The ’80s were rock’s ultimate guitar decade. The shredding, fingerboard-tapping, dive-bombs and epic power-ballad solos. And most importantly, gargantuan riffs fans could air-guitar to.
Many top ’80s hard-rock and heavy-metal combos were one-guitar bands: Van Halen, Motley Crue, Rush, Poison, Journey, Quiet Riot, (Ronnie James Dio-era) Black Sabbath, Dokken, White Lion, Living Color, etc.
As impressive as virtuosos like Eddie Van Halen, Vito Bratta, Vernon Reid and George Lynch were on their own, many ’80s bands were better suited to a two-guitar chassis. And when the musical chemistry was there, some guitar-duos were greater than simply a sum of shredder plus shredder.
Below are 20 essential ’80s hard-rock/heavy-metal guitar duos, listed in alphabetical order by band. Some of these bands released their first album that decade, others got started earlier. Of course, there were more than 20 hard-rock/metal guitar duos of note during the ’80s. This is just my take, yours might differ significantly and that’s the fun of these lists. Let the headbanging and arguing begin.
AC/DC’s Angus Young and Malcolm Young
Brotherly boogie from the Youngs, with Malcolm throwing grooves and Angus throwing lightning.
Example: “Shoot to Thrill” from 1980 album “Back in Black”
Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Brad Whitford
Perry’s sexier, but many fans don’t realize just how integral Whitford’s playing is to Aerosmith.
Example: “Love In Elevator” from 1989 album “Pump”
Def Leppard’s Steve Clark and Phil Collen
It’s tempting to give the edge to Def Lep’s previous duo, Clark and Pete Willis, because the band’s sound was heavier back then, but it’s hard to argue with the “Hysteria”-era success and lush sound.
Example: “Hysteria” from the 1987 album of the same name
Cinderella’s Tom Keifer and Jeff LaBar
Keifer’s rootsy leanings and LaBar’s contemporary flash made for a compelling mix.
Example: “Coming Home” from 1988 album “Long Cold Winter”
Guns N’ Roses’ Slash and Izzy Stradlin
Stradlin’s effortless cool and writing talents were the perfect foil for Slash’s corkscrew licks and hot tone.
Example: “Mr. Brownstone” from 1987 album “Appetite for Destruction”
Faster Pussycat’s Bret Muscat and Greg Steele
Raw, reckless (and fun) guitars helped make Faster’s debut a fave among knowledgeable ’80s glam-metal fans.
Example: “Bathroom Wall” from 1987 album “Faster Pussycat”
Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray and Adrian Smith
Guitar harmonies never galloped like this before or since.
Example “The Number of the Beast” from the 1982 album of the same name
Judas Priest’s K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton
Dual-lead guitars and razor grooves.
Example: “Another Thing Comin’” from 1982 album “Screaming for Vengeance”
Junkyard’s Brian Baker and Chris Gates
A cocktail of punk edgy and street sleaze on the band’s underrated to some (and iconic to others) debut album.
Example: “Hollywood” from 1989 album “Junkyard”
L.A. Guns’ Tracii Guns and Mick Cripps
Together, Cripps’ instincts and Guns’ virtuosity created enduring tracks.
Example: “Rip and Tear” from 1989 album “Cocked & Loaded”
Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine and Chris Poland
Poland’s jazz/fusion background was just the wildcard master shredder Mustaine needed to complete one of rock’s greatest comeback after getting sacked by Metallica.
Example: “Peace Sells” from 1986 album “Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?”
Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett
Hetfield is the human riff, while Hammett never met a solo he couldn’t wah-wah into ecstasy.
Example: “Master of Puppets” from 1986 album of the same name
Queensryche’s Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton
Whether building dynamics together or passing solos back and forth, DeGarmo and Wilton gave their band’s cerebral songs metallic allure.
Example: “Eyes of a Stranger” from 1988 album “Operation: Mindcrime”
Ratt’s Robbin Crosby and Warren DeMartini
The hits, hair and hedonism are well known, but check out the interplay and catchy-heaviness on Ratt’s era-defining tracks.
Example: “Round and Round” from 1984 album “Out of the Cellar”
Rose Tattoo’s Peter Wells and Mick Cocks
Wells’ slippery slide guitar and Cocks’ chugging rhythms/leads made for unique and boozy wallop.
Example: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King” from 1981 album “Assault & Battery”
Scorpions’ Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker
Die harmonien und hooks sind unglaublich!
Example: “Rock You Like a Hurricane” from 1984 album “Love at First Sting”
Skid Row’s Dave “Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill
Their self-titled debut album is a flawless specimen of late ’80s hard-rock, thanks in no small part to Sabo and Hill’s savage yet sleek riffage.
Example: “Youth Gone Wild” from 1989 album “Skid Row”
Slayer’s Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman
Scarier and more brutal than the rest of thrash’s Big Four put together.
Example: “Angel of Death” from 1986 album “Reign in Blood”
Tesla’s Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch
No other ‘80s band blended acoustic and electric guitars better.
Example: “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)” from 1989 album “The Great Radio Controversy”
Whitesnake’s John Sykes and Adrian Vandenberg
Yes, the great Vivian Campbell (Dio, Def Lep, etc,) was in the “Here I Go Again” video and played on the tour for Whitesnake’s self-titled 1987 LP. But that’s Vandenberg’s smoldering solo on the actual track, itself a reboot of an earlier Whitesnake tune (cowritten by bluesy guitarist Bernie Marsden). Sykes played nearly all the rest of the guitars on the band’s breakthrough LP.
Example: “Here I Go Again” from the 1987 album “Whitesnake”
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