In this article, we’re exploring the best guitar models for metal. If you want to play big, heavy metal riffs then certain types of guitar with certain features are better. If you watch a lot of metal bands, you will know that there are some brands, designs, and styles that you see over and over again.
This is partially down to the aesthetics, and the way the guitars look, but mainly it comes down to the sound characteristics. Certain manufacturers make models that will lend themselves to the big, meaty tone of metal riffs and chugging.
Table of Contents
- 1 In a hurry? Here are our top picks..
- 2 Design
- 3 Pickups
- 4 Metal Guitar Neck and Bridge Design
- 5 Guitar Materials
- 6 Accessories, Peripherals and Amps
- 7 Best Guitar for Metal Reviews
- 7.1 1. Fender Jim Root Signature Edition Telecaster
- 7.2 2. Schecter 248 7-String Solid-Body Electric Guitar – Best 7-String for Metal
- 7.3 3. ESP LTD KH-602 Signature Series Kirk Hammett Guitar – Best Value Guitar
- 7.4 4. Ibanez Iron Label S Series SIX6FDFM – Best Ibanez
- 7.5 5. Jackson Dinky JS11 Gloss Black – Best Small Guitar for Metal
- 7.6 6. Gibson Les Paul 2019 Modern Guitar – Best Build Quality
- 7.7 7. Jackson JS Series Rhoads JS32 – Best Flying-V Guitar for Metal
- 7.8 Conclusion – Choosing the Right Model for You
In a hurry? Here are our top picks..
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a guitar that looks great as well as sounding great. You will notice that in rock and metal, certain guitar designs can be seen regularly. You can choose an option that has a subtle design or something outgoing. Brands like Dean have an incredible range of different looks for metal guitars, many of which are quite eccentric. If you want something a little bit more subtle, Gibson Les Paul guitars are very popular among metal guitarists.
The way a guitar looks should be second to the tone in terms of your buying priorities. Having an excellent sound and great build quality is obviously more important when choosing guitars for metal.
The best metal guitars will be electric guitar models, rather than acoustic guitars, and these need to be amplified. The way the vibrations are turned into electronic signals before being amplified starts with a pickup. The pickup gives a huge level of character to the sound, and most electric guitars have pickups that will provide a thick sound. This means, in most cases, active pickups.
Active models cope better with high volumes, keeping clarity even if you absolutely crank the sound. Some pickups sound thick and full, and great for chugging, others give a real bite in the high-end sounds. Powerful gain can provide huge sounds and if you are playing big riffs, active is definitely better for a huge sound.
Many metal guitars also have multiple pickups including active humbuckers. Switches allow you to choose between the pickups which are amplifying the sound to create different metal tones that are suited to your signature sound or the specific song you are playing.
You will find that certain types of pickups get used commonly in designs of metal guitars. The EMG 81, for example, gives a signature metal sound. Some people even replace pickups as a way to create a quick upgrade for their guitar, swapping out their passive pickup for an active EMG, for instance.
Metal Guitar Neck and Bridge Design
Metal guitars normally have very similar neck designs. They are U-shaped and this allows for quick and easy movement and shredding, or creating those huge, chugging melodies. Most of the necks are thin, too, suited to fast melodies. Maple neck designs are common, but there are other materials too.
Bridges are another choice you may wish to make. There are two main types. You can either get a hardtail/fixed bridge position, which is similar to the sort you would see with an acoustic model. They work with a tailpiece and provide an endpoint for the strings.
In metal music, a tremolo bridge is popular, also known as vibrato. Floyd rose tremolo bridges are very common among metal guitarists, and even if you occasionally like to use some vibrato or use the “divebomb” technique, you can get a lot out of a tremolo bridge. These were made famous in the ’80s by guitarists like Eddie Van Halen and if you have been searching for this old school sound then this could be the answer you’ve been looking for.
A fixed bridge is better for tuning stability, but tremolos are more expressive. You can also go for a tune-o-matic bridge. This is a very clever design. They are slanted rather than being a fixed bridge position, you can adjust it for each string if you wish. This is a bit more of a technical function, so only do this if you are confident that you know what you are doing.
This is another aspect of guitar buying that people may have a preference on. This is also one of the deciding factors, alongside electronics, on the quality of a guitar and the tone it makes. The more you spend on a guitar, the higher quality the different components tend to be, which means a better body, neck, and bridge.
In our metal guitar reviews below we will go into the specifics of the electronics and some of the woods used to create the guitar. A cheap guitar may have fairly average woods, but the more you spend, the more likely it is that you will find a maple neck or a mahogany neck, or high-quality tonewood such as a mahogany body. Tonewood is less important for an electric guitar than it is for an acoustic instrument, but it still plays a part.
The feel of a good quality wood along the fretboard and the neck of a guitar, such as an ebony fingerboard, can be much nicer and smoother to play. There are some great budget options out there, but the very best guitars for metal usually have a lot of components that are extremely high quality, including some exceptional tonewoods.
Accessories, Peripherals and Amps
It’s worth a quick word on this even though the focus of our article is the guitars themselves. Finding the best metal sound may start with a brilliant guitar and a solid base tone, but it also means getting your accessories, strings, and amps right. You will want big, thick gauge strings that it is possible to tune down. Metal uses a lot of different tunings including drop C, which can put a lot of pressure on normal strings.
You also need to find a strong, powerful amp that can give a warm analog metal sound. On top of this, you can then start to stack effects pedals. You can see how the sound of a guitar is actually a combination of a lot of different audio ingredients. It all starts with the right model of guitar.
Without going into too many details, this can make all the difference to your tone, and getting the sound you want is about a winning combo, rather than just finding a great guitar.
Best Guitar for Metal Reviews
This is an interesting model of guitar, but we’ve named it as the best overall metal guitar. When you think of a Fender Telecaster you may think more about indie and alternative bands rather than it being one of the best metal guitars, but this has all changed with the Jim Root signature edition Tele.
In the world of rock and metal, Jim Root is nothing short of royalty! His work with Slipknot and Stone Sour has made him one of the most famous heavy metal guitarists, and he tweaked the tone of a Fender to get his signature sound, which has ended up being turned into a signature edition model made by the brand itself.
It’s taken a guitar you might know more for British indie bands and turned it into a big monster, ready for metal riffs. This can provide a really heavy sound, and anyone who has heard Root play will know how heavy some of his playing is. This is complemented with an ebony fretboard with enlarged frets, a hard-tail style bridge, and active EMG pickups. The result is a huge sound.
If tremolo isn’t top of your priorities and you like the simple design rather than a big and loud flying-V style guitar, metal fans will love playing this exceptionally built guitar from one of the biggest guitar brands.
2. Schecter 248 7-String Solid-Body Electric Guitar – Best 7-String for Metal
Schecter is another brand that is popular for creating excellent metal tones and sounds. The Schecter 248 has bee included as one of the best options out there, and for those who are looking for a 7-string guitar this could be a really great model.
Naturally, it has a wider neck and slightly different design as a result. People who want 7-string guitars normally know what they are looking for and why. The extra string can give a lot more options when it comes to complex riffs and rhythms, and an even fuller sound, making them some of the best metal options, especially for slightly more advanced players.
This brand is a little bit more on the simple side when it comes to designs. This is elegant, and not particularly loud or over the top, but it has some brilliant features. The body is a little unusual. A Swamp ash body combines with a maple neck for sturdy and enjoyable playing experience.
The Seymour Duncan pickups combine with the 7 beefy strings to provide a huge tone, making this a top option for guitars for metal, especially for those who are able to play with 7 strings already. If not, learning might be a challenge.
3. ESP LTD KH-602 Signature Series Kirk Hammett Guitar – Best Value Guitar
Guitarists don’t come more metal than Kirk Hammett. Hammett has been named number 11 in Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. If you love that rich and heavy Metallica sound then this could be worth considering. The ESP model of guitar just looks at home as one of the best metal guitar options. Its design is relatively simple but with some very cool detailing including a Skull and Crossbones motif chosen by Hammett.
This model gives a crazy level of quality for the price. It isn’t the cheapest of all the electric guitars on our list, but it is relatively affordable, especially for a signature model. The thin neck is easy for fretting and the jumbo frets make this a very playable model.
The pickups are a big selling point, and it includes EMG’s Kirk Hammett Bone Breaker pickups and the iconic EMG 81 models that are popular among heavier genres of music.
This isn’t a novelty product for Metallica fans, it is an exceptional guitar with a comfy bridge and a very deep and rich metal tone. The ESP guitar stands up to being played in a live environment and being recorded in the studio.
4. Ibanez Iron Label S Series SIX6FDFM – Best Ibanez
Ibanez is another manufacturer that is synonymous with this genre, and many of their guitars are superb options for heavy metal. Interestingly, Ibanez provides loads of different guitars, both electric and acoustic. They also cater for loads of different budgets. Some of the better budget guitars on the market are made by the brand, but this is mid-range in terms of price.
The “Space Burst” design is available in either blue or purple depending on your personal preference. This guitar is great for shredding and it also has an amazing sustain, which a lot of guitarists spend a long time trying to find with their guitar playing!
It’s brilliantly made, with locking tuners to help it to stay perfectly in tune, and an ebony fretboard. It also has multiple pickups, and is part of the “Iron Label” range which has been specifically made with metalheads in mind!
The manufacturers describe their S-series as being “made for metal” and we would struggle to disagree. The pickups are unusual and give a different sound to active humbuckers or EMG pickups you might find in other top metal guitars, but the tone s unique and the sustain is great.
5. Jackson Dinky JS11 Gloss Black – Best Small Guitar for Metal
Obviously the best metal guitars are different depending on who is buying. If you have small hands, or you are just looking for a guitar with a small and compact body that is easy to store and transport, the Jackson Dinky could be an option, but it still keeps plenty of the power and huge metal tone, plus, it is available at a very small price tag.
This is a fraction of the cost of some of the other metal guitar models on the list. The tone is good, but not as amazing as some of the others, making this a good option for a beginner guitar or as use as a portable travel guitar that can still chuck out some heavy riffs.
The scale of this guitar is not actually any smaller than the other options, the frets are the same as a lot of other Jackson guitars, but the body and overall size is 7/8ths, making it more compact to hold.
You might think that the smaller design and lack of higher quality materials is a big sacrifice, but Jackson has done it well with this model. For instance, instead of a mahogany body, they have gone for Basswood, which is a pretty good substitute.
It’s obviously important to know what you are getting into when buying a model of a guitar like this. The neck, body and some of the other components are not going to be as good as an option costing thousands of dollars. For a beginner, or someone looking for the best metal guitar for portability, this could be a good option. It’s also very attractive for those looking for a cheap option.
6. Gibson Les Paul 2019 Modern Guitar – Best Build Quality
There are plenty of people who know virtually nothing about guitars but will have heard of the Les Paul. Named after the iconic blues guitarist, this model of guitar is one of the most sought after in the whole industry. You can get copycat models or even models made by Gibson’s own cheaper brand, Epiphone, but the Gibson is the elite.
This guitar is nothing short of world-class. It is well-built enough to look at home on pretty much any stage or in any studio. While it’s one of the best metal guitars out there, it is also suitable for use in a variety of other genres, and the tone is pretty customizable. Paired with the right effects and amplification, this can give a huge sound, suitable for either rhythm or big solos.
The build quality truly does stand out. Only the best materials are used for the neck, body, and bridge of this guitar. Naturally, this is what we have come to expect from Gibson over their long and illustrious history. Some people opt for vintage models dating back to the 60s, and these can give an unbelievable sound, but they can also be a little less reliable. They won’t have locking tuners and they are less likely to stay perfectly in tune. If you are happy doing a bit of work on your guitar then they can be great, but if not, the modern option is ideal.
It has an ebony fingerboard with a small radius which makes for a clean and fast action. It combines a single-coil P90 pickup at the bridge position with a Gibson humbucker. The contoured design means you can access the high frets for soloing.
There’s no denying that it is an iconic guitar that has a place in history. Unlike some other guitars on the list it isn’t made just with playing metal in mind, but the incredible build quality of the body, neck, and bridge, combined with the huge levels of control over the pickups, means you can make this sound just about however you wish with the right effects.
7. Jackson JS Series Rhoads JS32 – Best Flying-V Guitar for Metal
You’ve probably seen a lot of Flying-V style guitars if you are a metal fan. This is a fairly common design and let’s face it, it looks great. When you see a guitar like this, you know that the songs being played on it are likely to be heavy. As well as having a great design, though, the JS32 also has some cool features to back up the looks and it is all available at a relatively affordable price tag, too. You can pay far more for the “pro” model of this guitar, but both offer quite similar features including, vitally, the Floyd Rose tremolo.
Floyd Rose models allow you to play extreme tremolos and changes in pitch but still keep your guitar in tune. Many of the best metal guitars offer this, but not many under $500 have a Floyd Rose system in place. These types of bridge were made popular by some hugely famous musicians including Joe Satriani and metal guitarists like Eddie Van Halen. They can add a lot to your soloing.
There’s little denying that the Floyd Rose is a big selling point, but there are other aspects of the design to like, and it is well-built. The poplar body is an unusual choice but does a very good job when it comes to providing a strong tone with a good sustain. It also has a great maple neck that is very easy to play, and an Amaranth fingerboard that is quite common in more affordable Jackson guitars.
With the Flying-V design, you’re probably either going to absolutely love it or absolutely hate it. It’s a bit more of a loud and extravagant design, but the Jackson metal sound is there for all to hear when you plug in this excellent, affordable model of guitar. If you wish, you can upgrade to the pro model which has the same design but offers slightly better build quality and some higher quality tonewoods.
Conclusion – Choosing the Right Model for You
Most people who read our list will look at some of the guitars and drool, and look at others and think “no thanks”. There is always the element of personal preference. You need to look and feel the part, and have an instrument that you know you love when you go on stage or even just pick it up to practice.
The Jim Root signature model by Fender is such a high-quality and versatile guitar, with a sturdy neck and body and quality that cal literally last you a lifetime, but some people prefer a more outgoing design to go with their raucous tone. For these people, something like the Jackson JS32 can provide a more traditional “metal” look and feel to go with the huge chugging tones.
Choosing the right model for you is a personal decision, doing a little research can ensure you get a guitar that you can enjoy for decades.