Tony Iommi Named Best Metal Guitarist Ever

The Black Sabbath legend topped a poll by guitar maker Gibson. It's a great list, but could you do better?

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Tony Iommi has been named the greatest heavy metal guitarist of all time.

The list by Gibson credited the Black Sabbath guitarist as a leader of the metal movement.

"Of all rock'n'roll's many styles metal is the most brutal. No matter the sub-genre, metal is held together by a reliance on loud riffing guitars and, of course, an inspiring lead guitarist", Gibson said.

"Tony's dark, distinct guitar textures in Black Sabbath helped spearhead the heavy metal movement. "Iron Man" and "Paranoid" boast some of the most memorable riffs of all time, with crushingly heavy choruses. His playing is immortalised through the generations of bands that have followed."

Iommi was followed by Metallica's Kirk Hammet and James Hetfield in joint second place, with Ozzy Osbourne's late collaborator Randy Rhoads making it to third. "While other guitarists of the era emulated Eddie Van Halen, Rhoades stepped out on his own, incorporating classic music into his passages. His untimely death in a freak airplane accident in 1982 remains one of metal's biggest heartbreaks", said Gibson.

Here's their full top 10 - though we recommend taking a look at the official UG top 10 rock guitarists, as voted for by you. Iommi only made it to 10th place there, but it had a focus on rock guitarists. We'll give you the chance to rank metal axemen in the near future.

Gibson's Greatest heavy metal guitarists:

1. Tony Iommi 2. Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield 3. Randy Rhoads 4. John Petrucci 5. Dimebag Darrell 6. Eddie Van Halen 7. Zakk Wylde 8. Adam Jones 9. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith 10. George Lynch

What do you think of the Gibson top 10? Is it good, or could you improve on it? Let us know in the comments.

241 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Kriggs
    Iommi is the greatest metal PIONEER! Not player!
    )v(egaFan90
    Yeah man I agree. I don't like these kinds of lists because the wording always makes some people angry. If you're gonna call it best metal players, it would probably go to thrash, death, or progressive metal players simply because of the complexity. I think Hammett/Hetfield belong at #2 if you consider them as influential players rather than technical players.
    zpo83
    Mustaine?
    crazysam23_Atax
    Funny how they seemed to have left him off the list...
    mop10893
    Probably because he isn't that good. Ok. He's a good guitarist, but he's extremely overrated. Now how Marty Friedman was left off is beyond me.
    Wisthler
    He is better than Hammet, I mean look at all the guitarrists of the Big Four and the thrash metal bands around them (including hetfield) All of them improved their skills with the guitar, Hammet in other hand, keeps playing just fast, with mistakes and with a lot of noise.
    bfredder92
    Lol, you think slayer's guitarists are better than kirk....lol ok. The others I agree with though.
    jimihendrix6699
    wow Adam Jones made it on. i am very surprised, but rightfully deserved.
    latinromans
    would I be right in saying he's the david gilmour of the metal world? because at least to me they seen share that same taste for tonally intense and emotionally intense minimalist solo's.
    AC0RN
    I bet John Petrucci could play circles around Hammett and Hetfield.
    GhostPlayground
    Seniority I guess, Metallica was around a bit longer than Dream Theatre, and Black Sabbath was around before any of these bands were. It's a pretty good list, but I would probably replace George Lynch with Chuck Schuldiner.
    qrEE
    I'd replace Kirk and James with Chuck, he was a thousand times better than most of the guys on this list.
    TJWhonley
    try to sing and play battery at the same time. thought so.
    RRRone
    Chuck Schuldiner could play and perform vocals on songs like Crystal Mountain, which were quite complex too. What is your point?
    Rorok_89
    Yet Dream Theater's music has never made me feel anything, while Metallica's music has. One might be a better interpreter, and the other might be better composers (both things are always a matter of taste).
    java8
    It is alright if you look Metallica more than Dream theater. But how could you not feel anything when u listen to Dream Theater?
    adamj1300
    its the vocals that ruin dream theater! the music is inc readable but vocals sux balls
    java8
    Sorry its "It is alright if you like Metallica more than Dream theater"
    crazysam23_Atax
    How could Dream Theater not make you feel? What are you, a stone?
    Rorok_89
    @crazysam23, you know, it just happens to people with lots of bands. I think it was in the last "It's the end of the week as we know it", that Zach was talking about bands that are appreciated by many people but didn't ring a bell to him . I remember he mentioned Bob Dylan, the Stones and other classic artists. We all have a great band that doesn't make us ring. And @troyofyort, it's not a matter of not liking technicality. I like King Crimson, I like Yes, I like Rush, I like Jethro Tull... Yet other prog bands that I've tried to listen just don't ring a bell in me. Like DT, Emerson Lake & Palmer, or Pink Floyd. It's not that I find anything wrong with their music, it's just it doesn't make me hot or cold. Just indifference.
    kozmo4200
    i agree sir. Led Zeppelin is obviously one of the greatest bands of all time, and i dont really care for them. i appreciate their talent and influence on many different artists but i dont care for em. i know, its blasphemy.
    Rorok_89
    @ kozmo4200 Exactly! See, Led Zeppelin are my favorite band, so when someone says something I might be tempted to cry "How on earth can you not like Led Zeppelin??? BLASPHEMY!!!" But I've learnt to be tolerant about other people's tastes, and I can perfectly understand that someone doesn't like, or even dislikes Zeppelin.
    Patrijz
    That's something a lot of metal-heads can learn from. It always frustrates me that people can't respect each others taste. Like any argument you make will influence how someone else is feeling their or your favorite music?! Glad to see not all hope is gone. OT: It's difficult to point a 'best player', it's also a matter of influence. There are so many technically great players that are less composers, and the other way around. Wish people would stop making these lists, it's too subjective.
    troyofyort
    Its cos of the technicality=no emotion mindset. Obviously has never listened to Surrounded, The Best of Times or Space-Dye Vest.
    6-String_Madman
    Maybe, it's just a matter of difference of musical tastes and preferences. As the great phrase said... To each, his own.
    Maiden95
    I'm a big fan of both Metallica and Dream Theater, but when I listen to Dream Theater, I honestly feel everything. Yeah a lot of it is over the top technical stuff but so much of it is filled with emotion, like the album Scenes From A Memory. Just my opinion though.
    Gexzilla
    Yeah, but this is not TOP 10 most technical guitarists. In the end songwriting skills matter more than ability to play accurately billion notes per second. And by saying it I don't mean that DT are playing soulless music.
    arabmetallion
    well does the title say "top 10 most technically skilled guitarists in metal"? no, so what's your point? great guitarists are also influential, innovative and write memorable material. Hammett and Hetfield hit those categories though grouping them together is a bit silly especially whenn KK Downing and Glen Tipton aren't there
    Aradmel
    I used to be a Metallica fan until I started learning guitar. I realized that they're all poses. They use all down-picking so it will look fast and technical. You people should understand that there are lots of types of Metal, not just Death/Doom Metal and Thrash. John Petrucci is a good example. He uses real technique, he doesn't give a crap if it looks impressive or not, he cares about how it sounds. He plays with soul.
    waverider_2
    They don't down pick because it makes them look like they are playing faster, they down pick because of a thing called dynamics.
    6-String_Madman
    You cannot make the same chugging power chord, Metallica sound using alternate picking. Trust me, playing in a Metallica tribute band for almost 2 years and still playing 'Tallica songs way before it... I know. And saying that Blackened, Jump In The Fire, Master Of Puppets, Dyer's Eve, Battery, etc.. are just poses is fully retarded.
    Geldin
    What the hell, kid? First off, you're wrong on the downpicking thing - fast downpicking is difficult and it's used for the chunky dynamic sound. Secondly, all technique is "real" technique. I don't like Metallica because I think their songwriting is boring and there's no bass to be found anywhere.
    6-String_Madman
    Multiple Metallica bashing in one post... Yet you have Metallica first in your favorite bands list. Awkward!
    Slaytan666
    You should try "...And Justice For Jason". Somebody placed their bass track in the mix so that you can hear it. The guy did a great job, you can actually hear what it was supposed to sound like.
    tallestfinder
    If you have to make a special track just to hear what the original was supposed to sound like, then isn't the original track lacking on something?
    Aradmel
    Ok, know what? Yes, I do know I over-reacted but it's annoying as hell that everybody here thinks they're better than lots of others on this list. They are way overrated. And one thing I forgot mentioning, don't get me wrong, I do like Metallica, just not as I used to.
    Shreddfest96
    I mean John Petrucci is good, and I'm a metallica fan, but van halen is a beast. He can shred circles around Petrucci and it actually sounds like real music.
    DexterF
    "I had three students. Two got really good... and one... makes a lot of money with his band." -Joe Satriani
    HabsFan4916
    One thing, who was he third student other than Kirk & Vai? I know is the one making money.
    DexterF
    Well, the count's beyond three by now, back then he said that I don't know which one he referred to.
    xHellbound
    I would expect Gibson to pick Iommi for more than just Iron Man and Paranoid. He has an amazing catalog of music. His most recent song "Out of my Mind" is f**kin' brutal.
    ShockHazard
    Murray & Smith, Dimebag, Rhoads, Petrucci > Hammet & Hetfield. My opinion.
    aelkeris
    Dimebag is truly better than Hammet and Hetfield. (and im not even a fan of pantera xD )
    iommi600
    Seems legit. The father and creator of the whole thing comes first. I'd also name Bill Steer.
    megaluisdeth
    Is anyone else sick of Kirk Hammet? There is a bunch of Metal Guitarist better than him! Most of his shit if just some cookie cutter solos. Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson are way better than Wahmmet.
    tmiam0720
    I love Metallica but Kirk Hammet and James Hetfield are definitely not better than John Petrucci.
    mop10893
    They aren't by themselves. But together, Hetfield and Hammett are probably the greatest lead/rhythm guitarist duo in rock history.
    DexterF
    I'll give Hetfield that he is a kick ass rhythm player. Hammett... plays penta scale really really fast.
    SGofawesome
    Mustaine, nor Schuldiner, is included. Not legit. Also, Tony may be the father of heavy metal, but he is most definitely not the best player in metal.
    Nero Galon
    I approve of Tony Iommi. His style inspired and shaped metal to come back in the late 60's early 70's.
    Maiden95
    Kirk and James, as well as Dave and Adrian, are SEPARATE players. With different styles. People don't seem to get that. Petrucci all the way.
    Braykah
    OK list, if kind of generic and badly arranged... but seriously, how the f**k can you pick George Lynch or Zakk Wylde over Chuck Schuldiner? What a joke.
    iommi600
    Downvote me if you want but I agree with this dude. Chuck was a genius, always kept bringing new elements into his music... But yeah, someone stuck in time with pinch harmonics and pentatonics is probably way better. Zakk was not even Ozzy's best guitarist, FFS.
    sabaka151
    clearly this list takes the overall resume into consideration also with playing skill. I think this is more of a respect list..
    Botti13
    Agreed on 1st place, but Kirk over Randy, Petrucci, Van Halen... ? WAT
    NoMoreNoMore66
    I'm a drummer, so i guess i might not understand a lot of the intricacies of guitar technique, but why do so many people hate Kirk Hammett? I feel like so many of his solos are instantly memorable- Ride the Lightning, Fade to Black, Welcome Home, even Nothing Else Matters. And I'm obviously leaving out many many other solos that you could literally sing on command. Is it his technique? (serious question)
    qrEE
    Ride the Lightning is Dave Mustaine's solo. Kirk Hammett is hated because he gets on all of these lists despite being a one-trick pony. Over-usage of wah-wah, shredding, etc, with tons of pentatonic. People hate him for no good reason to be honest, but he does NOT deserve top spot. Give it to someone like Buckethead who actually has the talent to deserve the spot. Kirk Hammett is a good guitarist, and Blackened, Ride the Lightning (even though Dave wrote the solo), and One rank among some of my favorite solos ever... but number 2 on lists like these is RIDICULOUS, especially in a world with Chuck Schuldiner, Gary Holt, Dave Mustaine, Ron Jarzombek, Buckethead, Mikael Akerfeldt, Karl Sanders/Dallas Toler Wade, Dave Disanto/Erik Nelson, Paul Gilbert, Luc Lemay, Alex Lee, Jon Levasseur... the list is endless.
    Braykah
    Just FYI, James played the solo in Nothing Else Matters. But yeah, I agree, Kirk has a bunch of amazing solos from Metallica's first five albums. It's just that after Black he tended to get kind of repetitive with his wah use in almost every solo, which even carried over to Death Magnetic and kind of ruined the experience. I've gotten used to it as a part of his style, though, he's not as bad as most people think.
    dennis.1960
    If the definition of 'Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists' includes writing in addition to playing ability I'd leave Tony at #1, bump EVH up to #2, move Dave & Adrian up to #3, and find room for Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth and Gaz Jennings of Cathedral.
    kratos379
    Dave Mustaine, Alex Skolnick, Paul Waggoner, and Chuck Shuldiner all deserve to be on this list. Also I love Metallica, but I don't think they should be as high up as they are. Also I don't like them pairing guitarists together. They're separate people.
    TheTee56
    Adam Jones on a best metal guitarist list? Fuck logic.
    whywefight
    Tool is metal. Adam Jones is one of the best guitarists in metal. This is not opinion.
    snorin
    ya beacause the concept of "best" totally isn't subjective...nah its pure facts right?!
    whywefight
    Tool is definitely metal. What else would they be? They have the aggression and the distortion, pounding double bass, etc. There are much less metal bands classified as metal than Tool. And I was joking with that last line.
    Scourge441
    Aggression, distortion, and double bass don't make a band metal. There are thousands of hardcore punk bands that use those elements, but that doesn't make hardcore punk metal. To be a metal band, you have to play metal riffs. Tool don't play metal riffs. Therefore, not metal. They're a heavy progressive rock band.
    Kenjamin91
    What exactly constitutes a "metal riff"? There are so many subgenres in metal that makes it hard to classify what is a metal riff. A riff made up of only powerchords can be simple and slow but metal, a lightning fast riff from cannibal corpse is usually classified as metal. There's no official classification for these things. I personally think of Tool as metal. But it's an opinion since indeed they are rather unique and progressive. You can't say it's a fact that they aren't metal.
    latinromans
    regardless of where you see tools place in metal (I can see the confusion because they do occupy a space right in the boundarys between hard rock and metal, however someone listen ticks and leechs or jambi and tell me theres no metal riffs in there) Alex jones is an amazing guitarist for the sheer fact that he has written almost single note solo's with more feeling and emotion than in every shred solo I've ever heard combined, he can obviously shred (in live shows it almost seems like his hand is teleporting from position to position, if not convinced check out third eye) he chooses not to for the sake of the emotionality and the feeling of the music, and for me personally doing the feeling of song justice over showing off skill garners alot of respect.
    TheTee56
    I love Tool, but they're not metal. I love Adam Jones, but I'm not that great and I can play his pieces. He's very creative and I love his sound, but he's not in my top ten. Is this also a fact?
    JMZ08
    Tool isn't metal, these dudes are right on that part. Although, they got the classification wrong. They're whiney-overrated-arthouse-wank-core...
    troyofyort
    I'm surprisingly ok with this list, remember its not all about technicality, even though Petrucci is my favorite guitarist.
    dahctor
    Marty Friedman. ?
    gunsnroses#1
    Though he plays Jap. pop now, I agree that his tenure in Megadeth does warrant him a place in the top ten. He's personally one of my favorites.
    KerNeL_KLuTcH
    Mustaine should be #2 shift everyone down one, petrucci is amazing however he is a "guitar jerker"
    HeavyMetalSonic
    That's messed up to put Hetfield and Hammett together. Hammett SUCKS.
    thechaostheory
    Hetfield Is amazing. He sings and his playing and his parts are way more difficult than Hammett's. Hammett is an amazing player regardless of what most people think. But he is not on the top 10. Maybe top 50.
    tehbudmang
    This looks like a typical "Greatest Guitarist" list to me. Tony Iommi is definitely one of the most influential guitarists ever, but he not the greatest guitarist. He does deserve to be on this list (just try listening to the "Heaven and Hell" riff and say that it does not still bring the heavy). Most of the guitarists on this list are extremely overrated in my opinion. I personally feel that John Petrucci is the greatest guitarist of all time due to his ability to play almost anything better than anyone else. If you like emotional and technical playing, Mr. Petrucci is your man. Case and point: "Spirit Carries On".
    Tyler_95
    I was about to say the same thing. + I prefer Hetfield over Hammett any day!
    Wouldify
    I think Iommi was a pioneer, but he clearly is far from being the best metal guitarist
    KingBobert
    Would have loved to see Downing and Tipton, probably the best tandem players I've ever heard, especially if we're doubling up spots.
    Sergej_G_NL
    In my opinion is John Petrucci a much beter metal guitarist than James Hetfield and Kirk Hammet.
    RC52190
    The thing I don't like about Dave... Is that I could tell he was self-taught before anyone told me that. I could tell he was self-taught because (and I don't know why NO ONE ever hears this in his playing except me) he can't play one ****ing riff/solo in key. It's all random notes. He has no compositional capabilities as far as putting notes together in a deliberate process. He's just gotten lucky enough over the years to find some riffs that worked for him. And on top of that, his voice is total shit -- he sounds like the whiniest of whine-bags up there -- and he's a bitter, ignorant, extremist right-wing, religious fanatic.
    Camron62\m/
    back then, Iommi didn't even try to create metal. it didn't even exist. society started calling it that. not such a bad list though. don't know if Tony is a BETTER player but.... still a good list. now UG should ask the top 10 Metal Guitarists instead of rock.
    JMZ08
    Haha, they coined the term because they all worked in Birmingham's heavy metal industry. That's how Iommi destroyed his fingers. They played music that sounded as harsh and abrasive as their work surroundings. Heard that in an interview
    DoubleBassCrash
    Huh! I was wondering if I'd see Adam jones on the list, & sure enough, there he is! But No.8? Hmmmmm.... & Randy Rhoads under James & Kirk? I don't like that at all... but hey, these things are always subjective.