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Best metal guitars 2022: 12 hell-raising electrics for shredders on any budget

Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster on tweed case
(Image credit: Future)

If you’re tackling big, gnarly riffs, shredding searing solos and chunking up some serious heavy grooves, then you’re going to want to make sure you’re armed with one of the best metal guitars. From heavy metal, to thrash metal, to death metal and beyond, we’ve scoured the market to present the finest metal-friendly guitars available today.

There are different approaches to finding the best metal guitar. Some players go down the baritone route, or opt for extra strings. Others go for something more traditional, fitted with some nice, high output pickups for a more unsuspecting look. Whatever path you want to take, we’ve covered a bunch of different options to cater for the various needs of modern metal guitarists. 

All the guitars on our list are built to a good standard, so you can take any of these to a gig and know you’ve got something reliable. They will also take copious amounts of gain well – that’s something you’ll certainly need when looking for the best metal guitars. Aesthetic also plays a pretty big role in metal, so we’ve included some really eye-catching models, as well as some more subtle, quietly cool options.

Best metal guitars: Guitar World's choice

The best all round metal guitar might have to be the LTD EC-1000 (opens in new tab). Fitted with a pair of Fishman Fluence pickups, this guitar can do everything; from sparkly cleans for quieter passages, to seriously saturated metal tones. It’s all packaged in an incredibly well-built instrument that feels every bit as good as it sounds, and features a superb finish. 

Hard not to mention is the Ibanez Standard RGA42FM (opens in new tab). With superb playability, high quality pickups that are capable of great metal tones and more, and a very modest price tag, it’s a contender for the best metal guitar for players on a stricter budget. 

Best metal guitars: Product guide

Best metal guitars: ESP LTD EC-1000

(Image credit: ESP)

1. ESP LTD EC-1000

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

Specifications

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 providing us an easy ride up to the top-end of the fretboard during testing, 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

Specifications

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…

Specifications

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

Specifications

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: Future)
A supercharged take on a classic metal guitar

Specifications

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 - we discovered during our testing that it can do beautiful 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

Specifications

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. We found during testing that while it's not great while seated, it's 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

Specifications

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 G7 country to be able to afford an eight-string electric, and here we are - and now 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.

When playing the Omen-8, we found that the neck is welcoming, and with a set of high-ratio 15:1 Schecter tuners, the Omen-8 is pretty darn stable too. 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…

Specifications

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
Hardware:
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 we found, during testing, that the 12-16” fingerboard radius across its more recent 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: Future)

9. EVH Wolfgang Standard

Make it shreddable but cute

Specifications

Body: Basswood
Neck: Roasted maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Roasted maple
Frets: 22
Pickups: 2x Direct Mount Wolfgang humbuckers (neck and bridge)
Controls:
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 made it very hard for us to put down during our testing.

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

Specifications

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 during testing, we found it can do more classic metal and hard rock tones. 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

Specifications

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.

During testing, we loved the neck-through construction, and thin U-profile on the three-piece maple neck. No fret-markers either - which looks stealthy and epic. Embrace the minimalism, fret a chord, brace for impact...

Squier Paranormal Baritone Cabronita Telecaster

(Image credit: Fender)

12. Squier Paranormal Baritone Cabronita Telecaster

One of the best alternative metal guitars for players seeking something other than humbuckers

Specifications

Body: Poplar
Neck: Maple
Scale: 27”
Fingerboard: Indian Laurel
Frets: 22
Pickups: 2x Fender Designed Alnico Soapbar Single-Coil
Controls: 1 x volume, 1 x tone, 3-way toggle pickup switch
Hardware: Chrome, 6-Saddle Strings-Through-Body Hardtail Bridge
Left-handed: No
Finish: Sunburst, Surf Green

Reasons to buy

+
Growly soapbar pickups
+
Nice alternative to humbuckers
+
Fat low end
+
Classic Tele look

Reasons to avoid

-
Too trebly and twangy for some

A rather unsuspecting option for the best metal guitar, but it works. The soapbar pickups might not dish out the same sort of saturation as a pair of active humbuckers, but they’ve got a really nice growl and mid-range bump that helps them cut through a mix. They distort nicely, plus they cover a range of different tones. If you’re one for bringing in clean breaks and intros, then this guitar is ideal. 

The 27” scale helps cater for the B to B tuning as standard and really helps deliver some wall rumbling low end. It’s great for serving up big, mean-sounding riffs. Plus, with Squier’s great build quality and affordable pricing, you get a lot for your money. The Tele is also a classic body shape and is easy to play in any situation!

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)

When it really boils down to it, the best metal guitar is the one that you find comfortable to play and allows you to get the right tones for the music you’re playing. You don’t need a specific guitar to play metal, per se, but some of the features we’ve discussed above and will go through below certainly make it easier.  

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?

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.

A big consideration when on the hunt for the best guitar for metal should be whether you’re opting for passive or active pickups. Many active pickups have been designed with the aim of handling a brutal amount of gain. You’ll retain note clarity and punch even when your tone is dripping with distortion. 

Passive pickups can still sound great super distorted, but their output doesn’t tend to be quite as high. However you do normally tend to get a better dynamic range, allowing you to create light and shade with your playing attack more easily.

Tuning 

Not all metal is down tuned – some of the heaviest riffs written are in E standard. That said, down tuning is a sure fire way of nastying up your guitar sound, ready for some metal. There are a number of ways to do this. 

Some of the best metal guitars have more than 6 strings. 7 and even 8-string guitars normally give you an extra low B and low F# respectively. They can take a little while to get used to at first, but once you do, having that extended bottom end gives you access to a new world of chunky riffs. 

A baritone guitar has a longer scale length – usually around 27” and usually tuned B to B; a fourth lower than standard tuning. The intervals between your six strings are the same so all your chord shapes stay the same; you’re just in a lower key and you can play much lower notes. 

Then there are guitars that might come shipped in standard tuning but have a slightly extended scale length that mean they will hold well if tuned down. Even guitars with a regular scale length, when fitted with some thicker gauge strings can be tuned down.

Body Shape

Believe it or not, there’s no law that states all metal should be played on a pointy guitar. Of course, a guitar that can double as a weapon adds to the metal aesthetic but, they don’t always make for comfortable instruments when you’re sat down. So, if you do a lot of your riff writing at home, sat down before you take it to the rehearsal room, then you might want to look for something with a body shape that allows for that. 

Sometimes though, simplicity can do the job; a black guitar with a standard body shape can be just as metal as a pointy V – it’s all down to the player!

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.

Read more about our rating system, how we choose the gear we feature, and exactly how we test each product.  

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.

With contributions from