What if you went to see Slayer and Kerry King had pulled out a neon pink Stratocaster with a hello kitty sticker and an autograph from Nickleback proudly displayed on the pickguard?
You’d laugh your socks off.
Sure, he might get away with it because he’s so famous it’d just be seen as ironic, but if you’re serious about your music and your image, you want to get an axe that can hold its own against a wall of death.
Problem is, if you want a guitar that looks as mean as it sounds, you’re gonna need to be prepared to empty your bank account.
Well, it turns out that this isn’t strictly true.
Sure, you’ll still need to be prepared to pay a fair price for a quality instrument.
BUT, if you take the time to properly compare your options, there are plenty of options for getting the best metal guitar available for your budget range that look good on stage and pack brutal, nay, guttural growls.
So, being the good guy that I am, I’ve done the work for you and I’ve pulled together a list of five sick guitars that will rock an audience. Read on young padawan.
Check out our choice of some of the best metal albums to own on vinyl here!
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Metal Guitars On The Market
Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.
Buyer's Tips: How To Choose the Perfect Metal Guitar
- Humbucker pickups. I cannot emphasise this enough. You can get so far on a single coil, and they do have their place in a metal band. But if you don’t have a decent humbucker on your guitar, you’re missing one of the crucial bits of hardware you need for the sonic fury of any good metal track.
- 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.
- Extra strings. 7 or 8 string guitars will give you the extra deep bass you need. Don’t get carried away and get a 12 string though, that’s something else entirely. Likewise, you don’t need a guitar with two necks either!
Ok let's look at each product in more detail. To make things easier for you, we've added pros and cons for each one, as well as a video demonstration so you can see them in action. So without further ado, let’s take a look...
Best Metal Guitars
1. Jackson KVMG Pro Series King V
A wicked looking guitar with ebony fingerboard and a black alder body. Built for speed playing and has the capability to roar on demand thanks to two EMG humbuckers and Floyd Rose tremolo.
- Definitely looks the part, nobody is gonna mistake you for an amateur when you whip this monster out.
- High quality electronics.
- Easy to shred on thanks to the fretboard being flatter towards the body end.
- The tremolo is a weak spot and will need replacing if you plan on relying on it.
- The finish needs extreme care or it will start to degrade in various ways.
- Neck is prone to warping due to lack of care when binding.
2. Ibanez Iron Label S Series SIX20DBG (Editor's Choice)
Built from the ground up to be a heavy metal guitar, as you would expect from Ibanez. DiMarzio humbuckers, super thin neck for shredding and some truly beautiful craftsmanship combine together for an impressive guitar. It’s clearly a deliberate attempt to create the best metal guitar they could without costing a fortune.
- The “Nitro Wizard” neck design by Ibanez is perfect for fast shredding without sacrificing the instruments toughness.
- Extremely stable tremolo for perfect bends or just to make the guitar really scream.
- Truly a work of art to look at, this guitar has a less stereotypically ‘metal’ look but still looks right at home no matter how crazy you look on stage (looking at you, black metal guys).
- Also available in 7 and 8 string variants.
- Compared to the Iron Label RG, it lacks some of the extra features such as the feedback control Kill Switch or the active EMG pickups.
- It’s very lightweight and graceful, but this also means you have to take that little bit of extra care to keep it in beautiful condition.
3. Charvel Desolation Star DST-1 ST
The Desolation Star (Sounds like your next album doesn’t it?) has dual EMG humbuckers and a mahogany body with a maple through neck. It sounds as metal as they come, but it looks a little bit like it belongs to a Disney band aimed at pre teens.
- EMG 81 and 85 Humbuckers.
- Locking tuners (good for when you constantly do deep bends).
- Comfortable D shaped neck.
- The shape makes the guitar unbalanced so you’ll have to compensate for this, which can impact on your shredding ability.
- Only has a single volume control knob.
- No tremolo bar.
4. Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR
Active EMH Humbuckers, Floyd Rose Tremolo bridge, 24 frets, and locking tuners. Are you starting to guess what this guitar is made for? High neck shredding and crazy string bends. Metal stamp of approval right there.
- Designed with wailing in mind, this guitar won’t go out of tune no matter how hard you push it.
- Push/pull knobs for switching to single coil/humbucker mode.
- Once correctly set up it stays in tune for a very long time and has fine tuners on the bridge for extra help.
- If you decide to change the string gauge, you’ll need to spend some extra attention getting the whole package in sync again which will likely require a helping hand from a pro.
- The EMG 81TW pickup lacks the raw power that comes from the regular EMG 81.
- The difference between single coil and humbucker is hard to notice
5. Gibson SG Special 2016 T
This guitar looks a little bit like something you’d see Batman pulling out if he was a metalhead rather than a vigilante. It has the high quality you’d expect from an American made Gibson, so it’s a real treat to play.
- Has a great look with the beveled edges and a hand sprayed finish.
- Comes fully set up so will play right out of the box.
- Fairly versatile, but won’t reach the hardest end of the metal continuum
- The nut needs filing down a little.
- The humbuckers are smaller than a proper metal guitar needs, but still provide a decent tone.
- No tremolo.
- The neck is much thicker than what you would hope for if you like to shred.
5 Best Metal Guitars Under $1000 in 2016 (Conclusion)
If you’re wondering which is the best metal guitar, there is a clear winner here, and you’ve probably already guessed what it is.
The Ibanez Iron Label S stands above the rest easily. Although they are all excellent choices for metal guitars barring the Gibson, which is better suited to hard rock, the Ibanez is clearly meant for metal and nothing else.
The choice of up to 8 strings, a responsive tremolo and the perfect neck design add up to a truly impressive guitar. What’s even more outstanding is that it isn’t even the most expensive one out of the five!
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.