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Rhythm. Leads. Power. Distortion. When you have these four elements, you have metal.
But, what kind of metal guitarist are you?
Do you prefer to keep chord progressions going with some occasional riffing while providing vocal backup?
Or, are you the kind that likes to take the lead with slicing solos where you can expressively boast your shredding skills?
Whatever your style, you’ll need a guitar that can do the job. Whether you’re after a guitar that can crush a house with a single strike, bring the roof down with dramatic dive bombs, or raise hell with blistering finger tapping, you’ll find a worthy guitar for your metal needs right here.
We’ve featured some of the best electric guitars known to mankind, and we take things a step further in identifying some core features you want to look for in a good guitar for metal. For all your hardcore needs, stay tuned!
QUICK ANSWER: 6 Top Metal Guitars
- Ibanez RG Prestige RG652AHM Review
- Dean Michael Batio MAB1 Speed of Light Review
- Fender Jim Root Telecaster Review
- Dean Razorback Cemetery Gates Review
- Fender Meteora HH Review
- ESP LTD KH-602 Kirk Hammett Review
The Best Guitars for Metal
Super Strats once set the trend for what a metal guitar should sound like, but these days, with a high-gain amp, hot pickups, and intentional detuning, the power of striking just one chord can be explosive.
Ignorance dictates that all you need to do is to crank that distortion knob and you’re set to go, er – we want to hear more than just noise. You still need great sound, articulation, sustain, and most importantly, attitude.
So, what else helps to make a metal guitar a metal guitar? Active is typically the choice of pickups for hardcore metalheads, but passive ceramic humbuckers should never be overlooked. While we tend to think pointy headstocks and sharp angles, some rockin’ guitars may surprise you with their soft, rounded curves that is definitely not a reflection of its sound.
Necks made for metal are always slim, fast, and super playable – you’ll soon learn how to shred like a master if you didn’t know how to before. We’ll get into more details down below about what features to look for, so let’s get to the lineup.
There are tons of great guitars for hard rock and metal. To avoid some repetition between our lineups, we’ve featured some other great axes that deserve their 15 minutes of stage fame. But, if you’d rather scope out the familiar beasts that are known to do it best – check out the list below!
- ESP LTD EC-1000
- Schecter Hellraiser C-1
- Schecter Hellraiser C-7 w/Floyd Rose
- Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Floyd Rose
- Ibanez Iron Label Series
- EVH Wolfgang
- EVH Striped Series
1. Ibanez RG Prestige RG652AHM Review
- 5-piece maple/walnut "Super Wizard High Performance" neck
- Ash body, bound birdseye maple fingerboard
- Black dot inlay
This is a high-end Ibanez RG guitar from the Prestige collection made in Japan. If you can’t tell, this guitar is made for shredding. Let’s take a deeper look past its awesome Nebula Green Burst finish and into the hardware that makes it what it is – a monster.
- Super Wizard HP neck
- Edge Tremolo bridge
- Flatter radius
- DiMarzio pickups
- Birdseye maple 5-pc neck
Ibanez has had a longtime foothold in the metal genre, and if you’re going to spend some real money, you can’t go wrong this Japanese brand. The Prestige guitar has an ash body with a 5-piece maple/walnut neck with the Super Wizard HP profile.
What’s the Super Wizard HP? It’s the slimmest neck Ibanez has, and you may be skeptical about its integrity. Don’t be. To provide ultimate strength and durability, it has a KTS titanium truss rod running through it. Capping the slick neck is a Birdseye Maple fretboard, a high-end tonewood that’s dense, has incredible sustain, and yields a projective, bright tone.
But, what lends its shredding capability is its fingerboard radius of 16.9″ with a 17mm width at the nut and a 19mm neck thickness at the 12th fret – super slim, flat, and ultra-playable.
The guitar has DiMarzio pickups with an Air Norton humbucker at the neck and The Tone Zone humbucker at the bridge. It’s warm, deep, and unusually harmonic which isn’t a bad thing, and it has great sustain with fat lows, pronounced mids, and scooped trebles. Paired with The Tone Zone, it’s a hot pickup but not without definition.
The bass and mids are tremendously strong for a bigger and more powerful sound. Finding the right tone for not only metal but for rock, blues, and jazz can easily be done and shaped with the 5-way pickup selector and split coils.
The Edge Tremolo bridge is Ibanez’s version of the Original Floyd Rose with locking studs for improved tuning stability, a pop-in arm system, and spring retainer on the tremolo block. There’s no need to upgrade any of the hardware on this model.
Even though this is one pricey guitar, it doesn’t come without protection. Ibanez includes a hardshell case with the guitar. Ibanez pimps out this model with the bells and whistles, and it’s worth every dime.
2. Dean Michael Batio MAB1 Speed of Light Review
- Alder Body
- Alder Top
- Bolt-On Neck
Batio needs no introduction to the metal head crowd, and yes, this guitar was spec’d by the man himself. As a signature metal guitar for under $1500, it should already be in your shopping cart!
- FR R3 bridge
- EMG pickups
- Custom graphic finish
- Batio specs
- Hardshell case included
Once you see the price tag, you may be disheartened, but for a shredder like this one made to specs from a metal god, you’ll quickly justify stretching the budget. Plus, it comes with a hardshell case if that helps you out any.
It has one Super Strat alder body with those heavily exaggerated horns that instantly gives away its double cutaways, beveled edges, 24 frets, and 25.5″ scale length. Dressed in a custom Speed of Light graphic finish, it’s an attention seeker for sure.
The neck is made for speed – as demanded by Batio. Made from maple, it has an ebony fretboard with jumbo frets and 12″ fretboard radius. Shred, bend, and strut your stuff for as long as you can dish it out.
The pickups are active EMG 85 and 81 humbuckers with an EMG SA single coil in the middle. Single volume and tone controls with a 5-way pickup selector switch lets you experiment between the active pickups to get the tone you want. They’re extremely hot, loud, and aggressive. With the addition of a single coil, you have even more sonic range often lacking in other guitars.
But, you can’t be no Batio amateur if you didn’t make use of that tremolo. With the Floyd Rose bridge made in Germany, the R3 provides the locking nut feature that retains impressive tuning integrity for all those bar dives and pulls you’ll soon master. Having Grover tuners sure does help in the tuning department, too.
This guitar was made to be seen and heard – you can’t argue with that. The only thing it needs now is skilled hands to do it justice.
3. Fender Jim Root Telecaster Review
- 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.
Not quite what you were thinking in terms of body shape? With so many pointy and sharp looking guitars wielded by angry and insanely talented musicians, the Jim Root certainly has an unpretentious appeal. However, true to form, it’s a Tele all the way. But, can it play metal? You’re kidding, right?
- EMG pickups
- Locking tuners
- 12″ fingerboard radius
- Non-tremolo bridge
- Hardshell case included
- Looks very similar to the Squier model
Since there are no complaints about the crushing tone of the Jim Root Tele, we did pick on the fact that it almost looks identical to the Squier Jim Root Telecaster. Of course, the cheaper model has stock humbuckers, an Indian Laurel fretboard, and a standard truss rod, but at first glance, you wouldn’t really be able to tell the two apart.
Even if you can’t spot it, the upgraded features in this expensive model makes all the difference. It has a mahogany body (popular for metal), a modern C maple neck with a 25.5″ scale length, and ebony fretboard with 22 medium jumbo frets and a 12″ fingerboard radius.
It has active EMG pickups with an 81 at the bridge that’s hot, blistering, and intense – exactly what you need to slice through the mix. There’s a 60 at the neck that’s well-balanced and even provides some harmonic character. With one master volume control and a 3-way pickup selector, you’ll need an amp to further shape those metal tones.
Taking tuning issues out of the mix, the Jim Root has a six-saddle string-thru-body body hardtail bridge with block saddles that help with sustain. Deluxe, staggered, sealed tuners, synthetic bone nut, and a 1-ply black pickguard finish off the hardware.
But, if you just can’t get past its Tele look, then seek out the Jim Root Stratocaster in black. It’s sexy as hell and differs from the Tele with its obvious Strat body with double cutaways, jumbo frets, 12-16″ compound radius fretboard, and 3-ply pickguard. Everything else from the pickups to the bridge, neck, and tuners are all the same.
Jim Root sure knows how to make banging guitar. Don’t forget, a Deluxe Black Tweed Hardshell Case is included in the buy!
4. Dean Razorback Cemetery Gates Review
- Mahogany Razorback-style body with Cemetery Gates graphics
- 24-3/4-inch scale, 22-fret set mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard and custom inlays
- Duncan SH-13 Dimebucker and Dean humbuckers with two volume controls, tone, and three-way toggle
There’s no way we could pass up the chance to review Dean’s insane and razor-sharp Razorback with the Cemetery Gates graphic as a nod to “Dimebag Darrell.” It’s certainly a risqué buy for conservative players, but what’s the point of metal if you’re not willing to take risks?
- Graphic finish
- V shape neck
- Dimebag tribute
- Hardshell case included
- Bigger than you think
The Razorback may look small due to its illusionistic design, but it’s no hanging wall décor – this guitar is a beast, but its construction ensures a balanced frame. There have been no issues to comfortably holding this guitar.
It has an all-mahogany build including the set neck with 22 frets with a 24.75″ scale length. That mahogany flavor is certainly a sought-after tonewood for metal and you can hear the brutal, meaty attack and sustain that some thin guitars may lack. The neck has the V profile and its rosewood fretboard has the specs for incredible shredding.
As a Dimebag tribute, it has Dimebag traction knobs, a Dimebag Tribute crest on the headstock, and a pearloid razorblade inlay at the 12th fret. What are the traction knobs? Reportedly, Darrell put his knobs under the lamp and took a soldering iron to them. The result? Ultra-grippy knobs regardless of how sweat-slathered your hands are while performing on stage.
Grover tuners and a Floyd Rose Special bridge are the main points of hardware on this busy-looking metal guitar. The FR Special utilizes zinc alloy saddles and sustain block instead of the steel and brass seen on the Original. If this is a downside to you, you can always switch it out later, but tuning stability is still there for all those dive bombs you’ll attempt on the Razorback.
Sitting at the bridge position is a Seymour Duncan Dimebucker (yes, thought-up by said Dimebag) and at the neck is a Dean-designed humbucker. What you get is crunch, roar, and serious bite complete with low-end punch. Switch or combine the two with the 3-way toggle switch. Each humbucker gets its very own volume knob and there’s one tone knob shared between the two.
The Razorback is sharp, profound, and thunderous. You best be brushing up on that attitude if you’re going to be seen with this metal guitar. No one but the most confident can do this Dimebag tribute justice.
5. Fender Meteora HH Review
- Alder body
- “Modern C”-shaped neck profile; 9.5”-radius fingerboard
- Two Player Series chrome-covered humbucking pickups
Now, that’s what we’re talking about! The Meteora is new from Fender and its offset, retro body stands out from the crowd. With onboard humbuckers, this guitar will scream, but you can immediately tell that it’s a guitar that you’ll want to experiment with for all music genres.
- Modern C neck
- Player Series pickups
- Adjusto-Matic bridge
- Push/pull coil split
- Retro-modern aesthetic
- 9.5″ fingerboard radius
Okay, so this has a fingerboard radius more suited to barre chords, fingerstyle picking, and slides, but rules are meant to be broken, right? You may have to work at it and set the action to find the sweet spot for your metal needs, but not everyone is playing leads or shredding all the time. For metal rhythm, the Meteora can deliver.
Thanks to its Player Series humbuckers, you have fat sound with an edge. With a push/push coil split feature on the tone pot, you can access those single coil sounds when you mess around with some rock, jazz, or clean playing. But, the humbuckers are surprisingly versatile with their chimey trebles to their gritty tones when you turn up the gain. Each humbucker has its own volume knob and there’s a 3-way toggle switch to go between or combine pickups.
It has an Adjusto-Matic bridge with string-thru-body setup, synthetic bone nut, nickel/chrome hardware, and standard die-cast tuners. Obviously, the investment in the guitar is pooled into the body shape and electronics.
The Meteora is made from alder, it has a maple neck with the Modern C profile, 22 medium jumbo frets, and a 25.5″ scale length. It’s not overly fancy or anything, but it’s a solid guitar that can be pushed to the limits to get those heavy rock tones.
To make a statement with something a little different, the new Fender metal guitar may fit the bill. Oh yeah, a Deluxe gig bag is thrown in.
6. ESP LTD KH-602 Kirk Hammett Review
- Offers nearly everything of its higher-end cousin, the ESP KH-2, at a price that more musicians can afford
- Features neck-thru-body construction, a comfortable alder body, and a 3 pc. extra-thin U-shaped maple neck
- The pau ferro fingerboard features 24 extra-jumbo frets and Kirk Hammett's skull-and-bones inlays
If you’re a Metallica fan, then you’ve likely had your eye on a Kirk Hammett signature guitar. While you can absolutely achieve his iconic tones, you’ll be surprised at how versatile the ESP guitar really is for all styles of metal.
- FR 1000 bridge
- Locking nut
- EMG pickups
- Extra thin U neck
- 24 XJ frets
- FR 1000 bridge
The Floyd Rose 1000 bridge is nothing to shy away from, so why do we have it as a drawback? This guitar is flawless, and we can’t even fault the price. So, to nit-pick, we’d say this type of bridge will take some getting used to if you haven’t used a FR before. As you know, its locking nut and locking saddles provide unparalleled tuning integrity, but it’s not so user-friendly when changing out strings or having to re-tune – not that you’ll be tuning this puppy very often.
As a KH guitar for less than $1000, you know you’re getting a steal when the OG KH-2 costs thousands more. Straight off the bat, we totally dig the Kirk’s skull and bones inlays. To add to its edgy and dark appeal, it has active EMG Bone Breaker pickups. The bridge pickup has a ceramic magnet and the neck pickup has an Alnico 5 magnet. The combo of the two provides crushing, crisp, and clean tones without sacrificing the elements needed for high-gain distortion.
ESP went with alder as the choice of tonewood for this guitar which is a refreshing change from the many mahogany bodies seen in metal. What you get is a punch of the mids with resonant support in the bass. It also has a neck-thru-body, 3-piece maple neck with a Pau Ferro fretboard. The neck has an extra thin U neck which has been described as a little fatter than an Ibanez but extremely playable and comfortable. You can bet you can play like Kirk with those super rapid runs.
For the money, you really can’t do better for a metal guitar under $1000. Active pickups, neck-thru-body construction, FR bridge, and an extremely rapid neck – all the key features to access those Metallica tones. Crushing, melt-your-brain, intense music – every bit metal.
What to Look for in a Metal Guitar
Personal preference will reign at the top of the list when looking for specific features of a metal guitar. Whether you’re an introvert looking to express yourself through metal music or an extrovert seeking the next adrenaline rush that a slick neck can satisfy, you’ll need to know what you’re after in order to find the guitar for you.
But, as there is no right and wrong in music, there is no right and wrong when it comes to guitar features. With this in mind, we’ll raise some common aspects shared among metal guitars so you can get an idea of what to expect and how it will work for you.
The best metal guitars are not cheap, so we’ve chosen a lineup with an average price of around $1000. Some will push the budget a little more, and others will come in far below. Quality is the key feature that will play a large role in its overall cost. From the workmanship and build to the choice of hardware and pickups, these factors will vary greatly between models.
The more expensive the guitar is, the less likely you will be to make modifications to any of the electronics and hardware as they should be high-end and chosen specifically for that guitar. Conversely, the likelihood that you will have to make mods at some point is high with a cheaper guitar. If you want it to hold tune after ridiculous dive bombs or to make the most of distorted sounds without muddy pickups, you may have to tinker here and there to tweak it to perfection.
But, cheap metal guitars should not be underrated. Some are good enough for a beginner to get started with as they explore and learn what they like. It also provides a cheap platform for an intermediate and experienced player to customize and modify a guitar to create the epic metal guitar they’ve always wanted.
You’ll also want to set aside some cash for an upgrade in gear or to purchase some accessories that you may not already own.
Distortion. It’s all about distortion when it comes to amps for metal, but you want to retain articulate clarity powerful enough to cut through the mix without bottoming out and losing definition.
Tube amps have been the top choice for many professional players, and they work incredibly well with metal tones. They’re highly sensitive, so the tonal range is extensive which is absolutely suitable for all types of metal playing. They produce high gain, overdriven tones, and heavy, thick, and responsive metal greatness, but they are the more expensive option that requires more attention to tonal control and amp maintenance.
Solid state amps are the cheaper option and you tend to have less issues with their diodes and transistors. They’re excellent for pulling off clean tones but they can deliver a punch on those distorted sounds as well. You can expect consistency through a solid-state amp for tight and aggressive tones.
Arguably, it’s the amp that makes the difference in metal. You’ll want to match your amp with the quality of the guitar, or you can always go with the best to call it safe regardless of what you’re shredding on.
Pedals VS Amps for Metal:
Pedals for metal are an excellent option if you’re going to forgo amp distortion or play through a clean amp. Buying them in place of a good amp is not the recommendation. But, if you’re going to use an effects pedal to add to the mix or to pull off characteristic tones of a specific sub-genre, shop away in the pedal department.
But, when it comes down to it, a tube amp for metal is best. Those overdriven tubes will always produce better distorted, high-gain tones than a pedal. Yep – we just said that. It provides flexibility, a blank palette to express your style, and a more organic and smooth sound versus some tinny but devout distortion pedals out there.
If you want to carefully lay out the perfect pedal chain, go right ahead, especially if you already have a few pedals to stack. But, it shouldn’t be the primary replacement of a good amp.
Humbuckers are the top choice for most, if not all, metal guitarists. They don’t have the noise and hum issues that single coils have when gain and volume are cranked to the max. They’re hotter, powerful, and provide fat low-end tones and warmth needed to cut through the mix and provide tonal versatility. But, which is better? Active or passive humbuckers?
Active preamps are especially hot and unparalleled in the output department when they’re engaged. With them, you can achieve those overdriven and highly saturated tones easily identifiable in metal music. Active pickups produce more gain powered by a 9V battery, and yet, you don’t lose clarity and definition because you’re not overworking your amp or pedals. After all, there’s no point of having all this power if you can’t achieve tight and defined sound. Naturally, they’re the top choice for metal heads. However, there are drawbacks to active pickups.
Turn down the volume and you may be disappointed in the lack of tonal character. They’re not so good for warmth or clean tones, you need a battery to operate them, and they’re not as versatile as passive pickups. But, they’re hot, highly saturated, and not without note definition.
You’d think the hotter it is, the better it is, but it’s not always the case. Passive pickups were on the metal scene long before active pickups. You will compromise on the hotter output signal versus active pickups, and as a result, you’ll have to rely on more gain and distortion from your amp to make up for it.
But, the compromise isn’t a bad trade. What you get is more organic sounds with flavor and tonal warmth. Because they’re more tonally dynamic, you can achieve a variety of metal sounds that you can also use to clean up the sound when you turn down the volume.
The takeaway? They don’t require a battery, their output is weaker than active pickups but are still hotter than single coils, and they have much more tonal character and flavor providing versatility.
Once again, personal preference and the way you play will govern what type of pickups are right for you.
With so much gain and distortion, you may wonder if tonewoods make a difference. Regardless of where you sit on the fence of this debate, it’s always a safe bet to understand tonewoods and how they can contribute to sound.
Mahogany is favored by metal heads for its long-lasting and strong sustain that lends itself to heavy chords and leading solos. It contributes to the bass end and when capped with a maple top, you can emphasize the snap and bite of the trebles. However, to keep weight and costs down, you’ll see basswood used as a legitimate alternative to mahogany.
When it comes to the neck, you’ll see a lot of maple because it remains stable under string tension and it delivers nice, bright tones. But, the key feature you want to see is how the back is shaped. Its profile can tell you a lot about how comfortable, fast, and smooth it will be to play.
The fretboard tonewood is usually a rosewood, although both maple and ebony fretboards are often seen too.
The curve to the playing surface of the fretboard is another key feature to be aware of. The steeper the curve, the smaller the fingerboard radius will be. The flatter the curve, the larger the fingerboard radius will be. Then, there are compound radius fingerboards that are steeper at the nut, but it becomes progressively flatter down the neck.
The compound radius, popularly 12-16″, is the top choice for rock and metal players as it allows for fast runs up and down the neck. A flatter fretboard is usually paired with a thin, slim, and rapid neck that allows you to make the most of shredding, bending, and cutting leads.
Floyd Rose Bridges:
You’re going to see a lot of metal guitars with a Floyd Rose bridge. They’re different to typical vibrato tremolo bridges because they incorporate a locking nut and often allow for two-way direction of the whammy bar due to a carved-out cavity underneath the bridge.
They’re extremely popular if you want to do some extreme and aggressive dive bombs as they’re designed to keep stable tuning with the locking saddles and locking nut.
However, getting the guitar in tune in the first place can be complex since you’re tuning it at the bridge with clamps and tightening bolts. But, the upside is you can fine-tune each string and it’s an extremely secure system you’ll need to make pull off blistering vibrato assaults. And, as you can guess, string changes will be a pain.
However, if you’re not looking to make crazy dive bombs, a fixed bridge will work just fine for you. They’re more beginner-friendly, allow for much easier string changes, and they have incredible sustain versus an FR bridge.
Pedal to the Metal
Metal is expressive, dynamic, and powerful, and just because your guitar may be loud, it doesn’t mean it’s a guitar worthy of the metal genre. You must get in overdrive gear if you’re going to keep up with the features you need to sound good.
Sometimes, it may mean upgrading your amp, add some chord progression to the mix, or learn how to palm mute effectively. Metal isn’t just loud noise. There are complex techniques to master, tones to saturate, and of course, confidence is a must-have to earn that attitude needed to pull it all together.
Put pedal to the metal and get the best guitar for metal with the right features so you not only look the part, but you sound the part too.