6 Best Guitars for Doom Metal (2023) – Into the Void

If you’re a full-time metalhead, there’s a good chance you know at least a little about the many sub-genres. But if you’re just getting into this style of music, you might be surprised to learn there at least 25 recognized varieties of metal.

From speed and thrash to alt and nu metal, you may not be aware the majority of metal styles are best played with highly specialized guitars. It might surprise you to learn that the best guitars for one particular subgenre, the subgenre we’re covering today, there are a lot fewer options than you’d think. We’re talking about the best guitars for doom metal. 

The most famous doom metal band also happens to be widely acknowledged as the inventors of the style – Black Sabbath. Their sound was heavily inspired by blues rock, but they wanted to go a step further. So they tuned down their instruments and intentionally muddied up their sound. As we know, their guitar sound largely came from Tony Iommi’s Gibson SG – which happens to be one of the most popular guitars on the market today.

Today’s doom metal tends to push the boundaries of what’s possible in metal. It trades hyper-tight rhythm sections and ultra-modern guitar tones for large, slow and ominous sound textures. So if you’re thinking of getting involved in this style of music, or you’re just looking for some advice on your next guitar upgrade, you’re in the right place. In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ll be looking at the best guitars for doom metal. In each of the reviews in this roundup, we focused on tones, playability, and of course, looks.

Keep on reading to learn more!

What is Doom Metal?

Characterized by slow tempos, heavy guitar-riff-focused songs and obscenely dark themes, doom metal revolves around a sense of impending doom, which reflects the introspective nature of the style.

Doom metal can be further divided into various subgenres, each with its own characteristics. Traditional doom metal, influenced by bands like Black Sabbath, features slow and melodic guitar riffs, often with clean vocals. Funeral doom metal is the more modern style, focusing on extremely slow tempos, crushing guitar tones, and guttural growling vocals, creating an incredibly heavy and oppressive atmosphere. Additionally, there are bands that combine doom metal with elements of other genres, such as progressive or atmospheric elements, resulting in hybrid subgenres like progressive doom or atmospheric doom.

DOOM METAL Essential bands debate with John Semley | LOCK HORNS (live stream archive)

What Makes a Good Guitar for Doom Metal?

Doom metal players often favour guitars like the Les Paul and the SG for their amazing sustain and naturally thick sound. These styles of guitars are very popular, and there are a ton of brands making guitars in those styles, so there’s lots of choice within any budget.

The best guitars for doom metal are those with thick tones. Interestingly, doom metal doesn’t call for special, super precise, high gain pickups with a focused sound. Instead, a thick and sludgy tone is best. That natural muddiness and bass that comes with some guitars (like a lot of Gibsons) lends itself perfectly to this genre. 

When a guitar tone is saturated (or ‘distorted’) with gain, certain frequencies are amplified. This results in massive amounts of overtones and natural clipping. With this comes the amplification of generally unwanted frequencies. Having too much of a certain frequency will thicken up the sound and create ‘mud’. In modern genres (like progressive metal and djent), where extreme clarity is necessary, these frequencies are unwanted. For doom metal, though, these frequencies are exactly what you need. So, if you want to get a doom metal guitar tone, you’ll first want to look for a pickup with plenty of bass and lots of overtones. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a doom sound with more modern/focused pickups (like many high-output Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio pickups). It’s just that if you want a sound closer to the doom heroes, you might want to consider a traditional passive humbucker, with PAF-style being a particularly good choice. Using cheap low-grade pickups might actually be a good choice for this style, as these pickups often have lots of extra frequencies and not a very focused/clear sound. Get them at the right height and you’re golden.

Individual Reviews

Let’s not beat around the bush too much, as probably the best of the best for this genre are absolute rock classics that we all know and love. 

Gibson Les Paul

Doom Metal Guitars: Les Paul

The Gibson Les Paul has been the gold standard for many guitarists for almost any style. It’s not without reason these guitars appear in pretty much every genre and style, including doom metal. They’re perfect for doom. They’ve got a really thick and warm sound and are built like a tank. 

In case you didn’t know, Les Pauls are HEAVY. The weight of the Les Paul is something many guitarists complain about on a daily basis. This weight does mean it’s got a very large and thick sound that resonates well, though. Just put it through the dirty channel of an old Orange or Laney or high-gain Marshall stack with the gain cranked and you’ve got a doomy tone in literal seconds. 

The Les Paul is one of the most recognizable guitars out there, and probably the number two most popular electric guitar (closely beat by the Fender Stratocaster). Many, many brands have copied this guitar, and with good reason. The Gibson Les Paul is an important piece of music history. 

Some famous players who play the Gibson Les Paul include Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Jimmy Paige (Led Zeppelin), and Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne). Some doom-metal players who use this guitar include the guitarists for Pentagram and Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))).

If you want to get this guitar for yourself, you’re in luck. There are many different options at basically every price point. 

Best Choice: 

If you’ve got the cash, go for the $4,000 Gibson Les Paul Custom that everyone ogles at at the guitar store. If your budget is closer to the $1k mark, a regular Gibson Les Paul Standard would be the way to go.

Best Value:

For the most bang-for-your-buck solution, try looking at the Epiphone Les Paul Custom. They’re absolutely amazing and won’t do less than a ‘real’ Gibson would.

Budget pick:

If your budget is tighter ($300-$500), the Epiphone Les Paul Standard is a great way to go as well. If you’re on a razor tight budget ($200 or less), the Epiphone Les Paul Special might just get you there. Again, we’re not going for pristine tones here, so a cheaper guitar might sound surprisingly good for this genre.


Gibson SG

Doom Metal Guitars: The Electric Wizard Jus Oborn Epiphone G-400 MIK

Number two on this list is the classic Gibson SG. 

Most everyone recognises this guitar from legends like Angus Young and Tony Iommi, who helped shape metal as a whole.

The reason SG’s work so well for this genre is similar to the Les Paul. It’s a little lighter, but it’s still very resonant with tons of lows. The pickups are also often medium output humbuckers that sound a little looser than others.

A common complaint about SG’s is that they’re fairly neck-heavy, which means that the guitar is not very well balanced and you can experience some ‘neck-dive’. This is especially noticeable when you’re playing standing for a long time. And since doom metal songs tend to be very long, this might be a problem for some players.

But if you’ve got a good leather strap and hang the guitar at a comfortable height, you might not even notice it. Brands like ESP have taken the classic SG shape and made it their own. Most noticeably, the offset body. This not only makes it stand out from all the Gibson and Epiphone SG’s, it also helps combat the balance issue. 

SG’s have a signature growl that makes them unique. Some doom metal players who play SG’s include Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Jus Oborn (Electric Wizard), and Scott Weinrich (Saint Vitus).

If you like the SG and you want to get it, there are many options out there. Epiphone makes great SG’s at every budget (same as with the Les Paul), and Gibson SG’s are just amazing. 

Best Choice: 

Gibson makes SG’s at different price points, from the $1,400 SG standards to amazingly high-end $3,000+ Customs.

Best Value:

The Epiphone SG Standard is just great. It plays and sounds like a real SG, but at a much more affordable price (around $500).

Budget Pick:

If you’ve really got a tight budget, but you still like the SG, I suggest going for the Epiphone SG Special VE. They are often under $200 in stores, and even as low as under $100 on the used market. Check out our full Epiphone SG Special review.

Honorable Mention:

One guitar I want to zoom in on in particular is the Epiphone G-400. Listeners of Black Sabbath might recognize this guitar, as it’s a copy of the Gibson SG that Iommi uses. It’s got the classic black-on-black look with the block inlays and recognizable horns. It’s basically the same guitar even. This is a very popular (and affordable) guitar, so this might be the way to go if you want to play doom metal on a budget. The Epiphone Tony Iommi signature might be an even better alternative if you want to make it really obvious that you’re into Sabbath. 


ESP Viper

ESP Guitars: ESP Viper METAL DEMO

Have you noticed a pattern? That’s right. It seems Gibson is at the top of this genre, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only competitor.

ESP makes some great alternatives to the SG. ESP opts for an offset body style, so if you’re into that, this might be the guitar to look for.

The thing that separates the Vipers from the ‘real’ SG’s (other than the body shape) is that their guitars are a little more modern. Guitarists these days have different needs than guitarists back in the day. This means slimmer necks, light bodies, and yes, better weight balancing to combat the common neck-dive issue that comes along with SG’s.

The pickups are generally higher output and a little tighter, but it’s honestly hard to tell the difference under an ultra-high-gain situation (like the one in doom metal). 

Best Choice:

ESP makes many different options for the Viper. The high-end E-II series are the top choice for modern SG’s if your budget allows it.

Best Value:

The LTD Viper 256 is maybe the best bang-for-your-buck solution out there. It’s a midrange guitar that plays, looks, and sounds way better than the price would suggest (like so many other low- and mid-range guitars these days).

Budget Pick:

The LTD Viper 10 is the cheapest solution, and is comparable to the Epiphone Les Paul Special. It won’t blow your socks off, but it will get the job done.


Honorable Mentions

But what if you don’t like any of those guitars? Worry not, as there are so many more options that are often used in doom metal.

Gibson Flying V

Flying V's: Should You Get One?

Oh, the Flying V. Some people love them, others hate them. Metalheads love them to death, mostly because of their unique and somewhat aggressive look. They also play amazing when standing up. They sound fairly similar to Les Pauls, but maybe a little less bassy.

There’s definitely fewer options out there regarding budget, as they are not often mass-produced. This doesn’t mean there are no options, as Epiphone made some in the past that are still available used, as did Gibson. There are also many different Flying V’s from brands like Jackson and ESP. They might look fairly different, but it’s a V nonetheless.

Some famous players who play the Flying V Include Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne) Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and Kerry King (Slayer).


Gibson Explorer

Gibson Explorer Mesa/Boogie Mark IV

Here we go again, Gibson. It seems like I’m giving one-sided information, but it’s just the truth. Gibson is one of the most used brands of guitar in heavy music. 

These are a little harder to find. Not impossible though, as brands like Jackson and ESP make their own versions of it. Getting a ‘real’ Gibson Explorer (or even an Epiphone) can be a challenge, as they’re somewhat rare and very sought after. This means they’re usually pretty expensive on the used market and are just hard to come by. 

Famous players who use the Explorer are James Hetfield (Metallica) and Lzzy Hale (Halestorm). 


Dunable

Doom Metal Guitars - Dunable R2

We at KillerGuitarRigs love to showcase great gear and Dunable is definitely one of those under-the-radar brands that kicks ass. Dunable makes amazing high-end instruments with unique looks.

What’s cool about this brand is they not only make their own versions of classic guitars, but they make them very unique. 

You can custom order a guitar pretty much any way you want it. Want a Flying V with a mahogany neck, swamp ash body, burl top and luminlay inlays? Sure! Dunable makes them for you. 

Dunable basically makes custom guitars at a slightly more affordable price than a Gibson Custom shop model. 

If you want to spec out your perfect doom metal beast straight from the underworld, Dunable might be the brand to look at. 


Final Thoughts

Let’s face it, doom metal is just straight-up awesome. And it’s not without reason that you might feel compelled to dive into playing the genre yourself. Fortunately, there are amazing guitars at pretty much every budget range that will 100% work with this genre. 

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