Best Metal Guitars – Buying Guide & Reviews

Metal is a specific style of music that demands high intensity playing and a powerful tone. Despite being specific, it is very hard to actually achieve a decent heavy sound using any old guitar and amp. In metal, extremely high gain pickups and fast picking are a must, therefore models such as Fender Stratocasters or jazz and folk guitars simply will not suffice…

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At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Metal Guitars on the Market

PREVIEW PRODUCT FEATURES

ESP 6 String LTD EC-256 Electric Guitar, Black, (EC256BLK)

ESP 6 String LTD EC-256
  • Great Price
  • Good Playability
  • Nice aesthetic
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Ibanez RGA Series RGA42FM - Dragon Eye Burst Flat

Ibanez RGA Series RGA42FM
  • Reasonable price
  • Great for practice
  • Good playability
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Jackson KVT Pro Series King V - 3-tone Sunburst

Jackson KVT Pro Series King V
  • High quality
  • Killer aesthetic
  • Durable
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Schecter Hellraiser C-7 Floyd Rose-Sustainiac Black Cherry

Schecter Hellraiser C-7 Floyd Rose
  • Awesome tone control
  • Additional 7th string
  • Top quality build
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Ibanez Iron Label RGD Series RGDIX7MPB 7-String Electric Guitar (26.5' scale) Blue Burst

Ibanez Iron Label RGD Series RGDIX7MPB 7-String
  • Quality punchy sound
  • Extra low end range
  • Wild aesthetic
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PRS Wood Library Custom 24 10 Top Flame Charcoal w/Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard & Pattern Thin Neck (Serial #259804)

PRS Wood Library Custom 24
  • Very high quality
  • Highly versatile
  • Tremolo bridge and hot Humbucker pickups
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Short History of the Metal Guitar

Metal guitar really originated thanks to heavier and darker 70’s bands like Black Sabbath. Sabbath really carved way for metal, creating a unique doomy, blues sound, which was different to that of other big bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin during that time.

After bands like Black Sabbath transformed rock n’ roll during the 70’s, the 80’s suddenly experienced a huge creative explosion of aggressive heavy metal and fast thrash metal. Bands like Venom, Exodus, Metallica and Slayer were huge primary influences (and still are) during this era and inspired even darker forms of death and black metal to become established later in the 80’s and 90’s. Some famous and inspirational early death/ black metal bands include, Death, Obituary and Mayhem.

Today, these genres of metal all coexist and have given way to more creative, unusual styles such as melodic/ progressive/ sci-fi metal bands like Opeth, At the Gates and Voivod.

Here’s a quick song to help you remember how metal guitar has progressed with time

So, what should you look for when buying a guitar built for metal? If you want a guitar that looks as mean as it sounds, you’re gonna need to be prepared to pay a fair price for a quality instrument.

If you take the time to properly compare instruments, there are plenty of ways to get the best metal guitar for your price range, whilst ensuring it will look good on stage and pack brutal, guttural growls.​

 

Buying Guide – Things to Consider When Purchasing a Metal Guitar

Body Shape

A guitar’s body and neck should be balanced in a way that ensures it sits at a comfortable angle across your body for appropriate hand positioning across the fingerboard. This can be a problem if you purchase an odd-shaped instrument, such as a V or Star bodied guitar. If you’re going to play live, your guitar should always be light and comfortable enough for you to stand and play for long periods of time.

Tonewood

A wide variety of woods are used to construct the main bulk of a guitar. Some common types include ash, maple and mahogany which are the heaviest, whereas lighter woods include alder, poplar and basswood. To maintain maximum sustain, a balance between light and heavy wood is often used. If the wood is too heavy and dense, the important vibrations responsible for producing sound can become muffled, on the other hand, wood that is very light may not be dense enough to sustain well.

The type of wood used in the guitar’s body and neck will therefore greatly affect your overall tone, resonance, and sustain. To achieve a chunky, dark, well sustainable metal tone, you’ll be wanting to invest in a guitar made from mahogany and basswood, along with pickups that are hot enough to send a powerful signal to the amp.

Build

Before buying a guitar specifically for metal, it’s crucial to consider how the guitar is constructed. For heavy metal gigging, your guitar needs to be armoured like a tank to maintain the sustain and harmonics, not to mention to survive the touring and live shows, which could involve maniacs stage diving and headbanging!

Pickups

For a heavy metal tone, high-output “hot” pickups are essential. There are two types of guitar pickup: passive and active. Active pickups produce a louder sound with more tone variation, which is great but occasionally hard to set properly. They can also be worse at attenuating when going from high to low volumes in comparison to passive pickups.

The most widely used ‘hot’ metal pickup has got to be the Humbucker, which produces a distinguishable, aggressive and powerful sound. You can use a single coil pickup to play metal, but if you don’t have at least a decent humbucker on your guitar, you’re missing one of the crucial bits of hardware responsible for the sonic fury of a good metal track.

If you want to go even meaner than the passive Humbuker, active pickups can produce an even higher gain guitar tone, with more overall control. Be aware that they usually require a power input from a 9v battery before you buy! Passive pickups on the other hand, are slightly more convenient in that they don’t require batteries, and are still able to provide a decent range of less high gain metal tones.

Scale Length

For those of you that haven’t heard of the term ‘scale length’, it basically refers to the maximum length of the guitar strings that produce sound when vibrating. Guitars can have different scale lengths, for example a 24.75-inch scale allows for easier playability and deeper low-end tones. On the other hand, 25.5-inch scales allow for a more responsive, bright, chime like tone. Extended-range guitars have even longer scales but are really difficult for petite players to master.

Neck / Action

For accuracy whilst playing technical metal riffs, thinner and flatter necks are definitely your friend. As well as this, the guitar’s neck should have low action to allow for fast paced shredding.

Along with accuracy, neck build also affects a guitar’s stability and tone. For extra stability, it’s worth investing in a guitar with a three-piece or reinforced neck, rather than a one-piece or neck-through design, where the neck is glued through the whole length of the guitar. It’s also worth considering that one-piece necks can sustain for longer than bolt-on or set in necks, due to them being a single piece of wood and therefore resonating sound vibrations more consistently.

Electronics

Variations among tone knobs and pickups are endless. We’ve already gone over the best types of general pickup for metal tones however, a guitar with bass, middle and treble knobs along with pickup selectors, will enable you to have more control over your sound.

Guitar pedals can also help you produce some cool effects. For example, reverb, distortion, phasers and delay are often used by metal guitarists.

Bridge and Tuning Hardware

The two main types of bridge used by guitarists are known as ‘fixed’ and ‘tremolo’. Fixed bridges provide greater tuning stability, and are much less confusing for beginner and intermediate players. Tremolo bridges are attached to the guitar via metal springs which adjust the string tension. Adjustable tension means that the guitarist can raise and lower the pitch of all the guitar strings simultaneously, using a metal whammy bar. Tremolo bridges therefore allow the guitarist to perform huge bends, or dive bombs, which are a staple in most metal guitar riffs. Occasionally, some tremolo bridges are made slightly more stable by incorporating a locking tuner.

Cosmetics

Looks aren’t everything, but of course some guitar shapes are heavily associated with metal as a music genre. In extreme death and black metal, ideally, your guitar should resemble some form of medieval weapon, terrifying monster or industrial machinery. At bare minimum it needs at least one end sharp enough to eviscerate your enemies with. Take a look at Nocturno Culto’s (Darkthrone) wild Ikon guitar –

Some more standard bodied, famous models include Dave Mustaine’s Dean VMNT and James Hetfield’s Gibson Explorer. Remember that if you want to play lead metal licks, single or double cutaways will allow more convenient access to high notes.

Extended Range

Many modern metal players use 7-string or 8-string guitars to reach a greater range of notes. Extra low end allows for a really heavy, deep bass sound similar to tones used by bands like Korn. Baritone guitars have a longer scale length than standard models and are also popular in metal. Baritones make lower tunings possible on 6 string guitars. Keep in mind that more strings and extended note ranges, mean your guitar will have a wider neck and/or longer scale lengths, making it trickier to play.

 

Product Round-up & Mini Reviews

Best Budget Metal Guitars

ESP 6 String LTD EC-256

ESP 6 String LTD EC-256 Electric Guitar, Black, (EC256BLK)

The LTD EC-256 is a super mean, but very reasonably priced guitar, designed in light of higher-end EC Series models. This guitar’s shape is similar to that of the Gibson Les Paul, making it comfortable enough to play most musical styles. Although it does look like a ‘metal’ guitar, it’s aesthetic would suit most other rock bands too. Additionally, the EC-256’s neck is secured at several points along the body and headstock for extra stability and peace of mind whilst travelling and performing.

For it’s price, this guitar is pretty nice to play. It’s set-neck allows you to reach the highest frets quickly and comfortably, whilst the mahogany body sustains well and produces a rich guitar tone. The EC-256 also features a smooth rosewood fingerboard, 22 extra-jumbo frets, and meaty LH-150 passive pickups, for a dark and heavy tone.

Because this guitar has such versatile looks and enough tone control to play genres like blues, rock and metal, it’s suitable for both complete beginners and intermediate level guitarists that want to play a variety of styles live!

PROS

  • Price – Very good value for money, made to resemble higher quality ESP models at an affordable cost
  • Good Playability – Thin neck and jumbo frets allow for fast, smooth playing and easy bends
  • Nice aesthetic – This is an all round, good looking guitar, and simple enough to be played in other styles of music such as blues and hard rock

CONS

  • May not look nasty enough for your band – If you want your guitar to resemble an evil weapon that will destroy the world, this isn’t the guitar for you
  • String action set high – This guitar usually comes with a rather high standard action, you may have to take it into a shop for adjusting, low action is generally preferred by metal guitarists
  • Tone – For it’s price, the EC 256 provides pretty decent tone, but more expensive guitars can provide an even more evil sound

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Ibanez RGA Series RGA42FM

Ibanez RGA Series RGA42FM - Dragon Eye Burst Flat

Compared to most metal guitars, the Ibanez RGA is certainly a brighter option, being available in either an electric blue or burnt orange – this might be a welcome change from the standard black, metal guitar!

For it’s price, the RGA does a good job representing Ibanez as a leading brand in metal guitars, and allows it’s owner to play with speed and expressive aggression. It’s thin neck, jumbo frets, low action strings and easy access to the 24th fret make it easy to play fast thrash riffs. Additionally, it’s passive Quantum Humbucker pickups produce a pretty decent high gain output, and the 5 Way pickup selector allows for a versatile selection of tones. Be warned though, the neck position can sound very squeaky and tinny.

Due to it’s price and ability to produce a variety of tone, this guitar is best suited for beginners looking to experiment with their sound and style. Although you could play a gig with this guitar, it’s high end treble sound is not great, so you’d be better investing in a more expensive quality guitar model.

PROS

  • Reasonable price – Good quality Humbucker pickups and mahogany body, for nice tone, at a low price
  • Great for beginners – Simple controls (1 x volume dial/ 1 x tone dial) and a fixed bridge to keep your guitar in tune, without the confusion of adjusting a floating bridge
  • Good playability – The Ibanez RGA’s thin neck, jumbo frets and low action allow guitarists to play metal riffs fast and accurately

CONS

  • Restricted tone control – Only one tone and volume control knob, this is less than normal for a metal guitar, most will have at least a treble and bass dial available.
  • Tinny sound – The neck pickup selection produces a squeaky tone, which isn’t so nice… although this may be a good thing if you’re looking to create some really nasty black metal!
  • Not so grim looking – This guitar may not be evil looking enough to fit in with a death metal or black metal gig

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Best Mid to High End Metal Guitars

Jackson KVT Pro Series King V

Jackson KVT Pro Series King V - 3-tone Sunburst

The Jackson KVT is definitely a cool and stylish guitar. It’s V shape really makes an impact and the dark sunburst effect adds a sort of old school death/ thrash metal vibe. As well as good looks, this guitar has a mahogany body for rich tone, as well as a sturdy, graphite-reinforced, single-piece maple neck which runs through the guitar’s body. As a nice finishing touch, the guitar’s neck is even hand-rubbed with oil, for an extra smooth finish.

The Jackson KVT is very capable of being played at speed thanks to it’s compound radius, ebony fingerboard and jumbo frets. The ebony fingerboard also helps this guitar produce brighter tones, making it great for lead guitarists wanting to produce punchy, stand out solos.

The Jackson KVT also features passive Seymour Duncan (JB bridge/’59 neck) humbucker pickups, which produce a powerful, brutal punch, with retained note definition. There’s also 1x volume/ tone control dial and a three-way pickup selector switch for basic tone control, as well as a set bridge for easy restringing.

Because this guitar has great sounding Seymour Duncan pickups and a quality ebony fingerboard, it is gig worthy…. But probably more suited to guitarists that aren’t too picky about tone as there isn’t a huge amount of variation available.

PROS

  • High quality – Extra smooth and punchy ebony fingerboard along with quality pickups allow this guitar to be player at high speed and produce a fierce tone
  • Killer aesthetic – This guitar looks amazing and will suit most thrash and death metal bands
  • Durable – The graphite reinforced, single piece neck ensures this guitar will withstand tough times

CONS

  • Shape – Some players may not feel comfortable playing a V shaped guitar. It’s worth mentioning that it’s harder to practice sitting down with this shape too!
  • Lack of tone control – No treble, bass or middle tone control knobs available meaning a specific sound is harder to define.
  • Case sold separately – This isn’t usually an issue, but due to this guitar’s specific shape, it’s sometimes hard to find the correct case and can be expensive to buy one.

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Schecter Hellraiser C-7 Floyd Rose

Schecter Hellraiser C-7 Floyd Rose-Sustainiac Black Cherry

The Schecter Hellraiser really is a guitar designed for those hungry to play extreme tones. It’s ox blood red body with gothic style cross inlays, give it a creepy, but classy vibe and make it accepted in most style of metal bands.

The Hellraiser C-7 offers so much tone control, it’s hard to know where to start. Firstly, it uses an active EMG 81-7 Humbucker (bridge) and Sustainiac Pickups (neck) for extra mean gain with bright, clear highs. To control all this power there is 1 x Tone control dial, 1 x Volume dial, a 3-Way pickup selector switch, a 2-Way Sustainiac Switch (On / Off) and a 3-Way Sustainiac Mode Switch (Fundamental / Mix / Harmonic). The Sustainiac switches mean you can produce really amazing harmonic tones with hardly any effort, and with so much sustain that they will haunt your audience for ever!

The Schecter Hellraiser also features a Floyd Rose bridge which enable the player to produce dive bombs and huge bends, which work well with the Sustaniac pickup selection. Additionally, this guitar has jumbo frets, a thin, C shaped neck and a sleek rosewood fretboard for fast and easy playing. It’s 7 strings allow you to produce extra meaty low-end growls too!

The Hellraiser has so much to offer that unfortunately it makes it way too complicated for novice guitarists. Floyd Rose bridges can be really difficult to tune properly and dive bombs/ pinch harmonics are techniques that only more intermediate players can tend to master. If you are comfortable with these techniques, this guitar is definitely the one to take your performance to other evil realms of existence.

PROS

  • Tone control – This guitar has a great pickup selection and variety of tone controls available, this will allow you to create a very specific sound if you need it.
  • Extra strings – The additional 7th string can give you a really meaty low end tone.
  • Quality build – The mahogany body and three-piece neck will provide extra stability to withstand travelling.

CONS

  • Complicated design – The Floyd Rose, extra strings and different tone options may be too confusing for some players to use.
  • Requires batteries – This guitar’s active pickups require 2 x 9v batteries, which is a hassle to keep on top of.
  • Price – Very expensive…. but comes with really cool features

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Ibanez Iron Label RGD Series RGDIX7MPB 7-String

Ibanez Iron Label RGD Series RGDIX7MPB 7-String Electric Guitar (26.5' scale) Blue Burst

The first thing you notice about the 7 string, Ibanez Iron Label, is it’s strange, neptunian body colour and offset top, which some will undoubtedly love and others hate. At a glance, this guitar seems to suit Sci-fi thrash or modern prog metal genres.

The Iron Label is sold at a pretty good, mid-range price considering the modern, down-tuned, heavy sound it produces. It’s beefy, lowend tone is producible thanks to it’s 26.5″ scale length and extra 7th string. The longer scale length means that the frets are slightly more spaced out and able to produce brighter tones that can cut through a wall of sound during solos.

It’s DiMarzio Fusion Edge humbuckers sound similar to that of Seymour Duncan Alpha/Omega models in that they pierce through sound well. The neck pickup produces great mid-range tone, whilst the bridge pickup is dynamic and packs a punch.

The Iron Label is also pretty durable due to it’s locking machine heads, solid, low-profile Gibraltar bridge and sturdy three-piece maple neck. The latter mean this guitar can stay in tune well and withstand being bashed around whilst travelling to gigs.

The Iron Label is best suited to guitarists that have prior experience due to it’s 7th string which requires some extra skill to play. The bright mids produced by this guitar (not to mention it’s aesthetic) make it more appropriate in thrash or melodic metal bands.

PROS

  • Price – Good quality punchy sound, with a tone that can cut through a mix for a decent, midrange price
  • Wild aesthetic – This guitar looks really unique and will definitely grab the audience’s attention
  • Extra low end range – The additional 7th string means this guitar can easily play lower tunings with great tone

CONS

  • Lack of tone control – There are no tone dials available at all on the body of this guitar, only a pickup switch and volume knob control the guitar’s sound
  • Design – Bright colours may not suit all genres of metal, especially not black metal
  • Requires some prior guitar experience – The 7th string is a cool addition if you’re an experienced player, but could confuse novices

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PRS Wood Library Custom 24

PRS Wood Library Custom 24 10 Top Flame Charcoal w/Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard & Pattern Thin Neck (Serial #259804)

On the more expensive side of the spectrum, is the iconic PRS Custom 24. The tasteful bird inlays and flame charcoal finish, give this guitar a really unique look, that can still fit in with most metal genres.

The Custom 24 features a dive bomb worthy, Gen III tremolo system and PRS 85/15 Humbucker pickups for a beefy but clear metal tone. This guitar also features a volume/ tone control dial and a 5-way pickup selector switch, for a relatively simple level of tone variation considering the price.

The hand selected mahogany wood which makes up the guitar’s body and neck produces a full, low end resonance and the Brazilian rosewood fingerboard adds warmth to the overall guitar tone. Interestingly, this means the Custom 24 actually sounds great playing classic rock and blues, as well as metal.

Because this guitar features a tremolo bridge system, it’s not suitable for beginners – these bridges can make restringing and tuning your guitar quite difficult. The PRS Custom is therefore best for more advanced players, that may be wanting to play several genres including metal.

PROS

  • High quality – Hand selected mahogany makes up the guitar’s body and neck to produce full, rich tones.
  • Versatile – Sounds great in metal, but also in blues and classic rock riffs.
  • Tremolo bridge and hot Humbucker pickups – Allows for extreme dive bombs and screaming guitar solos.

CONS

  • Price – Very expensive, you can buy mid-range guitars that are of similar quality and tone standards.
  • Less tone control than some guitars – Depending on your preference, this guitar doesn’t have a huge amount tone control available in the form of treble, bass and middle dials.
  • Complex – The tremolo bridge is cool, but novices may find it hard to use… This is definitely not a beginner guitar.

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SUMMARY

So, hopefully by now you know how the genre ‘metal’ originated and later evolved.. but even more importantly, you should now know which guitars are best suited for playing in that style.

All of the guitars mentioned above have their benefits however, if I had to recommend one for beginners it would be the ESP 6 String LTD EC-256. This guitar is great value considering the high quality, mahogany body wood and ESP pickups it has to offer, not to mention it isn’t an awkward shape or too overly complicated to play and tune.

Out of the high end models, the Schecter Hellraiser is the best guitar for advanced players. Not only does it look pretty mean and creepy, it also features a Floyd Rose bridge for dive bombs, and extremely hot active pickups for meaty, but bright tones that rip through walls of sound nicely. The Sustainic pickup will also create a really evil addition to your sound, in that you can create crazy harmonic notes easily – which is always a good thing when playing metal!

Which guitar would you prefer to use for metal riffs? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

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