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Top 10 Heavy Metal Guitarists

Updated on January 14, 2015

These guys delivered some of the greatest riffs that metal fans love to head bang to. Today I rank the top 10 heavy metal guitar players of all time.

10. Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King- Slayer

It was hard to pick between the two, so I chose both.

Founding Slayer together in 1981, Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King have built a reputation over the years for their technical mastery. Their dual guitar solos have been called wildly chaotic, and twisted genius. Early albums, such as Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood, featured a wailing style and demented soloing often mimicking the screams of the song's victims. The band's later albums featured more technical guitar riffs, utilizing the aforementioned tremolo picking and down-picked notes, improving musicianship while retaining a melodic sense. Hanneman and King contributed both lyrical and musical material to every Slayer album.

Jeff Hanneman passed away in 2013 from liver disease. His dual solos with King will be sorely missed.

9. Dave Murray- Iron Maiden

I know what you're thinking. How could I leave off Adrian Smith and Janick Gers? The simple answer is Dave Murray has always been there for Iron Maiden.

Murray along with Steve Harris are the only band members to appear on all of their records. Influenced by Jimi Hendrix, his solo guitar style throughout his career has been mainly based on the legato technique. Whether playing alongside Adrian Smith, Janick Gers, or both, Murray has been able to standout based on his incredible solos. He also is one of the bands major musical contributors to songwriting.

8. Tom Morello- Rage Against the Machine

He is the ideal guitarist for a rap metal band.

Founding Rage Against the Machine 1991, Tom Morello helped introduce a knew style of music. He is famed for his guitar style, which consists of heavy metal/punk hybrid riffs and hip hop inspired sounds. He wears his guitar high up to ring every possible sound out of it. To produce his famous alien guitar sounds, Morello chooses various effects pedals to get different tones. The band's début self titled album cemented his status as one of the greatest guitarist ever.

Morello has also played with the super group Audioslave after Rage first disbanded.

7. Glenn Tipton- Judas Priest

Some people will be mad I didn't include K.K. Downing with him, but It's Glenn Tipton's solos that stand out.

Joining Judas Priest in 1974, Glenn Tipton joined with K.K. Downing to form one of music's first dual lead guitar rock band and became the group's primary songwriter. He is known for his complex, classically-influenced solos, and has a unique guitar playing technique. Tipton's solos have maintained a consistent style for most of his career, but he has continuously incorporated new techniques into his playing over the years as he has developed as a guitarist. The usual arrangement on Judas Priest songs featured Downing playing rhythm guitar and Tipton solos, although the two would alternate places and some songs feature riffs and leads by both guitarists. In contrast to Downing's emphasis on speed, Tipton's solos tend to feature a more melodic, legato blues rock sound, making use of harmonic minor scales, Aeolian mode, pentatonic scales and techniques such as sweep picking arpeggios, legato picking, tremolo/alternate picking, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and the solos often showcase both accuracy and aggression.

6. John Petrucci- Dream Theater

He is one of the more underrated guitarists on this list.

Being one of the founders of the progressive metal band, John Petrucci helped develop one of the most technically skilled bands of all time. He is respected for his variety of guitar styles and skills. One of the most notable of these is his high speed alternate picking which requires a lot of synchronization between his hands. He also distinguishes himself by playing a seven string guitar which he says he uses as a writing tool, taking advantage of the extended range for heavier riffing and to play extended range runs as part of a solo. Petrucci also has contributed lyrics and produced all of Dream Theater's albums.

5. Tony Iommi- Black Sabbath

He helped set the blueprint for heavy metal shredding.

Despite losing the tips of his middle and ring fingers on his right hand in a machine shop accident, Tony Iommi can be seen as the first heavy metal guitarist. He is praised for his highly distinctive style of fretsmanship. Iommi is recognized by many as the main creator of heavy metal music. His deep and heavy sound was partly born out of necessity. His revolutionary signature sound being the result of the accident and the subsequent downtuning by three Seminoles. The stage he set with songs like Iron Man, Children of the Grave, and Paranoid helped make metal what it is today.

4. Randy Rhoads- Ozzy Osbourne

He lived a short life but left a huge legacy.

Randy Rhoads joined Ozzy Osbourne in 1979 after his departure from Quiet Riot. A devoted student of classical guitar, Rhoads combined his classical music influences with his own heavy metal style. He garnered much freedom from Ozzy allowing him to play whatever he desired. His work on Blizzard of Oz brought to life one of history's greatest guitar riffs in Crazy Train and one of the greatest guitar solos ever in Mr. Crowley. He may have only contributed to two of Ozzy's albums, but they are still considered some of the best of Ozzy's solo career.

Rhoads was killed in a tragic plane crash in 1982 at the age of 25. His loss caused great grief to many in the heavy metal community including best friend Ozzy Osbourne.

3. Kirk Hammett- Metallica

He replaced another guitar great and helped Metallica become one of the biggest bands in the world.

After the dismissal of Dave Mustaine, Kirk Hammett joined Metallica in 1983 before the release of their début album. Learning from Joe Satriani, Hammett helped contribute some of the best heavy metal riffs ever. He is known for always having his picking hand taped to protect his skin due to his habit of palm muting til it bleeds and fast picking during lengthy tours. His playing style is also known for his extensive use of the wah-wah pedal in his solos which he call an extension of his personality.

Hammett has also been linked to acts like Carlos Santana and Primus.

2. Dave Mustaine- Megadeth

He built his reputation by playing faster than anyone that came before him.

After being kicked out of Metallica for his drug and alcohol abuse, Dave Mustaine strove to create a faster, louder, and harder band with Megadeth. Serving as the band's rhythm and lead guitarist, and lead singer, Mustaine developed a sound to rival Metallica. By playing at a faster, more frantic pace, the band's albums continued to produce more and more classic heavy metal riffs and solos. His work on the Rust in Peace album still co rains some of the best conceived metal songs in history. Despite the band's numerous line up changes, Mustaine has ensured Megadeth's survival by never losing any of it speed or intensity.

1. Dimebag Darrell- Pantera

Like Rhoads, he left a short but memorable legacy.

Founding Pantera with his brother Vinnie Paul, "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott transformed his glam metal band into the pioneers of the new wave of American heavy metal. Influenced by Ace Frehley of KISS as well as other guitar greats, Dime incorporated many techniques into the band groove metal style. He frequently made use of pentatonic scales and pinch harmonics in both his leads and rhythms while also incorporating his southern style. He is often scene as the best soloing metal guitarist as his work of Walk, Cemetery Gates, and Floods being some of the best ever.

While on tour with his band Damage Plan in 2004, Dimebag Darrell was shot dead on stage by a mentally disturbed fan. His legacy speaks for itself and his guitar tone was ranked the greatest of all time by Guitar Player magazine.


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