NITA STRAUSS picks 11 favorite metal guitarists | Revolver

NITA STRAUSS picks 11 favorite metal guitarists

From big personalities to "unsung" guitar solo heroes
Nita Strauss live 2023 1600x900 close up, Ana Massard
Nita Strauss
photograph by Ana Massard

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Nita Strauss isn't just a great guitarist, she's a true-blue hesher. While she's played in Alice Cooper's hard-rockin' band for years and recently did a stint in pop-star Demi Lovato's live lineup, Strauss — who Revolver readers just voted one of the top five guitarists in metal — has always been a big-time metalhead through and through. 

Her latest solo album, The Call of the Void, features her shredding and riffing like a pro while a murderer's row of guest singers — In Flames' Anders Fridén, Motionless in White's Chris Motionless, Disturbed's David Draiman, etc. — belt over her compositions. 

Even though she's become a budding guitar hero in the broader rock world, we wanted to talk to Strauss about metal — specifically, her 11 favorite metal guitarists of all time. Below, she not only picks her favorite shredders, but goes into thoughtful detail about why each of them rule and what they mean to her. 

Dimebag Darrell

I think that Dime just had that energy — whether it's songwriting, soloing, riffing, just the complete package. Great performance, everything that you would want in a metal guitar hero. Straightforward, to the point.

And the crazy thing is, my fiance, Josh [Villalta], watches a lot of YouTube. He watches a lot of live concert videos on YouTube and watches a ton of Pantera at the house. And it's crazy to think those guys were hard-partying, staying up, drinking, the whole lifestyle, and they were so clean. Dime's solos were so clean, and it's just crazy to think about.

I'm sober and I can't play that tight. The way that he just hit every bend, every nuance, every squeal. There were no failed dive bombs, there were no out-of-key bends. He was just tight and precise and clean while headbanging and running. Just amazing.

Zakk Wylde

I'm a huge fan of Zakk's. I had the chance to open up for him with my solo band last year. And again, he's just a great example of somebody who's such a tight player, such an energetic player.

I think we could say the same thing about everybody on my list — which is that they look like they're having fun when they're doing what they're doing. And to me, that's what resonates with me as a guitar player. When it's like, "Man, that looks like fun. I want to do that."

There are so many guitar players out there [that make it look] difficult and complicated. And it's like, "Ah, I could never do that. I don't even want to try it." When I see someone like Zakk play, it's like, "Man, that looks like fun. I want to do that."

And the legendary pinch harmonics, by the way, are something that I just love  about Zakk. I know that that's sort of a point of contention with different guitar players about Zakk Wylde, the "overuse" of the pinch harmonic. Personally, I don't think there's such thing as an overuse of a pinch harmonic. I'm a huge fan.

James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett

I sort of think of James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett as two halves of one coin. And when you're talking about great guitar players, one is obviously more known for rhythm playing, and one is obviously more known for lead playing.

I do think that James Hetfield is an unsung guitar solo hero. When you hear his actual solos that he does during the show, they're pristine and tight and tasty and cool. And same thing with Kirk's rhythm playing; he's a tight rhythm player.

So they're both very good at what the other one's known for, but together, that dynamic duo just makes up some of the most legendary guitar songs of all time.

Adrian Smith, Janick Gers and Dave Murray

Obviously, I have a pretty intimate knowledge of playing Iron Maiden songs. I spent a few years playing in an Iron Maiden tribute band [The Iron Maidens]. But I also am a huge fan of the three-guitar attack and spent 10 years in a three-guitar band with Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen in the Alice Cooper band.

So I love what Maiden does with Adrian Smith, Janick Gers and Dave Murray. I think it's just so cool. Just like what we do in the Alice band, all three of them bring their own particular nuance. They're three very different guitar players, and what they do just fits together so well. 

I played the part of Dave Murray when I was in the Iron Maidens, which was a really cool education for me because I think naturally I'm much more of an Adrian Smith type of player. My natural tendencies are to gravitate away from that sort of blues-rock style and more into the neoclassical realm of playing.

So it was cool for me to get to play the Dave Murray solos and really lean more into that blues-based pentatonic kind of vibe.

Marty Friedman

The first time I ever heard a heavy metal song, I was 13, and I had just sort of started getting into guitar playing. I had just seen [1986 film] Crossroads, so I knew about Steve Vai and Joe Satriani and stuff, but I was just getting into metal.

And at the time, Pizza Hut or one of these pizza places had a pizza promotion where if you ordered a certain amount of pizzas, you could fill out this form and you could send away for a CD sampler of new music. And it was the coolest promotion at the time, especially as a young musician,. It was sort of the early days of the internet, and you could go on the internet and pick out five songs or whatever, and they send you the CD.

So my dad was looking over my shoulder and he's like, "Oh, get this Al Green song." I think I got Al Green, "Tired of Being Alone" and some other stuff. And then I had one song left of the five, and I saw this name on the list and it was Megadeth. And I was like, "Oh, fuck yeah."

I didn't know who Megadeth was or anything, but I was like, "Megadeth, that's cool." So I picked a song called "Trust" by Megadeth. And when the CD came, I popped it in and I listened to the Al Green song and whatever else was on there.

And then I just remember so clearly the thundering — now I know it's Nick Menza — with this thundering tom intro, and then this very languid guitar line coming in, these signature Marty Friedman swells that he was doing.

And then when that riff kicked in, I was just blown away. I was blown to the back of the room, like, "Holy shit. What is going on?" This solo that he did and the riff and everything. So that's what I credit with my love of heavy metal to this day.

Jeff Loomis

I'm a huge fan of Jeff Loomis. I actually first heard about Jeff, or rather I should say the first things I got into of Jeff Loomis's playing, were actually his solo stuff. I know most people first heard of him through Nevermore, but I first got into Jeff Loomis through his solo record Plains of Oblivion.

And it was really a heavy basis for what I wanted to do with my first record, Controlled Chaos, which was all instrumental. And I was like, "Well, I want to do something like what Jeff did." It was so cool, it was so heavy. It has sort of straightforward metal songs, but it's not in a straightforward metal way.

With a lot of instrumental solo music, it's weird, it's off-time, it doesn't have a particular verse or pre-course and a chorus. And I felt like with Jeff's songs, he really created songs that could have a vocalist on them and just used his guitar as the lead vocal. So I thought that was really cool.

And of course, I love what he did with Nevermore. I love what he's doing now with Arch Enemy. But for me, the Jeff Loomis solo music is where it's at. That's where I think he just shines. 

Andy James

Speaking of newer guitar players in that same vein, Andy James. I love Andy James' solo stuff. I've seen him, I've been following his career as a solo artist for so many years. And then to see someone like that step into a gig like Five Finger Death Punch, and have big shoes to fill in the Five Finger gig.

And I think he just stepped in so seamlessly and is doing such an incredible job. And it's great to see a guitar player that I've followed and admired for so many years get to step into the spotlight and get a big gig like that.

John 5

We're on tour right now with Mötley Crüe and I just saw John 5 play with Mötley Crüe for the first time. I first saw John play with Rob Zombie, of course. And then my solo band actually opened up some dates for him as well, and I got to see him play with his amazing solo band, which was such a treat.

Just a guitar player's dream of a show to watch John 5 do what he does in a club, because everybody knows how good he is. John 5 used to be sort of the best-kept secret in guitar playing, when he was playing with Rob Zombie. And I think now everybody knows, everybody's like, "Oh, that guy, of course John 5 can play circles around anybody."

But just to get to watch him with Mötley, especially, has been such a treat. Because I toured with Mötley Crüe's original lineup for two years in 2014 and 2015, and got to see Mick Mars. And Mick was so good, and it was so impossible for all of us to imagine who could step into Mick Mars's shoes.

And John, I can say as a guitar player, is doing it with a lot of reverence and a lot of respect. When he has his own solo spot. He's doing the John 5 thing, he's playing, he's shredding our faces off. I filmed his guitar solo last night. It's three minutes of just face-melting John 5 and it's amazing.

But when he's playing the classic Mötley Crüe solos, he's really doing a tribute to Mick. He's playing it like the record, he's not embellishing much, he's not adding a lot of stuff that didn't fit the song. And you can just see, John's a pretty serious guy, I think, a lot of the time on stage, seeing him with Zombie, seeing him with the solo stuff. And to see this shit-eating grin on his face, the majority of the show, I get it.

I totally get it because I feel like I look like that on stage with Alice. And it's just so cool to see him having such a good time doing such a great job and really giving a lot of respect to Mick Mars the original.

The Great Kat

There are so many incredible female players that are coming out, but I'm thinking upper echelon, top of the top. So let's go back to the olden days of The Great Kat, Kat Thomas. I think that at a time when not a lot — and when I say not a lot of women, I mean nobody really. It was her and she was the only one doing metal.

Jennifer Batten was doing shred, playing with Michael Jackson, doing this incredible solo music. Vixen and Heart and The Runaways and Lita Ford did the solo stuff. Everybody was doing awesome rock music, but I feel like The Great Kat was the first one to be metal as fuck.

She did the Bloody Vivaldi stuff. She was dripping in blood and playing Paganini. I believe she was a classical violinist, like a Juilliard-trained violinist. So it was so cool to see somebody take such a very traditional, classical background and be so fucking metal, sticking your tongue out and be covered in blood and black leather.

And when I was a young metalhead looking for female guitar inspiration, she was the most metal chick that I knew of.

Alexi Laiho

A little-known fact about me would be how big of a Children of Bodom fan I am, especially growing up. I had two ESP Alexi Laiho signature guitars. I had the AL 200 and 600. I spent so many years poring over the Gothenburg metal style, listening to Soilwork and In Flames and Children of Bodom, and really trying to emulate. I think you hear a lot of that influence in what I do.

And I think Alexi, in particular, was somebody that really carried that forward by being not just a great guitar player, but a big personality. A fun interview to watch, fun to watch on stage. I saw Children of Bodom a lot. And the songs sound fun in a way that a lot of other metal doesn't sound fun. I like fun. I like to have fun when I play.

It's sort of a recurring theme in my favorite guitar players, Children of Bodom, for lack of a better word, it's almost like bouncy, fun metal. You have a lot of uptempo songs. Even the mid-tempo, slower songs have that kind of bounce to them, that groove to them. And I just have always really enjoyed that about Alexi's playing and his riffs and his songwriting. So rest in peace to a legend.

Synyster Gates

I did some early Warped Tour shows when I was a teenager, and Avenged Sevenfold was on promoting City of Evil. And I just remember watching Synyster Gates as a young guitar player. And there was one time when we were on stage, on a little side-stage, and Avenged was on the main stage. And I was looking over, I was doing my gig, and I looked over at them. I could hear them playing when I was between songs. We were within eyesight of the stage, way across the festival grounds.

And I remember thinking, "I'm going to be on the big stage someday. I'm going to do it like that." I could see them running from side to side, performing, and I just saw them recently this year at Welcome to Rockville, and they were just as good and just as fun and tight and great-sounding as we were in 2005 or whenever that was that I got to see them for the first time.

And to really bring that sort of neoclassical, dual guitar harmony to the masses, the way that they did, was just amazing.