Your Top 5 "Metal" Guitarists of All Time!

Would love to start a discussion on this topic, who are your top metal guitarists? Hard Rock OK too! I know with only 5, there will lots of disagreements and “how can you leave so and so off that list” but then again that is the fun of these threads. I do hope we can get active as i love to hear others opinions.

Here are mine in order and obviously influenced by my tastes:

5. Jesper Strömblad - Formerly of In Flames. Not uncommon to see him in the top 50, but I think he is way underrated! Just listen to almost anything off Reroute to Remain and it is easy to see (hear) what makes me a top 5 guitarist.

**4. Tommy Iommi **- Black Sabbath - Maybe a tad overrated given so many think he is simply the best, but Tommy has mastered the dark, heavy and lumbering chords and is amazing.

3. Zakk Wylde - BLS - Maybe not as deep as Iommi, But I love the southern blues riffs Zakk adds to his music. He has great range going from bluesy to as heavy as he needs to. Guy can sing too!

**2. George Lynch **- Dokken - With the exception of my number one artist, Lynch might be the most high energy. Some of his solo work like Mr. Scary are pretty incredible.

**1. Alexi Laiho **- Children of Bodom - To hear this guy play a solo it is amazing to me that anyone would not see how incredibly talented he is. Ironically one of his best solos and the one I recommend everyone hear to gauge his skill would be his side work on the Synergy project. Just listen to his solo on “I spit on your grave” and tell me who else could pull that off? It is VERY select company.
Notable exceptions:

Dave Murray - Iron Maiden - not the most technical, heavy or fastest, but he is an artist.

Dave Mustaine - Megadeth - IMO Mustaine plays circles around Hammett

**Randy Rhodes **- Duh. Guy was amazing, too bad he did not have more time to continue his mastery.

**Silenoz **- Dimmu Borgir - Way underrated, seem a bit limited in range but what he does he does very well.

Slash - GnR - Not metal and not the most technical, but at the end of the day how does he sound? Great!

Kirk Hammett - No the guy doesn’t suck, but every time I see him in the top 2 or 3 I have to ask where he would be if he played in a tier 2 or 3 band and not Metallica. Steve Vai (or Mustaine) in Metallica would propel them to possibly the best ever.

Yngwie Malmsteen - Master of speed metal and not much else. Definitely good, borderline great, but not top 10 of all time as I often see him listed.

  1. Jerry Cantrell
  2. Steve Vai
  3. Dimebag Darrel
  4. Marty Friedman
  5. EVH

He didn’t just master them, he invented them and that’s why he is so highly (and deservedly) rated.

Interesting story about Dimebag, he praised EVH’s guitar paint job so much that Eddie made one for a gift (except in yellow, the BumbleBee). But Darrel died before Eddie could give it to him so he was buried with it. Why some fan of either hasn’t dug it up yet is a mystery.

I like Cantrell… really I do. But at number one? That’s a stretch for me.

Does the OP want to talk about lead guitarists or rhythm guitarists?

I was referring mostly to leads but hey, lets hear what you got!

I put Cantrell up there for a variety of reasons. In essence, I think he’s one of the most well-rounded metal musicians going. He has a great, heavy, dark sound, writes great songs, plays leads that really fit the music (and are technical enough in nature to satisfy my inner Satriani), sings really well and has had success with AIC, a solo career, and now AIC again.

I have a lot of “me toos” up above like Dave, Rhodes, Lynch, and Vai but I think it’s important to remember Nuno Bettencourt.

At first glance, Extreme looked like pure 80s Glam Metal cheese but Nuno classed the place up in frequently shocking displays of virtuosity and all-around shredding.

His solos were jaw-dropping and his leads were aggressive, technical, and funky at the same time. But what really got me was that he simply never seemed to just sit back, take a break, and ride a chord now and then. Even when he wasn’t in the spotlight Nuno was always playing these incredibly energetic and interesting harmonies in the background while Gary Cherone was shrieking about having sex with anything that would hold still. Unfortunately, he stopped trying so hard with Mourning Widows, Drama Gods and other later projects, but man, that guy kicked ass circa 1990.

Okay then… in no particular order:

Jeff Hanneman (Slayer)
Gary Holt (Exodus)
Brian Carroll aka Buckethead (Praxis, Guns N’ Roses, etc.)
Rocky George (Suicidal Tendencies, Cro-Mags, Fishbone, etc.)
Helios Creed (Chrome, Skin Yard)

All of the above have consistently offered, IMO, terrific solos showing amazing technique and a keen sense of melody. Also, all have been around for decades and yet have shown very few, if any, missteps.

There’s a bunch of guys who don’t have the same number of years and output that might someday be among the greatest ever, but because of their relative noob status, I’m hard pressed to accord them the same status as their more venerable brethren. My list of 5 up-and-comers would include:

Tosin Abasi (Animals As Leaders)
Muhammed Suiçmez (Necrophagist)
Douglas Sabolick (A Life Once Lost)
David Davidson (Revocation, Cryptic Warning)
Dean Pleasants (Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves)

A shared award to Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs of The Scorpions. They trade off, over, on top, of each others rhythm and lead playing amazingly, and are huge composer and writer contributors as well.

In no particular order:

Slash - the reason I picked up the guitar.
Dave Mustaine - makes my list based on Rust In Peace alone.
James Hetfield - the Grand Wizard of Metal Riffs.
Scott Ian - the engine that makes Anthrax go.
Marty Friedman - I didn’t want to name two guys from the same band, and I’m much more about the rhythm guitarist than the lead, but Marty Friedman is too good a guitar player to ignore.

I am NOT trying to be a weenie or start a dust-up - I am trying to figure out what scope I am working with:

  • So Slash is Metal? I would’ve said Hard Rock and not Metal. What does that make Joe Perry?

  • I would assume Malcolm and Angus are OUT of scope, as are punk types.

  • And while Satriani and EVH shred, neither have played what I would typically call Metal - right? I mean, if there is a list of top guitarists that doesn’t include EVH, it’s either a bad list or he’s not in scope :wink:

  • If we are including older-school-defined “heavy” metal - does that mean Jimmy Page is part of this discussion?

I’m inclined to go with folks like Iommi, Schenker, Mustaine, Tom Morello and Jerry Cantrell, but if Page were included, someone would get booted - prolly Cantrell, but damn I really love his playing…

WordMan, the OP does say “Hard rock OK too!” so that leaves a lot of leeway for EVH and Angus Young, etc.

I know that in my lists, there’s a couple of people that it might be argued don’t actually play in “metal” bands, but I think it’s beyond dispute that the music they play is “heavy”.

Would have to go with folks like Beck, Page, EVH, Malcolm Young, Townshend, Keith Richards…

  1. Steve Vai- great melodic sensibility, amazing chops, great expressiveness. You know right away when it’s Vai.

  2. Tony MacAlpine- plays all genres well, but his metal work is particularly notable.

  3. Buckethead- Most of his stuff is kinda stupid, IMO, but when he plays straight melodic rock and metal he’s amazing.

  4. Herman Li(Dragonforce)- Not many guitar players can keep solos interesting for up to three minutes in the middle of a traditional song, but him and his partner in crime Sam Totman do just that. Li gets the #4 slot because as good as Totman is, Li is just insane.

  5. Yngwie Malmsteen- The fastest there is, also the most repetitive there is. He’s been peddling the same leads since 1983. But I just don’t see how you can have a top 5 list without the neoclassical master.

It does bring up an interesting point though. If you’re old enough (like me), what was once metal (Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, etc) is no longer metal when compared to later acts (Metallica, Slayer, etc) in the lexicon. But then there are always seemingly exceptions, like say, Black Sabbath, which are always considered “metal” and never got booted from that stance to “just hard rock” or whatever like the other formerly metal bands from earlier.

So you see, it was almost just as confusing then to define the genre as it is now, what with metal itself having 5,327 sub-genres…


The Scorpions have been my favorite band for decades, and their ability to make three chord progressions sound great is unparalleled. But I don’t know, when I think of metal guitarists, for me the standard is, can this guy play jawdropping leads? Matthias Jabs is more than okay, but if you’ve ever heard his extended solos during concerts, he’s really a very limited guitar player. Plus I don’t think there’s anything unique about his playing style. If he was in another band I wouldn’t say, “Hey, that’s Matthias Jabs!” I would say that about Michael Schenker though, he’s very distinctive.

If you like the Scorpions you should check out George Lynch’s(Dokken) tribute album to them. Lynch is another guitar player whose style is instantly recognizable and he takes Jabs’ solos(as well as Uli Roth’s) to the next level on that album. Of course it’s not nearly as good as the Scorpions’ versions as complete songs, but the solos easily blow the Scorps out of the water.

I wonder what happened to him. He became a parody of himself at some point along the way. If you carefully listen to Rising Force, his first album, there’s a LOT of melody there. The songs are well-crafted and have well-defined melodies. Yeah there’s a goodly amount of shredding too but it’s more in context.

Now though? Jesus Christ, I watch anything relatively recent on YouTube or something and I cannot bear to listen to the endless drivel of harmonic minor scales and sweep picking at 78 speed over and over again. He was embarrassing when he played with G3. Just awful.

Facing the Animal in 1998 was the last good album he did, IMO. It’s not only his playing, the production values of the albums have gone downhill and he isn’t selecting his supporting cast as well as he used to. His last album, he’s the singer!

But even with his shortcomings these days, I’m a sucker for that playing. I can watch him live over and over again and never get tired of it.