Just like you wouldn’t use a sharp knife point as a screwdriver (at least, we hope you wouldn’t), you should always use the right type of guitar for the style of music that you prefer to play. And if you’re a metal head, that means you need to pick a true metal guitar in order to lay waste to the earth…
But what features make a guitar a real metal guitar?
To us here at KGR, it means several things. One, the tone has to be rich, thick, and powerful without being too muddy. Two, playability and fast action is a big deal in order to pull off some of those ‘speed of light’ riffs. And…last but not least, it has to ooze with enough metal attitude (from a visual standpoint, that is) to scare those people all the way back in the cheap seats.
Sure, you really could use any guitar in a metal setting, but let’s face it – using a Gibson ES-335 to try and jam some molten metal riffage just doesn’t…make…sense.
But out of the bajillion models out there, which ones are among the best choices?
Here’s where KGR comes in to save the day. We’ve looked at 10 of the best metal guitars on the market today and have the low-down on what makes them potentially the right choice for your personal guitar army.
But before we dig in, let’s take a quick look at our top picks:
- Our top Picks
- 3 Best Metal Guitars Under $500
- Best Metal Guitars under $1000
- Best Electric Guitars for Metal beyond $1000
Our top Picks
Best Metal Guitar under $500
The Schecter Omen-6 is a great way to get some metal attitude without having to break the bank. Schecter is a brand with a well-earned reputation for producing guitars that were meant for metal mayhem, and the Omen-6 is proof positive of what the brand has to offer. As with many so-called ‘budget’ models these days, the Omen-6 has a level of quality and bone crushing tone that will fool you into thinking it’s a guitar that cost much more than it really does. We highly recommended the Omen-6 for beginners or seasoned pros that are watching their budget.
Best Metal Guitar under $1000
Sliding up the scale somewhat, we’ve found that the Sterling by Music Man MAJ100-ICR John Petrucci Signature model (yeah – that’s a bit of a mouthful for sure) fits the bill just fine, thank you very much. We’re pretty sure that Mr. Dream Theater wouldn’t just slap his name on any old guitar, and spending just a few minutes with this machine proves our theory. Combining a good number of the features found on the top-shelf MM Majesty model with a killer aesthetic and visual design, the MAJ100-ICR is a great mid-level guitar that certainly could be your #1.
Best Metal Guitar Over $1000
While there is no doubting that there are some mighty fine budget-minded metal guitars out there, some players simply prefer models that are a cut above the rest. The Jackson Soloist SL7 HT is a finely crafted 7-string model that has landed our choice as the top pick in the category. With the classic Jackson double cutaway design, a combination of the right tonewoods and the right pickup choices, a burled top for a unique look that definitely stand out, and – maybe most importantly – that killer reverse pointy headstock (yeah!!), the SL7 is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
3 Best Metal Guitars Under $500
For Schecter fans, the Omen is a good sign.
Price: Under $500 | Body: Basswood | Body Shape: Arch Top | Color: Black | Neck: Maple (Bolt-on) | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 Jumbo | Nut Width: 42 mm | Scale Length: 25.5inch | Nut Width: 42.85 mm | Neck Pickup: Schecter Diamond Plus | Bridge Pickup: Schecter Diamond Plus Humbucker | Bridge: Tune-O-Matic | Active EQ: N/A | Gig Bag: Not Included | Stock Strings: Ernie Ball Regular Slinky 2221 (.010.046)
The Schecter Omen-6 is an entry-level model that lives up to Schecter’s “wickedly styled inexpensive guitars loaded with specs” to a T. The first thing you’ll notice when you grab hold of it is the immaculate balance and weight. It certainly deserves all the commendation it gets for good QA and a great finish.
There is something special about it, something that says you can play it for hours with no discomfort. The clean lines, unique inlays, rich contours, and spotless finish make you question the price tag.
A part of the Omen’s appeal is the great neck feel. Topped with a rosewood fingerboard, the bolt-on maple neck is smooth, fast, highly playable, and the perfect size for an average-sized person. This could arguably be the best neck you’ll find in this price bracket but YYMV.
The Diamond Plus “hot pickups” can do all the “mild-to-wild sounds” without any fuss. They’re clearly made for rock and metal. The EQ panel is simple (volume & tone) and the 3-way selector will help you toggle through some useable tones.
The pickups, though nothing extraordinary, pair well with the resonant basswood body. The Tune-O-Matic bridge and string-thru design also provide considerable sustain.
On the whole, this model plays well, sounds great, and is built to last. This isn’t something you’ll outgrow in a year. The only thing worth scrutiny is the fretwork, which would benefit from some filing. The setup and intonation, on the other hand, look good to go right out of the box.
You’ll find this model in a white, black, and walnut stain finish and you can get a left-handed model. As a tip, with a pro setup and a change of strings (EB Slink 11s), the Omen 6 can compete with axes twice the price.
Verdict: Schecter delivers a gorgeous and high value instrument, definitely a formidable choice in the entry-level category.
Hi-design, moderate output, and low price!
Price: Under $500 | Body: Mahogany | Body Shape: Arch Top | Color: See-Thru Blue | Neck: Maple (Bolt-on) | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 24 XJ | Nut Width: 42.85 mm | Scale Length: 25.5inch | Nut Width: 42 mm | Neck Pickup: ESP LS-120N | Middle Pickup: ESP LS-120M | Bridge Pickup: ESP LS-150B | Bridge: LTD Floyd Rose | Active EQ: N/A | Gig Bag: Not Included | Stock Strings: D’Addario XL120 (.009-0.042) |
ESP’s MH series offers the looks of the M Series in a China-made package for those who want a dazzling guitar with a not so dazzling price tag. With the 203QM, you’ve got a mahogany body with an arched top and H/S/S pickup configuration. The maple veneer is mostly for aesthetic value. It is a plain board with gran filler that is sealed in a satin finish. It would be silly to expect an actual maple cap under $500.
The pure white maple fingerboard is bright and fast and the neck ticks all the boxes for metal guitarists. The offset inlays are barely noticeable but give the neck a very clean look. The neck joint shape lets you dive deep for upper fret access.
The H/S/S pickup configuration is certainly more versatile than the usual double humbucker options. The guitar does an average job at clean tones but makes up for lost ground with the high gain tones. The ESP LS pickups are custom designed for the 200 series – they are high output p’ups with ceramic magnets that roar when you push the amp but can feel a little listless in low-output situations.
You could swap the passive single coils with Seymour Duncan JB but there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the LS pickups. The tremolo system works as intended, and the guitar stays in tune fairly well. Unfortunately, in what feels like a recurring theme in this price bracket, the fretwork is slipshod and could certainly use some filing down.
Verdict: On the whole, the ESP LTD 203QM is a great-looking guitar that nails the basics of comfort, design and playability.
For a 7-string under $500, this is as good as it will get.
Price: Under $500 | Body: Meranti w/ Flamed-Maple Top | Body Shape: Arch Top | Color: Dragon Eye Burst Flat | Neck: 3-pc Maple | Fingerboard: Jatoba | Frets: 24 Jumbo | Nut Width: 48 mm | Scale Length: 25.5inch | Neck Pickup: Quantum Humbucker | Bridge Pickup: Quantum Humbucker | Bridge: F107 Fixed Bridge | Active EQ: N/A | Gig Bag: Not Included | Stock Strings: D’Addario EXL110-7 (.010 – .059) |
After all, if anyone was likely to pull off a sub $500 7-stringer, it had to be Ibanez. This one made it with a cent to spare, so we’ll add another cent and review it.
The RG7421 is a hard to resist ‘entry-level’ 7-stringer that boasts of a incredulously affordable price tag. This hardtail guitar has a mahogany body with a flamed maple top with lissome contours and curvy edges. The Dragon Eye Burst Flat (DEF) and maple veneer on the headstock underpin its appealing looks.
The Wizard II-7 neck is 3-piece maple with a Jatoba fingerboard that houses 24 jumbo frets with off-set white dot inlays. The build quality is acceptable but it might need a setup as QA can vary among this product line.
On the plus side, the neck is fast and playable with a 48mm nut width that extends to 68mm at the 24th fret. You can drop the action to 1.6mm without any buzz, quite impressive for an Indonesia-made guitar. The slim neck profile, light frame, and satin finish on the back of the neck will help with agility. Unfortunately, the fretwork seems to be sketchy in parts.
As for the electronics, the Quantum humbuckers in the neck and bridge position are passive ceramic p’ups. They aren’t super high-output but they don’t have any mud or tin to detract from their perfectly reasonable capabilities either. There is something scooped in the low-end for sure, possibly to keep it clean and tight. The 5-way pickup selector and EQ panel can be used to dial in a lot of serviceable tones, and not just for metal.
For the most part, the RGA742FM will work well for the faster and cleaner genres of metal but doom and sludge guitarists should move on to the next choice. If you do love the Quantums, for their decent attack and clean tones, you won’t find them anywhere else because they’ve been custom designed for Ibanez. Although, you will find them on the RGA42FM (the 6-string model) or the RGA7420FM (6-string w/ tremolo bridge).
With a good setup and an upgrade of the nut and strings, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better sounding 7-string guitar under $500. Now you probably won’t use this to record a serious album, but what you get for the price is all money well spent. If you want more options, you can check out our detailed article on the best low-budget 7 string guitars.
Best Metal Guitars under $1000
MAJ100 brings the Dream if you’ve got the Theatrics.
Price: Under $1000 | Body: Mahogany | Body Shape: ICR Shape | Color: Artic Dream (ADR), Ice Crimson Red (ICR) | Neck: 3-piece mahogany (set thru) | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 Medium Jumbo | Nut Width: 42 mm | Scale Length: 25.5inch | Neck Pickup: Sterling Ceramic Humbucker | Bridge Pickup: Sterling Ceramic Humbucker | Bridge: Modern Tremolo | Active EQ: No | Gig Bag: Deluxe Sterling Gig Bag | Stock Strings: EB 2221 Regular Slinky |
If Petrucci’s tone and playing inspires you and can’t afford the USA-made MM Majesty, you can get the MAJ100 under $1000. It’s a “stripped down” version with a similar overall design. You’ve still got the lithe basswood body, the svelte set-thru mahogany neck, the 12db boost with a different set of pickups.
As for the design, the futuristic aesthetic results in peerless styling and the headstock sports the unusual “4+2” musician die-cast tuner split. This unequal string split results in an uninterrupted line that adds to the guitar’s ability to stay in tune, which it does brilliantly, no matter what you put it through. Additionally, the dual-action truss rod also helps with advanced setup options.
This ergonomic design is built for, and in consultation with, a guitar virtuoso. It has been executed by a brand that has firmly established its credentials for decades. It’s no surprise that it impresses at every level. The guitar feels super-light, plays super-vibrant and sounds like a lightning bolt from hell. The only thing you are likely to miss is the signature Petrucci DiMarzio pickups, although you could always make the upgrade or spent an extra $2k and go for the real deal.
The active pickups are very modern and clean. They have a pleasing tint of compression that evens out the heat of the pickups, which should please the fusion and clean tone enthusiasts. The tremolo can dive dark and deep without disturbing the tuning and the push/pull knobs and a 3-way switching system can take you from mellow clean fusion-friendly chord tones to high octane face melting solos.
The guitar can handle all drop tunings without compromising the versatile and responsive tonality. The 12db boost is incredible when you want to kick into manic heat to end a “majestic” solo (pun intended).
Now, pitched squarely, you may think this is too good to be true. However, this instrument is a treasure trove of thoughtful and intelligent design tweaks. From the 2-way switch design to the sharp angled neck to the truss-rod adjustment wheel recessed past the neck joint – there is meticulous detailing hidden beneath the obvious.
The Indonesia-made guitar isn’t comparable to its USA-made equivalent, or even the Majesty but it is set up and inspected in America and comes with a top shelf heavy-duty padded gig bag.
Verdict: The MAJ100 is a beast in its own right, and not some “budget-version of Petrucci’s guitar” even though that’s the way it is portrayed.
Ibanez delivers with a no-frills metal-ready monster.
Price: Under $1000 | Body: Poplar burl top with Swamp ash/mahogany | Body Shape: Solid Body | Color: Surreal Black Burst (SKB) | Neck: 3-piece Maple/Bubinga | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 24 Medium Jumbo | Nut Width: 42 mm | Scale Length: 26.5inch | Neck Pickup: DiMarzio Fusion Edge Humbucker | Bridge Pickup: DiMarzio Fusion Edge Humbucker | Bridge: Gibraltar Standard II | Active EQ: No | Gig Bag: Deluxe Sterling Gig Bag | Stock Strings: Stock Strings (.010-.046) |
The RGD model we’ve picked has all the features of a premium guitar without breaching the $1000 mark. It is part of their made-for-metal Iron Label lineup with an asymmetric Poplar Burl top pitted against a layered ash/mahogany body. To begin with, the asymmetrical Poplar Burl top looks far too gorgeous to be captured in a photograph.
The ash body could arguably be considered an upgrade from basswood, but the an ebony fingerboard is undeniable a step up. The 26.5inch scale with a Maple Bubinga Nitro Wizard neck is designed to accommodate speed/agility and optimize clarity. It is lightning fast and high on playability, like most Ibanez necks, and has all the hallmarks of a shred-machine.
However, the Fusion Edge pups are where the real value lies. DiMarzio made these humbuckers in collaboration with Ibanez for the Iron Label product line. They are crisp, clear and cut like a knife – a really sharp knife. The tight lows and resounding “ready-for-metal” tone is veritable pristine; ready for anything you intend to throw at it.
The high gain tones are gritty and gnarly and the mids remain rich throughout all the tweaking and twirling of knobs. The tone is incredulously clean in low tunings with focused bass and sparkly highs. We’d wager a bet that this model (and series in general) might become a mainstay that will win over metal guitarists for years to come. The guitar ships tuned a step down and works fine with 10s in standard tuning, however if you find it too tight you can drop to 9s.
If you are willing to stretch the budget you can go for the Premium and Prestige versions or the premium Ibanez S series. And, for the record, this model is also available as a 7 and 9 string model or the RGIB21 (Baritone).
Verdict: The Iron Label RGDIX6PB is a powerful and no-frills guitar that is quick, articulate, responsive and affordable.
Dressed for the ramp, designed to raise hell.
Price: Under $1000 | Body: Mahogany | Body Shape: C-1 | Color: Black Cherry | Neck: 3-pc Mahogany (Bolt-on) | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 XJ | Nut Width: 42mm | Scale Length: 25.5inch | Neck Pickup: EG 89R | Bridge Pickup: EMG81TW | Bridge: Tone Pros T3BT | Active EQ: Yes | Gig Bag: Not Included | Stock Strings: EB Regular Slinky 2221 (.010-.046) |
The C-1 Hellraiser is the OG double-cut super strat body shape with a carved top that went on to inspire the Ibanez SZ series guitars. You’ve got the multi-ply abalone binding, the black hardware, the soft bevel carved on the quilted maple and the list goes on. This guitar looks great (not just for the price) and the construction/finish is hard to fault.
The mahogany neck and body are the back bone of its rich and warm vibrations. They balance out the treble-happy EMG pups brilliantly. This is an exemplary pairing of tone woods and electronics – an impeccable union that yields a well-balanced tone.
Once again, Schecter’s 3-piece set-in neck with a 14” inch radius sets a benchmark for playability and feel in this price bracket. It has the perfect width, a solid thin-C shape profile and a short heel. The uniform neck thickness and the heel ramp make it ideal for speed and upper fret access. Although, it may lead you to ponder how killer this axe would be with an ebony fingerboard.
The highlight of this model, however, is the ability to choose between the original Floyd Rose tremolo or a Tone Pros string-thru Tune-O-Matic. We’ve selected the Tone Pros string-thru Tone-O Matic (paired with graph-tech tusq nut) because it has better sustain and allows the mahogany richness to shine through. It is also cheaper than the FR version, which spills over the $1k mark.
The EMG actives are an exceedingly familiar tone in metal music – powerful, aggressive, and well-defined. The note definition is sharp as hell and the 81TW / 89R can be coil-split to obtain a massive range of tones. In fact, we prefer the 89R (R= Reversed coil orientation) to the standard 89 because it can be used to get a Strat-like tone which adds to the versatility of the clean tones.
It has the looks and feel of a boutique guitar and the sounds that can serve you for the better part of a decade. If you want to keep under $1000 (by a dollar) you’ll have a tough time finding a better instrument.
Verdict: The Schecter Hellraiser C-1 is a fantastic option that makes this category as exciting for up-and-coming guitarists as it does for pros.
Honorable Mention: Epiphone Flying V
A classic like the Flying V will never go out of style. It has been around long enough to be its own testimonial. They only reason we didn’t include a flying-V in our list was because it can be a little impractical. It requires a certain inherent flamboyance and love for the unconventional design. The body shape also poses some “comfort challenges” for couch playing, individual practice and long sessions. However, if those issues don’t deter you, the Epiphone Flying V is a piece of art high on performance and grandiosity.
Check price and reviews on Amazon.
Best Electric Guitars for Metal beyond $1000
The reasonably priced high-output neck-thru 7-string guitar.
Price: $1k+ | Body: Mahogany w/ Poplar Burl | Body Shape: Soloist | Color: Black Cherry | Neck: Maple (Neck-thru) | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 24 Jumbo | Nut Width: 47.6mm | Scale Length: 25.5inch | Neck Pickup: Seymour Duncan SH6-7 | Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan Distortion TB-6| Bridge: Jackson HT7 String-Trhough-Body | Active EQ: Yes | Gig Bag: Not Included | Stock Strings: Nickel Plated Steel (.009-.054 Gauges) |
The SL7 is the source of Jacob Toy’s (Signs of the Swarm) lightening deathcore riffs and brutal breakdowns. It is a premium hardtail 7-stringer that does a terrific job at the various inflections of the metal sound and style. The unmistakable warmth and richness of the mahogany body is paired with a poplar burl top that adds some zing to the upper mids. You’ll find this model in a variety of finish options that play on the stunning figure top grain with transparent finish.
The single piece set-thru maple neck is fitted with a graphite reinforcement and scarf joint. The design is ideal for upper fret access and rock-solid tuning stability. The neck profile is great for speed and playing comfort.
The ebony fingerboard hosts 24 jumbo frets with quirky alumiloid piranha tooth inlays. The neck is intricately designed with a curvature at the nut for chording that flattens out gradually to accommodate speedy licks in the upper register. You can dole out lightening licks and wide bends without the need to fret out your hand at the 12th fret.
The Seymour Duncan SH pickups are high output pups with ceramic magnets and hot coil windings. They deliver a full bodied sound that can span from rich ‘n clean to gritty ‘n gnarly. You can further modify and refine their versatile tones with the 5-way selector blade and knob tweaks. Throughout the wide spectrum of tones, the SL7 retains a pristine and precise voice that is enhanced by the HT7 hardtail bridge’s stability and the seemingly infinite string-through sustain.
As far as 7-string guitars go, the SL7 is an ergonomic beast, bred to deliver an ultra-modern sound through a superior design. It a worthy consideration for modern metal musicians who want a professional instrument that is consistent and reliable. If you dig a little, you’ll probably find these going for a touch under $1k on most e-commerce platforms.
Verdict: The SL7 HT is a highly versatile instrument with an ergonomic design and excellent electronics.
A promise that you’ll never tune with the Ever Tune.
Price: $1k+ | Body: Mahogany | Body Shape: Soloist | Color: Black | Neck: Mahogany (Neck-thru) | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 24 XJ | Nut Width: 42mm | Scale Length: 24.75inch | Neck Pickup: Seymour Duncan Jazz | Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan JB | Bridge: Evertune (F model) | Active EQ: Yes | Gig Bag: Not Included | Stock Strings: D’Addario XL120 (.009-.042) |
The EC-1000ET is a part of the LTD range of guitars that are pre-fitted with the F-model Ever Tune Bridge. Now, you can also get the Ever Tune bridge as a standalone bridge and have a guitar tech retrofit it to any guitar you already own. Alternatively, you could get any of the differing models with 6, 7, or 8-strings from ESPs catalog.
The EC-1000ET has a Les Paul-like single-cut mahogany body topped with a maple cap (not veneer). It is significantly lighter than a Gibson with a tangibly different tone. It has a luxurious but vintage-looking charm – poles apart from the aggressively styled guitars metal is privy to. The components, hardware and finish are first-rate beyond doubt.
The thin-U neck is topped with a rosewood fingerboard that houses 24 jumbo frets. The neck is fast and smooth – designed to accommodate all the histrionics of metal guitarists. The neck joint will let you dive deep and the ET system keeps the intonation clean. The active pickups (especially the EMG 81) are assertive and commanding but at the same time the neck EMG 60 can sound out pleasantly warm tones. From mellow to meltdown, versatility will not be an issue.
The EverTune is the distinguishing factor and we’ll focus on that since it is the reason we’ve picked this model. The EC-1000 has a tailpiece with screws on either side of the TonePro locking bridge system. Every string has its individual lever and spring and you can adjust the saddles to accommodate the tension. You’ll need a 2.5mm allen wrench to adjust each spring and the row of screws that are adjust the intonation. It may sound like work but it only needs to be done once.
The best way to notice the ET’s brilliancy is to try arpeggios in the upper register and notice how everything sounds more musical than usual. From unreal note-bending to string stretching to knocking the neck – you’ll find it hard to shake the tuning on this guitar.
Whether you use alternate tunings or need consistent intonation for double and trick-tracked metal guitars in the studio, the EC-1000ET delivers consistency and offers complete control. If this functionality appeals to you, all arguments for are against it are essentially moot.
Verdict: ESP LTD EC-1000ET is a stage and studio ready instrument with the highly acclaimed Evertune bridge, excellent components/electronics that cater to a rich and versatile tonal palate.
We hope our genuine list with in-depth reviews will help you find the right tool for the job – unleashing hell. As always, do your research, ask questions, spend your money where it matters, and have fun!
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Cover image courtesy of Flickr user nrk-p3 under creative common license