From the proto-doom riffs of Black Sabbath, to the pioneering sludge-work of Candlemass, doom metal is certainly one the most unique styles in the genre.
Doom metal tends to push the boundaries of what’s normal in metal. It trades in hyper tight rhythm sections and uber-modern guitar tones for large, slow and ominous sound textures. It’s also one of the most ‘underground’ genres – you won’t find a lot of doom metal bands talked about in the media, and not many doom metal bands appear at big outdoor festivals or stadium concerts. Part of this is thanks to it’s somewhat extreme sound.
The most famous band that plays doom metal is without a doubt Black Sabbath. These British chaps don’t just know metal – they invented it. 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. Thus, doom metal (along with metal as a whole) was invented.
That’s all nice and dandy, but what is doom metal really?
What is doom metal?
Characterized by slow tempos, heavy guitar riff focussed songs, and obscenely dark themes, doom metal is amazingly focussed on a sense of impending doom, mixed with a ton of heaviness.
Something else that characterises the sub-genre as a whole: dirty guitar tones. And with dirty, I’m talking real dirty. It’s typical for a doom metal guitarist to play some sort of SG or Les Paul through a gigantic Orange stack with tha gain cranked.
Many of the more modern genres rely heavily on focussed, somewhat surgical guitar tones. Doom throws all that out the window, and is more focussed on creating a thick sound with insane amounts of gain and sustain.
This style is very extreme, but in a different sense from grindcore for example. Grindcore focusses on shocking the listener with hard to decipher rhythm and ridiculously fast tempos, whereas doom metal tries to give a sense of impending doom (pun intended) by slowing things down and extending the songs far beyond the ten minute mark.
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, so there’s lots of choice within any budget.
A good guitar for doom metal is preferably a guitar with a very thick sound. We’re not looking for special, super precise, high gain pickups with a very focussed sound, we’re looking for thick and sludgy. That natural muddyness and bass that comes along 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 greatly 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 wanted, these frequencies are unwanted. For doom metal, these frequencies are exactly what we’re looking for. 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/focussed 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 Gibson pickups, or even PAF pickups if you like that sound. 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 focussed/clear sound.
Best doom metal guitars
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
The Gibson Les Paul has been the gold standard for many guitarists for almost any style. It’s not without a reason that these guitars appear in pretty much every genre and style, including doom metal. These guitars are perfect for doom. They’ve got a really thick and warm sound, and are built like a tank.
In case you didn’t know yet, 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. 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 literary seconds.
The Les Paul is one of the most recognisable 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 not without reason. The Gibson Les Paul is an important piece of musical history.
Some famous players who play the Gibson Les Paul include Slash (Guns and Roses), Jimmy Paige (Led Zeppelin), and Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne). Some doom metal players that play 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’s many different options at basically every price point.
If you’ve got the cash, go for the $4000 Gibson Les Paul Custom that everyone oggles at at the guitar store. If your budget is more around the 1k mark, a regular Gibson Les Paul Standard would be the way to go.
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.
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 prestime tones here, getting a cheaper guitar might sound surprisingly good for this genre.
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 to them that makes them unique. Some doom metal players that 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’s 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.
The Epiphone SG Standard is just great. It plays and sounds like a real SG, but at a much more affordable price (around $500).
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.
One guitar I want to zoom in on in particular is the Epiphone G-400. Listeners of Black Sabbath might recognise 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 recognisable horns. It’s basically the same guitar even. It’s 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 get really obvious that you’re into Sabbath.
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, in the sense that guitarists these days have other 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).
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.
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 what it’s priced to (like so many other low- and midrange guitars these days).
But what if you don’t like any of those guitars? Worry not, as theirs so many more options that are often used in doom metal.
Gibson Flying V
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 less 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, same with the Gibsons. There are also many different Flying V’s from brands like Jackson and ESP, they might look fairly different, but it’s still a V nonetheless.
Some famous players who play the Flying V Include Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne) Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and Kerry King (Slayer).
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 within 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 that 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).
We at killerguitarrigs.com love to showcase great gear, and Dunable is definitely one of those under-the-radar brands that kick ass. Dunable makes amazing high-end instruments with unique looks.
What’s cool about this brand is that they not only make their own versions of classic guitars, but that they make them very very unique.
You can custom order a guitar pretty much any way you like. 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.
Let’s face it, doom metal is just straight up awesome. And it’s not without reason that you might be compelled to dive into playing the genre yourself. There’s amazing guitars at pretty much every budget range that will 100% work with this genre.