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Why Iron Maiden have 3 guitarists?

Iron Maiden


Why Iron Maiden have 3 guitarists?

Iron Maiden was founded by bassist and primary songwriter Steve Harris in 1975, and over the years, the band has seen several lineup changes. However, since 1999, the lineup has remained unchanged, formed by six musicians, which was a departure from the original five-member configuration. That change was caused by the fact that Maiden now has three guitarists: Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers.


Dave Murray, who has been with Maiden since the mid-70s, is the longest-serving member alongside Steve Harris and both of them were part of all the band’s releases. Adrian Smith was part of the band from 1980 to 1990, returning in 1999. Janick Gers, often seen as “the new guy” by fans, has been a part of the group since 1990. But why does Iron Maiden has three guitarists?

The reason why Iron Maiden has three guitarists

The answer is actually simple, Janick Gers was with the band for nine years already in 1999 and was a guitarist who they respected and believed had a lot to contribute to the band’s sound.

However, they also believed it was important to get Adrian Smith back, since he also had been a really important part of the band’s songwriting in the past. As the guitarists said in interviews over the decades, it was the boss, Steve Harris, who had that idea of having three guitar players.

After the drummer Clive Burr was fired in 1982 and the band hired Nicko McBrain, their line-up remained intact until 1990 when the guitarist Adrian Smith decided to leave due to creative differences with Steve Harris.

Since the guitarist Janick Gers, who at the time had worked with names like Ian Gillan and Paul Di’Anno, had been the guitar player of Bruce Dickinson‘s debut solo album “Tattooed Millionaire” (1990), he was invited to join Maiden, becoming Smith’s replacement.

The six members line-up actually played together for the first time in 1992

With that line-up the group recorded two successful albums: “No Prayer for The Dying” (1990) and “Fear of The Dark” (1992). But the guitarist Adrian Smith joined the group during their second performance at Donington Park in 1992 to play the song “Running Free”. So that was the first time Steve, Janick, Nicko, Bruce, Dave and Adrian played together on stage.

One year later, in 1993, after many conflicts with his bandmates, it was Bruce Dickinson who decided to leave the band in order to pursue a solo career. The former Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley passed the audition and alongside Steve, Nicko, Janick and Dave, recorded two studio albums. They were: “The X Factor” (1995) and “Virtual XI” (1998).

Iron Maiden reached a bigger level of success in the early 80s when they replaced Paul Di’Anno with Bruce Dickinson. However, in the 90s, when Blaze Bayley was brought in, the task of filling Bruce’s shoes proved to be really difficult. Besides that, the music scene had changed a lot and Grunge really made the Metal bands be left aside at the time. So Maiden was now playing in small arenas for about five thousand fans and by 1999 the group saw that Bruce really had to come back.

The band’s first reaction of having three guitarists was calling it “Lynyrd-Maiden”

Not many Rock and Roll bands has three guitarists but one of them was the American Southern Rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd and that was the first comparision the Maiden members did when Steve Harris came up with the idea. In an interview with My Planet Rocks in 2020, Adrian Smith recalled the initial reaction to the idea of having three guitar players.

“(I worked with Bruce on his solo career) Then they wanted Bruce to come back. Blaze was fired from the band. I was playing with Bruce, then there was something in the air about me coming back. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll do just one tour or come on for half the set.’ I don’t know. By that time, if you had asked me ten years before, I’d said, ‘No. Probably never do it.’ Things change. You get older and wiser. I thought it might be nice just to round it off.”

“But, again, Steve, he does come out with some whacky ideas that at first. You think they’re not going to work, so he suggested to guys, ‘Why don’t we have three guitars?’ You can imagine what the room was like when he said that. (Laughs) Probably Dave and Janick looked at each other, like, ‘What? ‘Lynyrd Maiden.’ But I joined up and we went down to Portugal to write some songs. I had the song ‘The Wicker Man’, I had the riff. Someone said, ‘Has anyone got any new ideas?’ I started playing that and then away we went. We never looked back.”

He continued:

“Well, put it this way: If we had three Yngwie Malmsteens or three Ritchie Blackmores, there would have been a fight after about five minutes. But because Dave is one of my oldest friends, we’ve worked together for years, we know the score. Janick is a lovely guy. But I have to say Jan wasn’t going to change what he was going to play.”

“He’s just very set in his ways. I sensed that immediately. So I started looking at different ways of doing things. I’ve been playing with drop-D tuning in Bruce’s band, so I got used to that. When we first joined up, we played ‘Wrathchild’, I played it in drop-D tuning. ‘Run To The Hills’ was in D. So again, I tuned it down. It gave it a slightly different sound. So I was bringing that in, playing lower octaves on the harmonies and stuff like that. I played a lot of stuff totally different than what I did when I was in the band before, which is quite interesting.”

For Janick Gers, having three guitarists makes Iron Maiden sound better and bigger

As the guitarist Janick Gers saidin an interview in 2011 with Colin from Y’Know, having three guitarists makes Iron Maiden sound better and bigger. He believes that there is room for all the three musicians on stage. Also that they are able to reproduce the songs even more perfect.
“I played with the Gillan band for many years,  I was just the only guitarist, you know. I know I can play just by myself in any band, I know that Adrian can do that too. And I know that Dave would fit into any band as the main guitarist. So the first thing you do is throw your ego away.”
“Then you start looking at how can we make Iron Maiden sound bigger and better. It’s a case of being very subtle, a way of playing between ourselves. Being able to step back and let other people move forward. Having like, just creating tapestries within the songs and trying to make songs sound better for having the three guitarists.”

He continued:

“(..) There’s plenty to choose from between us three which one plays what. We never tread on anyone’s toes because there’s just room for all of us. We make the room by playing different themes and we all have such different styles. It makes the band sound bigger, it doesn’t squash it, y’know. That’s the feeling we get on stage, whether that comes across in the mix is another thing. It depends on the guy on front.”

“But, no, I never feel, squashed. I’m quite happy to take a step back and push other people forward to make the band sound better. That’s the trick – it’s not guitar frenzy. We’re not trying to be the three best guitarists in the world. We’re trying to make Iron Maiden sound better than any other band,” Janick Gers said.

I'm a Brazilian journalist who always loved Classic Rock and Heavy Metal music. That passion inspired me to create Rock and Roll Garage over 6 years ago. Music has always been a part of my life, helping me through tough times and being a support to celebrate the good ones. When I became a journalist, I knew I wanted to write about my passions. After graduating in journalism from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, I pursued a postgraduate degree in digital communication at the same institution. The studies and experience in the field helped me improve the website and always bring the best of classic rock to the world! MTB: 0021377/MG

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