10 Best Heavy Metal Guitarists of All Time


Image of guitarist Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society.

Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Justin Reich

Audio Ink Radio presents its list of the 10 best heavy metal guitarists of all time

The heavy metal genre is known for having top-notch instrumentalists. Unlike some other musical genres, where skills and dexterity aren’t as central, in heavy metal, knowing how to play one’s musical instrument is everything. That being said, the best heavy metal guitarists of all time are truly genius players.

Sadly, many of the best heavy metal guitarists are no longer on this planet. But, they’ve left a legacy of sky-high guitar shredding and mind-blowing soloing for generations of heavy music fans to enjoy.

Read on for Audio Ink Radio’s list of the 10 best heavy metal guitarists of all time. Contact us with your choices via social media.

10. Mark Tremonti

Some say that Mark Tremonti is more of a rock guitarist than heavy metal, and they aren’t wrong. After all, Tremonti is known for playing guitar in some of the biggest rock bands of the modern era, including Creed, Alter Bridge and his own band, Tremonti. But, there’s no denying that Tremonti’s playing has a heavy metal edge. He made the guitar solo cool again with Creed in the late-1990s and early-2000s, during a time when the metal guitar was pretty much dead. For that, metal should be thankful to Tremonti.

9. Nuno Bettencourt

When Nuno Bettencourt came on the scene, many metal fans thought he would be the next Eddie Van Halen. But, he wasn’t. He was even better, in that he made the guitar is own, never imitating anyone before him. Bettencourt’s unique syncopation gave his band Extreme a funk-y vibe that made them stand out. His playing was so good that it caught the ears of Rihanna, who made him her lead touring guitarist, as well.

8. George Lynch

George Lynch is simply one of the most innovative guitarists of all time. Like Eddie Van Halen, his unique style – specifically, that sideways vibrato – was imitated, but nobody could ever replicate it. The Dokken guitarist has dabbled in a plethora of musical projects over the years, some heavy metal and some in totally different areas. Lynch’s versatility is another testament to his talent.

7. Eddie Van Halen

Including Eddie Van Halen on this list might be a bit controversial, since many regard him as the best rock guitarist of all time, not heavy metal. But, even if Eddie was more of a rock player, it’s impossible to ignore his influence on heavy metal guitarists for generations to come. Eddie was simply an originator. The second his playing took off, pretty much every guitarist in the rock and metal worlds stopped what they were doing to imitate him. Of course, none of them could do it. But, he changed the game.

6. Dave Mustaine

Some guitarists shine for their emotive playing, while others simply rule when it comes to playing complex, intricate guitar lines that nobody else can pull off. Mustaine falls into the latter category. That’s not to say he’s not emotive. But, Mustaine shines best when spitting out difficult guitar work that few can rival. His longtime playing in Megadeth is a testament to his ever-growing skill and dexterity.

5. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett

Okay, it might not be fair to place James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett in the same spot, as if they are one entity. But, really, Hetfield and Hammett are best when writing and performing as one unit. There aren’t a ton of Hetfield and Hammett one-off projects, and that’s because the two of them really are Metallica. Hetfield is the king of incredible, heavy rhythm guitar, and Hammett soars with the leads. It’s truly a match made in metal heaven.

4. Zakk Wylde

Zakk Wylde had a seemingly impossible job when he joined Ozzy Osbourne’s band, serving as the guitarist to follow the late Randy Rhoads. That’s along with Jake E. Lee, who played for Ozzy from 1982 to 1987. Stepping into Rhoads’ shoes had to be the scariest role for a guitarist at the time. But, Wylde did it with grace and responsibility. He honored Rhoads’ legacy while also making the new material with Osbourne his own. Wylde also formed Black Label Society, where he not only played lead guitar but also sang lead vocals. Wylde is a gem, and the metal world is lucky to have him.

3. Randy Rhoads

It’s tragic to think that Randy Rhoads lost his life in a plane crash at the age of just 25. Yet, he still left behind a lengthy legacy of incredible guitar playing. He was born to be a guitar player, and play, he did. Rhoads was able to influence the heavy metal genre by bringing in classical influences. He also pioneered the asymmetrical V guitar, which is now one of the most popular designs for metal guitarists. He brought an elegance to everything he did, whether it was playing with Quiet Riot or helping Ozzy Osbourne present a new side of himself with Ozzy’s solo career.

2. Tony Iommi

Tony Iommi is easily one of the most important figures in heavy metal music. He’s the “Godfather of Metal,” after all. What’s unbelievable is that Iommi lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers in an industrial accident while working at age 17, but he still forged ahead and became a true innovator of heavy metal music. Black Sabbath are often referred to as the first heavy metal band. Without Iommi, there would be no Black Sabbath.

1. Dimebag Darrell

Picking someone to be No. 1 on our list of the best heavy metal guitarists of all time wasn’t easy. Any of the aforementioned guitarists could have made the slot. But, the late, great Darrell Lance Abbott, known as Dimebag Darrell, stood above the rest. Dimebag’s guitar playing in both Pantera and Damageplan is considered the blueprint for the heavy metal guitar. He had a gift for writing memorable riffs and emotive, fiery solos, even without proper guitar lessons. Dimebag was sadly shot and murdered during a Damageplan concert in Columbus, Ohio, in 2004. But, his guitar playing is far from gone. For his undying legacy, Dimebag is No. 1 on our list of the greatest heavy metal guitarists of all time.

Check out Audio Ink Radio’s recent interview with guitarist Nuno Bettencourt here and George Lynch here. Also, find our list of the greatest extreme metal bands of all time here.

Posted by Anne Erickson | Features, Interviews, Metal, Music