Top 10 Best Rhythm Guitarists

The Top Ten
1 James Hetfield James Alan Hetfield was born on August 3, 1963. He is an American musician, singer and songwriter known for being the co-founder, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and main songwriter for the American heavy metal band Metallica.

Hetfield is truly one of the best rhythm guitarists ever, period. James Hetfield is the king of melody and power. Seriously, I have never heard someone so good at what he does on the rhythm guitar. Every single person has a different opinion on their best Metallica riff, because a large majority of them have unparalleled rhythm from James.

James knows how to make the most perfect blend of rhythm, power, groove, tone, etc. He is the exemplar of a powerful tone combined with stellar playing.

James Hetfield is undoubtedly the tightest metal rhythm guitar player of all time. The main riff of Battery is a fantastic example. Those triplets are so incredibly tight, and he double-tracked them all. The fact that he can play it and sing simultaneously while maintaining such precision simply blows my mind. Disposable Heroes is another great example. He plays the main riff effortlessly. Just take a look at the Metal Allegiance cover of the song on YouTube, and you'll understand how difficult it is to play the riff tightly for mere mortals. His lyrics are a refreshing break from the usual cringey, violent metal lyrics. They really play on your mind. I could watch him riff along all day. The riff after the solo in Dyer's Eve is my favorite and probably Metallica's heaviest riff ever.

2 Malcolm Young Malcolm Mitchell Young was an Australian musician and songwriter, best known as a co-founder, rhythm guitarist, backing vocalist and songwriter for the hard rock band AC/DC.

There is no doubt when you listen to the music and are able to hear the rhythm carrying the song, you will agree that Malcolm was one of the pioneers and true artists. People recognized that. That's what paved the way to new music - that constant beautiful riff. Malcolm didn't say, Hey, pick me! The people heard the sound and picked him. He just wanted to play. RIP Sir Malcolm, you are the best!

A lot of people consider Angus to be the force behind AC/DC's huge success. He's not! Malcolm is the one who's playing the riffs of Highway to Hell, Back in Black, You Shook Me All Night Long, and a lot of others, but just these three could place him at first place, above the guitarist from Avenged Sevenfold at least! He's classic, every riff from his career can stay behind in your ear.

Definitely the best. He can sing a little bit, but most importantly: He writes unbelievable riffs, and his playing goes straight to the heart. He plays it easy with some chords, but his timing is very difficult to imitate. James Hetfield as number one? Malcolm is definitely better. No one has got timing like him. And this is most important when you are a rhythm guitarist.

3 Dave Mustaine David Scott "Dave" Mustaine (born September 13, 1961) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, actor and author. Mustaine is best known as a pioneer in Thrash Metal, being the former lead guitarist of Metallica before his dismissal in 1983, leading to finding and becoming the front man of his own band Megadeth shortly after.

Although I personally prefer James Hetfield's rhythm playing, Dave Mustaine is in a league of his own. Not only is Mustaine a monster when playing rhythm, but his solos are absolutely insane as well. Just listen to Peace Sells, Rust In Peace, Countdown To Extinction, etc. (NOT the 2004 Expanded Editions), and you'll get what I mean.

Dave and Zacky V are technically at the top. We need more people like them who are actual musicians, i.e., Bob Weir. Bob's playing is so much more subtle than your average metal guy who plays only the 1 and 5 of a power chord all over the neck. He knows blues, jazz improv (McCoy Tyner, Coltrane, cool jazz). I agree with Keith Richards, Izzy, etc. They know how to layer sound, weaving in different positions of the same chord, in different neck locations - or the "ancient art of weaving." I've seen people do good covers of them, but they typically miss 75% of the subtle aspects, i.e., drone strings, inversions, etc.

4 Izzy Stradlin Jeffrey Dean Isbell, better known by his stage name Izzy Stradlin, is an American guitarist, singer and songwriter.

Izzy is a mixture of the best of rhythm. He was influenced by punk, reggae, rock n' roll, and even prog. He has written some awesome riffs and conquered a lot of Guns N' Roses songs with his playing. Trust me, your most loved parts of GN'R songs, aside from the solos, are Izzy's work. But Slash gets the credit because he is an icon. However, when it comes to music, Izzy destroys. He plays in so many different tones and ways. He writes great songs with great rhythm parts. He is incredibly cool and makes a hell of a cool back vocalist. His solo stuff is very good. It's just good old rock n' roll. He excels on acoustic too. That's a big plus for guys like Izzy, Keef, and Townshend against guys like Mustaine and Hetfield. They are damn good at acoustic too. Still, it's good to see him on a list like this.

Being a rhythm guitarist, Izzy has been my biggest influence to this date. He's got that old school rock vibe going on in his songs even to this day. I've never seen another guy play rhythm patterns like he does. I wasn't even aware of how much he has contributed until I started playing rhythm. Then I realized he was the one making the songs sound so good and complete. He just knew when to play and when not to. That's Izzy. The coolest style of playing. Just listen to Ghost Ft. Ian Astbury. That's what I'm talking about. Izzy's the rhythm guitarist I always want to be.

5 Zacky Vengeance Zachary James Baker, better known by his stage name Zacky Vengeance, is an American musician, best known as the rhythm guitarist, backing vocalist, and founding member for the American alternative metal/ metalcore band Avenged Sevenfold. Zacky V. also owns a small clothing company, Vengeance University.

I am a massive Zacky Vengeance fan, probably his number one fan! Zacky is the best because he plays co-lead guitarist for Synyster. He does harmonies for songs like Second Heartbeat, Afterlife, Buried Alive, Nightmare, Unholy Confessions, etc. I own his guitar and am proud to own it because if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't even be playing guitar well.

Just a great rhythm, Zacky, especially with Synister. You're awesome, playing with your left hand. Avenged Sevenfold - love it or die! He is great, the perfect couple, not only does he play the chords, but also he plays the harmony with Synyster Gates. I like them. Also, when they are playing solos or intros together, like in Afterlife.

People, Zacky isn't up here because of Syn, so saying he's the best rhythm guitarist because he does harmony is incorrect. Everyone is mentioning Syn when this has nothing to do with him. Zacky is up here on the list because he unites everything with his guitar and because he can do rhythm to any type of music.

6 Keith Richards Keith Richards is an English musician—primarily a guitarist—singer, songwriter, best-selling memoirist, and founding member of the rock band The Rolling Stones.

Hetfield and Mustaine over Keef? No guitarist can hold a song like Richards did. He's a genius of the guitar. He invented every Stones riff existing. He can tune his guitar to every song to get the correct tone. He's one of the rare riffers who can only challenge Hendrix or Page at riffing, and so many other things.

If you want to learn the essence of rhythm guitar, you need to eat, live, breathe, and listen to everything Keith plays. Do this for a few years, and you'll definitely have the feel for a good rhythm riff. Long live Keith.

Keith created a one-of-a-kind sound. You knew it was him from the second you heard the first note. He laid down some of the most recognizable and memorable grooves of all time. In my opinion, he is the best ever.

7 John Lennon John Winston Ono Lennon, MBE (9 October 1940 - 8 December 1980) was an English singer and songwriter who rose to worldwide fame as a co-founder of the Beatles, the most commercially successful band in the history of popular music. He was assassinated by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980 at age 40. Lennon was characterised by the rebellious nature and acerbic wit in his music, writing and drawings,... read more

John Lennon made the guitar speak. Listen to Come Together, Cold Turkey, Revolution, I Want You, or Yer Blues for prime examples. His solos on Get Back and The Ballad of John and Yoko are brilliantly simple and to the point. A true original and classic guitarist!

A master of time, tone, and taste. Complemented George Harrison's lead work. Able to play with any lead guitarist and maintain the rhythm. John and George were the first of the two-guitar attack in rock music, followed by Keith Richards and Brian Jones.

Just a superb, solid player - unique hard playing style - one of the best ever - honed in all-night German stints - drove on the best band ever, and he knew it!

8 Tony Iommi Anthony Frank "Tony" Iommi is an English guitarist, songwriter and producer. Best known as lead guitarist and founding member of the pioneering heavy metal band Black Sabbath, he has been the band's sole continual member and primary composer. At age 17, he accidentally lost the fingertips of his middle and ring fingers on his right hand, and considered giving up music. His boss encouraged him to continue... read more

Ah, Tony Iommi. Without Black Sabbath, would we have Metallica, Slayer, Slipknot, etc.? I think not. Mr. Iommi falls into the same group as Lennon, for me. A legend, one who brought a whole new dimension to rock and roll guitar.

Unbelievably amazing, definitely top ten.

He does some great solos, but it's his riffs that are more memorable.

9 Pete Townshend Peter Dennis Blandford "Pete" Townshend is an English musician, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, best known as the lead guitarist and songwriter for the rock band The Who.

Oh my God! The incredible amount of riffs he wrote, the fact he could sing perfectly, write an amazing amount of awesome songs...

Oh! And when it comes to playing guitar, he's a genius. Maybe he isn't the most talented (though he's damn close), but he's got something: passion! Just listen to the way he plays at Live at Leeds (and he was depressed that day!) and Live at the Isle of Wight and let him kick your ass.

Pete Townshend is one of the greatest guitarists ever, let alone a rhythm player. He doesn't play many solos, but he could still outperform lots of other people who do crazy solos.

Pete was the only rhythm player in the entire band! Entwistle, Moon, and Daltrey were all lead players. Without Pete, The Who would have been senseless noise. Now that's a rhythm player of the highest order!

10 Scott Ian Scott Ian is an American musician, best known as the rhythm guitarist, backing and additional lead vocalist, and the only remaining original founding member of the thrash metal band Anthrax. He also writes the lyrics on all their albums.

No one has written so many awesome, unmistakable, and original riffs as Scott Ian. You can tell right away which Anthrax or S.O.D song you're listening to. Also, he is a man who has mastered both the relentless down-picking style of thrash and how to play groove riffs. And you have to mention his unique guitar sound, that really crunchy guitar sound that so many metal bands use these days!

Another strong rhythm player. And who's surprised? This is the top ten rhythm guitar players, after all, and Scott Ian is a member of the Big Four of Thrash. Rhythm guitarists in that illustrious crew have to be tight, and Mr. Ian is no exception.

The mastermind of Anthrax's monstrous, infectious riff. He's THE MAN and the walking dude. His presence on stage is just awesome. Thank you for your music.

The Contenders
11 Paul Stanley Stanley Bert Eisen, known professionally by his stage name Paul Stanley, is an American musician, singer, songwriter and painter best known for being the rhythm guitarist and co-lead singer of the rock band Kiss.

It's not easy keeping up with Ace Frehley, much less laying the rhythmic backdrop for the Space Ace's melodic leads to soar over!

He is the person responsible for great anthems like Rock and Roll All Nite, Detroit Rock City, and I Was Made for Loving You, etc. In 1973, he made KISS and laid down the foundation of one of the greatest bands of all time.

Second only to the great Malcolm Young in my opinion.

12 Nancy Wilson Nancy Lamoureaux Wilson is an American musician, singer, songwriter, producer, and composer. She rose to fame alongside her older sister, singer Ann Wilson, as a guitarist and backing vocalist in the rock band Heart, which she joined in 1974.

Probably the most underrated guitarist. Period. Better at 61 than at 30. Amazing, especially with acoustic.

Yeah, she's been awesome for decades...

13 Brad Whitford

Anyone who plays guitar knows how underrated Brad Whitford is. He's not flashy, but he could be. Brad is a better guitarist than Joe Perry. He is very good technically.

He's in the top 3, right up there with Malcolm Young, Hetfield, and Stradlin.

Most best guitarist lists are a joke. It's a popularity contest.

Unlike most rhythm guitarists, you can actually, you know, hear Whitford on Aerosmith tracks. He can keep a beat better than a lot of bassists out there. It was his rhythm guitar part in Helter Skelter that made it almost better than the Beatles' original.

You HAVE to vote for Mr. Whitford. The song he wrote for Aerosmith, "Last Child," was one of their biggest hits.

14 Jon Schaffer Jon Ryan Schaffer is an American heavy metal musician. He is best known as the guitarist and last remaining original member of the Florida-based heavy metal band Iced Earth, which he formed in 1985 under the name "Purgatory".

Not just insanely fast, but the machine-like consistency of his playing, the stellar clarity and intricate little accents on his palm mutes... The speed we mere mortals perceive as super fast is only moderately paced for The Schaffer, who chooses to play far below his actual maximum speeds to retain that insane level of consistency, tightness, and control.

The only reason he's not number one is that not enough people know who he is, which is a real shame. I've never heard a guitarist who can gallop faster than Jon Schaffer. If you haven't listened to any Iced Earth songs, listen to When The Night Falls, Life and Death, Travel in Stygian, Stormrider, or Dante's Inferno.

Jon Schaffer and Jeff Waters should be in the top 10. He's got power, speed, and stamina comparable to James Hetfield's. Jon Schaffer is the King of gallops.

15 Kerry King Kerry Ray King is an American musician, best known as a guitarist for the American thrash metal band Slayer.

Kerry King had the unenviable task of playing rhythm guitar lines and dual leads that kept pace with Dave Lombardo, and later Paul Bostaph's thundering drums. He deserves to be on the list if for nothing else than the sheer speed at which he can maintain consistency!

16 Adrian Smith Adrian Frederick "H" Smith is an English guitarist, best known as a member of Iron Maiden, for whom he writes songs and performs live backing vocals on some tracks.

Yes, both of them, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, did lead guitar. But it seems like Adrian did most of the rhythm parts.

17 Robbin Crosby

Also does amazing leads, great tone and chops. RIP King.

18 Eddie Van Halen Edward Lodewijk "Eddie" Van Halen (January 26, 1955 – October 6, 2020) was a Dutch-American musician, songwriter, producer, and inventor. He was best known as the lead guitarist, occasional keyboardist and co-founder of the hard rock band Van Halen.

Are you kidding me? Easily number "1". Why is he listed so low here?

19 Rudolf Schenker Rudolf Schenker is a German guitarist and founding member of the hard rock band Scorpions, being the rhythm guitarist and one of the main songwriters of the band.

His awesome guitar-playing and rhythms are one thing, but the way he plays and all the energy he uses on stage makes him the best rhythm guitarist by miles.

The Scorpions' ax-man should be WAY higher on this list. He created some of the most memorable riffs in rock history! Even 40+ years later, just listen to Sting in the Tail!

Rudolf deserves the top place! He created Scorpions and beats every single rhythm guitar player!

20 Dimebag Darrell Darrell Lance Abbott, also known as Diamond Darrell and Dimebag Darrell, was an American guitarist and songwriter best known as a founding member of two bands, Pantera and Damageplan, alongside his brother, Vinnie Paul. Abbott died in 2004 after he was shot by a mentally unstable fan.

This is a complete joke. Clearly, whoever did this does not play guitar or have a knowledge of talent. Dimebag would crush Hetfield on rhythm guitar. Go play some Metallica riffs and then go play some Pantera riffs. Case closed. Anyone can cover Metallica and make it sound good. Nobody can cover Pantera like Dimebag. Just go to YouTube and type in Metallica cover by Pantera, and you will see Dimebag plays it better than Hetfield and Hammett combined. If Metallica were to cover Pantera, it would be an utter mess.

Not precisely 100% rhythm guitar, Dimebag is still among the absolute pinnacle of guitar players in rock/metal history. His leads were astronomical, his rhythms were crunchy and groovy, and his personality was pure gold. Rest in peace to a true legend.

Awesome guitarist. And yes, he is a rhythm guitarist. But this list is mainly for rhythm guitarists. Lead guitarists can also be here. But I think it's better if the rhythm guitarists (who focus more on rhythm guitar) come here first.

21 Brian May Brian Harold May is an English musician, singer, songwriter and astrophysicist, best known as the lead guitarist of the rock band Queen.

Umm, yes, he is a very good guitarist. And sure, he played both lead and rhythm guitar for Queen. But still, he focused more on lead guitar than rhythm guitar.

Sometimes I think his composition skills are so good they distract from the credit he should get for how well he plays that guitar!

He's so good. His songs are so emotional. Try to watch his Bohemian Rhapsody solo. It's cool.

22 John Petrucci John Peter Petrucci is an American guitarist, composer and producer. He is best known as a founding member of the progressive metal band Dream Theater. Compared to his level of skill, John Petrucci is relatively unknown in the modern music industry.

How did no one put him on the list? Dream Theater's got a lot of great guitar riffs. Each song is loaded with genius, complex riffs, solos, and backing rhythm guitar. When you hear the guitar, there's one person playing it. Not a rhythm guitarist and two lead guitarists. John Petrucci is the ONLY Dream Theater guitarist, and what he contributes to their music never ceases to amaze me. John Petrucci is arguably the greatest guitarist of all time, but he is, no doubt, the greatest rhythm guitarist of all time.

I feel like his lead playing overshadows his rhythm playing. Songs like The Dark Eternal Night, Sacrificed Sons, Outcry, The Glass Prison, and A Change of Seasons, just to name a few, have some of the best riffs I've ever heard.

23 Jeff Waters Jeff Waters (born February 13, 1966) is a Canadian metal musician and founder of the metal band Annihilator. He's best known as the guitarist for Annihilator, appreciated for his fast riffs and solos. Waters is also the primary songwriter in the band. Very often he has taken on the role of lead singer, bass player, engineer and producer.

He has owned Watersound Studios Inc. since 1994... read more

He's one of those very talented guys who is equally good as a rhythm and lead guitarist. He switches between the two. His riffs are awesome - not only beautiful but also very fast and sophisticated.

Jeff Waters is the Annihilator lead guitarist, extremely talented.

24 Johnny Ramone John William Cummings, better known by his stage name Johnny Ramone, was an American guitarist and songwriter, best known for being the guitarist for the punk rock band the Ramones.

He will be my first choice. He is the rhythm guitarist kind. Most of his songs are rhythm guitar bases. Well, it's not like he can't play lead guitar. But he is best at rhythm guitar. And he is very fast at it.

He was a genius, and his technique saved rock and roll. Also, The Ramones were way ahead of their time.

Long live the pioneer of punk's thrashing and awesome guitar style!

25 Chad Kroeger Chad Robert Kroeger is a Canadian musician and producer, best known as the lead vocalist and guitarist for the Canadian rock band, Nickelback.
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