What are the best guitar pedals for metal? What pedals do you need to get a good heavy metal sound? On this page, we take a look at the pedals you need to play metal…
Guitar Pedals For Metal: Intro
There are more guitar pedals on the market than ever before, ranging from cheap, mass-produced knock-offs to boutique hand-made pedals from one-man companies run more out of love rather than for profit.
On paper, getting a good metal guitar sound is simple; simply turn the gain on your amp up sufficiently to distort the sound. That’s how it all started after all; early metal players didn’t rely on pedals; they simply bullied their amps into making sounds they weren’t designed to make.
It wasn’t long, however, for the first fuzz, overdrive and distortion pedals to appear. These allowed metal guitarists to refine their overdriven sound.
Not much has changed since the early days; if you’re looking to deliver the crushing, powerful tones of heavy metal, your priority is a good overdriven / distortion sound.
While many modern-day amplifiers feature enough gain on tap for any number of metal sounds, occasionally you’ll need more options, and many metal guitarists use one or more additional distortion, overdrive or fuzz pedals to dirty their sound up.
Getting a good metal guitar sound doesn’t (necessarily) stop at distortion; the modern metal guitar player will often further shape his sound with pedals such as delay, chorus, phaser, wah, and graphic EQ.
What Pedals Do I Need for Metal?
Purists would argue that a good metal sound begins and ends with the amp. To an extent, that is true; most modern amps are capable of producing a good metal sound, and that might be all you need, especially at the beginning of your career.
However, the rigs of most metal guitarists often include a combination of one or more of the following pedals:
- Modulation (chorus, phaser, or flanger)
- Echo (usually delay rather than reverb)
Read on to find out more about each type of pedal and how it can help you to achieve the metal tone of your dreams…
The first pedal in your pedal chain should be a tuner. Avoid clip-on tuners for metal. You want a tuner that can silence your guitar signal while you adjust tuning in between songs.
Nobody in the audience wants to hear the twanging micro-adjustments of your guitar being tuned.
A good tuner serves two vital purposes. The first is obvious: it allows you to tune your guitar quickly and accurately (even slightly out of tune notes will ruin the sound of your performance).
The second purpose is as an instant mute button. “Silent” tuning is one benefit of this, as is the ability to quickly shut off any unwanted noise from your signal chain.
One of the most popular tuner pedals is the Boss TU-3. It’s easy to read, accurate, and very easy to use. It supports drop tuning, making it perfect for extreme metal players. You can also use it to power other pedals!
- Guitar Bass Tuner Pedal with High-Brightness Mode f Outdo Visibility
- 21-segment LED Meter
- Drop Tuning Suppt
- Guitar/Bass Mode
Overdrive & Distortion
So, you want to get a little more push and aggression out of your guitar tone? Metal guitar sounds are typically heavily distorted, so most metal players will use some type of overdrive or distortion to boost their tone.
The list of overdrive and distortion pedals on the market is ever-expanding, and you can spend serious amounts of money on an overdrive pedal. Genuine Klon Centaurs, for example, will sell for over $5000.00.
For those of us who don’t want to sell an arm and a leg for a vintage overdrive, however, there are plenty of options. Zakk Wylde, of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society fame, for example, used a Boss SD-1 to push his Marshall amp into feral saturated glory for the No More Tears album.
Ibanez Tube Screamer
The Ibanez Tube Screamer is another classic overdrive pedal. Metallica’s Kirk Hammet has famously used a Tube Screamer as his main boost for guitar solos for decades now. The Tube Screamer sounds best, as the name implies, when played in front of a decent tube amplifier.
- Classic tone Tone, drive, and level controls
- Tone, drive, and level controls give you access to warm, amp-like overdrive that's touch sensitive and ready to rip
- The Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer is a reissue that's just like the original in so many ways
- Same factory, same components, same housing, same famous seasick-green paint, and the same crankin' overdrive that made the original one of the all-time classic pedals
- Guitar Player called it the best
When you want a more aggressive, snarling tone, you might turn to the increased gain levels of a classic distortion pedal. For decades now, the Proco Rat has been the definitive metal distortion pedal. Its “filter” control means you can use a Rat for your tight, chugging rhythm sounds as well as searing leads.
Notable Rat users include Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth and avant-garde guitarist Buckethead.
- Used as a primary distortion, it excels at arena rock rhythm tones and soaring leads
- Nails that sweet spot where a tube amp goes from sparkly clean to warm overdrive
- Use the RAT 2 as a boost for solos and get the extra kick you need
Boss Metal Zone
The Boss Metal Zone is probably the most controversial pedal on the planet. Its gain range is far too wide to be practical, and its two-knob EQ is far from intuitive.
When used right, however, the Metal Zone is one of the most powerful, articulate distortion pedals you can find.
Its lower price point implies that this is a beginner pedal, but we’d recommend embarking on your Metal Zone journey once you know how to tweak a pedal and amp to your personal preferences.
The pedal sounds best in the amplifier’s effects loop – effectively functioning as a preamp – rather than before the amplifier, which is where you’d put most distortion pedals.
For a more readily tameable alternative to Boss’ Metal Zone, you might want to consider the Boss DS-2.
Used by players as varied as Kurt Cobain and John Frusciante, this classic distortion pedal is one of the most useable metal pedals available.
With standard distortion controls, plus switchable modes that instantly change the character of the pedal, the DS-2 is capable of delivering a wide variety of metal tones.
While fuzz isn’t a commonly used pedal for most metal guitarists, it’s almost a given in doom, stoner, and sludge metal subgenres.
EHX Big Muff
Setting the standard for modern fuzz enthusiasts is the EHX Big Muff, with a sensitive EQ and all the saturated, harmonically rich fuzz tone you could want.
- Mode 1 for Lower Gain Synth-Style Gated Fuzz
- Mode 2 for High Gain Oscillating Synth Fuzz
- Toggle Switches for Mode 1, Mode 2 or Stock; +/- Gain
- 60s Vintage Fuzz All The Way to Modern Sludge Metal Tones
Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face
If your taste in fuzz leans more to the psychedelic end of the scale, the Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face has a distinctive look and timeless tone.
- Exact same circuit as the classic Jhf1 Hendrix fuzz face
- Legendary fuzz face tones in a pedal board-friendly housing
- Status LED, AC power jack & battery door
- Model number: FFM3
Chorus, Phaser, and Flanger
Modulation effects are really a matter of personal choice. Some players can’t leave home without their phaser, and others eschew these effects entirely.
Most metal players use chorus either to thicken up their rhythm sound in a single-guitar ensemble or to add some shimmer to their clean tone when required.
Motley Crue’s Mick Mars and Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde both used chorus pedals for their rhythm tone to great effect. As an example of how chorus can be used for a clean metal tone, look no further than the bridge section of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”.
For either sound, it’s hard to go past the warm, authentically 80s tone of the MXR Analog Chorus or Boss’s classic CE-2 chorus.
- All-analog bucket-brigade circuitry
- Create classically lush, liquid textures
- Ultimate tone control
- Model Number: M234
- Chorus Effects Pedal for Guitar with 3 Modes (Standard
- CE-1 Vibrato) and Rate and Depth Controls
- CE-1 Chorus
Phaser and flanger are similar “whooshing” effects. We’ll turn to Van Halen for prime examples of both. For phaser, listen to “Eruption”. For flanger, listen to the intro to “Unchained”.
As you’d expect, considering that Edward Van Halen has probably had more influence on metal tone than any other guitar player, there are EVH-spec pedals for both phaser and flanger.
The MXR EVH Phase 90 has a useful “script” switch that allows you to indulge both modern and vintage flavored phasing, and the MXR EVH Flanger has plenty of controls so you can cover all flange tones from the “airplane taking off” sound of “Unchained” to a subtler motion for your long, legato lead lines.
- Grab a piece of Eddie's magic with the MXR EVH 90—a collaboration between Eddie Van Halen and Dunlop
- Instantly toggle between a vintage, "Script Logo" phase tone and a more modern "Block Logo" phaser
- EVH 90 sports the greatest graphics in the history of rock: the red, white, and black stripes from Eddie's legendary Frankenstein guitar
- Please refer user manual attached under product details for instructions and troubleshooting steps.
- Model Number: EVH90
- Original bucket-brigade design
- Model Number: EVH117
- Use the EVH switch for instant "Unchained" tone
Echo (Delay & Reverb)
As a general rule, most metal players avoid using too much reverb. Reverb can muddy your guitar tone, particularly when you use a lot of distortion in a band setting. That’s not to say metal guitarists avoid it entirely. Rather, it’s used quite sparingly, and you’ll hear it less often in more technically-demanding metal subgenres like thrash and speed metal.
Delay, on the other hand, tends to be most metal players’ echo effect of choice. It can be used for a gentle slapback (once more, we turn to Van Halen and “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”), or to add flavor and color to your guitar solos.
The Boss Digital Delay is one of the most versatile and useful delay pedals you can get.
- Digital Delay Pedal with Tap Tempo
- Sht Loop (Hold) Function
- 12.5ms-800ms Delay Time
- Wet/Dry Outputs
If you want something with more options (including reverb, if that’s your taste), Keeley’s Caverns Delay is probably the pedal for you. It’s got plenty of tonal versatility so you can leave it on your pedalboard between metal and ambient gigs.
- 650ms Delay with Modulation
- Spring and Shimmer Reverb
- Trails or True Bypass
- 9V Battery Compatible (not included)
- 9V Center Negative power supply only
TC Electronic’s Flashback is another great delay pedal with plenty of presets for you to choose from, and true bypass so your tone won’t be affected if you don’t want it to.
- Flashback 2 delay effects pedal.
- The tc electronic flashback 2 delay packs the company's entire delay legacy into a single compact and affordable stomp box that's designed for now – and the future
- TC Electronic groundbreaking MASH technology adds an expression pedal to a world-class delay stompbox that responds to your touch and saves precious pedalboard space
- Package Weight: 0.431 kilograms
An often underrated guitar pedal across all genres is the EQ. Sure, your amp has an EQ, but what if you could pick out particular frequencies in your guitar signal before hitting the amplifier? The EQ allows you to eliminate feedback where necessary, gives you a chance to highlight certain frequencies for solos (hello, midrange boost), or even to scoop your mids for classic thrash chugging tone.
The Boss GE-7 is most popular among metal players for its ease of use and boost/cut control. You can add or cut gain when the pedal is on simply by setting the “level” fader to your liking. Great for a clean boost when it’s solo time, or for carving out a thick, articulate rhythm tone.
The wah pedal does exactly what it sounds like: it makes your guitar go “wah”. It was meant to mimic a similar effect used by jazz trumpeters playing with a “mute”, but wound up being most associated with electric guitar.
It’s a cool effect most commonly associated with compressed funk tones, but it’s been used in metal for decades now.
Some notable metal players who love using a wah pedal include Dimebag Darrell, Zakk Wylde, Kirk Hammett, Eddie Van Halen, and Slash. Each have their own signature model wah, based on the classic Dunlop Cry Baby.
If you want something that can add personality, power, and punch to your solos, the Cry Baby may be the pedal for you. Learning to use it takes some practise, but once you can nail the vocal tones of “Voodoo Chile”, it will all be worthwhile.
- Heavy Die Cast Construction
- Powered by the Dunlop ECB-03 AC Adapter (not included) and/or 9 volt battery
- Dimensions: 10" x 4" x 2-1/2"
- Weight: 3.7 lbs.
- Color: Black
Guitar Pedals For Metal – Conclusion
On this page we’ve looked at a variety of pedals used by heavy metal guitarists of all genres. Although your amp will probably be capable of providing a decent basic metal sound, the extra flexibility offered by a small, well-chosen selection of guitar pedals can really help you get your dream metal guitar tone.
How do you get your metal guitar tone? What is in your metal pedal board? Let us know in the comments section below!