As with anything in life, using the right tool for the job is always going to get you the best results, and this is just as true when it comes to beginner, intermediate, and advanced players. While you can technically play anything on pretty much any guitar, you’re simply not going to get the tone and feel you want unless you’re using the right guitar.
Not only do metal guitars typically fit the metal aesthetic better than other styles, they are also equipped with thinner necks for increased playing speed, pickups that can handle extreme gain and distortion without becoming muddy, and often feature locking tuners or locking tremolo systems to ensure reliable performance in alternative tunings.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ll be taking a look at the our favorite metal guitars on the market today. We’ve covered options to suit all budgets, and while reviewing, we focused on tone, build quality, playability, and, of course, aesthetics.
- Our Top 3
- Individual Reviews (Under $500)
- Individual Reviews (Under $1000)
- Individual Reviews (Over $1000)
- How to Choose The Right Guitar For You
- Final Thoughts
Our Top 3
Top Pick Under $500
The Schecter Omen-6 is a great way to get some metal attitude without breaking the bank. Schecter is a brand with a well-earned reputation for producing metal guitars, and the Omen-6 is a perfect example of what the brand is capable of. As with many budget-friendly models these days, the Omen-6 has the kind of build quality and tone that will fool you into thinking it’s a guitar that costs much more than it really does (especially with the right strings). We highly recommend the Omen-6 for beginners or more experienced players who are watching their budget.
Top Pick Under $1000
Under $1000 category, the Sterling by Music Man MAJ100-ICR John Petrucci Signature model really fits the bill. Combining many 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 will work just as well for improving players as it would working musicians.
Top Pick Over $1000
While there is no doubt that there are some exceptional metal guitars out there, some players simply prefer models that are a cut above the rest. The Jackson Soloist SL7A MAH HT is a beautifully crafted 7-string model that we named as our top pick in the $1000 and up category. With the classic Jackson double cutaway design, great tonewoods, perfectly curated pickups, and a gorgeous ash top, this Jackson definitely stands out.
Individual Reviews (Under $500)
A fantastic all-rounder with a timeless design
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 metal guitar that offers impressive specs and amazing styling at a great price. The first thing you’ll notice when you pick it up is the fantastic balance and lightweight, making it easy to pick up the Schecter for hours without fatigue – signs of a real player’s guitar.
We loved the clean lines, unique inlays, comfortable contours, and excellent fit and finish, and we’re convinced they’ll have you fooled into thinking that this is a much more expensive guitar.
Part of the Omen’s appeal is the fantastic neck feel. Topped with a rosewood fingerboard, the bolt-on maple neck was smooth, fast, highly playable, and we thought it was the perfect size for a wide range of players.
The Diamond Plus “hot pickups” were able to do everything from mild to wild, with quality cleans, ear-pleasing crunch, and searing high gain all within their repertoire. For electronics, it included a single volume & tone control and a 3-way selector switch. We thought the pickups paired well with the resonant basswood body and offered great depth of tone and quite a lot of versatility, with decent warmth in the neck position and excellent articulation in the bridge. The Tune-O-Matic bridge and string-thru design also provided fantastic sustain.
The factory setup was excellent, with a nice low action and accurate intonation, and the quality of the fretwork was superb. On the whole, this model played well, sounded great, and was built to last. Yes, it’s affordable, but it’s not something you’ll outgrow in a year, either.
You’ll find this model in white, black, and walnut stain finishes, and lefties will appreciate that it comes in a left-handed version.
Verdict: The Schecter Omen-6 delivers fantastic fit and finish with great tones and awesome playability. It really looks the part and checks all the boxes when it comes to the core features of a metal guitar – all at a very attractive price point.
ESP LTD MH-203 QM
Great aesthetics with fantastic tone at an attractive 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 LTD’s MH series offers the looks of the upper-tier M Series in a more affordable package for those who want high-end looks and feel without the price tag.
The ESP LTD 203QM came with a mahogany body with an arched top and a H/S/S pickup configuration. It had a maple veneer, which we thought added a lot to the overall aesthetic, although because it’s not a true maple cap, there was no impact on the overall tone or resonance.
The maple fretboard was bright and fast, and the slim neck was extremely slick – ultimately, perfect for metal guitarists. Unfortunately, the offset inlays weren’t the easiest to see, but they did give the guitar a very clean look. It also featured a sculpted neck joint for fantastic upper fret access.
The H/S/S pickup configuration is a lot more versatile than the double humbucker layouts found on a lot of metal guitars. Clean tones weren’t the strongest suit for the ESP LTD, but it made up for that with its stellar high-gain tones. The ESP LTD LS pickups that it came with were custom-designed for the 200 series – they are high-output pickups with ceramic magnets that really growled when pushed but felt perhaps a little listless in low gain situations.
The tremolo system worked as intended, and with light to moderate use, tuning stability was quite strong, although it struggled with heavy trem use. As for the frets, they had decent edges, but the crowns didn’t have the best polish.
Verdict: On the whole, the ESP LTD 203QM is a great-looking metal guitar that nails the basics of comfort, design, and playability. It’s able to produce a range of good metal tones, from classic throaty overdrive, through to pretty serious chug. In all, it’s a solid option for budget-conscious players.
Ibanez RGA Series RGA742FM 7-String
For a 7-string under $500, this is as good as it gets
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) |
The Ibanez RG7421FM may be an entry-level model, but this 7-string really punches above it’s weight. This hardtail guitar has a mahogany body with a flamed maple top, plus comfortable contours and curvy lines. The Dragon Eye Burst Flat (DEF) finish not only looks great but is possibly the most metal-sounding finish we’ve ever heard of!
It featured the Wizard II-7 neck, which is one of our favorite necks on any guitar, period. It is a 3-piece maple neck with a Jatoba fingerboard, offset white dot inlay and 24 jumbo frets.
The neck was extremely fast and comfortable, with a 48mm nut width that extended to 68mm at the 24th fret. The height of action from the factory was a little high, but we were able to drop the action down to just 1.6mm without any buzz or choke out (read our guide to guitar action to understand how and why you should do this). The slim neck profile and the satin finish on the back kept it feeling slick, even with sweaty hands.
As for the electronics, the Quantum humbuckers in the neck and bridge position were passive ceramic pickups. They weren’t super high-output, but we think they did a good job at avoiding the muddiness that usually plagues cheaper pickups on metal guitars. The low end was scooped, which really helped to keep it clean and tight.
For the most part, the RGA742FM worked well for the faster genres of metal like shred and speed, but doom and sludge guitarists might want to look elsewhere – perhaps at an option with active pickups. The Quantum pickups are an Ibanez exclusive, so if you do like their tones, you’ll have to opt for this guitar or for its 6-string counterpart, the RGA42FM, or the RGA7420FM (6-string w/ tremolo bridge)
Verdict: With a good setup, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding 7-string metal guitar under $500. The Ibanez RG7421FM isn’t going to be the first choice for working musicians, but if you’re looking to get into a 7 string on a budget, it really does offer exceptional value. If you want more options, you can check out our detailed articles on the best low-budget 7 string guitars as well as the best 7 string guitars at all price points.
Individual Reviews (Under $1000)
#1 Sterling By MusicMan MAJ100-ICR John Petrucci Signature
Futuristic looks and incredible performance
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 you can’t stretch your budget to the USA-made MM Majesty, you can still pick up a Sterling by Music Man MAJ100 John Petrucci Signature for around $1000. It’s a stripped-down version with a similar overall design, including a unique basswood body, a set-thru mahogany neck, and a 12db boost feature.
This Petrucci signature model had a futuristic aesthetic, and the headstock featured the fantastic 4+2 tuner split found on most Ernie Ball models for near perfect string alignment line that added significantly to the guitar’s tuning stability. Additionally, the dual-action truss rod also helped with advanced setup options and is great for those who really like to dial in a custom feel(check out our full article on truss rods).
It had a fantastically ergonomic design built for, and in conjunction with, someone considered by many to be a true guitar legend. The guitar felt super-light, and the feel of the mahogany neck really was incredible, whether playing from a seated or standing position – just like the US-made flagship version.
The only thing we felt like we were missing out on by way of comparison with the high-end version was the signature Petrucci DiMarzio pickup set – although the majority of players will still be very happy with the pickups as they are. Regardless, the active pickups were very modern sounding and super clear, with a hint of compression that took just a little bit of heat out of the tone. They were extremely versatile and offered some of the best articulation and note separation we’ve gotten from any metal guitar at this price.
As mentioned, it featured a 12db boost, which offered a huge surge of additional power when we really wanted to stand out in a mix.
The amazing tuning stability of this guitar meant we were able to make full use of the trem system, dive bombs and all, without worrying about dropping out of pitch every few minutes. Additionally, its reliability when playing in alternative tunings was unmatched in this category.
Verdict: Despite not being the flagship version, the Sterling by Music Man MAJ100 John Petrucci is still one of the top choices for metal players available today. It offers incredible fit and finish, and the attention to detail is truly excellent. It even comes with a gig bag. Tonally speaking, it has such a huge range that it can handle practically any subgenre of metal and sounds great in the process.
Ibanez RGD Iron Label RGDIX6PB
Ibanez delivers big with this handsome, 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 Ibanez RGD Iron Label RGDIX6PB has all the features of a premium guitar but still sits under the $1000 mark. It’s part of their made-for-metal Iron Label lineup and features an asymmetric Poplar Burl top against a layered ash/mahogany body that looks incredible.
The use of an ash body was a real upgrade from the basswood used on lower-tier models, and the ebony fingerboard is an undeniable sign that this is a serious guitar. It had a 26.5-inch scale, with a maple bubinga Nitro Wizard neck designed for incredible speed and easy playability. Like most Ibanez necks, it was lightning fast and had all the hallmarks of a purpose-built metal guitar.
While the neck and body were impressive, we thought that the Fusion Edge pickups were where the real value lies. DiMarzio made these humbuckers in collaboration with Ibanez for the Iron Label product line, and they were crisp, clear, and cut like a knife. The tight lows and thick metal tone was genuinely fantastic and capable of handling anything we were able to throw at it.
The high-gain tones were gritty and gnarly, and the mids were insanely rich. The tone was incredibly clean in drop tunings, with focused bass and sparkly highs. The guitar actually shipped tuned a step down, and worked fine with 10s in standard tuning, although if you find it too tight, you can drop to 9s.
This was a hardtail model, so while we weren’t able to dive bomb, we did get rock-solid tuning stability and incredibly accurate intonation. It was well set up from the factory, too, so should you buy one, there’s no need to worry about taking it to a guitar tech right away.
Verdict: The Ibanez Iron Label RGDIX6PB is a real powerhouse. It offers a full spectrum of metal tones and exceptional playability. It looks fantastic and has high-end components and materials, plus the fit and finish to back up the aesthetics. It’s one of the more expensive options in the lineup, but if you’re a gigging player, it has the kind of reliability you really need in a stage guitar.
Schecter C-1 Hellraiser Electric Guitar
Incredible attention to detail and high-end tone
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. It had multi-ply abalone binding, black hardware, and a beautiful soft bevel carved on the quilted maple top. This guitar looked great (not just for the price), and the construction quality and finish were hard to fault.
The mahogany neck and body are the backbone of its rich and warm tone. They balanced out the (notoriously) treble-happy EMG pickups brilliantly, resulting in a particularly well-rounded tone.
Once again, Schecter’s 3-piece set mahogany neck with a 14-inch radius delivered big in terms of playability and feel in this price bracket. It had just about the perfect width, a solid thin-C shape profile, and a short heel. The uniform neck thickness and the heel ramp made it ideal for speed and upper fret access.
The highlight of this model, however, was the ability to choose between the original Floyd Rose tremolo or a Tone Pros string through Tune-O-Matic. For this test, we received the Tone Pros string through Tone-O-Matic and found that it gave us superb sustain and resonance. Of course, it did mean we weren’t able to play any dive bombs, but if you’re looking to drop-tune, you’d be better off with the hard tail anyway.
The EMG actives are a familiar tone in metal – powerful, aggressive, and well-defined. The note definition was super sharp, and the 81TW / 89R was actually able to be coil-split, giving us a massive range of tones. In fact, we think we preferred the 89R (R= Reversed coil orientation) to the standard 89 because we found that we were able to get a chimey Strat-like tone when playing clean, which further added to the versatility of the guitar.
Verdict: The Schecter Hellraiser C-1 is a fantastic option with the looks and feel of a boutique guitar and all the metal tones you could ever wish for. The build quality and reliability are exceptional, and the premium aesthetics are some of the most impressive you’ll find on any electric guitar under $1000.
Honorable Mention: Epiphone Flying V
The Flying V is an iconic model and is considered by many to be the first “extreme shape” featured on a guitar, inspiring many copies, and paving the way for today’s metal aesthetic. It’s definitely a guitar that is better suited to classic rock and metal than today’s drop tuned death and doom metal, but it definitely deserves this honorable mention for its contributions to the genre. If you can handle the unconventional ergonomics, the Epiphone Flying V is a timeless guitar that’s always going to be the center of attention on stage.
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Individual Reviews (Over $1000)
Jackson Soloist SL7A MAH HT Electric Guitar
A 7 string Super Strat with massive tone and tons of attitude
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 Jackson Soloist SL7A MAH HT is a premium hardtail 7-string, and benefitted from the unmistakable warmth and richness of a mahogany body, and interestingly, was paired with an ash top that we thought added just enough bite to the upper mids. It came to us in a fantastic transparent “Unicorn White” finish that we thought looked sensational.
The one-piece neck-through maple neck had graphite reinforcement and a massive heel cutaway – this design was ideal for unfettered upper fret access and rock-solid tuning stability. The neck profile made it feel both fast and comfortable, all while still encouraging proper form.
The ebony fingerboard featured 24 jumbo frets with unique piranha tooth inlay. It had a compound radius, with a more pronounced curve by the nut for easy chord playing and a flatter surface at the upper frets for fast soloing and single note runs.
As for electronics, it was fitted with high-output Seymour Duncan Distortion 7 pickups with ceramic magnets. They deliver a full-bodied sound that can span from rich and warm to guttural chug. The 5-way selector switch allowed for a wide range of tones, and the quality pots used in the tone and volume controls deliver a great sweep and fine control for even greater variety.
The factory setup was superb, and we thought that the SL7 had fantastic articulation, which was significantly enhanced by the hardtail bridge’s stability and the seemingly infinite sustain we got courtesy of the string through design.
Verdict: As far as 7-string metal guitars go, the Jackson Soloist SL7A MAH HT is up there with the best of them. It’s purpose-built to deliver an ultra-modern sound while retaining the classic Super Strat form factor. It’s a great choice for modern metal musicians who want a professional-grade instrument that is well-built and incredibly reliable.
ESP LTD EC-1000 EverTune Electric Guitar
Classic looks and rock-solid reliability
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 ESP LTD EC-1000ET had a Les Paul-style single-cut body made with mahogany and topped with a maple cap. It was, however, significantly lighter than a Gibson with a noticeably different tone.
The thin-U-shaped neck was topped with a beautiful ebony fingerboard and 24 extra-jumbo frets. The neck was fast and smooth and designed to facilitate the kind of playing speed that metal guitarists demand. We loved the sculpted neck joint – it gave us easy upper fret access and helped to prevent finger fatigue from setting in.
It featured a classic metal pickup setup, with a Seymour Duncan SH-2 Jazz in the neck position and a SH-4 JB bridge humbucking pickup. The SH-2 delivered incredible warmth and actually served up some fantastic blues tones, while the SH-4 JB really hit the mark with its high-gain performance, staying articulate even with heavy distortion.
While the high-end pickups were a definite draw, the EverTune bridge was really the highlight of this guitar. Like a regular bridge, each saddle is adjustable for height and intonation, but it featured a set of springs and levers that ran along the length of the bridge. These springs are designed to maintain a consistent tension on the strings, so no matter what the environmental conditions were or how hard we played, the strings remained in tune. It’s a complicated and expensive system, but it’s one that we really thought was a difference maker and made the EC-1000ET perfect for anybody who plays in extreme drop tunings.
Verdict: ESP LTD EC-1000ET is a stage and studio-ready guitar with a fantastic Evertune bridge, plus an assortment of high-end components and materials that cater to even the most demanding players. The Seymour Duncan pickups are perfect for playing metal of any style, and the playability is superb.
How to Choose The Right Guitar For You
As with any type of guitar, there is a certain set of features you should really be on the lookout for when it comes to the best metal guitars. Some manufacturers may make guitars that look aggressive, but without these features, they’ll be all bark and no bite. If you want to play metal and you’re looking for the best possible performance, keep on reading for our top tips.
Metal Guitar Tonewoods
Mahogany is a popular choice for the body of metal guitars due to its warm and rich tonal characteristics. It offers excellent sustain, deep low-end response, and pronounced midrange, making it suitable for heavy and aggressive playing styles.
Alder is a versatile wood commonly used for the guitar bodies. It offers a nice tonal balance, a punchy midrange with lots of sparkle, and it’s very light in weight. Alder is also well known for its clarity and definition.
Basswood is a lightweight and relatively affordable tonewood used in many of the guitars (particularly those at the budget end). Like Alder, it offers a balanced tonal response with a slight emphasis on the midrange.
Metal Guitar Neck Types
A bolt-on neck, particularly a bolt-on maple neck, will bring snappiness and brightness to your tone. The bolt-on construction additionally offers more in terms of durability, as the neck can always be replaced should it get damaged.
A set neck is usually dovetailed into the body at the top and glued into place. They are favored for their sustain and resonance, which is improved over bolt-on necks because of the improved connection between the body and neck. These necks also offer improved stability over bolt-on necks and offer better resistance to the kind of movement that could cause intonation issues.
Neck Through Guitars
Neck-through models have a neck that forms a single piece with the center of the guitar’s body. They’re regarded as the most stable of all and, as such, are often found on baritone guitars and other models designed for extreme drop tunings.
Extended Range Guitars
If you play modern metal or genres that require lower tunings, consider an extended-range guitar. These guitars typically have 7, 8, or more strings, allowing for greater versatility and access to lower notes.
Pickups For Metal Guitars
Active pickups are a popular choice for metal guitarists. They provide a high output signal and offer a wide range of tones suitable for heavier genres. Active pickups excel at delivering tight and focused sound, ideal for heavy riffing and soloing.
While active pickups dominate metal music, some players still prefer the sound of passive pickups. They offer a more dynamic response and a warmer tone, making them suitable for genres like classic metal and hard rock.
Metal Guitar Bridge Systems
Floyd Rose Tremolo
The Floyd Rose bridge system is a staple in the metal world. Known for its stability and ability to handle aggressive dive bombs, it allows for expressive playing while maintaining precise tuning. These bridges are combined with a locking nut that creates fantastic tuning stability, but many players find them difficult to live with when it comes to string changes.
Hardtail bridges are completely fixed and offer extremely reliable tuning stability and performance. They don’t offer as much versatility as a Floyd or other vibrato bridge, but more than make up for it in terms of additional resonance and sustain, thanks to their solid connection to the body.
Guitar Brands and Recommendations
Guitar brands known for producing excellent metal guitars include ESP and their budget line ESP LTD, Jackson, Ibanez, and Schecter. These companies have a strong reputation for building instruments tailored to metal music.
There are such a huge number of metal guitars on the market that choosing the right one can be pretty tricky. To sum up our favorite models in this roundup, in the sub $500 category, we loved the Schecter Omen 6 for its quality fit and finish and surprisingly versatile tones. In the sub $1000 category, our top pick was the Sterling by Music Man MAJ100 John Petrucci Signature. This fantastic-looking guitar offers incredible feel, amazing aesthetics, and a great array of metal tones. Finally, the Jackson Soloist SL7A MAH HT offers pro-grade performance for all kinds of metal and was our top pick when it came to the best over $1000.