While some players pick up their first guitar and figure out what kind of music they like playing further down the line, there are many who decide right from the get go that they want to play a certain genre almost exclusively. If you fall into the second camp, it really does make sense to start out with a guitar that suits the style of play you want to get into – for example if you love metal, it really makes sense to look at the best metal guitars for beginners when you’re shopping!
Metal guitars are uniquely positioned to offer the type of tones and playability guitarists need. They aren’t just different aesthetically – they often have specialist hardware and electronics in order to meet these demands.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ll be looking at the 7 best metal guitars for beginners. We’ll be covering a range of guitars to suit all budgets, and in the reviews we’ll focus on build quality, tones, features, and of course, style.
ESP LTD James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte
Features: Alnico magnet, Anodized gold basket, 40W power rating
Benefits: Superb clarity/articulation, Extremely touch responsive, Great for all genres
Schecter Omen Elite-6 FR
Features: Floyd Rose bridge, Thin C neck, 2 Schecter Heretic humbuckers
Benefits: Fantastic playability, Stunning aesthetics, Rock solid tuning stability
Ibanez Gio GRX70QA
Features: Infinity RS HSH pickups, Slim GRX neck, 12" Radius
Benefits: Easy shredding, Excellent high gain clarity, Lightweight and comfortable
- ESP LTD James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte
- Schecter Omen Elite-6 FR
- Ibanez Gio GRX70QA
- Our Top 3
- Individual Reviews
- How to Choose The Right Guitar For You
- Final Thoughts
Our Top 3
If you’re looking for the best possible blend of price and performance, we’d highly recommend our Top Pick, the Schecter Omen Elite 6. It’s an incredibly handsome guitar with its burl finish, it sounds amazing, and the extreme cutaways provide amazing upper fret access.
For players on a tighter budget, our Best Budget option, the Ibanez Gio GRX70QA delivers excellent tones and playability at an almost unbelievable price point. It has a versatile pickup arrangement, and handles practically every subgenre of metal with ease.
Now, if you’re looking for the best metal guitar for beginners, period, then our Editor’s Choice, the ESP LTD James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte is an incredible choice. It offers high end craftsmanship, huge tone, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the best looking metal guitars on the market, too.
Schecter Omen Elite 6 FR
Stunning looks and serious performance.
With this amazing shredder you’re getting a guitar that’s (figuratively speaking) metal to the core. With its twin humbuckers, lightning fast neck, and Floyd Rose trem system, it’s ready to rock hard right out of the box.
The Schecter Omen Elite 6 FR we received for this test was finished in “See Thru Blue Burst”, which looked amazing. It had a solid mahogany body, topped with a beautiful poplar burl cap that peeked through the translucent finish.
It had a bolt on maple neck cut into an incredibly fast playing Thin C profile. It was fantastically slim, which made it extremely comfortable. New players in particular will find it to be very forgiving, but it still offers the kind of performance more advanced players demand, especially thanks to the satin finish.
Topping the neck was a wonderful rosewood fretboard, with a nice, flat 14” radius. We found that the fretwork was all very nicely finished, with all 24 jumbo frets being properly leveled, well polished, and free of sharps.
The electronics on the Omen Elite were far better than average at this price point. It was equipped with a pair of Schecter Heretic humbucking pickups, which gave us some huge tones. They delivered everything from soaring clean leads to punishing chug, and yet, they retained clarity – we found no muddiness whatsoever.
As for hardware, it had a fantastic double locking Schecter Floyd Rose Special tremolo system, which helped the guitar to retain nigh on perfect tuning stability even when our trem use got borderline abusive! Both the Floyd system and the tuning machines were finished in matte black, which added a lot to the overall aesthetic
We found the out of the box setup to be excellent. It arrived already in tune, the neck was perfectly straight, and the action was low and buttery smooth. It was comfortable to play, and it had great ergonomics, too.
Verdict: The Schecter Omen Elite 6 FR is a phenomenal all rounder for metal. It gave us great tone whether we were plugged straight into an amp, or through a signal chain, and the clarity was superb – especially when you consider the price. As far as looks went, it screamed high end, and the playability lived up to the aesthetics, too.
- Great pickups
- Superb fit and finish
- Fast neck
- Floyd Rose can make string changes tricky
- Fretboard didn’t have a compound radius
Ibanez Gio GRX70QA
High end playability and a rock bottom price.
This is the type of guitar that always raises eyebrows – in a good way! It has a gorgeous burl finish, as well as a phenomenally versatile pickup selection that serves up some amazing metal tone, and yet, It's one of the most attainably priced metal guitars on the market.
The body of the Ibanez Gio GRX70QA was made with solid poplar, which kept it lightweight and there was a lovely maple burl finish on the top. The burl was visible through the transparent black sunburst finish, which had a fantastic metal aesthetic.
It had a GRX profile neck, which we found to be smooth, and lightning-fast. The neck was made with maple and was a bolt-on, which helped a lot with the snappy feel and sound of this guitar. We did like the purpleheart fretboard, too – it had a 12” radius, which was a good middle ground for both rhythm and lead playing.
The pickups were Ibanez branded “Infinity” models. The neck and bridge position pups were humbuckers, and there was a single coil in the middle. Having that HSH layout really helped with tonal variety, and even allowed for some good cleans, plus rock and blues tones, as well as a wide array of metal tones, from classic ‘70s, to ‘80s hair metal, ‘00s nu metal, and even modern chug.
It featured a tremolo bridge, which we found useful for creating interesting tonal textures. Unusually for a trem on a budget guitar, we were able to use it quite extensively without much negative impact on tuning stability. Tuning machines were sealed gear units that we found to be good performers, with easy fine-tuning, and no slip.
It was well set up right out of the box, too. The action was low, and the 9 gauge strings felt just right. The neck was straight, there was no fret buzz or choke out, and overall it played like a guitar that had been set up by a pro.
Verdict: The Ibanez Gio GRX70QA might be a budget guitar, but as one of the best guitars in Ibanez’s range, it definitely punches above its weight. It’s an extremely comfortable player, and offers a massive range of tones, which makes it ideal for beginners who might not quite have their minds made up on a favorite genre yet. It looks great, and sounds just as good, too.
- Good quality trem system
- Solid tuning stability
- Light weight
- No locking tuners
- Pickup selector switch was easily bumped
ESP LTD James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte
The perfect blend of power and playability.
This is a guitar that any metal fan would love to have in their collection. It was designed by Metallica frontman, James Hetfield from his own original concept, so not only is it fantastically good looking, it’s perfectly balanced, too. The EMG pickups deliver killer tones, and the locking tuners keep this thing at pitch even in extreme conditions.
Loosely based on the legendary Gibson Explorer shape, the ESP LTD James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte nails the metal aesthetic while still delivering high end performance.
The body was made with mahogany, which added considerably to the tonal thickness and sustain. For the test, we were lucky enough to get our hands on the camo finish which really did look fantastic – if camo isn’t your thing, it’s also available in a matte black and a matte white finish.
It had an amazing “Thin U” neck profile, which made it fast playing and extremely comfortable. The macassar ebony fretboard had 22 extra jumbo frets, and had a 13.7” radius – just as per Hetfield’s specs. The fretwork was exceptionally finished, with a mirror polish on the perfectly leveled crowns, and immaculate edge work.
The pickups were yet another collaborative effort, although in this case between Hetfield and EMG. These active EMG JH HET pickups are based on the 85/81 models that Hetfield has used for most of his career, but feature oversized ceramic and steel pole pieces. As promised, they delivered more articulation and clarity than a typical active pickup, but still retained the huge output and tight bottom end.
It had all blacked out hardware, including the Tonepros locking Tune-O-Matic type bridge and the ESP LTD branded locking tuners. The locking tuners were some of the best we’ve seen recently; they made string changes incredibly quick and easy, and they held firm in every alternative and drop tuning we could throw at it.
Verdict: The ESP LTD James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte is, simply put, an amazing guitar. Its perfectly balanced body, combined with its fantastic neck made it an absolute joy to play, and the EMG signature pickups are borderline perfection. It serves up punishing tones and looks incredible in the process.
- Locking tuners
- Perfectly balanced body
- Comfortable neck
- Pickups need batteries
Jackson Pro Series Signature Mick Thomson Soloist SL2
A great choice for heavy riffs and lightning fast solos.
This guitar is a bona fide shred machine that’s designed with one purpose in mind - delivery of tight, precise tones. It was created with input from Slipknot's very own Mick Thomson, and offers high end construction quality, Seymour Duncan pickups, great playability, and awesome metal aesthetics.
The Jackson Pro Series Signature Mick Thomson Soloist SL2Q had a mahogany body, which did make it a little heavier than similar guitars of this style that are typically made with poplar. Like all Mick Thomson signatures, it’s available in 2 simple colors – black, or white. Our test model had the Arctic White finish, and was trimmed with black binding on the upper side of the body.
If you like thin necks, you’ll probably love this Jackson. It had a graphite reinforced maple through body neck, carved into the famous Jackson Speed Profile. We really loved the feel, which was made even better by the oil finished back. On top, it had an ebony fretboard with a 12-16″ compound radius and 24 well polished jumbo frets.
It had two Seymour Duncan Blackout AHB-3S pickups. Like the Hetfield signature these are active pickups, and do require batteries. We found them to be thick and extremely well composed with heavy distortion, with great mids and a tight bottom end. It was equipped with just a single volume knob, exactly as per Thomson’s own spec. This isn’t going to suit players who are used to controlling their sound using both tone and volume pots, but if you tend to play with your tone dimed all the time, this shouldn’t be an issue.
We were a bit disappointed to see, however, that it didn’t come with a Floyd Rose trem. It had a Jackson locking nut system that provided flawless tuning stability, but made string changes as complicated as a Floyd, but without the benefits. We think a standard set of locking tuning machines and a regular hard tail bridge would have probably been a better option for those of us who don’t have our own guitar techs!
Verdict: Despite its shortcomings, the Jackson Pro Series Signature Mick Thomson Soloist SL2Q is a good choice for metal guitarists looking for an aggressive looking, and sounding, guitar. It offers great playability, excellent pickups, and high end build quality, making it a solid option for a wide range of players.
- Excellent craftsmanship
- Thin neck profile
- Great tone
- Heavy body
- Complicated string changes
Jackson Dinky Archtop JS32-7 DKA HT
A great value guitar with a powerful bottom end.
This entry level 7 string delivers solid performance at a fantastic price. It's reliable, and thanks to its proven layout of two humbuckers and hardtail bridge, it can handle brutal metal styles without breaking a sweat. It's a comfortable player, and makes for a great first 7 string.
The Jackson Dinky Archtop JS32-7 DKA HT was made with a lightweight poplar body and cut into a familiar super Strat body style. The test model we received for this roundup was finished in Snow White and really didn’t look much different to the arctic white finish on the Mick Thomson signature. As evidenced by the model name, it did have an arch top, which always makes for a comfortable playing experience, especially for extended periods of fast down picking.
The one piece maple neck had a Jackson Speed profile, and was fast playing. Being a 7 string, of course, the neck was wider than on the other models on test, but we still think it would be manageable for newer players. It had an amaranth fretboard, which we found a little dry, although it had a nice 12-16″ compound radius, which was a plus point for the Dinky.
It was loaded with a pair of Jackson branded humbucking pickups. We got on very well with the bridge pickup, which remained tight and generally pretty well composed whether we scooped or boosted the mids. The neck, on the other hand, was a little muddy, and we had trouble cutting through the mix in this position.
Being a hardtail model there was no tremolo arm, but this ultimately led to excellent tuning stability, which is a must with any guitar – but it’s especially important with metal guitars, particularly if you’ll be drop tuning. The headstock design also helped with the tuning stability, with a straight pull design that kept tension even on all 7 strings.
It had basic Jackson sealed gear tuning machines, which performed well, but once again, we would have loved to have seen locking machines.
Verdict: Jackson has been making some of the best metal guitars in the business since the ‘80s, and the Jackson Dinky Archtop JS32-7 DKA HT is really representative of this reputation. As far as entry level 7 strings go, this guitar is about as good as they get. It’s well made, reliable, and comfortable to play, which are the 3 most important facets in any beginner guitar.
- Lightweight poplar body
- Good playability
- Excellent tuning stability
- Muddy neck pickup
- Dry fretboard
Epiphone Extura Prophecy
Iconic looks and killer active tones.
This guitar is a great choice for the modern metal guitarist. It's packed with high end features, and delivers aggressive performance that would work well in any subgenre of metal. It boasts high end Fishman Fluence pickups, a stunning flamed maple top, and classic Explorer styling.
The Epiphone Extura Prophecy EX is definitely an aggressive looking guitar, with its angular and aggressive styling. It’s an Explorer style guitar with a solid mahogany body, but unusually for this model, it came with a gorgeous flamed maple top. Our test model had the Purple Tiger Aged Gloss finish, and it was easily one of the best looking guitars in the entire field.
It had a mahogany neck with an asymmetrical SlimTaper profile, which really took some getting used to. In all honesty we’d have preferred the standard SlimTaper D shape featured on most Epiphone models, as it’s a proven profile that works well for the broadest possible range of players.
It was loaded with Fishman Fluence ceramic humbuckers in the bridge and neck positions. This is an active pickup system, and as such it offered a great range of tones – from silky smooth cleans to crushing modern metal lead tones. They gave us amazing sustain, and were incidentally some of the quietest pickups we’ve ever heard, even with maxed out gain settings on the amp.
The guitar came with Epiphone’s LockTone Tune-O-Matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece, which provided excellent intonation. In addition to the excellent bridge setup, it also came with Grover locking Rotomatic tuners, which happen to be some of our favorite machines. They gave us amazing stability, and really made string changes a quick and easy affair.
Verdict: The Epiphone Extura Prophecy EX is a hugely impressive guitar. It’s aesthetically stunning, and it performs incredibly well for the price. The active Fishman pickups give you a huge range of tones, from crisp cleans to sharp modern metal leads. It has great tuning stability thanks to its LockTone bridge and Grover locking tuners, and it’s fantastically well balanced, too.
- High end Fishman pickups
- Stunning flamed maple top
- Grover locking tuners
- Asymmetrical neck didn't feel great
- Quite heavy
Schecter Damien Platinum 6 FR
High end features and extreme playability.
For the modern metal player who needs a 6-string guitar packed with high-end features, this Schecter is a great place to start looking. From its high tech set-neck construction to its active EMG pickups, it's designed for maximum feel and forgiveness, as well as huge tones.
Aesthetically speaking, the Schecter Damien Platinum 6 FR is definitely an eye-catcher. Our test model came in a fantastic Satin Black finish, giving it that mean metal look a lot of today’s players really want. It also featured an arch top body, which like the Jacksons on test, made it very comfortable for fast rhythm playing.
The 3 piece set maple neck was made from mahogany and featured a thin C profile, which felt great in our hands. The fretboard was made from rosewood and had bat motif fret markers, which really suited the overall aesthetic. It had 24 jumbo frets which had nice smooth edges, but disappointingly for a guitar at this price, had slightly rough crowns. Of course, this can be fixed with a fret dressing, but we’d expected better out of the box.
For electronics, it was loaded with active EMG-85 and 81 pickups in the neck and bridge positions respectively. This is an iconic pairing, particularly for metal, and it gave us a good range of metal tones, from thick lead lines, to pulverizing chug. They kept their articulation well no matter what we threw at them, and we found that they were able to both blend into a mix or cut right through depending on our attack and amp settings.
The Damien Platinum 6 FR also came with a genuine Floyd Rose Bridge and locking nut. This was a great inclusion, and definitely added to the premium feel of the guitar. Tuning stability didn’t falter at all, even after heavy tremolo use. Another telling feature about the thought and effort that went into this guitar was the use of Grover Rotomatic tuners, even though there was a locking nut.
Verdict: The Schecter Damien Platinum 6 FR is a hugely impressive guitar for the modern metal player. The hardware and electronics are incredibly well-thought out, and its playability was absolutely superb. Divebombs come easily, and tuning stability remains solid, too thanks to the genuine Floyd Rose system. It’s got pretty much anything you could ever ask from a metal guitar, and makes a great choice for beginners.
- Active EMG pickups
- Floyd Rose bridge and locking nut
- Grover Rotomatic tuners
- Fret crowns were a bit rough
- Quite expensive
How to Choose The Right Guitar For You
If you need a little help deciphering the various jargon and terminology used in the description of guitars for metal to help you choose the right features for you, check out our buyer’s guide below.
When shopping for your metal guitar, you’ll want to make sure you’re looking for a thin, fast playing neck. The most common shapes are D, U, and C, with some models even featuring asymmetrical profiles.
Thin necks will allow you to reach for notes and move through your scales much more quickly than you would be able to with a thicker neck. Thin necks do result in a loss of warmth in the tone, but ultimately this is fairly inconsequential for most metal players, anyway.
Active vs. Passive Pickups
Active pickups were first introduced in the 1970s and quickly gained popularity due to their high output and increased clarity. Passive pickups, on the other hand, have been around much longer.
The main difference between active and passive pickups is that active pickups require a battery to function while passive pickups do not. The vast majority of active pickups also have an onboard preamp which further enhances the signal before it reaches the amplifier. This gives active pickups a louder, clearer sound than passive pickups. However, this also means that active pickups require more maintenance than passive pickups since you need to regularly change the batteries.
Passive pickups are much simpler devices. They don’t require a battery to function and they don’t have an onboard preamp. This makes them less expensive than active pickups and easier to maintain. However, passive pickups don’t produce as strong of a signal as active Pickups, meaning they can sound a bit weaker and muddier at high gain than their active counterparts.
If you want a pickup that delivers a clear, powerful signal with minimal hassle, then active pickups are the way to go. If you’re on a tighter budget, or you prefer a warmer sound, then passive pickups might be a better option for you.
Hardtail vs. Floyd Rose Bridges
Hardtail and Floyd Rose bridges are the 2 main types found in guitars for metal.
A hardtail bridge is a type of guitar bridge that is solidly fixed to the body of the guitar. This means that the string tension is always constant, which results in strong tuning stability. Hardtail bridges are simple in design and easy to intonate, which makes them ideal for beginner guitarists. Additionally, they transfer vibration to the body better than FR bridges, which results in better resonance and sustain.
Floyd Rose Bridge
Floyd Rose bridges allow the guitarist to raise or lower the pitch of the strings using a lever, sometimes known as a “whammy bar”.
Floyd Rose bridges are more complex in design than hardtail and even standard tremolo/vibrato bridges, which can make them difficult to intonate, and can make string changes a pretty tedious process. On the plus side – a major benefit of the Floyd Rose is that they come with a locking nut, which clamps the strings down tight for amazing tuning stability in the most extreme conditions.
If you’re a beginner guitarist who is looking for an easy-to-use guitar with good tuning stability, a hardtail bridge is a great option. If you’ve got a little more experience, or you’re looking to get started in learning divebombs and vibrato techniques, a Floyd Rose bridge might be right for you.
We’ve governed a wide range of guitars in this roundup, from entry level bargains, to high end models that still offer the type of features and playability that beginners will find most beneficial.
To recap our favorites from this review – if you’re trying to spend as little as possible and still get a great guitar, our best budget option, the Ibanez Gio GRX70QA, makes a fine choice. If you’re looking for something that punches above its weight in comparison to its price tag and you’re able to spend a little more, our top pick, the Schecter Omen 6 Elite FR, might be just the guitar you’re looking for. If you’re simply looking for the very best beginner guitar for metal, and price isn’t a concern, we highly recommend our editor’s choice, the amazing ESP LTD James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte.