Adrian Smith

Groupology

  • Iron Maiden
  • ASAP
  • Psycho Motel
  • Bruce Dickinson Band

Jurassic

Watch Adrian Smith in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Being one half of one of metal's great guitar teams. Adrian Smith is part of the classic lineup of Iron Maiden — a hugely important band that kicked off the metal resurgence of the early 80s as part of the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal." Iron Maiden — like Judas Priest — was key in bringing real metal out of the British midlands to the masses in the US and around the globe. Iron Maiden were one of the true originators of what would later be called speed metal. They were heavier and faster than their predecessors, and bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth owe them a huge debt for providing a blueprint and for paving the way for their own success. Adrian Smith is also famous for changing hairstyles frequently. Wearing vests and headbands on stage. Lado guitars, and being the more melodic of the two Iron Maiden guitarists.

Influences

Obvious: I personally hear more Michael Schenker in Smith than the guys he lists below. In general, Murray and Smith's twin harmony guitar work in Iron Maiden owes a lot to Thin Lizzy. Indeed, when Maiden burst onto the scene, they were often described as "Thin Lizzy on speed."

Not-so-obvious: Adrian lists Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, and Free as his influences.

Strengths

Melody. Adrian is the more melodic of the two Iron Maiden guitarists. His melodic sense is not mind-blowing like Schenker's, but Smith definitely captures a melodic flavor that is very Schenker-like at times.

Improvement. Like Gorham and Robertson before them in Lizzy, Smith and Murray were pretty even as players. They had similar but complementary styles and skill wise, they maintained a balance. But around the time of Piece of Mind, Smith began improving all aspects of his playing and songwriting (Murray just sort of stayed where he was). By the time of Somewhere in Time, Smith was noticeably surpassing Murray and really coming into his own. He took on a greater songwriting role in Maiden. His lead work and chops improved. He became an better all-around player. For a while it looked like Smith might take it to the next level, but while he remains a very good and very tasty player, he never became a world-class type of player.

Songwriting. Related to the above. Smith was always more active in Maiden's songwriting than Murray. He had co-written (with Bruce Dickinson) Maiden classics like Flight of Icarus and Two Minutes to Midnight (as well as some less noteworthy songs). But the Somewhere in Time album became a terrific showcase for Smith, who's excellent songs like Wasted Years, Sea of Madness, Stranger in A Strange Land are arguably the best tracks on an already strong album. And Somewhere in Time is arguably the high point of Smith's playing career.

Teamwork. Like Robertson and Gorham, and Tipton and Downing, Smith and Murray are one of Dinosaur Rock's classic guitar duos. Two players who defer their respective egos for the sake of the team and the final product. Smith's sense of teamwork also spilled over into the Bruce Dickinson Band where he had another fruitful guitar partnership with Roy Z.

Weaknesses

Being a "role-player guitarist." As a band, Iron Maiden were extremely enjoyable and influential. But the real strength of the band is more in the songs and the vocals than the guitar work. As guitarists, there's nothing that's going to really blow your mind about the guitar work of Dave Murray or Adrian Smith. They are both very good players — and they can piss rings around what passes for a "rock guitarist" today — but neither is the type of world class player who's going to captivate you as the focal point of a band like a Van Halen, a Randy Rhoads, a John Sykes, or a George Lynch. In fairness, this tends to be true in most two-guitar bands.

Tone

In Maiden's glory days, Smith ran four Marshall 50 watt heads into four 4x12 cabs with Celestions and was most frequently seen playing a Gold Top Les Paul. In general, Smith likes a two humbucker Gibsonish configuration on his guitars. As such, Smith typically has a fairly predictable Gibson-Marshall tone. But despite the Gold Top's presence throughout his career, Smith's tone usually sounds more like a Flying V or Explorer — to my ears — rather than the characteristically fat sound of a Les Paul.

Smith used Ibanez Destroyers frequently and a Gibson SG on occasion. He was the first name player to put Lado guitars on the map around the time of the Live After Death tour. Around the time of Somewhere in Time, Smith began using various super strats and some guitar synth. By the time of Seventh Son, both Murray and Smith switched to Gallien Kruger solid state amps for a while. As his initial tenure with Maiden was winding down, Smith became a Jackson endorser, and with the Bruce Dickinson Band, Adrian was seen playing a Jackson V as well as his Gold Top Les Paul. These days in the reformed Iron Maiden, Adrian seems to be using Fender Strats with humbuckers — very similar to Dave Murray's preferred guitars.

In the Piece of Mind era, Smith was content with an Ibanez chorus and a Tube screamer as his effects. By the time of Somewhere in Time, he was heavily processing his sound with Ibanez and Boss delays, Lexicon reverbs, a Boss chorus, and Furman EQs — all run through a Peter Cornish Relay Switching Control Unit. Perhaps oddly, despite the Schenker influence, Smith was never a wah guy.

Guitar Style

Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are 70s style guitarists who happened to enjoy their greatest success in the 80s. Both have good chops, but neither has the monster chops of the 80s metal guys like Rhoads, Lee, Lynch, Sykes, Campbell, and DeMartini.

Smith is a very basic rock metal rhythm guitarist and there's nothing particularly distinctive about his rhythm style other than the Thin Lizzy-like harmony lines. In Maiden, the approach is very straightforward, driving metal. No blues, no fusion, no funky rhythms to speak of. The rhythmic approach in the Bruce Dickinson Band was not radically different. It featured some tuned-down guitar parts, and generally less harmony parts than in Maiden.

Like Dave Murray, Smith is not really a schooled player, but he admitted to "knowing the major and minor scales" (as well as the Minor Pentatonic). Smith's clearly spent some time dissecting Michael Schenker, and that certainly exposed him to both Ionian (major) and Aeolian (minor).

For my money, Smith was always a tastier and more melodic guitar player than Dave Murray. And as Smith improved, the difference became more dramatic. Listen to the excellent solos in Sea of Madness, Wasted Years, and Stranger in A Strange Land, and you'll hear a Smith who was really embracing the lessons he was learning from Michael Schenker.

Smith has always taken the time to work out his guitar parts and compose his solos, and I think that approach has worked really for well him. In Maiden, he often takes the second solo in a song, and live, Smith plays the same parts and solos he played on the albums.

Smith's phrasing has a lyrical quality to it and usually comes in two or four bar blasts, similar to how a vocalist would naturally phrase and breathe. It's good that he's aware of that, but it can lend a contrived feel to his leads at times. It would be nice to hear him vary the bar lengths in his phrases a bit. On the other hand, this is probably nitpicking.

Despite the improvement he showed in the mid 80s, Smith is not a chops monster. He doesn't, for example, have the chops of his Dickinson Band partner, Roy Z — though Smith is tastier. Like Dave Murray, Smith uses plenty of legato and is not a pure alternate picker. In fact, he once claimed to use mostly downstrokes (ala Iommi). Adrian Smith does, however, remain a very tasty player who always makes the most of his spots to shine as a soloist. I personally admire that quality and take inspiration from it myself.

Vibrato:

A longtime user of Gibson and Gibson-like guitars, Smith developed a fairly wide finger vibrato. It's a medium speed vibrato and a bit ragged. Sort of like Zakk Wylde's, but less aggressive. His Lados, Strats, and super strats are typically equipped with Floyd Rose trems, but Smith doesn't use much bar apart from the occasional dive bomb.

Adrian Smith in Action

Recommended listening

Iron Maiden

Bruce Dickinson

Profile By Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved.