10 Best Metal Riffs In Standard Tuning

I’ve always liked standard tuning better than all those exotic dropped D, C# or Eb tunings. It really stinks when you want to play some cool metal riff along with the song just to realize it’s not in the standard tuning.

Regular, low E, string can sound just as heavy as any other, deeper, tuning. That’s why I decided to list some great metal songs with great, iconic guitar riffs, written and played on standard tuning.

Let’s go!

1. Creeping Death by Metallica

You can recognize this legendary riff opening in less than one second. That downpicking, heavy style with that characteristic reverb you can hear through every song on Ride The Lightning album is what makes it special.

I remember myself trying to play this riff on my first guitar. It was classical guitar, by the way. It sounded great, and yet not so complicated to perform.

But soon after the second heavy, biting, downpicking riff on a low E string with the rest of E powerchord came, I realize it’s harder than it seems.

Fast paced, 200 BPM, downpicking rhythm is really challenging for a guitar beginner. My picking hand was done after a few seconds. Luckily, over time, when you develop fast downpicking, it becomes easy.

So, yes, this is indeed one of the greatest standard tuning guitar riff in heavy metal music.

If you want to replicate the true sound of legendary Ride The Lightning album on your guitar, you’ll need this pedal. James Hetfield used Tube Screamer in order to get that really high gained sound, but with enough clarity of the notes. Tube Screamer provides you with that – high gain, energetic sound without mud and with clarity. Check it on Amazon for more details!

Hear the song on Youtube, here.

2. Tornado Of Souls by Megadeth

This riff uses natural harmonics on 7th fret. You can hear it at the beginning. It has a fairly fast tempo, 194 BPM, and it is also a riff that uses downpicking technique.

Everything in this song is recognizable and iconic. First riff, second riff and third riff, on which Mustaine starts to sing.

Of course, let’s not forget that legendary Marty Friedman solo.

There are a lot of Megadeth songs played in standard tuning. Some are played half-step down, though.

Angry Drive pedal is, IMO, just about right to nail the sound of this classic. With it, you get that chuggy, explosive and yet compressed enough tone. Check it on Amazon for more details.

Hear the whole song on Youtube, here.

3. The Trooper by Iron Maiden

Another metal classic played on standard tuning. It’s played on A and low E string, starting at E note on A string (7th fret).

It was released as a second single from their 1983 album Piece Of Mind. Soon it became one of their biggest hit, and of course it has its place on this list.

The Trooper remains one of the best examples of New Wave of British Heavy Metal in music history. Galloping rhythm is recognizable characteristic of this song. Not only for this, but also for many other Iron Maiden songs, as well.

If you like to play that gallop on your guitar, this is the riff you’re looking for, that’s for sure!

Also, if you want to nail the sound of Adrian Smith, I advise you to look up for a legendary JHS Bonsai pedal.

Hear it on Youtube, here.


4. Cowboys From Hell by Pantera

Pantera is a great band if you like that hardcore, heavy sound. Phil Anselmo has a powerful vocal that works perfectly with heavy, precise and loud Dimebag Darrell playing style.

Cowboys from Hell is a classic released on the album of the same name (Cowboys From Hell).

It was released in 1990, and it remains perhaps the greatest Pantera hit. You can hear the beginning of formation of that characteristic 90s metal sound. Pantera successfully introducet heavy metal music to 90s era.

That’s what makes this song iconic, still today.

Hear the song, here.

5. Master Of Puppets by Metallica

How could I skip this masterpiece? It is, hands down, the best metal song ever. I know, you may disagree, but let’s face the reality – it really is masterpiece of not only heavy metal, but all modern music!

Played on standard tuning, you can hear that powerful E powerchord at the beginning. It makes that intro one of the best intros of all time.

What else to say about this masterpiece? It’s really, really fast. By fast, I don’t mean like regular fast tempo. No. This is so fast that you’ll need to practice it for months until you can play it with ease.

Downpicking seems almost impossible to perform. James Hetfield is perhaps the greatest downpicker of all time. 226 BPM makes it arround 7 downpicks each second.

If you’re not prepared to play it, don’t worry. Only few people can perform this riff properly. I remember myself practicing for months until I strengthen my arm enough to play it at that tempo.

Advice: Practice downpicking at the tempo you don’t feel any stress on your hand. You really master the tempo only if you can play it for 3 minutes without stressing your arm.

It will take some time, but it’s worth it!

Hear it on Youtube, here.

6. Battery by Metallica

Battery is another Metallica classic from the masterpiece Master of Puppets album. It opens the album. It starts with a classical guitar intro, which makes it very interesting and authentic.

You can feel that upcoming aggression played on a soft classical guitar. Soon after, there comes this brilliant guitar riff.

It’s interesting that this is one of only few Metallica’s songs that uses gallop rhythm picking. It’s also really fast, 192 BPM – to be more precise.

Anyway, another thing that’s interesting is that this riff does not only use powerchords. You can hear that minor thirds played on a D string, along with root notes. E and G, and D# and F#, to be more precise.

James Hetfield is really creative with his riff writing. Also, it’s played on standard tuning. (Otherwise it wouldn’t be on this list.)

Hear this masterpiece, here.

7. Paranoid by Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is, in my opinion, best pioneer metal band. Paranoid is just one of many metal classics they wrote.

It was released in 1970 as a single, coming from the album of the same name. Many people refer to it as a birth of heavy metal music. I couldn’t agree more.

Paranoid is played on standard tuning. But it’s not only the music that makes it heavy and metal. Ozzy singing that existentialist lyrics is also really metal in itself.

In the sea of bunch of pop-rock love songs, this one came as an original and authentic piece.

Whole song, here.

8. One by Metallica

One is a famous Metallica song coming form …And Justice For All album. It’s their first album with Jason Newsted on bass guitar. You can’t really hear that bass guitar, though.

Anyway, this song is played on standard tuning. Who says you have to use distortion to sound heavy!? As you can hear on the beginning, this riff is played on a clean tone, and yet it has that ominous feeling in itself.

Really interesting. Also, it’s not that hard to learn it. Lyrics are dark and sad. James is singing about hopelessness and dispiritedness through this war hero character who lost all of his senses in war battle.

To nail those clean parts on your guitar, a reverb pedal is crucial. Set it up on high, and then add a bit of chorus effect. Anyway, you may want to check out this classic reverb pedal on Amazon. It will provide you with the tone you want for this song.

Hear it on Youtube, here.

9. Holy Wars… The Punishment Due by Megadeth

Let’s not forget about this one! How could you not like this Megadeth epic piece? Dave Mustaine really had his biggest inspiration when he came up with this kick ass riff to start a song.

Fast rhythm with strong powerchords and alternate picking style makes this song one of the classics of trash metal music.

If you really dig this trash, high sound, then this is the riff you just have to learn.

Hear it on Youtube, here.

10. Diamond Head – Am I Evil

This 70s heavy metal band was one of the biggest inspiration for Metallica. That fact alone should get your attention. This band is recognized as one of the leading pioneers of the new wave of British heavy metal movement.

In this classic, you can hear legendary Gustav Holst classical movement from his suite, The Planets. Mars, to be more precise.

It’s fascinating how classical music and heavy metal music often go hand in hand with each other.

Metallica made a cover of this song. When Metallica likes something, you know it’s damn good!

Hear the song, here.


There are a ton of metal riffs played on standard tuning. Standard tuning (low E) can sound equally heavy and metal-ish as any other tuning. In fact, I like it better than any other tuning.

Lot of bands today think that playing on a dropped C or D makes them more heavy, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Heaviness does not come from the note frequency. It comes from that feeling created by the riff itself. It is independent of tuning.

It’s really funny to hear all those metal bands trying to act tough by playing on really low string notes. No, it only makes them sound like farts!

This Is How I Learned Guitar

I encourage you to take a look at JamPlay site. The site offers you a ton of different courses. Each course is a collection of HQ video lessons with multiple camera angles. You also get the JamTracks for playing along when you practice.

You can also ask your teacher anything related to your progress, anytime.


Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. Check out other similar posts from this page. Those are in the category of Song Recommendation:

But don’t hesitate to check out the rest of categories, also.

Cheers, and rock on!

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