Finding the Best Guitar for Metal under $1,000 involves so much more than looking for the pointiest model in the store. This aggressive style of music calls for some very specific feature sets in order to truly achieve the best possible sound across this diverse genre.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ll be getting hands-on with some of the best metal-focused guitars on the market. We’ll be looking closely at everything from tones to playability, as well as build quality and overall reliability.
If you’re in the market for a new guitar for metal, this is a review you won’t want to miss!
Features: Swamp ash body, Floyd Rose bridge, Diamond Decimator humbuckers
Benefits: Massive output, Incredible playability, Gorgeous aesthetics
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Features: Wizard III neck, Hardtail bridge, Ibanez Quantum humbuckers
Benefits: Lightning fast neck, Incredible tonal range, Excellent ergonomics
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Features: Ceramic humbuckers, Compound radius fretboard, Slim graphite reinforced neck
Benefits: High output, Lightweight and comfortable, Forgiving playability
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Our Top 3
The Ibanez RGA42FM took our Top Pick in this roundup. It has a classic Super Strat form factor with hot pickups, and it’s fitted with the legendary Wizard III neck for the ultimate in playability. It perfectly blends price and performance and is dynamic enough to take on pretty much every subgenre of metal.
The Jackson Dinky Arch Top JS22 DKA is our Best Budget choice. It’s a simple shredder that simply gets the job done. It’s one of the most affordable 24-fret guitars on the market, it has a fantastic neck, and pickups that perform well above their price point. It comes in a range of awesome colors and the arched top provides high-end ergonomics.
Our absolute favorite guitar for metal under $1,000 is our Editor’s Choice winner, the Schecter Reaper 6 FR. This is a high-end metal weapon, built to the highest standards with premium woods, incredible high-output pickups, and the amazing Schecter Ultra Access neck carve, which provides unfettered upper fret access – unlocking the entire fretboard!
Timeless metal looks with hot pickups and crazy playability.
With this guitar you’re getting the ultimate expression of what it is to be a metal guitar, and you’re still well within the $1000 budget. It features a Wizard III neck, together with a pair of hot Quantum humbucking pickups – a combination guaranteed to deliver a good time for any shredder.
Ibanez is one of the biggest names in guitars for metal, and it’s easy to see why with models like the Ibanez RGA42FM. This super Strat is absolutely packed with features that combine to make it the perfect shredder.
Our test model was finished in “Blue Lagoon Burst”. It had a beautifully resonant mahogany body topped with a stunning flamed maple top, which looked amazing from any angle.
The neck was an all maple bolt-on with a Wizard III profile. As expected from a Wizard, it was incredibly slender and offered unparalleled speed. At the front, the fretboard was made with jatoba. It had nicely finished edges and a super flat 15.7” radius, making it a lightning-fast player for lead guitarists especially.
We really loved the electronics selection on the RGA42FM. It had upgraded Quantum humbucking pickups in both the bridge and neck positions, and both served up some incredible tone. The bridge pickup did everything from ’80s hair metal to modern chug without skipping a beat. In the neck position, we got some articulate rhythm tones.
To top things off, it was fitted with a rock-solid hardtail bridge, which we always think makes a huge difference, especially for those who play in drop tuning. The tuning machines themselves were Ibanez branded sealed-gear units, which gave us easy fine-tuning, even in alternative setups. Always a big plus.
The factory setup was great. It came with a super low action, and intonation was perfect from top to bottom. The neck was arrow straight, and honestly at this price, we couldn’t ask for more.
Verdict: The Ibanez RGA42FM really delivers across the board when it comes to metal. It does searing high gain, but also offers tons of versatility with its 5-way switching. It’s solid, reliable, and it also helps that it’s fantastic to look at!
- Versatile 5 way pickup selector
- Excellent tuning stability
- Amazing neck feel
- Jatoba fretboard was a little dry
- No compound radius
A high octane super shredder on a shoestring budget.
This is one of Jackson’s most popular guitars, and for good reason. It offers pretty much everything you need to get started in playing metal, including high output humbucking pickups, a vibrato bridge, and of course, aggressive styling. It’s comfortable, and delivers awesome metal tones at an unbelievably low price.
Even though this model bears the Dinky name, the Jackson Dinky Arch Top JS22DKA still boasts a 25.5” scale, so don’t be put off thinking it’s for kids! This is a highly capable metal guitar. The only thing that’s truly dinky about it is the price.
It has a poplar body, and a super Strat form factor. Our test model arrived in Satin Black, which we absolutely loved! It had a menacing look and because the finish was so well applied, it really helped make it look like a much more expensive model. The arch top body also added a premium feel and excellent ergonomics, making it exceptionally comfortable to play fast downpicking for extended periods.
The neck was made with maple and was bolted to the body. It had a super slick speed profile, which much like the Kelly, was super fast and very comfortable. One impressive feature was that even at this low price, it had a 12″ to 16″ compound radius, which made it a versatile model that could handle rhythm and lead parts with ease.
For electronics, it had 2 Jackson branded humbuckers, which surprisingly for such an affordable model, remained clean and composed even when pushing some serious gain. The bridge position was a particular favorite for us, but even when playing in the rhythm position, we got some great tones.
For those who are looking to get started with dive bombs and other tremolo effects, this Dinky did come with a floating bridge and tremolo arm. It wasn’t a locking unit, but we were still able to use it frequently without the tuning stability suffering. This is rare at this price point and always great to see. The Jackson tuning machines also did a good job at holding pitch and didn’t give us much of any problems with dialing in alternative tunings.
Verdict: Jackson is a brand that is really specialized in metal focused guitars and it really shows with every model they make, including low cost options like the Jackson Dinky Arch Top JS22DKA. It was comfortable, reliable, and it looked amazing – a genuine diamond in the rough. If you’re looking for a bargain metal guitar, this is in our opinion, the best out there.
- Comfortable arch top
- Great aesthetics
- Incredible value
- No Floyd Rose
- Locking tuners would have been nice
One of the fastest, most playable guitars on the market – period
This fantastic guitar is lightweight and incredibly comfortable to play. It features a lightning fast neck, and its burl top finishes look absolutely sensational. It’s a lead guitarist's dream, too, thanks to its ultra-access neck carve.
The Schecter Reaper 6 FR is a real chug machine. It’s loaded with the type of features that metal players demand and everything is just beautifully executed. Immediately upon unboxing, we were able to tell this was a special guitar.
Our test model was finished in a Satin Charcoal Burst tone and it looked absolutely amazing! It was built with a swamp ash body and finished with a gorgeous poplar burl top.
The neck was maple with walnut stripes, which we thought looked phenomenal with the Charcoal Burst finish. It had an Ultra Thin C profile, which we found felt a lot like the Ibanez Wizard III, and that’s never a bad thing. On top of that, it had a Schecter Ultra Access neck carve, which gave us unheard of access to the upper frets. All around, it was a superb feeling guitar.
It was loaded with a pair of high output Diamond Decimator Humbucker pickups. Even with moderate gain, the tones were outrageous, but when cranked into full distortion they came even further to life. The pickups were so incredibly clear, with amazing articulation and note separation. In the bridge position the tones were particularly aggressive, although rolling back the volume did yield some nice cleans. The neck pickup was thick and as with the bridge, remained clear even with tons of gain.
We were even able to mix things up with single-coil tones, thanks to the push pull coil splitting functionality.
As for additional features, it came with a double-locking genuine Floyd Rose 1500 bridge, which let us go wild with divebombs while still retaining strong tuning stability. The Schecter branded sealed-gear tuners allowed for easy fine tuning, too.
Verdict: The Schecter Reaper 6 FR delivers face-melting metal performance and is thoroughly deserving of the Editor’s Choice award. It’s a fast player, it serves up giant tones, and the genuine Floyd Rose was the icing on the cake.
- Compound fretboard radius
- Gorgeous Finish
- Huge metal tones
- Floyd Rose can make string changes tricky
- Limited color options
Fat tones and awesome metal aesthetics.
If you thought the Explorer wasn’t pointy enough, then this could be just the guitar for you. It offers comfortable, yet aggressive styling, dual humbuckers for fat tone with low noise, and even a Floyd Rose double locking tremolo, all for an insanely low price.
Jackson makes a range of great budget guitars with a metal focus, but our favorite low-cost model has to be the Jackson Kelly JS32. With an Explorer-style body, albeit with modified proportions, this model has tons of attitude and has the performance to back up the looks.
We received a Snow White example for our test, and the fit and finish was immaculate. The offset body was made with poplar, which kept the weight down while ensuring excellent resonance and sustain. The layout of the treble size horn ensured there was nothing in the way of the upper frets, which was extremely helpful for soloing.
It had a Jackson Speed profile neck, which we think gets close to the Ibanez Wizard in terms of thickness and speed. It was a bolt-on maple neck and it had a really nice amaranth fretboard. The fretboard had a compound radius, which we always love in a metal guitar. We were really pleased with the fretwork, too. For a guitar under $400 (far below the $1,000 budget), it was amazing to see just how nice the edges and even the crowns were.
For pickups, it had a pair of Jackson branded high-output humbuckers. They handled high gain really well and kept their composure whether we were playing directly through the amp or through a pedal board. The bridge pickup was a particular highlight on this model. It had pretty epic sustain, which is always nice to see and even the acoustic resonance was surprisingly noticeable.
Lead players will love the Floyd Rose double locking tremolo system. Like the Schecter, this Floyd Rose allowed us to get super creative with divebombs without worrying about losing tune. Plus, when paired with pinch harmonics, this Jackson really screamed, so of course we had tons of fun.
Unfortunately, the reduced body shape did upset the balance somewhat, which led to some neck dive. It wasn’t unbearable, but we think a relocated strap button could have gone a long way to keeping the balance right.
Verdict: After playing the Jackson Kelly JS32, we have no idea how they managed to keep the price so low. On some budget guitars, it’s easy to see the costs that were cut, but for just a little over $350, you can get an honest to goodness shredder with all the metal mojo a budget-conscious guitarist could ever need.
- High output pickups
- Aggressive looks
- Good factory setup
- String changes are difficult
- Neck dive
Big metal tones and much more.
This Les Paul style ESP LTD is a great option for players who want metal tones, but who also want a capable all rounder that works for a wider range of genres. It’s well made, it looks great, and it has one of the nicest necks you’ll find on any sub $1000 metal guitar.
The ESP LTD EC-256 is a real stalwart in this category. It’s pretty much impossible to compile a list of metal guitars and not include this model! It has a Les Paul style body, which is about as classic as it gets. We received a “Snow White” model for the test, but it does come in a pretty wide selection of great finishes.
The body was made with mahogany, which gave it a great resonance. Unlike a regular Les Paul, it didn’t have a maple cap. On the plus side, this kept the weight down, although we did think it lacked a bit of snappiness as a result. The top was still slightly carved, however, which like the Dinky, kept things comfortable when playing repetitive rhythm pieces.
Unlike the majority of the guitars in this list, it had a set mahogany neck, rather than a bolt-on. The neck was a 3-piece mahogany with a thin U profile. We found it to be comfortable and extremely fast-playing.
The ESP humbuckers were solid performers. It had an LH-150N in the neck and an LH-150B in the bridge. In the neck position, we found it delivered some rich, smooth tones, and in the bridge position it was an absolute riot, with screaming upper mids and exceptional responsiveness.
This was another guitar with coil tapping, so while it did offer single-coil tones, we found that they sounded a little too thin for metal purposes, although they still added to the overall versatility of the guitar.
We did like the aesthetics of the blacked-out hardware. It looked great against the white finish and thankfully the performance matched the looks. The tuners held strong, even when dropping by multiple steps, and the intonation was perfect right out of the box.
Verdict: The ESP LTD EC-256 is a great choice if you’re a player who wants something that can perform at a high level when playing metal, but retains the versatility to cover other genres. The overall build quality is excellent and the styling is a little more subtle than the other options in this roundup, which should appeal to those who aren’t into the pointy look.
- Comfortable carved top
- Light weight
- Good tuning machines
- Single coil tones were thin
- Only 22 frets vs 24 on the other models
How to Choose the Right Guitar For You
With a budget of $1,000, you really do open up a lot of options. While you’re most likely still looking at import models, you can find some genuinely full-featured guitars, and in many cases still come away with a bit of change in your pocket.
When you’re shopping for your next metal guitar, these are some of the features to consider.
Many guitars for metal come with a locking nut. This is a bar that clamps down on the strings at the nut position in order to hold them tight. This is typically favored by players who are heavy tremolo arm users, or those who play in drop tunings.
The point of the locking nut is to prevent the part of the string that’s wrapped around the tuning post from slipping, which is one of the leading causes of tuning instability. With a locking nut, the strings are installed, brought to pitch, and then clamped down.
Hard Tail Bridge vs Tremolo System
There are 2 schools of thought when it comes to bridge types on guitars for metal. Some swear by hard tail bridges, which are solidly affixed to the body. Hard tails are associated with excellent performance when it comes to tuning stability. They also facilitate much faster string changes – something that working musicians know is critical in the event of a broken string onstage.
While hard tail bridges are high performers when it comes to tuning stability, they don’t allow for dive bombs and other vibrato effects commonly used in metal. These techniques are made possible with the use of a tremolo or vibrato bridge. Standard floating vibrato systems are usually cheaper and don’t offer the best tuning stability. Floyd Rose systems offer the most versatile tonal range, however they tend to cost a lot more and can make string changes extremely difficult.
With a guitar for metal, you should really be looking for a model with a thin, fast-playing neck. These slim necks are commonplace, so as long as you’re looking at guitars like those highlighted in this roundup, you won’t go far wrong.
Guitars with thicker necks tend to be slower players, which will likely negatively affect your playing. It’s worth bearing in mind that guitars that have gloss neck finishes also tend to be slower playing. We recommend models with satin or semi-gloss finishes for the best possible performance.
The common theme with most metal-focused guitars is that they are equipped with humbucking pickups. Humbuckers don’t suffer from the 60-cycle hum that single coils do, which allows for more gain and higher levels of distortion without the noise.
When looking for your guitar, we recommend that at a minimum, you stick to a model with a humbucker in the bridge position. If you really need single-coil tones, look for a model with coil splitting or a HSH pickup layout.
Due to the massive international popularity of metal, there are an abundance of great guitars at all ends of the price spectrum that are built purely for high performance when playing heavier styles of music. By choosing the right guitar for metal, you’re going to be able to play your best, and ultimately progress further and faster.
To recap our favorites from this roundup…
For a great balance of price and performance, our Top Pick, the Ibanez RGA42FM, was a fast and comfortable player with great looks and reliable performance. Value conscious players will want to look towards our Best Budget pick, the Jackson Dinky Arch Top JS22 DKA, for its incredible affordability, combined with excellent clarity and aesthetically-pleasing styling.
Finally, those looking for the very best metal guitar under $1,000 should look to our Editor’s Choice, the Schecter Reaper 6 FR. This is a premium guitar designed with serious players in mind. It delivers incredible performance across the board and is packed with high-end appointments.