There have been many guitar virtuosos throughout music history. The heavy metal genre in particular boasts many grand and glorious guitarists. Their talents range from crunchy riffs to blistering solos. We’ve narrowed down the list to the Top 10 Heavy Metal Guitarists in Music History. See if your favorites made the cut.
10) Joe Satriani (Chickenfoot) – A 15-time Grammy nominee, Joe Satriani is a master with the axe. In fact, in addition to his claim to fame as one of the greatest metal guitarists in history, he also taught many of they other guitar greats including Steve Vai, Larry LaLonde, Rick Hunolt, Kirk Hammett, and Andy Timmons. In 1986, Mick Jagger put Satriani centerstage as lead guitarist for his first solo. He also played with Deep Purple and supergroup Chickenfoot.
9) Joey Miroballi (Joker) – Hailing from Chicago, Joker was the quintessential metal band destined for greatness. After success with independent label Red Light Entertainment, Joker’s sophomore album Cool Deal was set to be one of Zoo Entertainment’s big releases, but sadly with the advent of grunge, Zoo dropped its plans to distribute the album. Better late than never, Pavement Entertainment released the album in 2017, showcasing Joey Miroballi’s masterful guitar technique. It’s a shame Miroballi and Joker never got the worldwide exposure they deserved, but music aficionados will definitely want to track down Joker’s two albums Joker and Cool Deal.
8) Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) – Despite starting his music training as a drummer, Nuno Bettencourt eventually started learning the guitar from his brother Luis. What started off as a minor hobby, eventually became an all-consuming passion for Bettencourt. He was known to skip school to practice guitar 7 hours a day. Bettencourt eventually hit the big time with the band Extreme and their hit More than Words. He also made many monumental contributions to the work of other artists including Janet Jackson, Dweezil Zappa, Dan Reed Network, Robert Palmer, Tantric, Toni Braxton, Joe Jonas, and Nickleback.
7) Dimebag Darrel (Pantera, Damageplan) – Darrel Abbot, best known by his stage name Dimebag Darrel was the guitarist for legendary metal band Pantera. The son of a country music producer, Darrel released his first Pantera album at the age of 16. The glam rock offering, as well as two subsequent albums, spotlighted him under the stage name Diamond Darrel. With the replacement of original vocalist Terry Glaze with Phil Anselmo, Pantera made its major label debut with Cowboys from Hell in 1990. After Pantera broke up in 2003, Dimebag Darrel formed Damageplan with brother Vinnie Paul. Dimebag Darrel was shot and killed in 2004 by a fan while onstage in the middle of a show.
6) Slash (Guns N’ Roses)- Saul Hudson, better known by his stage name Slash, rose to fame in the 1980s and 90s with the metal band Guns N’ Roses. He also has performed with the bands Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver. He has also released a number of solo albums, and is currently touring with Axl Rose and Duff McKagan in a reunited Guns N’ Roses. Time magazine named Slash as its runner up its list of “The Ten Best Electric Guitar Players.” Rolling Stone included Slash in its list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” He has collaborated with such musicians as Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Alice Cooper, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Carole King.
5) Toni Iommi (Black Sabath) – The lead guitarist and co-founder of metal band Black Sabbath, Toni Iommi was the band’s primary composer for five decades. Rolling Stone magazine labeled him on of “The 100 Greatest Guitarist of All Time.” At the age of 17, Iommi lost the tips of two fingers in an industrial accident. He was told he would never play guitar again. He proved everyone wrong by becoming one of the most influential guitarists in metal history. His 2000 solo album Iommi featured collaborations with Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl, Billy Corgan, Phil Anselmo, and Ozzy Osbourne.
4) Steve Vai (David Lee Roth, Frank Zappa, Whitesnake) – A three-time Grammy-winner and 15-time Grammy nominee, Steve Vai started his music career at the age of 18 working with Frank Zappa. Under the guidance of his guitar teacher Joe Satriani, Vai would practice 10 to 15 hours a day. He then went on to appear and record with Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth, and Whitesnake. He has also released 8 solo albums. He has also worked with such artists as Mary J. Blige, Spinal Tap, and Ozzy Osbourne. He was voted “10th Greatest Guitarist” by Guitar World magazine. He also appeared in the 1986 film Crossroads as the Devil’s prize guitar player.
3) Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds) – After starting his professional music career as a session player, Jimmy Page became one of London’s most highly in demand guitarists. He was a member of the Yardbirds from 1966 to 1968. After the Yardbirds broke up, Page formed Led Zeppelin – a band that would go on to help define heavy metal. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Page number three in its list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” He was ranked number two in Gibson guitar’s list of “Top 50 Guitarists of All Time”, and number four in Classic Rock’s “100 Wildest Guitar Heroes.” He was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Yardbirds and also as a member of Led Zeppelin.
2) Randy Rhoads (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne) – Although he originally trained as a classical guitarist, Randy Rhoads redefined heavy metal as the guitarist for Quiet Riot and then Ozzy Osbourne. His unmistakable guitar work is clearly evident in such Ozzy songs as Crazy Train and Mr. Crowley. Rhoads was included in Rolling Stone magazine’s “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and placed fourth in Guitar World magazine’s “100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists”. He also was noted in Guitar World’s list of “The 50 Fastest Guitarists.” Rhoads was killed in a plane crash in 1982 at the age of 25.
1) Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen) – The lead guitarist and main songwriter for the band Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen was born in Amsterdam, but came to the U.S. with his family in 1962. He and brother Alex started learning piano at the age of 6. Even as a child, Van Halen showed a gift for music. He would listen to Bach and Mozart and then improvise his own renditions of their work. He would also study the work of Eric Clapton, learning the elder’s guitar solos note for note. Eddie cofounded the band Van Halen in 1972 with brother Alex on drums, Mark Stone on bass, and David Lee Roth as vocalist. In 1974, Stone was replaced by Michael Anthony. Eddie Van Halen is credited as one of the early guitarists to popularize finger tapping in which he could perform rapid arpeggios to be played with two hands on the fretboard. He ranked 8th on Rolling Stone magazine’s “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” After battling cancer, he died of a stroke in October 2020 at the age of 65.