There’s never been a better time to be a guitarist in terms of what is available in the guitar market. Every year, guitar manufacturers are offering more and more features and quality at affordable prices, especially when it comes to metal guitars.
When you think of what guitars work best for metal, there are a few key things that almost all of them have in common. The first characteristic would usually be high-output pickups that help you reach high levels of gain and aggression. Another important feature is having a neck profile that allows you to play even the fastest riffs and leads quickly.
Today, we will look at 10 of the best metal guitars under $500 in the current market for different categories like best value, best playability, and best 7-string, among others.
In this list we’ve got guitars from many of the top metal guitar brands like Schecter, Ibanez, Jackson, Epiphone, and ESP LTD. These metal guitar brands have been around for a long time and have made a big name for themselves by building quality guitars for shredders of all styles.
Let’s dive into some of our favorites, see what makes them such great guitars, and help you find the one to make your metal dreams come true. We recommend throwing on your favorite metal record to accompany you through this guide!
Note: The prices mentioned below were taken at the time of writing this post. Keep in mind that guitar prices tend to rise every year, but we will do our best to keep this post updated.
The Best Metal Guitars Under $500
- Schecter Omen Extreme-6 – Best Overall
- Ibanez Steve Vai Signature JEM JR – Best Playability
- Jackson Dinky JS22 – Best for Beginners
- Jackson Dinky JS32Q – Best Value
- Epiphone Les Paul Studio – Best Les Paul Style
- Ibanez S521 – Best Thin Body
- Epiphone SG Standard – Best for Classic Metal
- ESP LTD SN-200HT – Best Stratocaster Style
- Ibanez RG7421PB – Best 7-String
- Ibanez Standard RGA42FML – Best Left-Handed
Schecter Omen Extreme-6 – Overall Best Metal Guitar Under $500
First in our list is the Schecter Omen Extreme-6, which, as you might guess from the name, is the ultimate affordable metal machine.
Schecter guitars got their start in the guitar world in the late 70s by manufacturing replacement parts for other big guitar manufacturers of the time, but eventually began building their guitars. They’ve been immensely popular with metal guitarists, and in 1998, they introduced their Diamond Series lineup that is imported, which makes them more affordable and accessible to a broader audience.
It all starts with the classic tonewood combination of the mahogany body with a quilted maple cap, maple bolt-on neck, and a rosewood fretboard. It’s one of those formulas that works perfectly for electric guitar.
The double-cutaway body is contoured and comfortable, and provides unrestricted access to the 24th fret. Schecter uses their classic “thin-c” neck profile which is extremely comfortable and fast. The 25.5” scale length, 14” fretboard radius, and extra jumbo frets make fretting and bending very easy.
There are some cool little attention to detail features like the Abalone and pearloid “vector” inlays up and down the neck, and the creme multi-ply binding around the headstock and body.
With a set of Schecter’s own tuners, a tune-matic bridge, and string-through body design, these guitars hold tune well and intonate very well.
To ensure you get all the gain you need, Schecter used a set of their proprietary “Diamond Plus” pickups, which are plenty high-output, but they also included a push/pull tone pot to activate a coil-split, allowing you to achieve believable single-coil tones when needed.
The Omen Extreme-6 wins our vote for best overall because of the high build and features, along with the excellent feel and tone that you can achieve that feels like it’s worth a lot more than what you’ll pay for one.
Ibanez Steve Vai Signature JEM JR – Best Playability
Now let’s move onto that crazy looking guitar with the handle on it, the Ibanez Steve Vai Signature JEM JR.
If you’re not hip to Steve Vai, we highly recommend you do a little research and see for yourself why he’s considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. You might know him from his days playing with Frank Zappa, or as the bad guy who challenges Ralph Macchio to a guitar duel at the end of the movie Crossroads, or the guy who played on the Halo 2 soundtrack.
Apart from those accolades, he’s one of the most popular Ibanez guitarists and has been known for playing them since the 80’s. His iconic JEM signature model is one of the coolest shredder guitars ever and will undoubtedly wind up in a museum at some point in the future. While a real deal JEM will run you upwards of $2000, a few years back Ibanez released a more affordable version with the JEM JR.
As you can already see, this gorgeous guitar stands out in a crowd. The vine inlays on the jatoba fretboard have always been one of my favorite looks. The lightweight Meranti body is lightweight and resonant, while the arm contour and body contour help make this guitar super comfortable to play, whether sitting or standing.
Ibanez is famous for their thin and fast necks and the JEM JR follows suit. The Ibanez Wizard III neck profile is one of the slimmest necks available and feels extremely easy to fly up and down on. This neck profile, paired with a pretty flat 15.7” fretboard radius, 25.5” scale length, and 24 jumbo frets, feels like a perfect pairing.
Moving onto hardware, the JEM JR features a set of standard Ibanez tuners, a locking nut, and a double locking floating tremolo so you can dive bomb until your heart is content. These Ibanez floating tremolos are great because they usually have a much lower profile than a floyd rose style trem which can be a bit bulky and sit pretty far above the body.
For pickups, Steve decided on a set of Ibanez Quantum humbuckers that are medium / high output, and come in an H-S-H configuration for many different tonal options since Steve himself is big on using those in between positions on the pickup selector for unique tones.
The Ibanez JEM JR was an easy choice for our best playing guitar in this list because of it’s Wizard III and flat fretboard radius, playing this guitar is simply a breeze and encourages speed and creativity.
Jackson Dinky JS22 – Best Metal Guitar Under $500 for Beginners
It’s not every day that you come across a guitar for under $200 that doesn’t absolutely stink, but Jackson somehow managed to put together a killer starter guitar for just that price. Let’s take a look at the Jackson Dinky JS22 and see how it holds up with such a great cost.
Jackson’s “Dinky” body style has been a huge success for many years, and gets its name because it has a slightly smaller body (⅞ size.) They’ve introduced the Dinky shape in dozens of configurations and prices from beginner to pro level and custom shop. Jackson was purchased by Fender Musical Instruments Inc. in 2002 which has given them a big boost in their global reach, as well as allowing them to put more focus on imported instruments that cost much less than the old Jackson USA guitars. The acquisition is great news for players like myself who don’t necessarily feel like spending $2000 or more on a guitar.
The Dinky JS22 starts with a poplar body in either a gloss polyurethane finish, or a satin finish, and a maple bolt-on neck with an amaranth fretboard. If you’re unfamiliar with amaranth wood, it’s also called “purpleheart” and is a less common tonewood, but it is seen occasionally. What’s great about amaranth is that it is very dense and stable, which makes this fretboard less susceptible to warping or changing with changes to temperature and humidity.
My favorite thing about the Dinky JS22 is the neck. Jackson uses their “speed” neck profile, which as you could probably guess is super thin and fast so you can pull off the quickest licks possible. In addition to that, it also features a compound radius fretboard (starts at 12” and goes to 16” meaning that the fretboard is more rounded towards the headstock, and flattens out towards the body. This was popularized by Jackson and Charvel in the 80’s because it makes playing accurately on the high-frets much easier, while still being comfortable to hold a chord low on the neck.
There are 2 high-output Jackson humbuckers, with a 3-way selector switch and 1 master volume and 1 master tone knob. These pickups are loud and should push your amp into overdrive territory no problem.
A simple set of hardware was used here, including standard Jackson tuners, and a 2-point Strat-style tremolo which is stable and works well.
Because this is a very straight-forward guitar without any bells or whistles to distract a new player, along with an unbelievably low price, this was an easy choice for our best beginner category.
Jackson Dinky JS32Q – Best Value Metal Guitar Under $500
The Jackson Dinky JS32 electric guitar features a lightweight and comfortable body, powerful humbucking pickups, and a speedy maple neck for shredding solos. Perfect for metal and hard rock players.
Sticking with Jackson, let’s check out the next step up in their Dinky lineup – the Dinky JS32Q.
Just like the JS22, the Dinky JS32Q has a poplar body, but this time we have a quilted maple veneer that really makes this guitar a serious looker. They offer 4 great colors on this model, including Dark Sunburst, Transparent Black, Transparent Blue and Transparent Purple Burst.
Once again, we’ve got a slender graphite-reinforced bolt-on maple neck with an amaranth fretboard, and the “Speed” neck profile that Jackson is known for. The specs are 25.5” scale length, 12”-16” compound radius fretboard, and 24 jumbo frets.
Also, just as the JS22 has 2 high-output Jackson humbuckers, a 3-way toggle, and a single volume and tone knob, the JS32Q matches that exactly.
The largest difference between the two is the Floyd Rose licensed double-locking tremolo which is great for sustain, and holds tune incredibly well even if you’re giving that whammy bar all you’ve got.
The Jackson Dinky JS32Q wins our vote for best value, coming in under $400. It’s rare to find a guitar at that price that feels as good as this, and has a Floyd Rose tremolo and the flashy quilted maple looks.
Epiphone Les Paul Studio – Best Les Paul Style Metal Guitar Under $500
We’d be crazy to bring up metal guitars and not mention any Les Pauls, which have always been heavily used in nearly every genre of heavy music. The Epiphone Les Paul Studio brings the low end and power of the legendary Gibson Les Paul at a fraction of the price.
In some of our other articles, you may have already read how Epiphone has made huge improvements in recent years with their “inspired by Gibson” lines that look and feel closer to their expensive older brothers. With this update, they’ve changed the headstock to match the Gibson “open book” shape more closely, and upgraded hardware and electronics without raising their prices significantly.
The Epiphone Les Paul Studio is a no-frills classic design that looks and feels great. It starts with a mahogany body with a plain maple top, a mahogany neck and pau ferro fretboard. It has the classic set-neck design that is partially responsible for the massive sustain that Les Paul style guitars are known for.
It features the classic Les Paul specs like the 24.75” scale length, which is on the short side for electric guitars. Because of this, it does have a slightly “slinkier” feel than the longer 25.5” we normally see in guitars like Ibanez and Fender, which some players prefer, especially those who might have smaller hands. We also have 22 medium jumbo frets and a 12” fretboard radius.
The classic Gibson hardware configuration of 6 standard 3+3 tuners, a tune-o-matic bridge, and a stopbar tailpiece offer great tuning stability and sustain.
A pair of Epiphone Alnico Classic pickups are medium output and pack a mean punch. An emphasis on mids and clarity works very well for classic rock and classic metal tones. A 3-way pickup selector, and 2 volume and 2 tone knobs give you plenty of flexibility to dial in different sounds on the fly.
There are other single-cut LP style guitars, but it’s hard to beat the classics, so the Epiphone Les Paul Studio gets our pick for best Les Paul style guitar under $500.
Read Also: 15 Best Gibson Les Paul Style Copy Guitars
Ibanez S521 – Best Thin Body Metal Guitar Under $500
While some people like thick heavy guitars like the Les Paul, some of us don’t want to have back problems after a gig. One of the best lightweight and ultra-thin guitars ever is the Ibanez Saber, also known as the S-series. Today we’ll be looking at the Ibanez S521.
The S-series was introduced in 1987, and became a popular choice for many of the shredders at the time, especially players like Paul Gilbert, who got their success from playing extremely complicated guitar parts as fast as humanly possible. It’s thin and lightweight tapered body is a pretty magnificent design, with the outer edges being super thin, and tapering up to a thicker slab of wood towards the center of the body.
This year’s S521 features a Meranti body, maple neck, and rosewood fretboard. And as you probably guessed, it also has the Wizard III neck profile, which is slim and ultra-fast. Other specs include 24 jumbo frets, offset dot inlays that look great, 25.5” scale length, and a 15.75” fretboard radius.
While the JEM we spoke about earlier had the Ibanez floating tremolo, the S521 has a 6-saddle hardtail bridge called the F601, which is super solid, and adds to its overall stability and sustain. 6 closed back Ibanez tuners are up at the headstock and holds tune well.
Much like the JEM JR, the S521 has a powerful dual set of Quantum humbuckers, which remain very articulate and clear. A 3-way pickup selector switch and a single volume and tone give this guitar a simple setup that helps you get right to playing.
The S521 is one of the most comfortable guitars you’ll ever play, and that’s why it gets our vote for the best thin-body guitar under $500.
Read Also: The 9 Best Electric Guitars For Shredding
Epiphone SG Standard – Best for Classic Metal
When the term classic metal comes to mind, some of the guitarists that come to mind are Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and Angus Young of AC/DC, both of whom are famous SG players. Something about the sound of an SG just lends itself really well to hard rock and metal. Let’s take a look at this year’s Epiphone SG Standard and see what kind of riffs come to mind.
The Epiphone SG Standard features a thin mahogany body, with its distinctive double cutaway “horns” design that is super comfortable to play, and pretty lightweight coming in at around 7.5 pounds.
For the neck, we have a mahogany neck with Epiphones SlimTaper neck profile that tapers out towards the high frets to make hitting those high notes a bit easier, while remaining nice and comfortable from top to bottom. In typical Epiphone fashion, the neck specs are 24.75” scale, 22 medium jumbo frets, and a 12” fretboard radius.
A set of high-output Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers deliver classic rock ‘n’ roll sounds with some added volume and punch. They offer an added mid bump with clear crisp highs and a round bottom end.
As far as hardware, they’ve included the standard closed gear tuners, and a tune-o-matic bridge and stoptail for great tuning stability and sustain.
The Epiphone SG has a vintage look and feel with a few updates for the modern player, and gets our pick for the best classic metal guitar.
ESP LTD SN-200HT – Best Stratocaster Style Metal Guitar Under $500
The “Super Strat” designs that were made popular by builders like Charvel and Jackson have always been a staple in the metal guitar world. The classic shape and look of Fender’s legendary “S” style guitars were a great formula, but traditional models don’t have the aggression that metal guitarists require. ESP LTD offers us the SN-200HT to solve that very issue.
ESP LTD has been around for many years and got their start as a manufacturer of replacement and modification parts for other brands, and within a few years started building high-end instruments. In 1995, the LTD line was introduced as an import series that offered great guitars at lower prices.
THe LTD SN-200HT begins with a basswood body and a maple neck. Their “thin-U” neck profile offers quick playability and has been super popular over the years. The specs on this neck are 25.5” scale length, a 13.7” fretboard radius, and 24 extra jumbo frets, contributing to the easy playability.
A set of LTD closed-back tuners and a fixed hardtail bridge and string through body make tuning and staying in tune effortlessly.
The LTD SN-200HT has a set of ESP Designed LH-150N Humbuckers that offer very high output and are bound to send your preamp into that sweet saturation point that we all love. A 3-way pickup, single volume and tone, and a push pull pot for coil-splitting offer a great range of tones.
Regarding Strat-style guitars, it’s hard to beat what the ESP LTD SN-200HT offers at such a great price.
Read Also: 12 Best Stratocaster Style Copy Guitars
Ibanez RG7421PB – Best 7-String Metal Guitar Under $500
The Ibanez RG7421PB 7 string electric guitar features a stunning poplar burl top, 5-piece maple/walnut neck, and dual Quantum 7 pickups for powerful sound and precision playability. A favorite among metal and progressive players.
No good metal guitar shootout would be complete without talking about that extra low end we can only achieve from 7 string guitars. The Ibanez RG7421PB is a gorgeous example of a great 7-string guitar for under $500.
Ibanez were the first brand to mass-produce 7-string guitars, and they immediately saw success with players like Steve Vai and both guitarists from the band Korn. They’ve always been on the forefront of extended range guitars, and even offer up to 9 string guitars these days.
The RG7421 is a real looker because of the poplar burl top over the meranti body. The RG body shape is a classic, and you’ll recognize that the JEM JR we spoke about earlier is based on the RG design.
The 3-piece Wizard III neck is maple and has a jatoba fretboard. It features the same specs as most Ibanez guitars, with a 25.5” scale length, 15.75” fretboard radius, and 24 jumbo frets. We cannot overstate how great the Wizard III neck is for anyone who likes thin, fast necks.
Once again we’ve got a set of high-output Ibanez Quantum humbuckers that deliver plenty of power while retaining great articulation. The simple 3-way pickup selector and a single volume and tone work great here.
The Ibanez RG7421PB is a great affordable 7-string for players who want to try it out, or even for experienced extended-range players that want something new.
Read Also: 15 Best 7 String Guitars for Any Budget
Ibanez Standard RGA42FML – Best Left-Handed Metal Guitar Under $500
We can’t leave out our left-handed friends, so may we present the Ibanez Standard RGA42FML to you. Left handed options can be a bit hard to come by today, so we’re glad to see Ibanez hasn’t forgotten about you all.
Like the other Ibanez guitars we’ve looked at, this RGA42FML features a meranti body, but this time with a great flame maple top. You’ll also notice that the RGA body shape is similar to the RG, but has some added carves around the horns, giving it a bit more aggressive look.
Of course we have the legendary Wizard III neck profile with the usual specs for the ultimate speed and ease of use. Along with the standard 6 in-line closed back tuners and a hardtail bridge and string through body.
Also, you’re probably sensing a bit of a theme with these Ibanez guitars, and of course we have those awesome Ibanez Quantum pickups.
There are other left hand models available, but for under $500 the Ibanez RGA42FML will be very hard to beat in terms of quality, feel, and sound.
How to Choose The Best Metal Guitar Under $500 – Buyer’s Guide
Materials & Build Quality
Depending on which model of metal guitar you go for, materials and build quality will vary slightly.
All of these guitars are made overseas, many of them at the same factories even, so the products you receive will all be similar in terms of the quality of components, and overall condition.
The US models of these guitars will always have a bit higher build quality and attention to detail, but that obviously comes at a major cost difference. Because of this, imported guitars are the best deal for most players, and the standard for quality has gotten significantly better for imported guitars over the last several years.
While there are thousands of guitar options available today, we wanted to focus on looking at affordable guitars. All of the guitars we discussed today come in under $500, some as low as $200.
As you can see from our list, there are some great values in the current guitar market, and you don’t have to have thousands of dollars in gear to make music.
Read Also: How Much Does an Electric Guitar Cost?
The obvious choice for metal guitars when it comes to pickups, are those with high-output pickups. Almost all guitars we discussed today have those kinds of pickups, and each will have slightly different sounds.
It’s important to consider how many pickup options you’d like to have on your next guitar, as many of these have coil splitting options and some even have 3 pickups. Some players like more options, while others prefer simplicity.
Read Also: Active vs Passive Guitar Pickups
Most of the guitars we talked about today fall into the “S” style body design, but they each have some key design differences with their contours, carves, and overall styles. If you like that double cutaway shape, you’ll find that most of the options on this list will appeal to you.
The two Epiphones we discussed have different shapes, which mostly boil down to a stylistic choice rather than a tonal difference.
There are of course dozens of body shapes available these days, like V and Explorer type shapes, so you’ll have to take a look around and see what your favorite is.
Being able to move up and down the fretboard, and fret accurately is essential to any metal guitarist. All of the choices we discussed today have kept that in mind when designing these guitars.
With all of the different neck shapes we looked at like the Ibanez Wizard III, Schecter’s Thin-C, ESP LTD’s Thin-U, and the Epiphone SlimTaper, it’s crucial to ensure that your new guitar feels good in your hands. My biggest recommendation would be to stop by your local guitar store and see how these different brands and models feel when you play them.
Genre of Music
Most electric guitars are very versatile in general when you think about what type of music you can play on them. While this is true, some guitars tend to work really well for certain types of music.
Schecter guitars have always been very popular with players that are into metalcore or death metal among over modern metal types. Jackson and Ibanez are often sought after for faster types of metal like speed metal and thrash. Epiphone, being on the more classic side of this list, works really well for classic metal from the 70’s and 80’s.
So now we’ve covered 10 of the best affordable metal guitars available today. We’ve looked at several models from all different builders, and hopefully helped you identify what your next shred-machine purchase might be.