Ultimate Guide to Metal Guitars: How To Find The Right Guitar
There are so many guitars that are perfect for metal. If you want to play metal, the type of guitar you choose is important to get right.
I noticed that other websites tend to merely list popular metal guitars, but not explain the features you should be looking for or how to choose which one is right for you.
That’s not good enough and won’t help you.
In this guide, I’ll explain what to look for so you can find the right metal guitar for you.
I’ll go through all of the important guitar features you need to think about because every metal guitarist will need a different type of guitar.
Then I’ll share examples of some of the best guitars for metal at different budget levels.
By the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly what to look for in a guitar for metal.
After you read this guide and learn how to find the right metal guitar for you, check out my guide on the Best Guitar Pedals for Metal.
Advice For Beginners Wanting to Learn Metal
If you want to learn guitar and are looking at buying your first guitar, there are a few extra things you need to know.
Here are some basic things to keep in mind when looking at buying your first guitar.
If you’re not a beginner, you can skip this section.
Start on an Electric Guitar
Some people and websites will tell you that you need to start learning on an acoustic guitar, then if you want to learn metal, to buy an electric guitar later on.
This advice is wrong.
If you want to play metal, don’t buy an acoustic guitar. You’ll hate it.
Trying to learn metal on a classical guitar (as shown below) feels and sounds horrible and may cause you to quit learning guitar (seriously).
Imagine trying to play one of your favorite metal songs on one of the above guitars. Not quite what you had in mind, is it?
Learning metal on a classical guitar is as bad as trying to learn classical music on a Flying V electric guitar. It just won’t feel or sound right.
I talk about why this advice is wrong in this guide comparing acoustic and electric guitars.
The important point to remember is that the type of guitar you learn on should match the style of music you want to play.
This means if you want to play metal, learn on a guitar suitable for metal. That means you should start learning on an electric guitar.
If somebody tells you that you should start on an acoustic guitar, you can safely ignore them.
You’ll enjoy learning how to play metal far more on an electric guitar.
You Don’t Need an Expensive Guitar
If you look at some of the signature guitar models of famous guitarists, the prices can be shocking.
High-end metal guitars can cost thousands, but you don’t need to spend that much to get a good metal tone.
Sure, it might be nice to know that the guitar you buy is the exact same model as what your hero uses, but there are plenty of guitars that are just as good at a far lower price.
Even the lowest-priced guitars can sound great by swapping the pickups with something better.
While you should avoid poor quality guitars, that doesn’t mean that cheaper models should be avoided.
Get a Comfortable Guitar
Metal guitars can come in a wide range of extreme shapes.
While guitars like the below are great fun to play, they suck when you want to sit down and practice.
Yes, you can find ways to play any of the above guitars while sitting down, but it’s still a hassle.
When you’re getting started learning guitar, you’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting down practicing techniques and exercises.
Practicing with a guitar that feels comfortable to sit down and play will make your practice sessions far more enjoyable.
What To Look For in a Metal Guitar
Here are the main things to consider when buying a guitar for metal:
- Number of strings
- Scale Length
The above features can make a big difference in how a guitar feels to play and what you can play on it.
All other things such as the color of the guitar, wood type, or style are completely up to you.
Let’s go through all of the above points so you know what you should look for and what you should avoid.
Guitar Pickups and Metal
The pickups in a guitar create the sound you hear. Different types of pickups create different tones.
Let’s go through the most important aspects of pickups for metal.
Single-coil vs Humbucker Pickups
The main two types of pickups are single-coils and humbuckers as shown below:
Understanding the difference between this pickups is crucial if you want a good metal guitar tone.
Single-coil pickups tend to have a thinner tone and are great for a wide range of styles such as blues, rock, funk, country, reggae, etc.
They tend to sound great for clean tones or lightly driven tones. In other words – not for metal.
Single-coil pickups can also produce a lot of background noise or hum, which can be a big problem when playing metal.
Hum and noise can completely ruin a metal tone, which is why many metal guitarists use pedals to try and remove as much noise and hum as possible.
Playing metal on a guitar like a Fender Stratocaster is possible, but not ideal.
Notice that the above Stratocaster has three single-coil pickups. This is an example of what to avoid when looking for a guitar suitable for metal.
I don’t recommend buying a guitar that uses single-coil pickups unless you will be playing a wide range of music styles.
Humbucker pickups have a thicker and punchier tone, which is perfect for metal.
Humbucker pickups are named because they effectively remove the hum you hear in single-coil pickups.
This means you can crank up the overdrive without worrying about background noise or hum like you would with single-coil pickups.
When looking for a guitar for metal, look for a guitar that includes two humbucker pickups as you can see in the below example.
A guitar like this is perfect for metal and will produce a significantly better metal tone compared to the Stratocaster shown earlier with single-coil pickups.
Having two humbucker pickups is the configuration you will see most often with metal guitarists. While other setups are possible, it’s a safe starting point.
Key point to remember: get a guitar with humbucker pickups.
Active vs Passive Pickups
I’ve written an entire guide comparing active and passive pickups, so if you’re interested in the difference and which is right for you, check out the guide.
The basic explanation is that active pickups are powered by a battery in your guitar, while passive pickups don’t require a battery.
You know a guitar has active pickups if you see a cover on the back that looks similar to this:
Some metal guitarists prefer active pickups due to the high output they produce, while other metal guitarists prefer passive pickups.
If you’re just getting started learning metal guitar, I recommend buying a guitar with passive pickups to keep things simple.
Later on, as you develop your own tone preferences, you can look at whether you might want to buy a guitar with active pickups.
Guitar Bridges and Metal
The type of bridge used in a guitar will play a big role in what you can play, how the guitar feels, and how easy the guitar is to maintain.
Here are some examples of different bridges you will see in guitars:
If you’re unfamiliar with bridges or any other parts of the guitar, read this guide on guitar parts to learn about them.
There are a lot of different types of bridges you can choose from with electric guitars, but I’ll make it easier for you to decide which is right for you.
The key choice is whether you should get a guitar with a tremolo or a fixed bridge.
The above-left bridge is known as a Floyd Rose tremolo and the above-right bridge is a fixed bridge.
There are other types of bridges, but this is the main choice you need to think about.
To decide whether you should get a guitar with a tremolo or fixed bridge, ask yourself if you want to play lead or rhythm, or both.
Do you like the idea of ripping into solos, or do you prefer playing riffs and rhythm parts?
If you don’t want to play many solos, then the choice is easy. I recommend getting a guitar that doesn’t use a tremolo.
A guitar with a fixed bridge is easier to set up and easier to use.
Anybody who owns a guitar with a Floyd Rose bridge can tell you how annoying they can be.
So if you aren’t very interested in playing solos, then keep things simple by using a fixed bridge.
When Should You Buy a Guitar With a Tremolo?
If you are interested in playing a lot of lead guitar, take a look at the type of guitars used by the guitarists you listen to.
Many metal guitarists use guitars with a tremolo so they can use the tremolo bar for vibrato and dive bombs.
As an example, Dimebag Darrell (above) used his Floyd Rose tremolo in a lot of his solos. So if you wanted to learn his music, you would definitely want a guitar with a Floyd Rose tremolo.
If you look at guitarists such as Kirk Hammett from Metallica or Kerry King from Slayer, you’ll notice the Floyd Rose tremolos on their guitars.
You can definitely play lead and solos without a tremolo, so it all depends on what music you want to play.
A Floyd Rose is much more of a hassle compared to a fixed bridge, but it does offer some benefits you may or may not find useful.
Number of Strings for Metal
In the past, all metal was played on six-string guitars. That’s no longer true.
A lot of metal is played on a six-string guitar, but some sub-genres have branched off to include 7, 8 & 9 string guitars.
The number of strings on a guitar makes a big impact on how it feels to play and what you can play on it.
For example, if you want to learn some songs by Animals as Leaders, you’re going to want to get an eight-string guitar. Even 7 strings wouldn’t be enough to cover their music.
On the other hand, if you buy a 7 or 8 string guitar, you can still play any songs that are written for a 6-string guitar. But it will feel different to play.
So, choosing the right number of strings is important.
Take a look at all the music you listen to, then find out how many strings are used for each song/band.
If you find they can all be played on six-string guitars, it makes your choice easy.
If you find you listen to a mix of 6 or 7 string music, keep in mind that you can play any 6-string song on a 7-string guitar.
Scale Length and Metal
Scale length is an important thing to understand because it plays a big role in how a guitar feels to play.
The scale length is the length of your guitar from the nut to the bridge as shown below:
A guitar with a long scale length will feel completely different than a guitar with a short scale length.
Scale length is extremely important for metal as it affects string tension and tuning stability.
If you plan on playing music that uses lower tunings than standard, you should consider buying a guitar with a longer scale length.
Even if you don’t plan on playing in lower tunings, read the above guide to understand how the scale length you choose will impact how the guitar feels to play.
Best Metal Guitar Brands
There are a lot of guitar brands available today and many of them produce some seriously impressive metal guitars.
Let’s go through some of the best metal guitar brands worth checking out.
You can definitely consider any other brand as long as the guitar matches the features you need as covered earlier.
Ibanez has quite a few different ranges that are suitable for metal. Metal guitarists have been using Ibanez for decades and for good reason – they produce great guitars.
Ibanez’s RG series (shown below) has been popular with rock and metal guitarists for a long time.
While this range is still available today, Ibanez does have other ranges worth checking out.
The good thing about Ibanez is that there are a lot of different models to choose from in a variety of configurations.
This means you can find models that offer fixed bridge or tremolos, active or passive pickups, 6 7 or 8 strings, etc.
You can even find a few multiscale options (fanned frets). Find out about guitars with fanned frets in this guide.
Ibanez offers metal guitars from the low budget range all the way up to high-end guitars worth multiple thousands.
Jackson guitars are great for metal and have a long history with metal guitarists from all the way back when Randy Rhoads contacted Charvel guitars to work on something for him.
Jackson knows what metal guitarists want and produce some great signature models worth checking out by Jeff Loomis, Gus G, Mark Morton, and Chris Broderick.
While Jackson are well known for the Flying-V style guitars, they offer different shapes and styles that may suit you.
They also produce 7 string guitars and a variety of different pickup and bridge configurations.
Schecter is a great brand to consider if you’re looking for an extended range guitar (7+ strings).
They also offer a wide range of configurations on 6-string guitars and produce excellent quality guitars for metal.
Schecter are usually considered as one of the highest quality brands for metal as they use excellent quality components.
Before Schecter started producing guitars, they created aftermarket replacement parts, so they have a long history of offering high-quality guitar parts.
As a Metallica fan, I first heard about ESP as being Kirk Hammett’s brand of choice. But ESP produce a lot of signature guitars for metal guitarists as well as non-signature models worth checking out.
ESP offer a variety of guitar shapes loosely based on Les Paul, Ibanez RG, telecaster, SG, flying-V, and more.
As you would expect from any metal guitar brand, they also offer extended range guitars and a wide variety of configurations.
If you’re looking for an ESP guitar at a lower budget, check out the LTD range.
LTD is ESP’s budget range of guitars and they offer good quality guitars at a significantly lower cost.
While LTD is their ‘budget’ range, prices on LTDs can go all the way up to around $1600 before they switch to the true ESP models which continue into multiple thousands.
While Gibson produce guitars for a wide variety of styles, many metal guitarists (especially in the early days of metal) use Gibson guitars.
You can see that the above Gibson Les Paul comes standard with two humbuckers in a guitar that looks perfectly fine for playing metal.
While you can get V-shaped guitars by many brands, the original Flying V was a Gibson.
Les Pauls and SGs have been popular with metal guitarists for decades due to the use of humbucker pickups and overall feel and tone.
If you like the look and feel of a Gibson, but not the price tag, check out Epiphone guitars. Epiphone used to be a competitor to Gibson until they bought them.
Think of Epiphone now as Gibson’s budget option. Epiphone can produce some surprisingly good quality guitars worth considering.
Best Metal Guitars Under $200
Let’s look through some examples of some of the best metal guitars you can buy at different budgets.
As I mentioned at the start of this guide, once you know what features you want in a guitar, it makes it easier to choose the guitar that is right for you.
If you’re on a tight budget, there are still plenty of options to consider.
I recommend researching second-hand guitars because you can often find $500+ guitars selling for under $200 in great condition.
If you want a new guitar, it does limit your choices. But there are a few good quality guitars available at this low budget level.
Here are some of the best metal guitars available for under $200:
Here is a quick look at the above guitars.
ESP LTD EC-10: For this budget level, ESP’s LTD guitars are worth researching. The LTD EC-10 offers the basic features you would want in a metal guitar.
As you can see, the EC-10 is based on a Les Paul body shape and gives you two humbuckers and a fixed bridge.
Ibanez GRX70: the GRX range is the budget RG-style guitar Ibanez offer.
With two humbuckers and a single-coil pickup in the middle position, it can produce a wider range of tones compared to a guitar with only two humbuckers.
A guitar like this might suit somebody who also plays other styles outside of metal.
The budget tremolo bridge won’t provide enough tuning stability for dive bombs, but it will be enough for you to learn basic tremolo techniques.
Jackson JS22 Dinky: the JS22 Dinky is an incredibly popular entry-level guitar for metal guitarists.
The jumbo frets, dual humbuckers, and tremolo give you a good starting point for learning metal.
Compared to other entry-level guitars at this price range, the Dinky is one of the better options.
If you’re looking for 7-string options, check out this guide.
Best Metal Guitars Under $500
If you’re able to increase your budget up to $500, it opens up a lot of better quality guitars to choose from.
Spending an extra couple of hundred dollars can significantly raise the quality of the guitar you buy.
Guitars in this budget range use better quality hardware and generally have a better quality construction compared to the lowest budget guitars.
Here are some of the best metal guitars available for under $500:
There are a lot of other options, but these guitars will give you a good starting point for your research.
Ibanez RGA: There are a lot of great RG models you can choose from at this price range, I suggest checking out the RGA series such as the RGAR42MFMT shown below (Ibanez has horrible names for their guitars).
This is in the RGA series and a great example of how great the RG can be.
The Ibanez RG is an iconic guitar that has been used by metal guitarists for a long time. New RGs are easily found in a variety of hardware configurations, so you can find one that suits your needs. So if you don’t like the idea of having a Floyd Rose but like the overall style of the above guitar, there are other options.
ESP LTD EC-256: While there are plenty of choices for an ESP LTD at this price range, I suggest starting by looking at the EC-256.
The overall quality and hardware used on this LTD compared to the previous example is why I suggest spending a bit more if you’re able to.
With a 24.75″ scale length and 22 frets, be careful if you plan on tuning down. You can definitely play this type of guitar in a lower tuning, just be sure to use the right string gauge to compensate for the shorter scale length.
One feature I like about this guitar is that it provides you with two humbuckers, but includes a push-pull tone knob for coil tap. Coil tap is when you’re able to basically get a single-coil tone out of a humbucker.
This means you can get a good variety of tones from a guitar with a simple pickup configuration. Highly recommended if you play a variety of music styles.
Schecter Demon-6: this guitar has a scale length of 25.5″, which is a great choice if you want a tight feel for rhythm or you want to tune down.
I’ve had a couple of students over the years start on a Demon-6 and they’re great guitars with excellent tuning stability.
The 24 extra-jumbo frets feel ridiculously comfortable, but keep in mind that every guitarist has different preferences with fret sizes.
The Demon-6 uses active pickups, so read my guide on active pickups to learn about them to make sure they’re right for you.
Jackson JS34Q Dinky: this is an extremely popular Jackson and a great choice if you’re interested in playing a lot of lead.
The licensed Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo may not provide the same stability as one in a $2000+ guitar, but it will be good enough to allow you to learn how to play all the tricks you hear such as dive bombs, flutters, and dips.
As you can see from the above photo, this model has a humbucker in the bridge position and two single-coils (called a HSS configuration). This configuration works well for metal as well as other styles of music.
The neck has a scale length of 25.5″ with 24 jumbo frets.
Best Metal Guitars Under $1000
Here are some of the best metal guitars available for under $1000:
There are countless options for metal guitars in this budget range, but the above options are impressive and a good starting point.
Jackson Mick Thompson Soloist SL2: this is the first signature guitar I’ve suggested and for good reason.
If you’ve ever heard Mick (Slipknot) in interviews, he has incredible knowledge about guitar hardware.
As you might expect from a guitarist who tunes to Drop-B (sometimes lower), this guitar is perfect if you want to tune down (or stick to standard tuning).
One unique feature I love about this guitar is the bridge. It might look like a Floyd Rose tremolo, but it isn’t.
This is actually a fixed bridge and provides incredible tuning stability. Mick used to block his Floyd Rose tremolos in the past to improve stability, so this bridge takes that idea and makes it permanent.
If you play aggressively on your guitar and find your guitar slipping out of tune, check this guitar out. It will be hard to find a different bridge that provides better tuning stability (apart from the EverTune bridge).
The humbucker pickups are Mick’s signature Seymour Duncan EMTY Blackouts. These are active pickups voices to Mick’s specifications and are perfect for a dark and aggressive metal tone.
Ibanez RG550: this classic RG suits guitarists who are more lead-focused.
These guitars are designed for shredders, so if you enjoy lead more than rhythm, they’re worth checking out.
If the style doesn’t suit you, there are many other great Ibanez guitars available in this budget range. Check out the options under their Iron Label as well as other RG models.
ESP LTD MH-1000: The LTD range starts to become very impressive at this budget range.
The MD-1000 is a great example of how good an LTD guitar can be.
While this guitar is clearly designed for guitarists who like to play lead, there are plenty of LTD models in this budget range you can check out.
Notice the edge trimming and quilted maple top? That’s just one way that guitars in this budget range step up the quality compared to lower budgets.
Best Metal Guitars Over $1000
If you’re able to spend more on a guitar, then you have countless options of high-quality guitars to choose from.
By now, you should know exactly what features to look for and what brands you may have a preference for.
You can even consider signature models as most signature models will easily cost more than $1000.
It’s hard to suggest anything in this budget range, so use the above advice to narrow your search down.
At this level, it’s hard to find a guitar that doesn’t offer great quality. So you need to worry less about the overall quality and more about what features are important to you.
Metal Guitar FAQ
Here are some common questions you might have about buying a guitar for metal.
Is a Les Paul good for metal?
A Les Paul guitar is great for metal due to the dual humbuckers and fixed bridge. A lot of metal guitarists use Les Pauls as they can create a great metal tone.
Are Fender guitars good for metal?
Most Fender guitars aren’t good for metal. Only some Fender guitars offer humbuckers and can be used for a decent metal tone. For example, a standard Stratocaster with thee single-coil pickups isn’t suitable for metal, but Fenders that use humbuckers can work well for metal.
In my review of the Squier Stratocaster range (not quite Fender, but very similar), I explain which configurations could be used for metal and which aren’t suitable.
Can you play heavy metal with a Strat?
A strat can be used to play metal if you use the right pickups. Some strats use humbuckers in the bridge position and can sound great for metal. Otherwise, you can buy a slim humbucker that replaces a single-coil pickup to produce a more suitable metal tone.
Stratocasters aren’t the ideal guitar for metal, but it is possible to play metal on a strat.
What is the best guitar for metal?
There is no best guitar for metal because each metal guitarist wants something different. Some metal guitarists want fixed bridges, while others will want a Floyd Rose. Some want 6 strings while others want 7 or 8 strings.
The best guitar for you depends on what type of metal you want to play and what feels right to you.
What makes a guitar good for metal?
A good metal guitar will use high output humbuckers to create a tight and punchy tone when used with distortion. Guitars that feel comfortable and allow you to quickly slide your hands along the neck make metal easier to play.
Check out this guide on pedals for metal to see what essential pedals can be used to give you a better metal tone.
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