If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you have at least some interest in playing metal music, or maybe you’re already an established shredder. Either way, we can all agree that there’s something super satisfying about picking up a guitar, playing a great metal riff or pulling off a soaring lead line.
Metal guitars come in all shapes and configurations these days, and today we’re going to look at some of the best options to help you get right to creating epic metal tracks.
Before we cover the brands that we like for metal, let’s examine what makes a guitar great for playing metal music. While the definition of metal has evolved a lot over the years with hundreds if not thousands of metal subgenres, what guitars work best for metal has remained largely unchanged.
Some of the most common requirements for the task are high-output humbucker pickups for increased gain and power, sleek and fast neck profiles for quick playability up and down the neck, and durability to withstand all the high-energy riffage that these poor guitars must endure.
With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at some of our favorite guitars that work best for playing metal and delivering the aggression that we all love.
Read Also: 10 Best Electric Guitars for Metal
The Best Metal Guitar Brands
While there are truly hundreds of guitar manufacturers that we could talk about here, we’ve narrowed the list down to 10 of our absolute favorites, which includes some major names that you’re likely somewhat familiar with.
- PRS Guitars (Paul Reed Smith)
- Ernie Ball Music Man
- B.C. Rich
PRS Guitars (Paul Reed Smith)
PRS Guitars, founded by none other than Paul Reed Smith himself, have been making high-quality electric guitars since 1985. At their start, they were a boutique custom-built workshop making guitars for legendary players like Al Di Meola and Carlos Santa. As you can imagine, the custom guitars they were building would run you a pretty hefty fee, but these days they’ve expanded their lines significantly, and now sell a more budget-friendly option with their overseas-made SE line. The SE models are some of our favorites, and sacrifice nothing in terms of quality or consistency from their vastly more expensive USA models.
Part of the PRS design philosophy was to bridge the gap of the larger guitar brands in Fender and Gibson. Most PRS guitars will be built at a 25” scale length which sits right between Gibson’s 24.75” scale, and Fenders 25.5” scale. This provides a unique feel to players who are used to long or shorter scales, by sitting at a comfortable point in the middle of other brands. Also with this, they are typically equipped with 2 humbuckers like you’d find on a Les Paul or SG, but nearly every PRS incorporates a coil-tap option allowing you to get true single-coil tones you’d expect from a Fender.
Some of the most popular models of PRS that work for metal are the Custom 24, Standard 22, and Singlecut designs. They are typically made of mahogany, a great tonewood that works well for metal because its dark and tonality balances well with high-output humbuckers.
There are several lines that PRS offers that fall within a large range of prices, starting with the PRS SE lineup which starts at around $750. Their S2 series is a stripped-down version that is made in the US, features many of the same features as their high-end models, and comes in between $1600 and $2000. Finally, they have the Core series, which is their flagship line of guitars, which are full-featured handmade guitars built in their US factory in Maryland, but fall upwards of $2200.
Perhaps their most metal design is the signature guitar for Mark Holcomb of Periphery. Featuring a dark quilted maple gray and black burst with a splash of purple, high-quality black hardware, an extra flat 20” fretboard radius, and a pair of custom made Seymour Duncan Alpha and Omega pickups. This ultra-modern metal axe is built for pure aggression.
There is lots of great stuff coming from PRS these days that are beyond capable of keeping up with your high-intensity riffage.
Schecter Guitar Research, or just Schecter, is an American guitar manufacturing company that was founded in 1976. Like several other big guitar names we know today, they originally started as a company that manufactured replacement parts for larger guitar brands, but eventually started designing and building their own line of guitars, basses, amps, and effects.
Schecter guitars are loved among the hard rock and metal community. Their guitars have a modern look and feel and are known for having thin necks that are a dream to shred on. They are also known to have used high-output pickups by brands like EMG, or Seymour Duncan which are ideal for handling high-gain.
In 1998, Schecter developed their popular Diamond Series line of instruments, which have been mass-produced through a handful of different factories in eastern Asia including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and China. Doing this allowed Schecter to offer guitars in a more affordable price range making them more accessible to the average player. The high-end custom shop Schecters are manufactured in their US factory.
While some brands lean on point shapes to show how mean they can get, Schecter have mostly used the “super strat” design featuring a comfortable contoured double cutaway body. Their most popular models in this style are the Omen, Demon, Hellraiser, and Reaper. In addition to 6-string guitars, they also offer extended range guitars like 7 strings and 8 strings.s
Schecter have made a name for itself by offering very well-built guitars full of features, high-end appointments and hardware, and stunning looks at really great prices.
Ibanez has been one of the largest guitar and effects manufacturers since the 50’s but their popularity soared in the 70’s and 80’s. Based in Nagoya Japan, Ibanez was the first major brand to mass-produce 7 and 8 string guitars cementing themselves a spot in heavy metal history thanks to artists like Korn, John Petrucci, and Steve Vai.
One of the best features of Ibanez guitars that make them great for metal players is their famous “wizard” neck profile, which is very thin, very strong, and super fast to play on. You can imagine that these were very popular with the early metal crowd and thrash metal guys who were constantly looking for ways to play faster and more aggressively.
Additionally, Ibanez has always been one of the brands that uses floating tremolos and locking nuts, allowing metal guitarists to pull off insane pitch bends without falling out of tune. This made them very popular in the 80’s when these methods were becoming more and more popular thanks to players like Eddie Van Halen.
These days, Ibanez has worked hard to stay current with metalheads and they continue to innovate and offer modern options for tonal exploration, but still sell a lot of their flagship models from the 80’s like the RG series, and the S series.
Some of the more recent models that they’re offering include the AZ line which has been used by new-age prog shredders like Polyphia and Chon, and the ICH10 headless model which is a signature of Youtube sensation Ichika Mo.
Ibanez offers guitars in several series all ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands.
It would be hard to talk about metal guitars and not mention ESP. ESP got their start in Japan way back in 1975 and started as a replacement parts manufacturer for other larger guitar brands. It wasn’t long before they began building custom made guitars with the ESP brand, and later introduced the LTD series, which was a more budget friendly option to make their products accessible to more players.
These days, ESP has made a huge name for themselves around the world by creating high-quality guitars for shredders of all styles and offering affordable price points via the LTD line. The ESP models continue to be made in Japan, with some being made in the US. LTD guitars are typically made in either Indonesia, China, or Korea to keep costs lower. While they are made overseas which is typically not a great thing, they’ve had a great reputation for quality and consistency coming from the factory.
When I think of ESP, the first players I think of are James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, and it’s kind of impossible to name a more iconic metal guitar duo. Both Kirk and James have had a few different signature models including the KH, Snakebyte, and Truckster which all take a more aggressive approach to common guitars like super-strats, Les Paul’s, and Explorers.
Some of the best selling guitars in the world are the ESP and LTD Eclipse models, which are single cut bodied, dual-humbucker guitars which are great for metal guitarists. They offer them in several price points starting in the low hundreds all the way up to custom shop prices. Other common models you’ll see are the Viper which is a double-cutaway, the TE which is a “T” shape body, and the Horizon which is a pointy futuristic shred machine.
Ernie Ball Music Man
If you’ve ever walked into a music store to grab a pack of strings, you’ve probably seen a couple hundred sets of Ernie Ball strings hanging on the wall. The Ernie Ball company has been around since the 60’s and got their start as the first string manufacturer to begin making lighter gauges, and custom sets. Up until that point, there were very few options for guitar strings, and most sets that you could buy had high E strings around a .15 gauge. Imagine trying to take a lead and being unable to bend that E string!
After the success of their strings and other accessories like the Volume Pedal, Ernie Ball partnered with the MusicMan company which was being run by Leo Fender and began producing expertly crafted guitars. Some of their biggest success came from signing Eddie Van Halen as a MusicMan artist and creating his signature Wolfgang guitars which helped skyrocket the success of the company.
These days, Ernie Ball is one of the finest builders in the guitar world, and have been very popular with artists like Steve Lukather of Toto, Dream Theater’s John Petrucci, and Jason Richardson who is known for his solo work as well as his time with metalcore band All Shall Perish.
In addition to the high-end custom shop models like the models mentioned above, they’ve also recently introduced the Sub and Sterling lines which are more affordable import guitars.
Nearly all of the Ernie Ball Music Man guitars feature top of the line appointments from top to bottom including locking tuners, super high-quality tonewoods with options like baked maple necks and fretboards, custom made EBMM pickups and other options.
One of the kings of the electric guitar world has always been Gibson. Gibson has been making iconic electric guitars since the inception of their almighty Gibson Les Paul back in the early 50’s. Since then they’ve introduced a dozen or more incredible models like the SG, Flying V, Explorer, and Firebird.
All Gibson guitars are made in the USA, most of which come from their factory in Nashville Tennessee. The standard Gibson formula is tried and true, which typically includes starting with a mahogany body, a maple neck, rosewood fretboard, 2-3 humbuckers, and rock solid build quality. If we look at the Les Paul for example, the design has remained largely unchanged for going on 70 years, and you can still find one in any gig from country to jazz to soul to death metal, and that says a lot.
Although most folks may think that the Les Paul is the most popular Gibson model, it is actually the Gibson SG. As a kid I remember seeing videos of Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi playing an SG onstage and hearing those iconic power chords of the track War Pigs. Other memories that come to mind are seeing James Hetfield playing his Gibson Explorer on stage in front of half a million fans at their record breaking show in Moscow. One of my favorite modern metal bands Mastodon, who are both almost always on stage playing an SG and a Les Paul custom or Flying V. Gibson is easily one of the most popular brands in metal, new and old.
While Gibson has a large lineup of guitars available each year, their most popular choices with metalheads typically seem to be the SG Standard, the Les Paul Studio, the Flying V, and the Explorer. These guitars are well rounded, well made instruments that can shred with even the meanest of instruments.
The Epiphone SG Standard is a shining example of how great a budget-friendly guitar can be.
If you’re not familiar with Epiphone, they’ve been making instruments since 1873. In the late 50’s Gibson purchased the company and began making them out of the Gibson factory. These days, Epiphone generally sells Gibson style instruments at a lower price point.
Like we mentioned with the Gibsons, the traditional shapes are the most popular, but Epiphone actually offers some more aggressive models that you can’t find in Gibson’s lineup, like the Prophecy line. The Prophecy guitars are built with the modern metal guitarist in mind and feature a fantastic set of Fishman Fluence active pickups (huge upgrade!) as well as an extended neck offering 24 frets as opposed to 22, and a thinner flatter fretboard for easier fretting.
Some famous guitarists that have signature models with Epiphone include Zakk Wylde of Ozzy Osbourne fame, Matt Heafy of Trivium, and Brendan Small of Dethklok.
We love what Epiphone has started offering in recent years, and they seem to get better and better while staying true to classic designs but introducing modern innovations as well. I don’t believe they’re currently offering any at the moment, but in the past they’ve even offered some 7 string models to their lineup, which maybe makes them more metal than their US counterparts over at Gibson?
Who doesn’t love a big pointy guitar that could poke your eye out? BC Rich are the absolute kings of wild guitar shapes that are built to shred. This is probably the most metal brand of guitars in this list if we’re basing that on looks alone.
BC Rich started making guitars back in the 70’s and quickly gained a following with metal bands because of their extreme shapes like the Warlock, Mockingbird, Bich, V, and Ironbird.
Some notable acts that have used BC Rich guitars would be Slash in his early days with Guns N Roses, Kerry King of Slayer, most members of death metal legends Cannibal Corpse, and Chuck Schuldiner of the band Death. Their sharp looks and powerful pickups are a perfect combination for creating the heaviest music possible.
Most of BC Rich’s guitars come with high-output passive or active pickups like EMGs. They are currently under new ownership as of 2019, who are expected to make some major changes, bring back old models that have been discontinued, and grow the brand in general. They are also one of the brands in this list that offer extended range instruments like 7 and 8 string guitars.
There are several import lines in the BC Rich catalog beginning with the Bronze series and Platinum series which are the most affordable. Most of the BC Rich guitars are made in the US from their shop, and can cost a pretty penny but they are without a doubt some of the best guitars for extreme metal players.
Some of the most recognizable classic metal guitarists relied on Jackson to help fuel their aggressive tunes.
Jackson was born from a partnership with Charvel. Before becoming a guitar brand, Charvel was a guitar repair shop where guitarists would bring their instruments for modifications, most notably adding compound radiuses to their guitars. What this did, was flatten the curve of the fretboard higher up on the neck to allow for easier playing up high. Eventually, Jackson Grover and Wayne Charvel decided to go their separate ways, and they each started a new company and began building guitars under their respective names.
In 2002, Jackson was purchased by Fender Musical Instruments in a large deal which now has Jackson guitars being made in their factory in Corona, California, alongside Fender and Gretsch instruments. The deal has made Jackson guitars more accessible and helped them extend their reach even further to countries all over the world.
Jackson had great success through the late ’70s and ’80s, building guitars for metal guitarists that were more suitable for aggressive playing than traditional brands like Gibson and Fender, partially because of the compound radius that we just spoke out, as well as the option for having floating tremolos like Floyd Rose bridges installed. Another big feature that was sought after was the neck through construction Jackson was using instead of a bolt on neck.
The first big-name player to start using Jackson guitars was Randy Rhoads who played for Ozzy Osbourne. He approached Jackson with an idea that he wanted a guitar that looks like a shark, oddly enough, and Grove built him the first version of the Randy Rhoads V guitar, which has become a legendary guitar. The main thing Randy was looking for was a guitar where he had unlimited access to the highest frets which he couldn’t play comfortably on his Les Pauls.
This Randy Rhoads V design was really the original pointy shaped guitar that would go on to influence nearly every other metal guitar brand today.
Aside from Randy, we could name a couple dozen metal guitarists that have looked to Jackson for their instruments, but we’ll just list a few: Mick Thomson of Slipknot, Scott Ian of Anthrax, Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden, Marty Friedman of Megadeth, Misha Mansoor of Periphery, and Brandon Ellis of Black Dahlia Murder.
These days, Jackson has a great lineup available including the Soloist, Kelly, Dinky, and of course the Randy Rhodes V also called the RR. There’s also no shortage of extended range models including 7 and 8 strings.
Like most of the other brands, Jackson does have an import line which comes in at more budget friendly prices, as well as a USA line and a custom shop line, so there’s something in their catalog for every player. It’s hard to deny that Jackson is just an incredible choice for any metal player looking for a well made instrument.
We already spoke briefly about the beginnings of Charvel before the split with Jackson, where they originally started as a custom repair and modification shop for guitarists. We have Charvel to thank for the term “super-strat,” which you’ve probably heard.
In the early 70’s, Wayne Charvel’s shop capitalized on the poor quality that Fender and Gibson were putting out at the time, as more and more guitarists were coming to them for modifications and upgrades on their instruments. The two most popular mods were the compound radius mod and “hot-rodding” the pickups by adding strong magnets or additional copper winds. He even got a custom order from the legend himself Eddie Van Halen, and built him the guitar that you see on the cover of Van Halen’s first record.
After word spread about these high-quality instruments that Charvel was crafting, the legend began to grow and more and more guitarists were lining up to buy one of these guitars built for speed. Between the compound radius, the increased access to the upper frets, the floating tremolo systems, and overall quality, these features enabled metal and rock musicians to get more and more out of their playing.
In 2002, Fender purchased Charvel in a deal that included Jackson, which are now both made in the Fender factories and have helped spread their name to a larger audience. Additionally, the acquisition has allowed Charvel to begin offering import models that are much more affordable to the average player.
These days, Charvel’s current lineup is full of classic designs and even some more modern takes on the “super-strat” formula. Most of their guitars are called either Series 1 or Series 2; Series 1 is a “S” style double-cutaway body, and Style 2 is a “T” style single-cutaway body.”
Their most famous line is the “Pro-Mod” series, which stays true to their “hot-rodded” guitars that initially gave them their recognition. Most of these guitars feature a set of hot Seymour Duncan pickups and that compound fretboard radius we’ve mentioned. In addition to the Pro-Mod series, they also have their USA select models made in Corona, California and feature top-notch woods and hardware.
Some artists that are known for playing Charvel’s and have signature guitars through them are Eddie Van Halen, Guthrie Govan, Joe Duplantier of Gojira, and Jake E. Lee who played with Ozzy Osbourne.
Metal is one of the most popular and diverse styles of music on the planet, and the tools we can use to play them are the same way. We’ve looked at 10 great brands that offer a wide range of guitars in all price points, and hopefully gave you a better idea of which one you’d like to play.
Whether you’re a classic metalhead like myself, or someone who loves the modern styles of metal, there’s a guitar out there for you that we hope brings you endless inspiration to create powerful music to share with the world.