At first metal seems like a simple style from a tone point of view – you set up a good distortion and you’re good to go. But to produce a really good sounding metal guitar tone it takes a bit of thought, some tweaking and the right gear.
In this guide you’ll see some picks for the best metal guitar pedals available today and how the different types of pedals can shape, tighten and thicken your metal tone.
If you’re also looking for a guitar, check out this guide on Guitars for Metal.
Best Distortion Pedals for Metal
Getting a good distorted sound is the most important part of a metal tone. When it comes to metal distortion pedals, there is a big split among guitarists. Some guitarists feel that a good metal tone can only be produced by an amp and any distortion pedals will ruin the tone. Other guitarists swear by distortion pedals with a clean guitar amp.
The right choice for you depends on your own personal tone preferences. I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do when it comes to amp vs pedals for distortion. In this section I’ll provide suggestions for the best metal distortion pedals available based on popularity. You can decide whether they suit you or whether you’re better off with your amp’s gain channel.
There are so many metal distortion pedals out there and it’s really hard to choose one as the ‘best’. Distortion is a very personal thing and what would be the best metal distortion pedal to one guitarist would be a horrible mess for other guitarists. So for these pedals keep in mind that every guitarist wants different things from a distortion pedal and there is no one best pedal.
Ibanez Tubescreamer TS9 or TS808
One option a lot of metal guitarists is to use their amp’s gain channel for their main metal tone, then use an Ibanez Tubescreamer whenever they need to give their tone a bit more edge or power. For example, it’s an easy way to change your tone for lead breaks or solos.
Now the Tubescreamer is technically an overdrive pedal, but because it’s so popular as a way to boost metal tones, it’s worth including here.
MXR Fullbore Metal
What I like about this pedal is how much control it gives you over the distortion. You can adjust the middle frequency in a way not available in other pedals which is a powerful way to shape a metal tone. It has an inbuilt noise gate which can be handy for those who don’t want to use a dedicated noise gate or suppressor (covered later).
I initially wasn’t impressed with this pedal after hearing some demos of it on YouTube, but hearing it in person was completely different. So if you’re considering this pedal, be sure to try it out in person if you can. Check out the price and details of the MXR Fullbore Metal here.
The HT-METAL by Blackstar has two channels and three modes which is handy for guitarists who need to access different tones for their music. You can have a channel for rhythm and another channel for lead or even set up one channel as a clean tone. The pedal uses a tube to drive the distortion which is a nice way to overcome some of the harsh tones heard on other metal distortion pedals.
This is a more expensive option but for guitarists who don’t want to shell out the money for a high-end amp, this is a good substitute for the drive found on Blackstar amps.
Best Compressor Pedals for Metal
Most people tend to focus completely on the drive pedal (or amp) to improve their metal tone. But a simple compressor pedal can significantly improve your tone when used properly. A compressor can tighten up what would have been a mushy tone and can give you more definition and edge. They can even be used to improve your sustain for lead playing.
Have a read of this Guide on Compressor Pedals to learn more about how compressors work and why you should use one. The guide goes into a lot of detail and gives you quite a few options for the best compressor pedals available.
A great compressor that would be suitable for metal that isn’t covered in the guide mentioned above is the HyperGravity Compressor by TC Electronic. It costs less than the other compressor pedals mentioned and gives you plenty of flexibility over the compression.
If you don’t already have a compressor pedal, you might be surprised by how useful it can be to improve your metal tone.
Best Noise Suppressor Pedal for Metal
Noise can instantly ruin an otherwise great metal tone. If you mute your strings, you should end up with complete silence. If you’re hearing hissing, humming, buzzing or any background noise from your amp, a good noise gate or noise suppressor pedal can easily fix it.
While you shouldn’t use a noise gate or suppressor to try and fix a poorly set up rig, it can clean up your tone when used intelligently. A noise gate can give you a more punchy tone that cuts through when needed and gives space when you want silence.
The best noise gate pedal for metal I recommend is the NS-2 Noise Suppressor by BOSS. It’s an incredibly popular pedal and works very well. You dial in the threshold, set the mode that suits you and you’re good to go.
Use a noise suppressor wisely and you’ll end up with a better tone. Just don’t crank your gain to a noisy mess and expect it to magically fix your tone.
Best EQ Pedal for Metal
Tweaking your EQ can turn a decent metal tone into a great metal tone. While amps and distortion pedals give you some control over your EQ, having a dedicated EQ pedal allows you to really dig into your tone and work out the exact areas to tweak. Using an EQ pedal for metal isn’t just about scooping the mids. You can use it to adjust the lower range and give your tone a bit more of a punchy feel or you can shape the high end to remove any annoying hiss produced by your distortion.
You can even use the EQ pedal in a more extreme way by cutting all frequencies apart from a very narrow band. This creates a very thin sound you can use almost like an effect before your main tone kicks in.
The best EQ PEdal for metal I recommend is the MXR 10 Band EQ. While it might seem like overkill compared to other EQ pedals available, it gives you the most control over your tone. There’s even a Kerry King Signature Pedal version – why anybody would need a signature EQ pedal is another story.
Of course you can still achieve great results with a 6 band EQ pedal, but when the price is almost the same between the two, you may as well get the option with more control.
Best Delay Pedals for Metal
Delay is a great effect you can use to thicken up your lead tone and improve the feel of your solos. Lead tones without any delay can feel very thin and weak so if you want your lead to stand out, adding a delay pedal is an easy way to do it.
I’m going to recommend two delay pedals for metal so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.
MXR Carbon Copy
The Carbon Copy is one of the most popular analog delay pedals available today. It sounds great – it has a nice warm feel which can be really important for lead tones. If you want a delay that will warm up your tone, this is a great choice. Check out my review of the Carbon Copy here.
It’s not going to be as versatile or controllable as the other option, but if you just want a simple delay you’ll use on occasion, this is a solid choice.
TC Electronic Flashback
If you need more flexibility than the MXR Carbon Copy, I recommend the Flashback by TC Electronic. You’ll get a very nice range of different delay types along with the ability to dial in the perfect delay settings with TonePrint. This is useful if you want your delay to be set to an exact time for rhythmic purposes (check out my guide on converting BPM to ms here).
If the above pedal looks like it doesn’t give you enough or you want something simpler, check out my guide on the Best Delay Pedals here for more options.
Best Effects Pedals for Metal
For most metal guitarists the pedals above give you all you need to produce a great metal tone. But there are some other types of pedals that can give you a unique edge or feel. Check out these suggestions if you’re looking for something different for your metal tone.
One of the most common ways metal guitarists create a wider tone in recordings is to record two or more takes for each part and spread them out over the stereo mix. By doubling the tracks, it creates a nice thick tone. It’s partly why there are so many metal bands with two guitarists – two guitarists playing the same riffs creates a very solid sound.
If you want to reproduce this feeling on your own, the Mimiq Doubler by TC Electronic is worth checking out. You can control how tightly the doubled guitar parts sit compared to your guitar as well as create multiple dubs.
For this effect to work you really need a stereo rig. If you haven’t tried using a stereo rig before, it’s a great way to create a nice big tone and highly recommended for metal guitarists who are the sole guitarist in a band.
Two metal guitarists harmonizing lead parts is an iconic metal sound not heard in many other styles. The problem with this in a metal band is you either need to give up the rhythm guitar parts so both guitarists can play lead, or you miss out on the harmonizing as one guitarist plays rhythm and the other plays lead.
A very simple and effective way to overcome this is to use a harmonizer. When it comes to creating good sounding harmonies, it’s essential you get a ‘smart’ harmonizer. This is covered in great detail in the Guitar Effects Course and quite a few options are given. To make this easy for anybody who hasn’t gone through the course, the harmonizer I recommend for metal is the BOSS PS-6 Harmonist Pedal.
If you want to create harmonies for your lead parts, this pedal will cover everything you need. It’s a solid choice for metal guitarists and gives you plenty of control. Being able to jam along with harmony lead parts on your own is a lot of fun if you’ve never tried it before.
While metal usually keeps things simple in terms of effects, there’s nothing stopping you from experimenting with different sounds and pedals to create your own unique sound. Different effects can inspire you in different ways. If you want to explore the range of effects available to guitarists, the Guitar Effects Course covers all types of effects along with audio clips so you can hear each effect in action.
The course also helps you understand what the best order for your pedals are and how changing the order changes your tone. If you want to develop a strong understanding of effects and how to combine them, check out the course.