Technically, just about any electric guitar could be used for Metal. But there are a few companies that make guitars specifically for Metal. Today we are going to take a look at some of the most popular guitars for Metal, both old and new.
The 13 Best Guitars For Metal: An Overview
Picking a guitar for playing Metal can span many brands and styles. The truth is, Metal can be played on just about any kind of electric guitar. Yet there are a myriad of brands that specifically make guitars suited for Metal.
Just as there are certain brands that make better guitars for Doom.
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Choosing the right guitar for the application is important. While I could probably play a Metallica tribute show on a Fender Telecaster…it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice.
The features of a guitar are what makes it “better” for certain genres. A guitar is the sum of it’s parts. Some of those parts definitely work better for different playing styles.
Then there are aesthetics. I feel a good portion of metal is about image and attitude, and rightfully so. If you’re not out there scaring old people, you’re doing it wrong.
Maybe when you are picking out your next guitar, the way it looks really matters. Perhaps you have a band aesthetic that you want to keep to? Think of Type O Negative.
Type O Negative’s black and green aesthetics became a huge part of their image. Then again, maybe that schtick isn’t your style at all! Maybe you worry more about how a guitar plays, rather than how it looks.
Choosing The Best Guitars For Metal In 2020
I didn’t set any real parameters for this list in regards to price or features. But I have tried to add some affordable options in with the expensive ones. Not everyone has the same budget. But also know that there are less expensive versions of almost all of these picks.
If you are looking for a solid budget setup check out our other article for beginners. Every pick on that list is affordable for most players out there, and I personally played them all.
We will be sticking to production models only. There are plenty of custom guitar companies out there like Kiesel, and Halo. But today we are just going to look at the guitars you can buy from any retailer.
It is important to note, that these are in no particular order. It is almost impossible to rank these, as they all provide a different playing experience due to features and specs. The best guitar for metal could technically be all of these for you!
Alright, that’s all the disclaimers I have for you today. Let’s get started on the 13 best guitars for metal!
#13 Schecter Hellraiser Series
Schecter is no stranger to the Metal world. Like Ibanez, and ESP…they are almost exclusively Rock/Metal guitars. Their best selling guitar to date is the Hellraiser, by a mile.
Why does it sell so well?
The features are different depending on the model, but the Hellraiser comes in so many configurations, one of them is sure to suit you:
- EMG Pickups
- Floyd Rose or Fixed Bridge
- Grover tuners
- Thin C neck
- Ebony Fretboard
- Mahogany Body
The Hellraiser comes in several finish options as well. All of Schecter’s Diamond Series guitars are made in the World Music Factory in South Korea. The quality of instruments that are made in that factory is second to none.
Plenty of famous guitarists play a Hellraiser, most notably Jeff Loomis when he was in Nevermore. Although he later got a signature model from Schecter, even it was based on the Hellraiser.
I have owned a Floyd Rose model for a while now, and it gets played all the time.
This definitely will not be the only Schecter on this list, but it is a great introduction to the brand, and these can usually be found at reasonable prices in the used market.
#12 Jackson Dinky Pro
If you’re a shredder, then Jackson is probably very familiar to you. They have sponsored some pretty big names over the years. people like Marty Friedman, Dave Mustaine, Gojira, and even Trivium.
The company was pioneered by Grover Jackson in 1980, at a time when Metal guitars were really starting to take off. It was the birth of the “Superstrat”.
The Jackson Pro series has all of the features that metal players were looking for, after Eddie Van Halen blazed a new path for shredding. He started the Superstrat revolution that continues today.
The Pro series comes with lots of options:
- Seymour Duncan Pickups
- Floyd Rose or Fixed Hipshot bridge
- Grover or Locking Tuners
- Tons of Finish Options
- Flat, Fast Fretboards/Necks
Grover Jackson no longer owns Jackson guitars. They are now produced by Fender, in all of their different factories including the custom shops. They have started a new custom series for artists like Misha Mansoor from Periphery.
Their new models are great, and continue the legacy of shredding for a new generation. But the Dinky Pro represents a bridged gap between old and new. Traditional and Modern.
#11 ESP/LTD EX Series
I think we all know who made this one famous, in the late 80s.
James Hetfield started endorsing ESP guitars in the late 80’s. The first models they made for him were based on his beloved Gibson Explorers. But The EX Series was something entirely different.
The contours and body shape were more angular and “threatening”. The EX is a seriously intimidating guitar that looks badass on stage! They are built to be a Metal machine. Most of the EX models come with:
- EMG Pickups
- Locking Tuners
- Tune-O-Matic Bridge
- One volume/One Tone Layout
Compared to other guitars of it’s ilk, the EX is actually pretty “bare bones”. Other than the shape, the features are in line with just about any other guitar that is primed for Metal playing.
But the shape? It’s legendary.
#10 Gibson Flying V
I mean, what can you possibly say about the original Gibson Flying V? They have been around since the 1950’s. However upon their first inception, they did not sell very well at all. Maybe back then, they were just too extreme.
The 1970’s and well into the next decade, you started seeing the legendary Flying V around more often. Metal bands adopted them pretty early on, and big names like Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer all played them when their bands were starting out.
Since Gibson is a “legacy” company, the Flying V has not changed much over the years as they still build them to the original specs. The only change they make is usually wood choice, Korina or Mahogany.
I think we will see the Flying V for years to come as newer players adopt it. The biggest advantage to playing one is the access to the upper register of the neck. This is a dream for shredders everywhere.
#9 Schecter KM Series
The Schecter KM series is the result of a collaboration with guitarist Keith Merrow and Schecter Guitar Research. They have produced these models for almost a decade now, and they are hugely popular in the Metal community.
Keith plays a very distinct form of Death Metal, but his guitars are equipped to do just about anything you want them to do. This is because of the crazy features they come with:
- Fishman Custom Merrow Pickups
- Compensated Nut
- Hipshot Grip Lock Tuners
- Glow in the dark Inlays
- 6 or 7 string models
- Several price points and Finish options
His custom Fishman pickup set not only has two voices like the entire Fishman range, but they also coil tap. This versatility allows a powerful distortion sound, as well as beautiful clean tones.
The KM Series is basically a custom shop grade instrument, without the custom shop price tag. This is a great guitar right out of the box, no upgrades necessary!
#8 ESP/LTD EC Series
The ESP/LTD EC or “Eclipse” series has been a staple of Metal guitarists everywhere for years. Bands like Every Time I Die, and Norma Jean use them exclusively both in the studio and on stage.
This is truly one of the best guitars for metal out there. It is a “shredder’s Les Paul” essentially. It has a thin neck built for fast runs and scales.
The best of the series is the EC1000, which comes right out of the box with tons of upgraded features:
- Mahogany Body
- EMG or Seymour Duncan Pickups
- Upgraded Locktone Hardware
- Locking Tuners
These features will save you money further down the road. Personally, I like having a guitar with all the features I need, rather than upgrading it myself. For people like me, ESP/LTD and Schecter are perfect because of this attention to features and details.
Another huge advantage to buying ESP/LTD is the price. Like their cousins at Schecter, these guitars are loaded with premium features for an affordable price. That is not to say these guitars are “cheap”. But rather easier to budget for, usually around the $900 mark, brand new.
The EC series also comes in a 7 String variant!
#7 Jackson Rhoades V
Another very popular guitar designed by Grover Jackson in the 1980’s. The Rhoades looks awesome, but it has an unfortunate backstory.
The Rhoades asymmetrical V style was originally commissioned by Randy Rhoades, the legendary guitarist for Ozzy Osborne. Unfortunately Randy died in a plane crash while on tour with Ozzy before he ever got to really put these awesome guitars to use.
While Randy never got to properly popularize the guitar himself, Jackson continued to make the model after his death as a tribute, and legacy to Randy.
Many players over the years have played the Rhoades V and have even based their signature models after the design like Alexi Leiho from Children Of Bodom. Early on, the guitarists of Megadeth also used them on stage for years.
The Rhoades V is known for its features:
- Floyd Rose Trem
- Asymmetrical Body Style
- EMG or Seymour Duncan Pickups
- Custom Pick Guard Shape
- Sharkfin Inlays
Randy Rhoades had designed a dastardly cool guitar with Jackson, and it really is a shame that he never got to properly make history with it. Luckily, many players 36 years later are still playing his custom model, ensuring his memory and legacy will go on for decades to come.
Jackson recently started making an affordable model with the JS22 Series that we included in our Best Beginner Guitars article. These are an incredible value for such a popular guitar.
#6 Ibanez RGA Series
Ibanez has been making guitars that appeal to Metal guitarists for over 35 years! Ibanez may have started as Japanese company that made “clones” of popular American guitars, but they came into their own in the 1980″s.
A lot of their popularity is due to Steve Vai, and his signature model, The Gem. After it became the most popular signature guitar of all time, Ibanez created the RG Series, as a more affordable option of Vai’s creation.
The Ibanez RGA Series is a redesigned version of the original RG. The RGA body is a solid carved offset double cutaway body with pointed horns. It is based on the super-Strat style RG body but with a solid arched carved top.
Most models have:
- Mahogany Body
- Ibanez Edge Trem
- Dimarzio Pickups
- Carved maple Top
- 6 or 7 string Options
This makes the RG not only more comfortable to play, but also very aggressive looking. Bands like Periphery and Chimp Spanner started using the RGA models for their Prog-Metal riffage, and continue to use them to this day.
#5 Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster
Jim Root is best known for his heavy riffs in Stone Sour and the uber-popular Metal band Slipknot. Jim played guitars by Jackson for years, but couldn’t let go of his love for vintage guitars.
So he was at a crossroads. Clearly a Fender guitar, off the rack, was not going to work for a band like Slipknot. Yet Jim found himself obsessed with Stratocasters and Jazzmasters. Fender is not usually known to endorse a Metal artist, as they cater to other genres.
Somehow, the two met in the middle and created the Jim Root Signature Fender Series.
The Jim Root Jazzmaster specs are not your usual Fender:
- EMG Pickups
- Satin “worn” Finish
- Fixed bridge
- Block Inlay or No Inlays
- One Master Volume Knob
- 3 Way Switch
At first glance, these guitars look like a stripped down version of their classic brothers. They are actually fully hot-rodded to Jim’s specs for playing aggressive Metal, with classic Fender stylings.
I think these are really cool guitars, because they are something of an anomaly for Fender to even consider making in their custom shop, let alone a production model.
#4 EVH Wolfgang
We lost a guitar virtuoso and innovator when Eddie Van Halen passed away this year. People compare his advancements in guitar technology and playing style to the likes of Jimi Hendrix. Rightfully so, in my opinion.
In the beginning, Eddie made his own guitars out of spare parts from many different companies. His “Frakenstrat” with the red and white stripes became something of a legend and was synonymous with Eddie’s image.
He would later not only design his own production models, but also help redesign the Floyd Rose into what we know today. He met with Floyd Rose and helped patent the “double locking system” we know today.
Peavey made the original Wolfgang guitars in the early 90’s to go with Eddie’s custom amp, the 5150. later, he moved production to Fender/Charvel under the EVH brand.
These guitars are a delight for shredders everywhere due to their flat fingerboards and double locking tremolo. They come in a wide array of price points and models, all of which Eddie used in the studio and on stage.
#3 Dean ML Series
If you’re a Pantera fan, you are probably already familiar with this guitar. But what you don’t know, is they were not always sought after instruments.
Dean Guitars began making the ML models way back in 1977. Dean Zelinsky took inspiration from Gibson’s more extreme looking models like the Flying V, and Explorer. But he turned these classic designs into something fresh and new.
The problem was, they did not sell very well at all. Dean struggled through the 80’s until Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott stepped in and started using the ML as his main axe. But not how you would think!
This happened completely by chance, as Dimebag had won the guitar from playing in a Texas guitar competition. After being seen with the guitar on their “Cowboys From Hell” album cover, Dimebag was offered an endorsement deal.
This not only gave Dimebag his signature look and style, but it also saved Dean guitars from bankruptcy.
This kickstarted Dean Guitars into the finally, well deserved limelight. The Dean ML went from being an obscure guitar design, to being well-known by guitarists everywhere.
The Dean ML will always be associated with Dimebag Darrell, but many guitarists buy them to play in tribute of their guitar hero.
#2 PRS Mark Holcomb
PRS is known for making instruments of incredible quality, with top-notch features. This is especially true for their signature models.
Mark Holcomb is one of three guitarists in the Prog-Metal outfit Periphery. When he first joined the band, Mark mostly used Ibanez RGA guitars until he was approached by PRS, 5 years ago.
You don’t find Paul Reed Smith, he will find you.
The design between Paul and Mark took over a year to perfect. The end result is something entirely different than any other PRS guitar on the market:
- Hipshot Contour Bridge
- Locking Tuners
- Mark’s Alpha/Omega Signature Pickups
- 25.5 Scale
- Figured Top
- “Holcomb Burst” Finish
Mark’s PRS guitars come in both 6 and 7 string versions, with 3 different finish options available now. While the custom shop version of these guitars is probably out of most people’s reach, the standard edition is 1/4 the price.
#1 Ibanez Prestige RG
If you have ever owned an Ibanez Prestige, you know that they construction and quality is completely out of this world. These models are made in Japan, and the attention to detail is stunning.
Probably the best thing about these models, is every year, the specs change. One year they may come with EMG Pickups, the next year they may come with Bare Knuckle. The designs and features are ever-changing.
The Prestige Series also includes Artist models by:
- Munky from Korn
- Steve Vai
- Tosin Abasi
- Paul Gilbert
- Dino from Fear Factory
- Joe Satriani
The Ibanez Prestige series is a staple in the Metal guitar community, and a benchmark for Japanese quality. They come in different finishes every year, and different designs. But the quality remains the same.
The Best Guitars For Metal: My Verdict
When it comes to choosing the best guitars for metal, it honestly seems like we are in the “golden age” of choices. There is something out there for everyone no matter what your style or budget is.
The choices are almost endless, and the brands that cater to metal have been killing the game lately. And sure, there will always be your basic, classic guitars out there, should you want one.
But Metal is about expression, whether it is subtle or extreme. Personally, I think your guitar choice should reflect your unique style. Get that guitar you want, and own it!