So you’re looking for the ideal guitar for metal? The heavy riffs and soaring solos call for something beyond the usual. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of the 12 best metal guitars.
The best metal guitars are their own breed of guitar. With most music genres, you can just pick up any guitar and start playing. But for metal, it doesn’t sound right, and you may not be able to play the things you want. You need pickups that distort well, and you probably want a good whammy bridge, and it has to look metal.
While there is no end-all-be-all ultimate metal guitar, there are ones that are better than the rest. It all depends on the sound you’re going for, the features you need, and how much you’re willing to spend. For example, the perfect guitar for shredding won’t be ideal for doom metal, and vice versa. Therefore, I’ve sifted through the guitar market to pick out the following varied selection of awesome metal guitars.
- Fender Dave Murray Stratocaster
- Dean MAB1 Speed of Sound
- Ibanez RG550
- ESP LTD KH-602 Kirk Hammet
- Dean VMNT Dave Mustaine
- Jackson JS32 Rhoads
- Schecter Hellraiser C-7 FR
- Dean Dimebag ML
- Washburn Parallaxe PXM10
- ESP LTD EC-1000
- Schecter Omen-8
- Epiphone G-400 Pro
Top 12 Best Metal Guitars
There’s something perfect for every metal guitarist on this list. I’ve included 7-string and 8-string options, retro shredders, and signature models.
But first, a quick note about strings. When you buy a guitar, it usually comes with strings that aren’t good for metal, unless you’re buying a high-quality metal guitar. A good metal tone requires thick strings, especially if you’re tuning down. While the guitars on this list should all have metal-friendly strings, it’s wise to get a string set that meets your specific needs. This guide to electric guitar strings will help you.
Now for the guitars. This list presents the best metal guitars in no particular order. They all cater to different types of metal guitarists. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Fender Dave Murray Stratocaster
Designed for one of the foremost metal guitarists of all time, there’s no doubt that the Fender Dave Murray Stratocaster is one of the best metal guitars on the market. Iron Maiden is, to many people, the quintessential classic heavy metal band. What’s more, this formidable Strat can cover much more than nostalgic metal styles.The core of its powerful metal tone is the set of pickup. Two Seymour Duncan Hot Rail ceramic humbuckers give a loud and rich signal. There’s also a JB Jr pickup in the middle for extra versatility. Despite their small size, these hum-free pickups pack a real punch.
In general, the build is like a typical Stratocaster with an alder body and a maple C-neck. However, it has a Floyd Rose 2-point locking tremolo, which lets you bend notes in both directions while maintaining a steady tuning. Furthermore, the rosewood fingerboard has a compound radius design. Toward the nut, it has a rounded 9.5-inch radius, but it flattens out as you get closer to the body, all the way down to a 14-inch radius. This clever design optimizes the upper frets for note bends while keeping the lower frets chord-friendly. If you’re an Iron Maiden fan or just looking for the best metal guitars for classic stuff, this is a top choice.
Dean MAB1 Speed of Sound
Do you find yourself saying “bring back ‘80s speed metal” from time to time? Well, here’s an excellent tool for doing that. Michael Angelo Batio, the king of speed, had this impressive axe made to meet his ideals.
An ultra-thin bolt-on maple neck with an ebony fretboard and 24 jumbo frets is ideal for the quick style we associate with this guitar legend. Playing so fast that your fingers become a blur calls for a defined tone with strong articulation, and that’s exactly what you get from the Dean MAB1. It has two EMG humbuckers and a single-coil in the middle. The rounded resonance of the Alder body completes the sound. It’s not only for guitar virtuosos but also among the best metal guitars for lead guitarists of all varieties.
The Ibanez RG550 was among the first dedicated metal guitars available to the growing crowd of young metalheads in the mid-80s. It’s essentially an affordable adaptation of Steve Vai’s Ibanez JEM777. Production stopped in the mid-90s but picked up again in recent times due to popular demand. A few minor upgrades bring the revived Ibanez RG550 up to date.
The main reason for its popularity may be the extra-thin Wizard neck and the fast playability it offers. Another factor is the Floyd Rose tremolo. All that fast fretting and whammy action would be wasted on sub-par pickups, so you’ll be glad about the formidable set on the RG550. There’s a V7 humbucker by the bridge for biting riffs and a V8 neck humbucker for those thick, smooth tones. It also has an S1 single-coil in the middle for additional versatility.
A good metal performance isn’t only about how you play, you must also convey the right energy to the crowd. The light basswood body makes the Ibanez RG550 ideal for wild stage antics. The neck has jumbo frets and consists of five layers of maple and walnut for extra strength. That makes it good for dropped tunings and complex riffing. All in all, this is one of the best metal guitars for beginners with big ambitions.
ESP LTD KH-602 Kirk Hammet
Many of the best metal guitars are signature models, although they can be gimmicky at times. Metallica helped define a sound and style that echoes in all modern metal, so you can rest assured that the LTD KH-602 is no niche novelty.
An alder body with a maple neck is pretty standard, but the ultra-thin U-profile neck has 24 extra-jumbo frets. If you struggle to fit your fingers on standard frets, this is an ideal choice. An EMG 81 by the bridge and an EMG 60 in the neck position give you that meaty thrash tone. Let’s not forget the Floyd Rose tremolo, which is a big part of Hammett’s style.
While the KH-2 is a higher-end version, I think the more approachable price makes the KH-602 a better pick for the best metal guitars. It still has all the features you need to play and sound like Kirk. Just plug it into a good wah pedal and start shredding.
Dean VMNT Dave Mustaine
Many consider Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine the king of thrash. His unique style of signature spider riffs interspersed with bluesy grooves and wild solos calls for a very versatile guitar. That’s exactly what you get in the Dean VMNT Dave Mustain. What’s more, it doesn’t require a rockstar budget.
You get a rich tone from the mahogany build. The jatoba fingerboard is somewhat unusual but works like a typical rosewood counterpart. As usual with Dean, you get the playability that metal demands. And with the aggressive V-shape and Vic Rattlehead design, it could earn a place among the best metal guitars on looks alone.
With that said, it delivers in the sound department as well. It has two DMT Design humbuckers for a versatile, heavy metal tone that suits both rhythm work and leads. Unless you really want a whammy, you can’t go wrong with the Dean VMNT.
Jackson JS32 Rhoads
A true godfather of shred, Randy Rhoads set a higher bar for metal with classics like Crazy Train. He also became the face of Jackson’s JS32 model, and he had his own special edition. This iconic guitar has appeared in the hands of later stars like Metallica’s Kirk Hammet and Children of Bodom frontman Alexi Laiho.
The sound mirrors the looks, aggressive yet smooth. It lends itself well to wild leads and technical riff work. It achieves this balanced tone with two Jackson high-output ceramic humbuckers on a basswood body. The bolt-on maple neck has a satin finish that enables lightning-fast playability across the 24 frets. Thanks to the signature double locking bridge, you can use very low string action and drop divebombs without losing your tuning. V-shaped guitars are a staple of metal, and this one beats most in terms of both style and pricing. That makes it one of the best metal guitars under $400.
Schecter Hellraiser C-7 FR
There’s always a place for Schecter on a list of the best metal guitars. They offer several metal axes that often perform above their price range. This 7-string version of their popular Hellraiser is no exception.
The Schecter Hellraiser C-7 FR is an all-mahogany build with a thin-C profile set neck. Together with two loud EMG 70TW pickups, this produces a thick, heavy sound. The FR part of the name refers to the Floyd Rose bridge.
Overall, it’s a high-quality 7-stringer with impressive specs and a massive, sizzling tone. This is probably the best guitar for djent and death metal around the $1,000 mark.
Dean Dimebag ML
Few guitarists have had as much lasting impact on the best metal guitars as Dimebag Darrell. He won his first Dean ML in a guitar contest, and that particular axe has a story of its own. Many Dimebag ML models have appeared over the years, but they all have all the core concepts in common. They’re pointy, they have Floyd Rose tremolos, and they have cool paint jobs like this Dime-O-Flame design.
With its 24.75-inch scale length, it’s somewhat smaller than average. It has a fast-playing 22-fret neck with a rosewood fretboard, mounted on a mahogany body. A signature Duncan SH-13 Dimebucker in the bridge position gives you that familiar, growling tone. By the neck, you find a Dean humbucker with a piece of tape that prevents the strings from getting stuck when you divebomb, just like on Darrell’s original. It sounds and plays how you’d expect if you’ve seen Dimebag at play. If you’d like to play fast runs and pinched squeals like the man himself, this is the best metal guitar for you.
Washburn Parallaxe PXM10
Here’s something for the fans of melodic death metal. Few music styles place such high demands on the musicians and their instruments. The Washburn Parallaxe series has served well in the hands of melodeath guitarists such as The Haunted’s Ola Englund. In fact, Parallaxe was a big inspiration when he launched his Solar guitars. While Solar has conquered the Nordic metal scene, they can be hard to find in America, so the native Washburn Parallaxe is a better pick for this list of the best metal guitars.
The PXM10 has an SH-4 JB neck humbucker and an SH-2N Jazz bridge humbucker. Together, they produce a heavy tone with plenty of punchy definition for melodic riffing. You can choose to run them in series or parallel with the push-pull tone knob. The PXM10 consists of mahogany with a quilt maple veneer and an ebony fretboard. Its elaborate Buzz Feiten tuning system helps ensure stable tuning even if you go wild with the Floyd Rose tremolo. If you seek the best metal guitars for modern subgenres, a Washburn Parallaxe PXM10 is an ideal choice.
ESP LTD EC-1000
If you love the look and feel of a Les Paul but wish for more metal-oriented specs, the LTD EC-1000 is an excellent pick. It’s an all-mahogany build with an ebony fingerboard, an Evertune bridge, and active pickups.
It rocks the same general neck design as the KH-602. As for the electronics, it has a Seymour Duncan JB at the neck and a Seymour Duncan Jazz by the bridge. These are passive humbuckers. Each one has its own volume knob, and they share a tone knob. Overall, it’s a sleek and simplistic design that focuses on quality and performance. It sounds like a more aggressive Les Paul, which makes it one of the best metal guitars for all-rounder guitarists who dabble in multiple genres.
The standout feature is the Evertune bridge. This tension-calibrated set of springs and levers can keep your guitar in tune for a remarkable time, even if you play huge bends, pops, and wild tapping solos.
A list of the best metal guitars in 2019 should include an excellent 8-string guitar. The Schecter Omen-8 offers an incredible bang for your buck. With its 26.5-inch scale length, it’s an inch longer than typical electric guitars. You won’t notice this difference when you play, nor should the neck width be an issue. Although the string tension is somewhat higher and thereby stays in tune better, it’s still a fast-playing guitar.
The neck consists of maple reinforced with carbon fiber rods. Basswood makes up the body, where you’ll find a tune-o-matic bridge and two Schecter Diamond Plus humbuckers. They’re no EMGs, but the body provides a meaty tone with a thick sustain which they transmit well. The Schecter Omen-8 has a natural mid-scoop tone that’ll drive your distortion just right. It’s the best 8-string guitar under $500, and one of the best metal guitars to date.
Epiphone G-400 Pro
When thinking of old-school heavy metal and hard rock, one of the first guitars that come to mind is the diabolic-looking Gibson SG. It became the symbol of AC/DC and remains popular among rockers and metalheads more than 50 years after its inception. In typical Gibson fashion, the SG is too expensive for common guitarists, but there are official budget-friendly editions. The Epiphone G-400 Pro is a prime example.
It has a mahogany body and a mahogany SlimTaper D-profile neck with a rosewood fretboard. All 21 frets are within easy access. The Epiphone G-400 Pro has a classy ebony look with vintage-style hardware for excellent metal aesthetics.
Regarding the pickups, they’re both Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers. This gives you a crunchy, meaty metal sound. Coil tapping lets you switch into single-coil mode for shrill solo tones and such. If you think the best metal guitars are those that look and sound like the classics with some modern touches and come at a reasonable price, you’ll love the Epiphone G-400 Pro.
Final Thoughts on the Best Metal Guitars
That’s my selection for the 12 best metal guitars. There’s an excellent pick for every style and budget. Most are all-around superb shredders that’ll suit any metal guitarist.
No matter what guitar you play, metal is all about heavy distortion. If you want high-quality distortion that does the best metal guitars justice, you can find excellent options in my distortion pedal guide.
That concludes my list of the 12 best metal guitars. I hope you’ve found your ideal battle axe.