The beginnings of heavy metal and the instruments used to make it can arguably be traced back to the early days of the electric guitar and the work done by inventors and innovators like George Beauchamp (inventor of the first electric guitar), Adolph Rickenbacker, Paul Barth, and Les Paul. Without their work and the work and the contributions of countless others guitars that you plugged in would not be a reality and, indeed, if heavy metal was ever created it would have taken on a very different form.
Starting in the early 70s and continuing on today heavy metal has taken shape as a musical art form played plugged in a very loud. The basic instruments used include the guitar, bass, vocals and drums. Many different variations of the guitar can be found from a basic six string to seven or eight string guitars and even very large Warr guitars which can have as many as fifteen strings. Bass guitars used range from 3 to 6 strings and drum sets anywhere from a single drum to very large and complex kits like the one played by Mark Temperato which includes over 500 pieces. Due to the nature of heavy metal, it’s tuning, speed, and emphasis on rhythm, most drums used by drummers will include a double bass.
As metal progressed the artists responsible for shaping it began to experiment with different sounds. Early use of keyboards used in heavy metal can be traced back to even some of the most early practitioners who would used this electric piano-type instrument to sound like a myriad of other instruments from the piano to a full orchestra. Other early experimentation with instruments used to make metal include the band AC/DC’s decision to include bagpipes in their song It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll). This example may be the very first of such an unusual instrument being used in heavy metal and was the decision of band member Bon Scott who played as a child.
From that point on the community of musicians and fans became more accepting of different, “experimental” instruments in their music which eventually gave way to a style that revolutionized and forever changed “accepted” instruments in metal-black metal. More specifically, second-wave, Norwegian black metal. With its roots in thrash metal and traditional Norwegian folk music, black metal musicians began experimenting with everything from acoustic guitars to tin whistles, harps, traditional drums, the hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, and just about any folk instrument you could imagine. The new-found freedom within black metal helped other, more confined styles of heavy metal to branch out as well and work with other instruments.
Since the early 1990s the instruments that have come to take part in making heavy metal, while many are formed around a base of basic guitars, bass, and drums have become almost innumerable. It is not unusual anymore to hear a band experimenting with the sound of choirs, full orchestras, Sumerian sounds, the sitar, and even banjos to complement their music.