Top 10 Most Influential Metal Guitarists

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If it’s loud, furious and sounds the least bit “evil”, then it’s probably metal. Aside from the over-the-top themes and the sonic wallop it packs, heavy metal is celebrated for its high levels of musicianship on every instrument, but most importantly, the guitar. This is a list of those who are arguably the most influential  guitarists in a genre of music that never really gets it’s due.

10. Kurt Ballou of Converge


You may be asking yourself, “Who the hell is this guy?” Listen to any of Converge’s songs and you’ll get treated to a blistering blend of punk aesthetics, but with metal’s swagger and menace. Think of the last modern metal band you listened to –  did they have a bunch of jagged, dissonant riffs and off-kilter solos that were still  melodic and powerful? Well, Kurt’s been busting out riffs like that since 1993 on a Fender Jazzmaster.

9. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin


Plain and simple, Jimmy Page’s riffs were dark and monstrous and got stuck in your head for days. Jimmy influenced millions of kids in the 70’s to pick up a guitar.

8. Dimebag Darrell of Pantera


A lot of metalheads nowadays (especially the ones my age, in their early to mid 20s) only know Dimebag as the guy that got brutally murdered onstage by a deranged ex-Marine and that’s a shame. Dimebag wrote riffs that were hooky and heavy all at once. When grunge was all the rage, Pantera kept the flag of American metal flying high and proud.  Pantera invented those “chugga chugga” breakdowns and high-pitched harmonic squeals that now dominate the landscape of metal. Also, in a scene full of people scowling, Dimebag knew how to grin like a fool and have as much fun as possible – something that’s dreadfully missing from modern metal.

7. Slash of Guns N’ Roses


Slash could out-shred many of his Sunset Strip contemporaries, but he knew that he never needed to. His big, emotive blues-inflected solos could say it all with only 10 notes instead of the 10,000 that most guitarists at the time used. There were many other glam metal guitarists before him, but few were that effortlessly cool?

6. Page Hamilton of Helmet


Page was a seasoned jazz guitarist, but wielded his guitar with a jock’s brutality, much like he was swinging a hockey stick. He took minimal jazz ideals and applied it to heavy metal. His powerful, staccato riffing and dramatic vocal shifts from soft and clean to full-on bulldog bark, influenced a slew of bands like Korn, the Deftones and countless others.


5. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden


Their influence is heard all over metal – the doubled lead riffs, the harmonized solos, the fast paced rhythms, the first signs of shred, etc. They were/are an impact on a massive scale to anyone that considers themselves a metalhead.

4. Robert Fripp of King Crimson


Robert Fripp’s dark, jazzy riffs, coupled with his band’s willingness to create ridiculously intricate song structures, opened up doors that didn’t previously exist in the realm of heavy metal music or any music at the time. Bands like Dream Theater, Opeth or Between The Buried And Me owe their existence to Robert Fripp.

3. Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen


If Eddie had recorded “Eruption” and decided quit playing guitar afterward, then his legacy would still have be cemented. He invented shred.

2. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica


James and Kirk are the successors to Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s title of “Most Lethal Guitar Duo Ever.” James’ frantic mute-picking created rhythms so fast is was almost like a buzzsaw, and Kirk’s wild shredding wasn’t “sloppy”- it had character. Nowadays, they’re all old and bitter, but the kids still connect with them – and that’s really what matters.

1. Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath


In the documentary “Heavy: A Headbanger’s Journey”, Rob Zombie makes the statement that “Every cool riff  has been written by Black Sabbath. Whether it’s being played faster or slower or backwards or whatever – Black Sabbath did it first.” Ozzy may have been the most infamous member, but Tony Iommi’s evil riffs and liberal use of drop-tuning was the core of Black Sabbath’s legendary sound, and the birth of heavy metal.

Written by Daniel Harlow


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63 Comments

  1. wow… where to begin here, i have seen converge live and they are truly awful, they got booed vehemently by the crowd. There were few riffs, mostly over distorted excuses for riffs and certainly not a guitar solo to be heard, the fact that they are on list over other musicians like Dave mustaine, Chuck from Death, Buckethead, or anyone else with a drop of talent is shameful. Also, why is slash on here, he is very over rated, ask anyone who knows about guitar playing and they will tell you what he does, including solos, is pretty simple. He has even admitted to not being as musically adept as other guitarists. everyone else on the list looks pretty solid really, Eddie at number 3 is a bit high for my liking but at least he was talented.

  2. ZAKK WYLDE and Dave mustaine most certainly need to be on this list. even Satriani and Petrucci were snubbed

  3. Well, I have a few to make mention of. The people who inquired as to Yngwie Malmsteen, Thumbs up to you guys and there was also mention of Buckethead, also a good choice. Here are some others : Tony MacAlpine, Joey Tafolla, Steve Howe (of YES), Frank Marino (Mahogany Rush), Steve Morse, Richard Thompson, Marty Friedman, Alex Masi, Jake E. Lee, Steve Vai, Vinnie Vincent, Matthias Jabs (Scorpions), Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest), Greg Howe, Paul Gilbert, Jeff Watson, Ted Nugent or any guitar player who is signed and contracted with a recording company called Shrapnel Records. They record albums for the guitar “shredders”

  4. Not A Squirrel on

    Influential to the genre, or from within the genre? I’d say, if its the former, then you have to include Ritchie Blackmore, and if its the latter you gotta remove Jimmy Page, they’re not metal. Also Jeff Beck was one of the first (pre-hendrix) to use a fuzz box.

  5. KK Downing and Glen Tipton from an influential standpoint should absolutely be there.

    EPIC FAIL on this list….

  6. Can u stfu?! This is Metal…it’s diffrerent than those funny music. Don’t u listen to these new albums of metallica(death and beyond magnetic)?? Is this what dave mustaine teach them?!? U’re wrong man,wrong…

  7. WHAAT? the real top is this :
    1. DAVE MUSTAINE ( kirk hammet is only famous because he plays the riffs and solos Dave wrote when he was still in metallica)
    2. JOHN PETRUCCI
    3. KERRY kING

  8. If your really wanting talk influential, you have to look at the genre of music your reffering to alot of the guitarists that many people mentioned are great guitar players, but without guys like Mustaine, Schulinder,of death,Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Jimmy.Page, these were the guys who, influenced so many of the great.players mentioned these are the guys who helped lead players like Paul Gilbert, Slash, Tony McAlpine, Greg Howe to become great players and yes their influential to many out there but with out the genre originals like Tony Iommi,etc you.wouldnt have all these players and genres of guitar players.

  9. Ritchie Blackmore without a doubt. His solo in Highway Star is one of the most influential solos for metal, ever. Nobody was playing guitar like that in rock music. Also, the album, In Rock , has some awesome heavy riffs and straight up rocking out to the point that it becomes metal. You can tell Metallica was HEAVILY influenced by Deep Purple. Highway star sounds like something from kill em all and parts of ride the lightning, especially in the solos. Anyways, I find it surprising that he’s never mentioned in these types of discussion..

  10. Why the hell are not KK Downing and Glenn Tipton in this list? They were the pioneers of Dave Murray/Adrian Smith´s guitar style that is heard all over heavy metal!!