Adrian Smith is a guitar player best known for his role in the heavy metal band Iron Maiden. As the third guitar player, he teams with Dave Murray and Janick Gers, these players make up the unforgettable harmonies that are so integral to Maiden’s sound. In addition to his work on guitar, he’s a prominent songwriter for the band, specifically contributing to the band’s newer material.
What makes Smith’s playing so unique is he isn’t inspired by metal or even rock guitar playing. Blues makes up the bulk of his inspiration, specifically from Pat Travers and Johnny Winter.
If you want to play guitar like Adrian Smith, you’ll first want to know the guitars and gear he uses.
Adrian Smith has an impressive arsenal of guitars that he’s used for the past 40 years. Since his experience with Iron Maiden starts in 1980, he has gone through several guitars.
Gibson Les Paul Deluxe
This Les Paul Deluxe was Adrian Smith’s first guitar. He got it in 1971 and played it for many years, only retiring the guitar when he switched to Jackson guitars.
For its time, the Les Paul Deluxe was not only one of the most popular hard-rock guitars but was also more inexpensive than other guitars that Gibson offered. Notable guitar players at the time, such as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, used Gibson Les Pauls and many aspiring players of the time followed their lead.
However, Smith’s guitar was slightly different than other Les Paul Deluxes. Smith’s guitar featured a DiMarzio Super Distortion humbucker in the bridge position. These pickups have no pickup cover and open coils, so they come with extra brutality.
Smith was particularly inspired by Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham. Gorham played a Les Paul Deluxe with a gold top finish and Smith thought if he also played this guitar, he would sound exactly like Gorham. You can definitely hear the Thin Lizzy influence in Smith’s playing, specifically in his lead work.
Fender American Standard Stratocaster
While Smith has been synonymous with playing Strats for a long time, he actually didn’t pick up a Strat until he re-joined Maiden in 1999. But why he switched to a Strat is the question. The main theory is the other two Maiden guitarists also played Strats and wanted to better complement the band’s sound.
Smith’s Strat has a sunburst finish, Floyd Rose tremolo, maple fretboard, and DiMarzio bridge humbuckers. This guitar was Smith’s main recording and live guitar for many years. Now, he switched to Jackson.
Smith used his Ibanez Destroyer throughout the 80s. If you saw an Iron Maiden gig during this time, you likely saw Adrian Smith playing this guitar. Plus, Smith used this guitar during the recording of The Number of the Beast as well as the supporting tour and the “Run to the Hills” music video.
Its tone is absolute fire and the bright red finish makes it look more menacing. Ibanez guitars in general, but especially this one, are extremely playable. The upper fretboard access is unparalleled and the distorted tone makes it perfect for heavy metal. Plus, the shape is extreme enough to stand out during any live gig.
The pickups are more than likely DiMarzios and the guitar has a mahogany body. The look and playability of this guitar are so iconic to where Jackson made their own carbon copy of the Destroyer, named “Adrian Smith X-Stroyer.”
Jackson Adrian Smith Signature San Dimas Dinky
Adrian Smith landed an endorsement deal with Jackson in 2007. Surprisingly, this was his first endorsement in 15 years! Jackson released several Adrian Smith signature models, such as this dinky guitar. Ever since 2007, this has been his main stage guitar. This guitar does have a Fender-style headstock (Fender purchased Jackson in 2002) but otherwise, this guitar is a Jackson through-and-through.
This guitar has many cutting-edge features, including a maple fretboard (the original prototype had an ebony fretboard), black-plated hardware, 22 jumbo frets, and a solid alder body. It does feature Smith’s favorite DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups in the bridge, but also has Fender Samarium Cobalt Noiseless pickups in the middle and neck positions.
This guitar originally had a white finish, though Smith also uses a variation with a gold finish modeled after his Les Paul gold top.
Jackson USA Signature Adrian Smith San Dimas SDQM
What I love about this guitar is the stunning vibrant green finish! Apparently, Adrian Smith played this on the Book of Souls tour, though I’m only seeing footage of him playing his other signature model with the white finish. The guitar was released to the public in 2019. This guitar has a Seymour Duncan JB-4 humbucker in the bridge position with Samarium Cobalt Noiseless pickups in the middle and neck positions.
It has a five-way pickup selector, alder body and flamed maple top, and a Floyd Rose locking tremolo system.
Gibson Les Paul Custom
Going back to Les Paul, this guitar stands out because it has a black finish. The black finish plus the rounded body gives the guitar an elegant look, not something that matches with Iron Maiden’s edgier vibe.
Plus, this Les Paul is largely unmodified. It features block fret inlays, an ebony fretboard, the Gibson logo in pearl, headstock binding, and split-diamond headstock inlays. Instead of Smith’s favorite DiMarzio humbuckers, this guitar uses Gibson’s stock humbuckers and gold hardware.
Nevertheless, Adrian Smith played this guitar throughout the 2000s up until the mid-2010s. Smith played this guitar for the album Brave New World as well as the supporting tour and in Maiden’s music video for “The Wicker Man,” as you can see in the video above. It also made its appearance in the Book of Souls tour.
1986 Jackson Custom Adrian Smith Prototype
Jackson actually built this guitar for Adrian Smith during the Somewhere in Time tour. It has a classic Strat shape, which is a guitar synonymous with Iron Maiden. However, what Smith really loved about this guitar is the locking tuning. His guitars would go out of tune, and Eddie Van Halen popularized the locking tuning mechanism during that time. In addition to the locking tuners, this guitar has a Floyd Rose floating bridge.
There are some other upgrades here to fit Maiden’s needs. DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups were added to the bridge and Samarium Cobalt Noiseless pickups were added to the middle and neck positions. This guitar has an ebony fretboard instead of finished maple or rosewood, which are materials commonly seen on Strats.
There are only two controls on this guitar: one tone and one volume. Pearloid dot inlays make this guitar look classier than what we see with Maiden’s guitars. From here, Jackson modeled nearly all of Smith’s signature models after this guitar.
Dean Baby ML
Adrian Smith only used this guitar for the World Peace tour, for Bruce Dickinson’s Chemical Wedding album, and the supporting tour for that album. He hasn’t used it since.
The body is similar to a Flying V, which Smith liked. This guitar has a floating tremolo, Tune-o-Matic bridge, maple neck, and locking tuners. The actual pickups aren’t confirmed, but they’re likely DiMarzios.
Charvel San Dimas
You can see this guitar in Iron Maiden’s video for “Wasted Years” (one of my personal favorite Maiden songs). This guitar is different from Adrian Smith’s other guitars because it has a single pickup — just one humbucker in the bridge. However, this style of guitar was popular among players in the 80s and 90s. It has a double-cutaway body, a Floyd Rose locking tremolo, and a maple neck.
1970s Gibson SG Standard
During the 80s, Adrian Smith’s main live guitars were the Ibanez Destroyer and this Gibson SG Standard. However, we mainly saw the Destroyer since the SG Standard was Smith’s backup guitar. It’s still used today but only for one song: Iron Maiden’s classic “The Number of the Beast.”
This Gibson features stock pickups, rectangle-shaped inlays, black speed knobs, mother-of-pearl crown inlays, ebony fretboard, mahogany body, chrome-plated tuning heads, and a natural walnut finish. There are theories that Smith made some alterations to this guitar, but it’s not confirmed. However, he definitely put a peace sign sticker on the body!
Adrian Smith only used this guitar for the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” song and for the Powerslave tour. He still has this guitar, though hasn’t played it live or in the studio in years.
Iron Maiden actually did endorse Lado Guitars briefly. Smith’s Lado had stock pickups, ebony fretboard, birdseye maple body, and locking tremolo. However, Smith did replace the stock pickups with his favorite DiMarzio Super Distortion. It’s believed that Smith used this guitar for the nearly 14-minute long song due to the stability of this guitar.
Effects and Pedals
Adrian Smith has used a variety of pedals throughout his career. That’s because Iron Maiden’s sound requires distortion and various effects. Even though his guitar uses ample distortion, his pedals do reflect his blues and rock influences.
Dunlop Cry Baby Wah
Dunlop’s Cry Baby has been around ever since 1966 and has been one of their best-selling pedals since. Guitarists such as Clapton and Hendrix made this pedal popular and players such as Adrian Smith carried the torch. It’s known for its “wah” effect, which alters the frequency of the guitar signal before it’s delivered to the amp.
Smith has used this pedal regularly since the Number of the Beast tour. He uses this pedal most frequently during the songs “Tears of a Clown,” “Brave New World,” “2 Minutes to Midnight,” and “Die With Your Boots On.”
Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer
The Tube Screamer is one of Adrian Smith’s most integral pedals. So much so to where he tours with two rack-mounted Tube Screamers. Surprisingly, he only started using this pedal in 2006. Ibanez released this pedal in the late 70s and was immediately used by metal guitar players during that time period.
This pedal tightens up a distorted tone. In addition, it boosts the mid-range frequencies of the guitar and the amp, making the guitar’s sound more prominent.
Boss CH-1 Super Chorus
During the mid-80s, Iron Maiden altered their sound so it was heavy on the synths. You can hear this most on the albums Powerslave and Somewhere in Time. This Boss Super Chorus pedal gave his guitar a synthesizer effect. It’s also a main pedal in his touring rig because it allows the fine-tuning of the effect’s EQ, better mixing the signals between the three guitar players.
Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
While Adrian Smith used other delay pedals, he prefers the DD-3 today. You can mainly hear this pedal’s magic during his solos, where he uses the digital delay effect. He only uses delay for his lead because the effect makes his rhythm work muddy, not ideal for those speedy Iron Maiden riffs. Delay also takes away from the harmonic melodies that made Maiden’s sound so famous.
Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer
This pedal entered Adrian Smith’s rig a little late. He started using it around the recording of the Book of Souls album. The compression benefits Smith’s playing in many ways. He uses techniques such as hammer-ons, trills, and pull-offs, so the compression ensures that his volume doesn’t vary wildly between his parts. In addition, the compression allows his parts to ring out, making them more distinguished.
DigiTech Eric Clapton Crossroads
This is another pedal that Adrian Smith used for The Book of Souls. While this is not a popular pedal among most players, Smith was able to utilize some features for the album. He used this pedal up until 2015’s Maiden England tour.
Roland GR-20 Guitar Synthesizer
This is another pedal that Adrian Smith used to produce synth sounds. The GR-20 also has built-in delay and reverb.
Iron Maiden was one of the first loud heavy metal bands in existence. It’s no surprise that Adrian Smith has a whole arsenal of amps to achieve that hard-hitting sound.
Adrian Smith and Dave Murray used Gallien-Krueger amps mainly in the mid-80s.
Even though Gallien-Krueger is best-known for designing bass amps, Smith mainly used these amps for the Somewhere in Time tour, the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album, and the supporting tour for the album. During this era, Iron Maiden was moving in a more progressive direction. This amp helped with all of the layered guitar effects while packing a serious punch.
It has a built-in overdrive channel and 100 watts of power, which is impressive for these little bass amps.
Marshall Super Lead
While Adrian Smith really only used this amp for the World Peace tour in 1983, he has stuck with similar amps since then. Previously, he used 50-watt amps but had to upgrade to a 100-watt one when Iron Maiden started playing large venues. The power of this amp makes it popular among hard rock and metal players.
The Super Lead amps are most distinguishable by their Plexiglass panel. To achieve the distorted sound, Smith likely had to crank the amp all the way up or use a boost pedal.
When Adrian Smith returned to Iron Maiden, he had two other guitar players to work with. While their guitar work has to have a consistent theme, Smith still wanted to stand out. This is why he adopted this amp during his second tenure. It not only sounded different from other Marshall amps he used but was different from a Marshall amp, while still being close to home.
This amp has two master volume controls, four channels, built-in reverb, and an outbound effects loop. It also has four classic EL34s, four ECC83 preamp tubes, and an ECC83 in the power amp.
This is another amp that Adrian Smith started playing when he returned to Iron Maiden. Dave Murray and Janick Gers were using this amp, so Smith added it to his arsenal. He kept it in his rig until around 2010.
Adrian Smith has used a variety of Blackstar amps throughout the 2000s. It makes sense — the company was founded by former Marshalls employees. Smith first used an HT-5 mini stack. It’s a five-watt tube recording amp that he used for the album The Final Frontier, in addition to the Series One 100 head.
Smith also used Blackstar amps, the 100-watt Series One 1046L6 and 104EL34 as well as the HT-5, to record The Book of Souls.
Marshall JCM 2000
Adrian Smith mainly used this amp when touring throughout the 2010s. This amp was released around the time that Smith rejoined Iron Maiden. The EL34 tubes and the extra clipping diode for the lead channel provide extra distortion without the need for a pedal.
Question: What strings and picks does Adrian Smith use?
Question: Why is Adrian Smith nicknamed “H”?
Question: How do I get Adrian Smith’s tone?
Adrian Smith is one of the most recognizable guitars, specifically from his experience as a songwriter and guitar player for Iron Maiden.
In his 40-year career, he has used a wide variety of guitars, amps, and pedals to create that classic Maiden tone. His gear changes also reflect when he first joined Maiden to when he re-joined in the late 90s. From his first Les Paul to his current custom Jacksons, it’s interesting to see how much his guitar arsenal has changed over the years.
- Best Canadian Rock Bands of All Time - December 9, 2023
- Best Rock Bands of the 2000s: The Artists Who Defined Millennial Rock - December 5, 2023
- The 15 Best Southern Rock Bands of All Time: The Classics to the Moderns - December 2, 2023