What are the best guitars for metal? Whether you’re a beginner just sinking your teeth into some killer riffs, or a seasoned pro looking to diversify your arsenal, we’ve compiled a handy guide to good metal guitars to suit players of all levels.
Despite what mid-80s music videos may have led you to believe, a great metal guitar doesn’t necessarily need to be pointy and menacing. In fact, the guitar you play isn’t nearly as important as how you play it.
Strictly speaking, you could play metal – and any other type of contemporary music – on any electric guitar. However, it’s worth noting that certain guitars lend themselves to particular styles, and make particular ergonomic sense for certain techniques. You’ll also want your metal guitar to look the part.
Brutal chugging, molten lead lines, searing distortion, and Dime-style divebombs place particular demands on your hardware, and there are certain features you’d expect to see on a metal guitar, which we cover on this page.
This page is organized into three main sections:
- What makes a good metal guitar? (Features to look for in a metal guitar.)
- Metal guitar brands (Guitar brands associated with metal guitars.)
- Metal guitars to check out (A selection of the best metal guitars for beginners, intermediate players, and pros.)
What Makes a Good Metal Guitar?
All electric guitars have basic things in common. They’re made out of similar materials, have a similar number of frets, and use a finite variety of pickups. What, then, makes a good metal guitar?
Below we’ve listed a few features of metal guitars that you’ll want to look out for. In this section you’ll discover the perfect combination of pickups, body style, tremolo system and neck for your dream metal guitar!
While acoustic players might wax lyrical about tonewoods and X-bracing, when it comes to metal guitar, your choice of pickups might well be the most important factor in your choice of axe.
The sound most of us imagine in our heads when we think of metal is a distorted electric guitar. Certain pickups provide a distorted tone better than others.
Fender’s clean, snappy single-coil pickups generally don’t provide the sort of tone you want for metal, although some players (notably, Jimi Hendrix) used single coils to generate otherworldly, saturated and distorted tones.
As a general rule, you want a guitar equipped with humbuckers. The higher the output, the better. Humbuckers are effectively two rows of single-coils stuck together. They cancel out the infamous “hum” heard on single-coil guitars, and have a fatter, more aggressive sound. They also respond very well to overdrive and distortion.
Most metal players use humbuckers, which come in passive and active varieties. Active humbuckers use an additional battery to provide extra power.
The most famous active humbucker is made by EMG, most associated with Ozzy Osbourne/Black Label Society axeman Zakk Wylde.
Look for a guitar equipped with one or two humbuckers, a pickup switching option, and volume controls on the guitar.
Since we’re playing metal, you want to be loud. You want to be distorted. Have you ever tried plugging a semi-acoustic guitar, or worse, a hollow-bodied jazz guitar into a distorted amp? If so, has your hearing recovered from the banshee squeals of the feedback yet?
Metal guitars should have solid bodies. This minimizes the risk of feedback, allowing you to use greater amounts of drive and distortion.
The body shape of your guitar contributes somewhat to the tone, but the bigger consideration is playability. Some shapes make playing certain notes easier. A single-cutaway Les Paul offers less upper-fret access than the classic twin-cutaway “Superstrat” shape, for example.
If you’re looking to gig, as well, you might want to consider how well the body of your metal guitar matches the aesthetic of the music you’re playing.
Audiences listen with their eyes as much as their ears, so consider how much your guitar “looks” like a metal guitar. This is arguably the least important factor, but it’s worth considering. It’s just a fact that pointy guitars look the part when you’re in a metal band.
There are as many varieties of guitar neck as there are guitar players who swear up and down that each is better than the next. Simply put, the neck of your guitar is a personal choice. If you have bigger hands, you might prefer thicker necks. If you have smaller hands, a slimmer neck might suit you.
Generally speaking, metal players looking to seriously shred want more comfortable, ergonomic necks.
How your neck meets the body is also a factor here. Thru-neck or set-neck guitars generally boast more sustain than guitars whose necks are bolted on, but this really comes down to personal preference.
Scalloped Fretboard For Metal?
Some metal guitars have scalloped fretboards. The frets on such fretboards, rather than being flat, are U-shaped.
Less energy is required to hold down notes on scalloped fretboards, the idea being that this translates into faster playing. A scalloped fretboard also allows for easier bending and vibrato.
The downside of a scalloped fretboard is that it requires a light touch; pressing down with your normal pressure will cause the note to sound sharp.
If you’re looking for your first metal guitar, then we’d suggest you avoid guitars with scalloped frets, or at least only consider guitars whose fretboards are scalloped at the higher frets, such as a Japanese-made Ibanez Jem (which would be one hell of a first guitar!).
Do you want to make Eddie Van Halen-style animal noises? Dimebag squeals? Do you want to nail the “motorbike” intro to Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart”?
If the answer is “yes”, then you need a guitar fitted with a tremolo system, preferably a Floyd Rose-style locking system.
Guitars with tremolo systems have a tremolo bar (also known as a “whammy bar”) attached to a moving bridge. Pressing / pulling the bar respectively lowers / raises the pitch of all the strings.
A locking tremolo system has a mechanism at the nut that blocks off the guitar’s tuners. This means fewer moving parts and friction points, which decreases the likelihood of strings going out of tune when the tremolo is used.
Fine-tuners on the bridge of a locking trem system mean that you don’t have to unlock the strings (which often involves the use of a hex key / allen key) in order to make (minor) tuning adjustments.
For many metal guitarists, a locking tremolo is an essential feature of a metal guitar. However, if you don’t care about the radical pitch shifting capabilities of the tremolo, then a fixed bridge guitar will be fine.
Fixed Bridge Guitar For Metal
Metal guitarists who want to belt out seriously powerful riffs without the lead pyrotechnics may prefer a “hardtail” guitar (i.e., a guitar with a fixed bridge, rather than a tremolo) such as a Gibson Les Paul or SG-style instrument.
Fixed bridge guitars are regularly used in metal. They provide tuning stability and, arguably, improved tone and sustain. With far fewer parts, they’re also easier to set up and maintain. However, by going the fixed-bridge route you’ll miss out on those extreme tremolo effects.
7 String Guitars For Metal
Seven string guitars are popular with some metal guitarists wishing to extend the range of the standard, six-string guitar.
In most cases the extra string extends the guitar’s range downwards, being tuned to either the B or A below the low E string.
This enables solos that delve into the range that is usually the preserve of a bass guitar, and the bowel-shakingly deep riffs beloved by death metal bands.
It’s safe to say that most commercially-available seven-string electric guitars are aimed at metal guitarists. If you’re just starting out, however, we recommend that you avoid getting a seven-string guitar before you know the basics on a standard guitar.
Even for experienced players, a seven-string guitar might make a good second guitar, but we probably wouldn’t recommend trading in your six string for one unless you’re sure about what you’re getting into!
Best Metal Guitar Brands
Guitars made by brands such as Fender and Gibson are widely-used in metal, and make very good metal guitars. However, their instruments are (generally) not aimed specifically at metal guitarists, and they are not considered “metal guitar brands” in the way that brands such as BC Rich, Jackson and Kramer (whose motto is “Made To Rock Hard”) are.
Bearing in mind the criteria we outlined further up the page, here are a few major brands you’ll want to look at in your quest for a good metal guitar:
- BC Rich
- Wylde Audio
Best Guitars For Metal: Recommended Instruments
Below is a list of some well-regarded metal guitars to check out…
Best Beginner Metal Guitars
Jackson JS22 Dinky
- Archtop Dinky Double Cutaway Body
- 1pc. Maple Speed Neck and a Compound Radius (12"-16") Fretboard with 24 Jumbo Frets
- Jackson High Output Humbucking Bridge and Neck Pickups
- Black Hardware Includes a 2-Point Synchronized Fulcrum Tremolo and Jackson Sealed Die-Cast
- Case not included
The Jackson Dinky is a great take on the classic “Superstrat” style guitar. With a thin, comfortable neck, double cutaway body for easy upper fret access, and high-output bridge and neck pickups, it’s a great guitar for those just starting out.
- Poplar body
- 24 frets
- High output Infinity R pickups
This entry-level guitar from elite Japanese builders Ibanez may well inspire lifelong loyalty to the brand in a beginner guitarist. It adopts the classic Superstrat shape, and applies Ibanez’s dedication to playability and instrument quality even at this low price point.
Twin humbuckers and Ibanez’s ultra-cool shark fin fret inlays complete this great beginner metal guitar.
Epiphone SG Special
- Poplar Body finish: Satin
- Neck finish: Satin
- Fretboard Material: Rosewood
- 60s SlimTaper D Neck
- 22 Medium jumbo frets
A full-bore Gibson SG will set you back thousands of dollars, and the SG has been somewhat forgotten by the metal crowd in recent years.
Of course, no less a guitarist than Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi has wielded an SG for his entire career, delivering crushing, apocalyptic riffage for decades.
Twin humbuckers and one of the most iconic body shapes in metal. What’s not to like? Check out an Epiphone SG.
Recommended Guitars for Metal: Mid-Range / Intermediate
Schecter C-6 Deluxe
- Basswood Body w/ Maple Neck
- SGR by Floyd Rose Trem System
- Schecter Diamond Plus Pickups
- Chrome Hardware
- Rosewood Fingerboard w/Dot inlay
Schecter is a guitar brand associated with metal. Their C-6 Deluxe range of guitars are good mid-range metal guitars that attract good reviews.
Ibanez RG Standard Series
- Neck type: Wizard III Maple neck
- Body: Mahogany body
- Fretboard: Bound Rosewood fretboard w/Sharktooth inlay
- Fret: Jumbo frets
- Bridge: Std. DL tremolo bridge
Ibanez’s mid-range Standard series fits between their beginner guitars and their more expensive Premium lines. These are no-frills, workmanlike guitars that appear on stages each and every night all around the world. They are metal guitars, but not overly so; you could probably play a wedding gig with one of these!
Fender Jim Root Telecaster
- Active EMG pickups combined with a mahogany body produce the huge and ultra-heavy tones Jim is famous for.
- With a 12" freeboard radius and medium jumbo frets, this neck has a flatter / faster feel that's perfect for high-intensity playing.
- Black-Tweed case with red-plush interior included.
Don’t let the Tele’s famous association with country and early rock and roll fool you. This signature model, designed in collaboration with the masked Slipknot axeman Jim Root, is a no-frills metal machine. A luxurious ebony fretboard, twin active EMG pickups and an eye-catching black-and-white color scheme set this Tele far apart from its brethren. A great intermediate metal guitar.
EVH Wolfgang Special
This guitar was designed by arguably the greatest lead guitarist of all time: Edward Van Halen. It’s accordingly well suited to a variety of hard rock and metal styles, courtesy of its high-output EVH Wolfgang humbucking pickups, locking Floyd Rose tremolo and D-Tuna for quickly switching to a drop tuning.
This metal guitar boasts several features usually reserved for more expensive instruments, too, including a hand-rubbed finish on the lovingly carved quartersawn maple neck and a full complement of EVH electronics.
Wylde Audio Barbarian
Rounding out our trio of signature metal guitars is this beast from Zakk Wylde’s own gear line, Wylde Audio. The body shape is like an SG, but more extreme, and that ethos neatly encapsulates the vibe of this guitar.
Mahogany fretboard. Powerful EMG pickups. Distinctive “bullseye” paintjob. All you need is a cranked Marshall and you’re in metal tone heaven.
Best Guitars for Metal: High-End
Suhr Modern T
- Custom Suhr Modern T
- Flame Maple Top
- African Okoume body
- Roasted Maple .850-.900 modern elliptical neck
- Ebony Fretboard
Suhr is a definitively high-end brand aimed at gigging pros.
Telecaster-style guitars (with the right pickup configuration) can be astonishingly versatile, and the brand’s Modern T is no exception.
There’s an ebony fretboard, a Gotoh tremolo bridge, and shred-ready Thornbucker humbucking pickups in both the neck and bridge positions. These pickups, like on the EVH Wolfgang, are directly mounted onto the body of this gorgeous guitar, for increased sustain and attack.
Ibanez AZ Prestige
- Ash Body w/ Tri Fade Burst Color
- 25.5" Scale AZ Oval C/S-TECH WOOD Roasted Maple Neck w/ Roasted Maple Fingerboard
- Dual Seymour Duncan Hyperion Pickups, 1 Volume, 1 Tone & 5-Way Pickup Selector Switch, Dyna-MIX10 Switching System w/ Alter Switch
- Gotoh T1802 Tremolo Bridge & Gotoh Magnum Lock Tuners w/ H.A.P.
- Hardshell Case Included
This guitar epitomizes everything great about Ibanez guitars. The hotter-than-hot Seymour Duncan Hyperion pickups will deliver molten lead tone in spades. The Gotoh tremolo bridge will handle all the flutters and wails your heart could possibly desire.
Everything about this guitar, from its contoured body to its roasted maple neck with sculpted heel, is built for maximum playability. This is the cutting edge of guitar design, built for extreme players.
- Arched-top Mahogany Body
- 3-piece Maple Neck
- EMG 57 Bridge Pickup w/ Brushed Black Chrome Cover
- EMG 66 Neck Pickup w/ Brushed Black Chrome Cover
- Hipshot Hardtail Bridge (.125) w/ String Thru Body
Shecter’s guitars have an undeniable metal-oriented design. The asymmetrical points, otherworldly paint jobs, and high-powered pickups all nod toward an audience whose tastes err on the extreme side.
Schecter’s Hellraiser series not only shares a name with songs by both Motorhead and Ozzy Osbourne, they offer powerful EMG pickups, some variants come with a Floyd Rose tremolo, and 24 frets for maximum shred power.
The Hellraiser series also comes in 7-string variations for those looking to add some low end brutality to their sonic palate. A true metal guitar for those about to rock.
Best Guitars For Metal: Conclusion
We hope that this article has helped you narrow down your search for a good metal guitar. Check out some of the instruments we mention on this page, or hit your local music store armed with the knowledge of what makes a good metal guitar.
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