Best Guitar for Metal

The best metal guitars are the Ibanez RG550 Genesis, Ibanez S521, ESP LTD M-Black Metal, Jackson JS Series Rhoads JS32, and Schecter C-7 DELUXE.

This post contains affiliate links (learn more in my disclosure).

If you’re a metalhead looking for the ideal guitar, you need a powerhouse that embodies metal’s raw energy and power. So what’s the best guitar for metal?

Audio summary:

YouTube player

I grew up learning riffs from metal bands like Between the Buried and Me, Meshuggah, and the Dillinger Escape Plan, so I have a few things I look for in metal guitars. In this comprehensive guide I’ll discuss top metal guitars, highlight vital features to consider, and equip you with the skills to make an informed choice. And if you want to compare brands against each other, check out the best electric guitar brands.

Top 5 Metal Guitar Picks

My top five picks are the Ibanez RG550 Genesis, Ibanez S521, ESP LTD M-Black Metal, Jackson JS Series Rhoads JS32, and The Schecter C-7 DELUXE. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to just over $1,000, though you can get some amazing instruments if you have $2,000 or $3,000 to spend. Below you can compare these guitars head to head:

FeatureIbanez RG550 GenesisIbanez S521ESP LTD M-Black MetalJackson JS Series Rhoads JS32The Schecter C-7 DELUXE
Body WoodBasswoodMerantiMahoganyPoplarMahogany
Neck WoodMaple/WalnutMapleMapleMapleMaple
FretboardMapleJatobaEbonyAmaranthRosewood
Scale Length25.5″25.5″25.5″25.5″26.5″
Frets2424242424
PickupsV7, S1, V8QuantumEMG 81High-Output HumbuckersSchecter Diamond Plus
BridgeEdgeFixedTune-O-MaticTune-O-MaticTonePros Tune-O-Matic
Strings66667
Suitable ForShred, MetalRock, MetalExtreme MetalMetal, Hard RockMetal, Progressive

Ibanez RG550 Genesis

The Ibanez RG550 RG Genesis is an excellent electric guitar for playing metal music. It features a lightweight basswood body that provides excellent sustain and resonance, making it comfortable to play for extended periods. The guitar is equipped with a Wizard II maple neck, which offers fast and smooth playability, allowing for quick and precise shredding and soloing. The Ibanez V7 and V8 humbucking pickups deliver powerful and aggressive tones, perfect for achieving the high-gain distortion and clarity required in metal genres. Additionally, the Edge tremolo bridge enables precise tuning stability and expressive tremolo techniques, giving players the ability to add depth and dimension to their playing.

Some key features of the Ibanez RG550 RG Genesis include:
  1. Basswood body for lightweight comfort and good sustain
  2. Wizard II maple neck for fast and smooth playing
  3. Jumbo frets for easy bending and vibrato
  4. V7 and V8 humbucking pickups for high output and thick distortion
  5. Edge tremolo bridge for tuning stability and tremolo effects
ProsCons
Versatile tones suitable for various metal subgenresBasswood body may lack some warmth and resonance compared to other tonewoods
Comfortable and fast neck for shredding and soloingPickups may be too high-output for clean or low-gain tones
Reliable hardware for stable tuning and tremolo useSome players may prefer a fixed bridge for simplicity and tuning stability
Affordable price point for a high-performance guitar

Compared to other popular metal guitars like the ESP LTD M-1000 or Jackson Pro Series Dinky DK2, the Ibanez RG550 RG Genesis offers similar high-output humbuckers and fast necks at a more affordable price. The basswood body and Edge tremolo also provide a distinctive combination of lightweight resonance and expressive tremolo effects.

However, some metal players may prefer the mahogany bodies and active pickups of guitars like the ESP or the compound radius fretboards and direct-mount pickups of the Jackson. Ultimately, the Ibanez RG550 RG Genesis is a strong contender for metal guitarists seeking a versatile and high-performance axe at a reasonable price point.

Ibanez S521

The Ibanez S521 is an excellent guitar for playing metal. It features a thin, lightweight mahogany body and a maple neck with a rosewood fretboard. The guitar is equipped with 24 jumbo frets and Quantum pickups that provide high output and dynamic response. The Edge Zero II tremolo bridge enables expressive techniques such as flutters and dives.

Key features of the Ibanez S521:
  • Thin, lightweight mahogany body
  • Maple neck with rosewood fretboard
  • 24 jumbo frets
  • Quantum pickups with high output and dynamic response
  • Edge Zero II tremolo bridge
ProsCons
The thin, contoured body allows for fast, comfortable playingThinner tone than some prefer for doom/stoner metal
Mahogany provides warm, fat tone that’s great for chunky riffsPickup selector location not ideal for quick changes
Quantum pickups deliver high-gain tones with clarity and punchNot as versatile for genres outside metal
24 jumbo frets enable shredding across the entire fretboard
Edge Zero II bridge stays in tune even with aggressive whammy use

Compared to other popular metal guitars like the Jackson Dinky and ESP LTD M-100FM, the Ibanez S521 stands out for its fast, slim neck, lightweight body, and high-output Quantum pickups. The mahogany/maple construction and jumbo frets also contribute to making it a metal machine.

In summary, the tonewood combination, high-gain pickups, 24-fret shred-friendly neck, and double-locking tremolo system make the Ibanez S521 a top choice electric guitar for the dedicated metalhead. Its construction and electronics are optimized for the fast, aggressive, high-gain playing styles of heavy metal and its subgenres.

ESP LTD M-Black Metal

The ESP LTD M-Black Metal delivers crushing tones, sleek aesthetics, and high-quality construction that make it an excellent choice for playing heavy metal music. This electric guitar is ideal for metalheads and shredders who demand powerful sound and reliable performance. With its aggressive EMG active pickups, fast bolt-on neck, and menacing all-black look, the M-Black Metal is built to handle the most extreme metal styles with ease.

Some key features of the ESP LTD M-Black Metal include:
  • Bolt-on neck construction for stability and sustain
  • Ebony fretboard for smooth playability
  • 24 extra-jumbo frets for easy access to high notes
  • EMG 81/85 active pickups for high-output tones
  • All-black hardware for a menacing look

Here is a comparison of the pros and cons of this axe:

ProsCons
Powerful active pickupsLacks tonal versatility
Fast, thin U-shaped neckSteep price for some budgets
Reliable hardwareEMG pickups not for everyone
Menacing black metal aestheticsFingerprints show easily on finish

The EMG 81 bridge humbucker and 85 neck humbucker are known for their aggressive, articulate tones that can handle the heaviest distortion. Compared to other metal-focused guitars like the Jackson Dinky or Ibanez RG, the M-Black Metal delivers even more output and clarity for extreme genres.

The thin U-shaped maple neck and smooth ebony fretboard are built for speed and precision. 24 extra-jumbo frets give you access to screaming high notes. Reliable components like the Floyd Rose bridge and Grover tuners keep you in tune through intense performances.

While not as versatile as some other guitars, the ESP LTD M-Black Metal excels at its purpose – crushing metal riffs and solos. Its stealthy looks and uncompromising tones make it a top choice for extreme musicians. Plug it into a high-gain amp and unleash the brutality.

Jackson JS Series Rhoads JS32

The Jackson JS Series Rhoads JS32 is an excellent choice for metal guitarists. Its features and construction make it well-suited for heavy, high-gain tones and fast playing styles.

Notable features of the JS32 include:
  • Basswood body
  • Maple neck with graphite reinforcement
  • Bound amaranth fretboard with sharkfin inlays
  • Compound radius fretboard (12″-16″)
  • 24 jumbo frets
  • Jackson high-output humbucking pickups
  • Floyd Rose licensed double-locking tremolo
  • Black hardware

Pros and Cons of the Jackson JS32 Rhoads:

ProsCons
Aggressive metal tone from high-output pickupsBasswood body lacks some resonance compared to higher-end tonewoods
Fast, smooth playing from compound radius fretboardLicensed Floyd Rose not as smooth as Original Floyd
Sturdy neck with graphite reinforcementMade in Indonesia, not USA made like more premium Jacksons
Excellent upper fret access from Rhoads V-shapeV-shape not as comfortable for all playing positions
Affordable for an entry level metal guitarStock pickups may eventually need upgrading for some players

The Jackson Rhoads, popularized by legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads, has a long history in metal music. Its sharp, angular V-shaped body screams metal attitude. The JS32 version brings that classic Rhoads vibe at an affordable price point.

Spec-wise, the JS32 punches above its weight class. The high-output Jackson pickups provide plenty of gain and bite for chugging rhythms and searing leads. Notes ring out clearly even under heavy distortion. The graphite-reinforced maple neck and compound radius fretboard allow for fast runs, bends and hammer-ons. Upper fret access is a breeze thanks to the V-shape. The licensed Floyd Rose enables dive bombs and other tremolo tricks essential for many metal styles.

Compared to other popular entry-level metal axes like the Ibanez GRG and ESP LTD M, the JS32 Rhoads holds its own. The Ibanez offers coil-splitting versatility, while the ESP boasts a thinner U-shaped neck. But the Rhoads still wins for pure metal attitude and classic 80s-inspired tones. Stepping up to the Japanese-made Jackson Pro Series Rhoads would get you even better pickups and construction, but at 3x the price.

Overall, the Jackson JS32 Rhoads is a beast of a metal machine. Its hot-rodded features and bold aesthetics make it a solid contender as a first real metal guitar. It has what it takes to comfortably nail everything from Iron Maiden to Lamb of God. Pair it with a high-gain amp and prepare to melt some faces.

The Schecter C-7 DELUXE

The Schecter C-7 DELUXE Satin White 7-String is an excellent choice for playing metal music. This electric guitar boasts several key features that make it well-suited for the genre. The Schecter C-7 DELUXE Satin White 7-String has Seymour Duncan Nazgul and Sentient humbucking pickups, which provide aggressive, high-output tones. The guitar also features a mahogany body that offers a warm, resonant sound. The maple neck delivers a bright, snappy attack, while the ebony fretboard enables smooth, fast playability.

Features:
  • Seymour Duncan Nazgul (bridge) and Sentient (neck) humbucking pickups
  • Mahogany body with maple neck-through construction
  • Ebony fretboard with 24 extra-jumbo frets
  • Thin C neck profile for comfortable playing
  • Diamond inlays and black hardware for a sleek look
ProsCons
High-output pickups ideal for metal tonesRelatively expensive compared to some 7-strings
Neck-through design enhances sustain and stabilitySatin finish may show smudges more easily
Extra-jumbo frets facilitate fast, precise playingLacks coil-splitting for single-coil sounds
Includes hardshell case for protectionNo tremolo bridge option

Compared to other 7-string guitars commonly used for metal, like the Ibanez RG7421 or Jackson Pro Series Dinky DK Modern Ash HT7, the Schecter C-7 DELUXE stands out for its high-end Seymour Duncan pickups and neck-through construction. The Nazgul and Sentient set provides savage distortion while retaining note clarity, perfect for modern metal styles.

The neck-through build maximizes resonance and sustain, giving chords and leads extra power and richness. With its fast-playing ebony fretboard and thin C neck carve, the C-7 DELUXE is a top-tier metal axe built for speed, precision, and crushing tone.

Iconic Metal Guitar Brands

Schecter, Ibanez, ESP, and Jackson are popular guitar brands among metal musicians due to several factors that make them well-suited for the genre:

  1. High-output pickups: These brands often feature high-output humbucking pickups that deliver the high gain and distortion necessary for heavy metal tones.
  2. Fast necks: Many models from these brands have thin, flat necks with smooth finishes, allowing for quick and easy playability, which is essential for the fast runs and intricate solos common in metal.
  3. Durable hardware: These guitars often come with high-quality, durable hardware such as locking tremolo systems and tuning machines, which help maintain tuning stability during aggressive playing.
  4. Aesthetics: These brands offer guitar designs that appeal to metal musicians, with aggressive body shapes, pointed headstocks, and darker finishes like black or deep colors.
  5. Artist endorsements: Many prominent metal guitarists endorse or have signature models with these brands, further cementing their popularity within the genre.
  6. Versatility: While known for their metal-oriented features, these brands also offer models that can handle a variety of musical styles, making them a good choice for guitarists who play multiple genres.
  7. Quality craftsmanship: These brands have a reputation for producing high-quality instruments with excellent build quality and attention to detail, ensuring that their guitars can withstand the rigors of heavy metal playing.

Overall, the combination of features, build quality, and metal-friendly aesthetics make Schecter, Ibanez, ESP, and Jackson popular choices for guitarists in the metal community.

Metal Guitar Setup and Tuning Tips

When setting up your guitar for playing metal, start by tuning it to standard tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E) or an alternate tuning like drop D or D standard using a reliable tuner. Check the tuning stability across the fretboard by testing the pitch at different frets.

Next, check the neck relief by pressing the low E string at the 1st and 12th frets, ensuring a slight gap between the string and the 6th fret. Adjust the truss rod if needed. Then, adjust the string height (action) by modifying the bridge saddle heights, aiming for a lower action for easier playability and faster runs, while avoiding fret buzz.

Check the intonation by comparing the pitch of each string at the 12th fret to the open string, adjusting the string length at the bridge saddle if necessary. Adjust the pickup height to achieve the desired balance and output, setting them closer to the strings for higher output and more distortion in metal.

Choose a string gauge that suits your playing style and tuning, with heavier gauge strings (e.g., .010-.052 or .011-.056) often preferred for metal due to increased tension and fuller tone. Apply a small amount of graphite or nut lubricant to the nut slots to prevent string binding and ensure smooth tuning.

Finally, keep your guitar clean and well-maintained by regularly cleaning the fretboard, polishing the hardware, and conditioning the fretboard if it’s unfinished. Remember that the ideal setup may vary based on personal preference and your guitar’s specific requirements, so consider having a professional luthier set up your guitar if you’re unsure about making adjustments yourself.

Extending Range Metal Guitars: 7 and 8-Strings

When deciding whether to add a 7 or 8-string guitar to your collection, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, think about your musical style and requirements. 7-string guitars are more common and widely used in metal genres like progressive metal, djent, and modern metal, while 8-string guitars offer an even lower range and are often used in extreme metal subgenres, progressive metal, and experimental music. Consider the specific musical styles you play and whether the extended range is necessary for your compositions or covers.

Next, take into account the tuning and string tension. 7-string guitars are typically tuned to B-E-A-D-G-B-E, adding a lower B string to the standard 6-string tuning, while 8-string guitars are often tuned to F#-B-E-A-D-G-B-E, extending the range even further. The added strings result in higher string tension, which may require adjustments to your playing technique and finger strength.

Comfort is also an essential factor, as 7 and 8-string guitars have wider necks to accommodate the extra strings. This may take some time to get used to, especially if you have smaller hands. Make sure you’re comfortable with the neck width and can reach all the strings easily. Additionally, extended-range guitars often feature longer scale lengths (e.g., 26.5″ or 27″) to maintain string tension and clarity on the lower strings. Longer scale lengths may feel different and require adjustments to your playing style and technique.

Another aspect to consider is the availability of learning resources, such as tutorials, books, and instructional videos for 7 or 8-string guitars in your preferred musical style. Keep in mind that there may be fewer resources available for 8-string guitars compared to 7-string guitars.

Lastly, think about your budget. 7 and 8-string guitars can be more expensive than standard 6-string guitars due to the additional materials and craftsmanship required. Consider whether the added cost is justified based on your musical needs and preferences.

Ultimately, the choice between a 7 or 8-string guitar depends on your personal musical goals, playing style, and comfort level. It’s a good idea to try both options at a music store to get a feel for the differences and determine which one suits you better. Keep in mind that transitioning to an extended-range instrument may require a learning curve and patience as you adapt to the new neck width and string configurations.

Best Electric Guitar for Metal: Conclusion

When it comes to guitars for metal, it’s worth investing in a quality instrument. Your choice can make your playing experience more enjoyable and help you produce the heavy, intense sounds that define this genre. Whether you’re playing for fun or aiming to become a professional musician, a good metal guitar is a worthwhile investment.

In a nutshell, choosing the best metal guitar boils down to understanding what you need from the instrument, appreciating the craftsmanship involved, and matching these factors to your budget.

Further Reading

Best Metal Guitars: FAQ

Below are a few frequently asked questions about choosing the best guitar for metal.

What are the most important factors to consider when choosing a guitar for metal?

The most important factors include the guitar’s pickups, body and neck construction, bridge type, and overall build quality. High-output pickups, solid-body construction, and a fast neck are essential for achieving the right tone and playability for metal.

What are the best pickup types for metal?

Humbucker pickups are the most common choice for metal, as they offer high output, a thick tone, and good noise cancellation. Active pickups, such as EMGs, are also popular for their high gain and clarity. Some guitarists also prefer passive pickups with a high output, such as Seymour Duncans or DiMarzios.

Are certain body shapes better suited for metal?

While body shape is largely a matter of personal preference, some shapes are more commonly associated with metal. These include the Explorer, Flying V, and other angular shapes that provide good upper fret access. However, classic shapes like the Stratocaster and Les Paul are also used in metal.

What bridge types are best for metal?

Fixed bridges, such as the Tune-o-matic or hardtail, are popular for their tuning stability and sustain. Floyd Rose-style tremolo bridges are also common, as they allow for intense vibrato and dive-bomb effects. The key is to choose a bridge that provides good tuning stability and intonation.

Are neck-through or bolt-on necks better for metal?

Neck-through guitars are often preferred for metal, as they offer greater sustain and a smoother transition between the neck and body. However, bolt-on necks can also work well, especially if they have a tight and secure fit. Ultimately, the choice comes down to personal preference and the specific guitar model.

What wood types are best for metal guitar bodies and necks?

Dense, hard woods like mahogany, alder, and swamp ash are popular for metal guitar bodies, as they provide good sustain and a tight low end. For necks, maple and ebony are common choices for their stability and bright tone. However, the specific wood combination is less important than the overall build quality and hardware.