10 Greatest Guitarists From The '80s - The Guys Who Rewrote The Book

Timeless masters of the fretboard, six string wizards from planet shred right here on planet Earth!

Yngwie Malmsteen
MickeMaiden / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The '80s were the golden age of metal guitar, a time when every rock act had a killer axemaster in tow to provide the kind of incendiary pyrotechnics that revolutionised the art of guitar forever. The trend to have a monster guitarist was so dominant that even Michael Jackson had to jump on the bandwagon - not once but three times, with Eddie Van Halen, Slash and Steve Stevens.

As the technical ability of the new legion of players soared, new terms were invented to describe their playing - 'shred', 'full tilt' etc. - and the equipment they used evolved to meet the new challenges. The influence of Eddie Van Halen was everywhere; his use of a home-made customised take on the Fender Stratocaster, nicknamed the 'Super Strat', influenced all builders to produce their own version. Dive bombing and screaming harmonics were almost obligatory in every guitar solo, provided by the new technology of the locking tremolo arm.

There were many wannabe pretenders and clueless copyists who took the aforementioned dive bombing runs and blinding speed picking and thought that was all they needed - big mistake. It's not about speed and technique - it's about the music, bozos!

10. Kirk Hammett

Kirk Hammett has been a major influence on the generation of shredders who followed him. Having been taught by the legendary Joe Satriani, it was a no-brainer that Hammett would turn out to be his own unique guitar monster. Metallica took a unique approach to recording for many years, where James Hetfield would handle all the rhythm guitar parts and Hammett would deliver the killer solos.

Hammett's original style was very metal oriented, as the years have passed he has added much more of a blues feel into his playing, citing the late Stevie Ray Vaughan as being a particularly big influence on his approach to soloing.

For many fans, the peak of Hammett's work was on the seminal Metallica album, 'Master Of Puppets'. That was the breakthrough release that really spotlighted his killer axe-slinging chops, although Hammett has said in later years that in some ways he'd like to go back and re-do his parts, not least as he prefers his tone now. Fans would beg to differ, however. There is a special magic about the early Hammett that can't be duplicated.


Lifelong music obsessive, regular contributor to US guitar magazines, sometime radio presenter, singer/guitarist in Star Studded Sham, true believer in the power of rock'n'roll and an amp turned up to 11, about to publish first novel, The Bulletproof Truth.