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11 best metal guitars 2021: hell-raising electric guitars for shredders on any budget

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11 best metal guitars 2021: hell-raising electric guitars for shredders on any budget
(Image credit: Getty/photographizethis)

The war to construct the best metal guitar may never cease. Supposedly forged in a deluge of hell fire, these metal guitars will help you bring gain levels to an all time high. So long as we have teams of sleeveless long-hairs working endless hours to service the extremist wing of rock and roll, you’ll always have a killer range of metal guitars to choose from. Circle pit, anyone?

Heavy metal guitars are, understandably, designed to stand out in a crowd. Some might be pointy enough to take an eye out, while others are available only in neon colors bright enough to cause a migraine. Some metal guitars, however, are designed to look just like any other six-stringed sibling, only to take our heads off with a whiff of gain.

Then there are normal length metal guitars and extra-long baritone ones, metal guitars with one extra string, two extra strings, reverse headstocks, locking tuners and floating tremolos. There are a few things that all of the best metal guitars all have in common: playability, precision and power.

Are you looking for a great deal on the best metal guitars this Black Friday? Check out our Black Friday guitar deals page for the latest news, and the best offers around.

We've included some expert buying advice at the foot of the page, so if you'd like to read more about how to find the best metal guitar for you, click the 'buying advice' tab above. If you'd rather take a look through the products, keep scrolling.

Best metal guitars: Guitar World's choice

If we’re going for something which can do a bit of everything, we’d take the ESP LTD EC-1000VA. It handles the most extreme metal tones with ease, thanks to its Fishman Fluence Modern humbuckers - but will also take care of any pop, rock, R&B or country lick you can throw its way. It's a classic and comfortable shape, and that Violet Andromeda finish looks insane.

A close second is the spectacular Ibanez Standard RGA42FM. It's super playable, sounds great and is, best of all, a really affordable guitar. You might not get some of the super fancy features as some of the other high-end models, but value for money-wise, this is the best option on the list, by far. 

Best metal guitars: Product guide

Best metal guitars: ESP LTD EC-1000VA

(Image credit: ESP)

1. ESP LTD EC-1000VA

A heavyweight singlecut riff-machine with humbucker tones from all eras

Launch price: $1,149/£1,125
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany, set-thru
Scale: 24.75"
Fingerboard: Ebony w/pearloid flag inlay
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2x Fishman Fluence Modern humbuckers in bridge and neck
Controls: 2 x volume, 1 x master tone (push/pull coil-split), 3-way toggle pickup switch
Hardware: TonePros Locking Tune-O-Matic Bridge with Stopbar Tailpiece
Left-handed: No
Finish: Violet Andromeda
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly well-balanced+Fishman Modern Fluence humbuckers are the bomb+Sustain for days
Reasons to avoid
-You want something pointy-er

With Fishman’s Modern Fluence humbuckers, ESP/LTD’s flagship singlecut can perform metal of all eras. The switching is all very state-of-the-art, with push/pull coil-split for singlecoil tones and enough firepower to add serious weight to your riffs.

The Tune-O-Matic bridge offers a fuss-free performance, plenty of sustain and a solid platform for your punishing right-hand attack, but we wouldn’t want you to think of this only for rhythm. 

The thin-U neck is an exceptional profile for lightning leads, with the extra-jumbo frets and 13.8” radius offering an easy ride up to the top-end of the fretboard, where you’ll find a neatly sculpted heel. Oh, and the finish is incredible. It’s called Violet Andromeda and looks different depending on how the light hits it.

Best metal guitars: Ibanez Standard RGA42FM

(Image credit: Ibanez)

2. Ibanez Standard RGA42FM

One of the best metal guitars for budget-friendly speed

Launch price: $399/£349
Body: Meranti with flame maple top
Neck: Maple, bolt-on
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Jatoba
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2x Ibanez Quantum humbuckers (neck and bridge)
Controls: 1 x master volume, 1 x master tone, 5-way blade pickup switch
Hardware: F106 hard-tail bridge
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Transparent Gray Flat, Dragon Eye Burst Flat, Blue Lagoon Burst Flat
Reasons to buy
+Classic RG design with ergonomic cutaways+Excellent finish choices+A good candidate for modding
Reasons to avoid
-Jatoba is fine, but we’d like some rosewood

Ibanez’s RG series was launched in 1987 and with sharp horns, thoughtful body contouring, and being a testing ground for the super-svelte Wizard neck profiles, it fast cemented itself as one of the world’s favorite S-styles. 

You can find the RG at all prices but the stripped-down model is very financially accessible. It has a speedy Wizard III maple neck, measuring just 19mm thick at the first fret and only 21mm at the 12th. 

Okay, it doesn’t have a Floyd Rose tremolo, the hard-tail format is a good stable platform, ideal for aspiring shredders who don’t yet want to worry about spending time adjusting their bridge. The 5-way blade selector offers a wide sweep of humbucker and split-coil tones.

Best metal guitars: Jackson Pro Series Dinky DK2 Ash

(Image credit: Jackson)

3. Jackson Pro Series Dinky DK2 Ash

The real mean green shreddable one…

Launch price: $1,149/£922
Body: Ash
Neck: Maple, bolt-on
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: Seymour Duncan JB (bridge), Seymour Duncan ’59 (neck)
Controls: Volume, tone, 5-way selector
Hardware: Floyd Rose 1000 Series double-locking tremolo
Left-handed: No
Finish: Glow Green
Reasons to buy
+Exceptional playability+Classic humbucker pairing+O.G. six-in-line Jackson headstock
Reasons to avoid
-Nuclear finish not everyone’s cup of tea

Unveiled at NAMM 2020, this DK2 is on-trend for sand-blasted finishes on swamp ash bodies, with its Green Glow making it look like it was spec’d for Alec Holland or the Toxic Avenger. 

The Dinky is a perennial go-to for metal. Its body shape came over from Charvel in the early ‘90s. Smaller and lighter, it fast became a favorite with shredders, and anyone looking for a high-performance Super Strat, and they don’t come any more high-performance than this.

Everything about it is geared for speed. The neck has a hand-rubbed satin finish, and  the 12"-16" compound radius ebony fingerboard is ideal for riffing down low or woodshedding up top. 

This will handle a wide variety of metal styles, with a classic pairing of direct-mounted Seymour Duncan JB and ’59 humbuckers in the bridge and neck positions respectively. The 5-way switching allows some split single-coil tones, while the Floyd Rose 1000 Series double-locking tremolo will happily accommodate your whammy-bar acrobatics.

Best metal guitars: Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster

(Image credit: Fender)

A slab of off-set mahogany + new signature EMGs = danger

Launch price: $1,599/£1,279
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2x EMG Jim Root Signature Daemonum Open-coil Active Humbuckers (neck and bridge)
Controls: 1 x master volume, 3-way blade pickup switch
Hardware: 6-saddle string-through hard-tail
Left-handed: No
Finish: Polar White
Reasons to buy
+Because Jazzmasters are cool+Those pickups are serious+You don’t need to be a Maggot to dig it
Reasons to avoid
-Because Jazzmaster bodies can be unwieldy (to some)

Jim Root has always liked to take a classic Fender design and gear it up for war. What he has done with his new Jazzmaster is like taking an old station-wagon and fitting a surface-to-air missile launcher on the hood. 

Here we’re dealing with a non-traditional and heavier weighted mahogany body. The controls have been pared down to the essentials, including a three-way blade switch choosing between his active EMG Daemonum pickups or both, with only a master volume and no tone. 

The result is a guitar that is Jazzmaster in profile only, a retro-profiled offset with a voice that has a more solid low-end, with bright mids and highs that really begin to sing once the gain is past two o’clock.

Read the full Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster V4 review

Best metal guitars: Epiphone Prophecy Flying V

(Image credit: Epiphone)

A supercharged take on a classic metal guitar

Launch price: $899/£799
Body: Mahogany w/ AAA flame maple veneer
Neck: Mahogany, set
Scale: 24.72"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 22
Pickups: 2x Fluence custom voiced humbuckers
Controls: 1 x volume w/ push-pull, 1 x master tone w/ push-pull, 3-way toggle
Hardware: LockTone Tune-O-Matic Bridge with LockTone stop bar, Grover Rotomatic locking tuners
Left-handed: No
Finish: Yellow Tiger Aged Gloss, Black Aged Gloss
Reasons to buy
+Available finishes are stunning+Fishman Fluence humbuckers are versatile+Build quality impressively high 
Reasons to avoid
-Active pickups aren’t everyone’s cup of tea 

Epiphone’s Prophecy range of guitars drags classic designs kicking and screaming into the 21st century - and scream they do. The Prophecy Flying V is, simply put, a total monster. Specs wise, it’s overflowing with high-end accoutrements, from the asymmetrical neck profile to the sophisticated Fishman Fluence custom voiced humbuckers. 

You’ll notice the push-pull volume and tone pots don’t have the standard ‘coil-split’ function of most other guitars. That’s thanks to the Fluence humbuckers being just that bit cleverer than most, toggling between a high-output modern humbucker and a classic Burstbucker/PAF-style voicing. In terms of metal, this guitar can cover virtually any style you can throw at it - and it can do cleans, too.

To be fair, we’d have liked the option of a Prophecy model with a pair of passive humbuckers like Epiphone has done with past models, but we really can’t complain. You get a lot for your money with this Flying V. 

View the full Epiphone Prophecy Flying V review

Best metal guitars: Jackson X Series Rhoads RRX24

(Image credit: Jackson)

6. Jackson X Series Rhoads RRX24

A sharp take on the V with active Seymour Duncan humbuckers

Launch price: $749/£649
Body: Basswood
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Indian laurel with black shark-fin inlay
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2x Seymour Duncan Blackout AHB-1 humbuckers (neck and bridge)
Controls: 2 x volume, 1 x master tone, 3-way blade pickup switch
Hardware: Floyd Rose Special Double-locking Tremolo, Jackson die-cast tuners
Left-handed: No
Finish: Gloss Black, options include Black with Neon Green or Neon Pink Bevels, Red with Black Bevels ($30 approx extra)
Reasons to buy
+Totally spec’d for metal+Searing tones, ideal for high-gain+Great sustain
Reasons to avoid
-You want a little color

There have been countless versions of Jackson’s über-pointy Randy Rhoads V over the years but this X Series Rhoads - new for 2020 - might just skewer the dragon in terms of value and on-message style.

It’s black-on-black, with a reverse six-in-line headstock for added metal points. You could pay $30-odd bucks more and get one with Neon Pink or Neon Green bevels if you need some color. It’s a super-aggressive silhouette but has been around long enough to be a classic.

But the key here is its playability; not great while seated, awesome standing up. It is typically shreddable with the dual active pickups from Seymour Duncan providing a super-hot performance that will deliver the goods big-style. And there’s a Floyd.

Best metal guitars: Schecter Omen-8

(Image credit: Schecter)

7. Schecter Omen-8

The best metal guitar for eight-strings on a budget

Launch price: $499/£465
Body: Basswood
Neck: Maple
Scale: 26.5"
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2x Diamond Plus Ceramic Humbuckers
Controls: 1 x volume, 1 x tone, 3-way pickup selector
Hardware: 15:1 tuners, Custom-8 hardtail
Left-handed: No
Finish: Walnut Satin
Reasons to buy
+Great value for an eight-string+Quality build+Sound playability and tones
Reasons to avoid
-Active pickups would seal the deal

Once upon a time it would cost you the GDP of a G8 country to be able to afford an eight-string electric, and here we are in 2020 and you’ll get some change out of 500 dollars. Schecter has really taken to the extended-range market, and while you won’t mistake the Omen-8 for one of their high-end models it is a helluva lot of guitar for the price.

The neck is welcoming. With a set of high-ratio 15:1 Schecter tuners, the Omen-8 is pretty darn stable. The weight feels okay, too. And the build quality and finish is what you might expect from Schecter.

While you might want active pickups on an eight-string, just to keep the hum down while turning string vibration into a buzzsaw, these overwound passive humbuckers (kind of reminiscent of the underrated EMG-HZ) have heaps of gnarly output.

Best metal guitars: Charvel Pro-Mod Joe Duplantier San Dimas Style 2

(Image credit: Charvel)

Flatten a city with this tone monster…

Launch price: $899/£729
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Ebony with pearloid block inlay
Frets: 22
Pickups: DiMarzio Joe Duplantier Signature Fortitude humbucker (bridge), DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary humbucker (neck)
Controls: 1 x master volume, 3-way toggle pickup switch
Left-handed: No
Finish: Natural Mahogany
Reasons to buy
+A super-smart update on the T-style electric+Incredible pickups+Typically Charvel, it’s a joy to play
Reasons to avoid
-Too conservative for some rivet-heads

The evolution of the Gojira riff-master’s signature San Dimas Style 2 continues apace, and this one, unveiled at NAMM 2020, is the classiest-looking yet. The black guard is nice, too, especially if you have moseyed on over here from using a ‘50s Telecaster and want to tune down and bang some heads.

The playability is incredible. Charvel is the original hot-rodder, and the 12-16” fingerboard radius across its 2020 models is supremely comfortable for fretting chords and sweeping up arpeggios alike. There is a Charvel Speed Shape profile that’s joined to the body with a four-bolt heel.

But it’s the pickups that have got us really sold on this. Duplantier’s signature DiMarzio is the hotter of the two, perfect for articulating down-tuned riffs that are saturated in gain, while the PAF 36th Anniversary shoots for the Holy Grail of ’59 Les Paul tones.

Read the full Charvel Pro-Mod Joe Duplantier San Dimas Style 2 review

Best metal guitars: EVH Wolfgang Standard

(Image credit: EVH)

9. EVH Wolfgang Standard

Make it shreddable but cute

Launch price: $599/£425
Body: Basswood
Neck: Roasted maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Roasted maple
Frets: 22
Pickups: 2x Direct Mount Wolfgang humbuckers (neck and bridge)
Hardware: master volume, master tone, 3-way toggle pickup switch
Left-handed: No
Finish: Matte Army Drab, Taxi Cab Yellow, Cream White, Gloss Black, Neon Orange, Slime Green, Quicksilver
Reasons to buy
+Cool new finishes+Super-playable and great value+Another fun candidate for hot-rodding
Reasons to avoid
-Maybe not metal enough for some

If you are looking for one of the best affordable metal guitars and want to avoid anything too necro- and pointed, then the updated EVH Wolfgang Standard Series is a pretty safe bet. It can cover a variety of styles, but of course, with Mr Van Halen’s initials on the headstock you can be sure it plays nice and quick.

Here we’ve got a basswood body and a bolt-on roasted maple neck, an en vogue 12”-16” compound radius fingerboard, and ultimately there is something ergonomically slight and welcoming about the Wolfgang that makes it hard to put down.

It has an EVH-branded Floyd Rose Special double-locking tremolo for hitting harmonics and divebombing them, and two moderately hot Wolfgang humbuckers that should stand the topsy-turvy world of metal. 

Best metal guitars: Dean ML Dime O Flage

(Image credit: Dean)

10. Dean ML Dime O Flage

A battle-ready axe to wield in Dimebag's metal militia

Launch price: $749/£599
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 24.75"
Fingerboard: Pau ferro
Frets: 22
Pickups: Dean DMT Humbucker (neck), Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker (bridge)
Controls: 1 x master volume, 1 x master tone, 3-way toggle pickup switch
Hardware: Grover tuners, Floyd Rose Special double-locking tremolo
Left-handed: No
Finish: Black Satin
Reasons to buy
+For Pantera super-fans, this is the nuclear shred option+Good value+Excellent pickups
Reasons to avoid
-The finish is bold

With an urban camo and Dimebag silhouette finish, its almost star-shaped profile and V-shaped headstock, the Dime O Flage edition of Dean's classic ML model is not for the faint-hearted.It was created for the same sort of buzzsaw tones that its most-famous patron used to deal in. 

With a high-ouput passive Seymour Duncan Dimebucker in the bridge, the ML Dime O Flage is a seriously aggressive guitar, but it can do more classic metal and hard rock tones, too, so when Friday night comes and you want to jam some Van Halen and KISS covers this will have your back.

The Floyd Rose Special will be essential if you want to emulate Dimebag's harmonic squeals, but so too the set-neck construction, which gives the ML a very respectable sustain.

Best metal guitars: ESP LTD Stef Carpenter Signature SC-607 Baritone

(Image credit: ESP)

11. ESP LTD Stef Carpenter Signature SC-607 Baritone

One of the best metal guitars for dropping some low-end thunder

Launch price: $1,199/£1,349
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Maple, neck-through
Scale: 27"
Fingerboard: Macassar ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2x Fishman SRC Fluence Humbuckers (bridge and middle)
Controls: 1 x master volume (push/pull coil-split), 1 x master tone, 3-way blade pickup switch
Hardware: LTD locking tuners, TonePros Locking Tune-O-Matic bridge with string-through body
Left-handed: No
Reasons to buy
+The best option for invading your bassist's frequency range+Versatile tones, but super-hot output for max-gain riffing+Reverse ESP headstock is very cool
Reasons to avoid
-No neck pickup

ESP's long-standing collaboration with the Deftones' Stef Carpenter has produced some of the most cutting-edge designs in metal guitars. Carpenter would probably resist the term "metal guitar" because his sound is so much more, but this SC-607 might just be the best option for down-tuned riffers.

There's no neck pickup, instead the two SRC Fluence Humbuckers are in bridge and middle positions. They both have push-pull functions to switch up their voicings between active and passive.

We love the neck-through construction, with a three-piece maple neck in a thin U-profile set through an ample but smartly contoured mahogany S-style body. No fret-markers either. Embrace the minimalism, fret a chord, brace for impact...

Best metal guitars: Buying advice

Close-up of the neck humbucker of the Charvel Joe Duplantier signature model on a dark grey background

(Image credit: Future)

Do I need a specific metal guitar to play metal? 

Contrary to popular belief, no - you do not need a specific metal guitar to play metal. Having a guitar that's up to the job definitely helps you achieve the crazy gain tones you're after, but you don't need any specific type of guitar to do this. Sometimes, single-coil pickups sound killer in a metal setting. It's all about experimenting with tones and seeing what you like. 

But, for those super-heavy, drowning-in-gain tones you’re after, one of the best metal guitars is designed specifically to make your life easier. The hardware, electronics, necks, fingerboards and bodies are all built specifically to draw out the best metal tones possible from that guitar - and who doesn’t want a purpose-built shred machine?

What should I look for in a metal guitar? 

This is an important question, and one you should definitely be asking yourself before parting with your hard-earned cash. 

Think about what type of metal you want to play, and which era of metal you want to channel into your playing style. Are you going to be tearing up E Standard with your searing lead lines and heavy riffs à la Sylosis, or are you going to be tuning straight down to Drop E on an extended range beast to entertain your inner Tosin Abasi? 

Another thing to ask yourself is what you want your metal guitar to look like.

Apologies in advance, for some of you will think of this as blasphemy - but not all of the best metal guitars are pointy. Some specific models get extra marks for being sharp enough to be classed as a weapon, but there are some very 'normal' looking options too. It depends on the type of metal you're going to play and how you're going to play it. If you're going to be sat in your bedroom a few hours a day practicing, then a slightly more comfortable option would be best for you. 

If you're part of a Progressive-metallic-post-blackened-mathgrind project and need the pointiest, sharpest, most offensive guitar possible, then we've got you covered here too. 

Do you want something that looks insane, like the Dean Dime-o-Flage? Or are you in the market for something a bit more sensible, such as the Charvel Joe Duplantier signature model? Have a think - because if you don’t get something that looks right, you won’t be loving life.

Hard-tail vs locking trem

When looking at a range of metal guitars, you again need to think about which styles of metal you want to play, and your overall playing style. 

Are you a rhythm guitarist who needs something super solid and reliable? If that’s the case, a hardtail is probably the bridge to go for, as the strings won’t be able to slip out of tune as easily as they would if you had a tremolo. Either a string-thru or tune-o-matic style bridge setup would work best for you.

If you’re more of a lead player who loves doing dive-bombs and crazy trem-based effects, then something with a locking Floyd-Rose style tremolo system should be your go-to. A locking trem stops your strings from slipping out of tune, by - you guessed it - locking the strings at the nut.

 Which pickups do I need in my metal guitar? 

High-output humbuckers will do the job nicely, because you are going to need to have plenty of gain and harmonic excitement to get those really crazy tones. Pickup manufacturers such as EMG specialise in active pickups, which are powered by one or more 9V batteries in your guitar - meaning that their output is sky high, and their tone is highly precise - making them some of the best pickups for metal

Companies such as DiMarzio, Seymour Duncan and Bare Knuckle specialise in passive pickups, which have a slightly lower output and don’t need any extra power sources to operate. They often sound a little more organic and classic, but still create enough noise to boil blood. Many of the best metal guitars will be equipped with something from these manufacturers.

Guitar World Staff

Since 1980, Guitar World has been the ultimate resource for guitarists. Whether you want to learn the techniques employed by your guitar heroes, read about their latest projects or simply need to know which guitar is the right one to buy, Guitar World is the place to look.