and guitar work helped shape extreme metal’s sound on albums like “City” and “Alien.”
His solo discography is a kaleidoscope of sonic landscapes, where he fearlessly blends elements of progressive metal, ambient soundscapes, pop sensibilities, and everything in between.
Albums like “Ocean Machine: Biomech,” “Terria,” and “Ziltoid the Omniscient” showcases his ability to craft richly textured compositions that captivate the listener’s imagination. Devin’s music takes listeners on a sonic odyssey, weaving intricate melodies and thought-provoking lyrics into a tapestry of sound.
Devin’s live performances are legendary. His ability to connect with his fans is fantastic. Devin Townsend remains a true maestro, challenging all genres and inviting us to join him on a limitless musical odyssey.
You should check our article about why he doesn’t practice guitar anymore. Funny guy!
12. Adam Jones
Born on January 15, 1965, Adam Jones‘s story would be defined by his excellent work as the guitarist for the progressive metal band Tool and his talent as a visual artist. He is my most attractive human being in combining music and art.
Inspired by surrealist masters like Salvador Dalí and H.R. Giger, Adam Jones developed a unique aesthetic defining Tool’s visual identity.
In the early 1990s, Adam Jones was also co-founder of Tool. With his complex rhythms and layered textures, he pushed the limits of progressive metal forward. Songs like “Schism,” “Lateralus,” and “Forty-Six & 2” showcased his masterful control of the guitar and the emotion that all gave to listeners.
As the primary visual artist for Tool’s album covers, music videos, and live performances, he transformed the band’s music into a fantastic experience. Each Tool album became a work of art in its own right. From the iconic artwork of “Ænima” to the tremendous stop-motion animation of “Parabola,” his visual creations added depth and layers of meaning to Tool’s music.
He has created album covers for other bands, directed music videos, and even worked in the film industry, contributing to the visual effects of movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
You can also read Adam Jones’s favorite guitarists here.
These great guitarists, artists, and well-known human beings are our favorite heavy metal icons but are not limited to. What do you think about our selections? Let us know in the comments section and tell your favorites too!
Stay healthy, stay metal!