There’s never been more instruments aimed at the metal player. Here’s our round-up of the best options to open the pit and unleash all hell.
Heavy metal guitars are notable for many different reasons. Some might have edges sharp enough to be used in the kitchen, available only in neon colors that scream for attention before you’ve even played a note. Others might look more understated, in a stealthy matte black finish that saves the attack purely for our ears.
Then there are the models with one extra string, two extra strings, reverse headstocks, locking tuners and floating tremolos. But there are a few things they all have in common – playability, precision and power.
- These are the 10 best amps for metal
- The 10 best 7-string guitars
- Amp on a budget: the best guitar amplifiers under $500
Perhaps the latter most of all, considering how much of a part pickups play for the higher gain players of the world. Active and ceramic pickups produce more output than the more traditional PAF-style humbuckers and considerably more compared to P90 or single-coil Strat-style pickups. That’s not to say weaker pickups have no place in the metal world – in fact some of the genre’s greatest-sounding riffs and solos ever recorded were cut to tape on a Strat – but when it comes to riffing or (as some like to call it) chugging, there’s an unmistakable response that comes with hotter electronics.
When it comes to the precision and playability typical of metal instruments, however, a lot of it comes down to the neck – usually thinner and less physically demanding thanks to it being set dead straight, facilitating ultra low action if required. Here’s 10 of the best available today…
What are the best guitars for metal right now?
For us, the best newcomer on the market has got to be the Solar A2.6. It is as user-friendly as guitars can get, with ease of access to any corner of the neck delivered in a lightweight yet finely tuned package - perfect for the more adventurous and ambitious players hoping to cover a lot of ground in little time.
Perhaps its biggest surprise is its versatility, despite being unmistakably metal in aesthetic the Duncan Solar humbuckers (made in collaboration with Seymour himself) and five-way blade selector are incredibly musical in less high-gain situations. And in their more natural settings, of course, they well and truly roar - which should come as no surprise, considering the tones their creator is world-renowned for.
Swedish YouTube guitar sensation Ola Englund, who also plays in The Haunted and Feared, only launched this brand two years ago - and in that time his instruments have become especially popular among the more modern-style metal players.
- Spice up your rig with the 10 Best Mini-Pedals for Guitarists
- Lacking gain? The 10 Best Drive Pedals Under $200
“Throughout the years I’ve been in involved in other brands and had signature guitars,” he told this Guitar World correspondent, right after announcing Solar. “Being an artist, you have relationships with different companies and I’d seen a lot of flaws in the industry in general. Just like how I started with videos or making my own music, I thought I could have a go at doing it myself.
My plan was to do it better and be more personal about it. The problem with the industry today is a lot of the old-time dealers and distributors, there’s a big bureaucracy of people involved. My issue with previous brands was that a lot of people around the world wanted those guitars but couldn’t order them because the dealers didn’t. So it was impossible for them… which kind of pissed me off. That was the initial idea for Solar guitars!”
- Looking to explore amp simulations? These are the best amp modelers for guitarists
- Metal not your thing? These are the Best Electric Guitars you can buy right now
For us, the best guitar for overall value right now is the Jackson X Series Soloist SL4X. Albeit one of the more affordable options in this list, there’s very little that the SL4X doesn’t deliver on. Just for starters, that bubblegum pink finish is a glorious throwback to those halcyon 80s shred years, when guitarists were racing against each other to set world records. You’ll be able to set records of your own with this superstrat, thanks to the full tonal range facilitated by the five-way selector through its three Seymour Duncan Hot Rails.
The double-locking Floyd Rose Special will prove invaluable for all those divebombs and pterodactyl screams, should you be that way inclined, and it’s lightweight aerodynamic design will ensure you always win the race, even when you forget the spandex. It’s features like these that attracted players like Phil Collen from Def Leppard to defect from Ibanez to Jackson in the mid-80s.
“Well the Soloist, because it had a neck-through, it wasn’t a bolt-on neck - so it just had a slightly richer sound,” he once explained, while also praising these models for being “very easy to play”. These experiences led to the creation of his PC1 model – one of the original Jackson signature instruments – which has been updated frequently throughout the years and continues to sell well to this day.
The best guitars for metal: buying advice
Most players in the market for a new metal axe will fall into two categories - those on the lookout for a sleek and slinky shred machine and those hoping to harness the mega-sustain you get with more wood.
For example, the single-cut of the Wylde Audio Odin will feel meatier and chunkier in the hands compared to, say, the Jackson X Series Soloist SL4X. Coupled with the Wylde man’s signature active EMG set, that sense of density will also be reflected in the tone - so if it’s a warmer, bluesier kind of stoner or doom metal you’re opting for, it may well just be the ticket.
Of course, the Odin won’t be able to compete with the Soloist’s adaptability or playability - which is ultimately where superstrats thrive. So the big question is what kind of metal player are you? A viking marauder, hellbent on re-shifting earth, space and time with a weapon of mass destruction? Or perhaps the kind of player searching for an instrument that feels like its carved out of solid air, with frets that are almost invisible to the touch? There’s only one way to find out…
- Looking for an all-in-one effects station? These are the best multi-effects pedals right now
- Often overlooked, these are the 10 Best Pedalboard Power Supplies
The Best Electric Guitars For Metal You Can Buy Today
1. Epiphone Limited Edition Richie Faulkner Flying V Custom Outfit
Get hell bent with this Judas Priest-certified metal god
Launch price: $999 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: EMG-66 (neck) and EMG-57 (bridge) | Controls: Master volume, 3-way selector | Hardware: Floyd Rose Tremolo 1000-Series, Grover Rotomatic tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Ebony Gloss
At first glance, the Epiphone Limited Edition Richie Faulkner Flying V Custom Outfit is a handsome combination of a traditional Flying V guitar with Les Paul Custom appointments like an ebony fingerboard with block inlays, multi-layer binding along its body top and headstock, plus a bound fingerboard. There are some cool personal touches, including a Judas Priest “Trident” logo on the headstock and a “Falcon” logo on the 12th fret, plus a custom three-layer pickguard that nearly shrouds its entire mahogany body.
With its comfortable weight, the Faulkner Flying V feels perfectly balanced to achieve maximum density for hard rock and metal tones. The active EMG pickups (EMG-57 bridge and EMG-66 neck) are a smart choice, providing clarity and definition with high-gain distortion, while never sounding muddy. Clean tones sound equally cutting and crystal-clear when you play this guitar at loud volumes. The Floyd Rose 1000 Series Tremolo with an R2 locking nut keeps the guitar locked in tune for dive-bombing flights and aggressive whammy techniques. There’s no mistaking the fact that Faulkner’s V is meant to be played standing up with fans below your feet.
2. Jackson X Series Soloist SL4X
Premier superstrat is a pleasure in pink
Launch price: $816.31 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: Seymour Duncan HR-101N Hot Rails Single-coil (neck), HR-101M (middle), HR-101B (bridge) | Controls: Volume, tone, 5-way selector | Hardware: Floyd Rose Special Double-Locking Tremolo (Recessed), Jackson Sealed die-cast tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Bubblegum Pink
Wanna get your Eighties-style shred on? Look no further than Jackson’s X Series Soloist SL4X, gloss-finished in an unapologetic bubblegum pink. But this guitar is more than just a big-hair throwback. While the Soloist shape has been around for decades, the SL4X elevates its aerodynamic look in cleaner lines and sleek contours, with white neck binding and a single-ply white pickguard, making it look like the most polished of superstrats. Furthermore, the triple single-coil configuration of the Duncan Designed HR-101 Hot Rails ceramic magnet pickups (with the bridge and middle screwed directly into the body) offer more bite and power than some humbuckers. Combined with a five-way blade pickup selector and a master volume and tone, the tonal character of the SL4X is unlike anything in Jackson’s stable of shred guitars.
Plugged in, the SL4X is about the most fun you can have with a guitar that’s clearly designed for enduring high-speed performance. The flatter compound fingerboard radius, low action and slim neck profile make playing the guitar effortless across the whole neck span with nary a fret out or buzzing. The Floyd Rose tremolo keeps the guitar locked in tune and enhances harmonics when you dig into notes. Most of all, there’s a wealth of tones that can be achieved with the dual blade Hot Rails, which have a warm, open sound on clean settings but become far more aggressive with scooped mids when introduced with high gain. Just grab a can of Aqua Net and start shredding.
3. Ibanez RGD3127 Prestige Seven-String
A heavy-sounding seven from the original extended-range company
Launch price: $2,399 | Body: Basswood | Neck: 5-piece maple/wenge | Scale: 26.5" | Fingerboard: Birdseye maple | Frets: 24 | Pickups: DiMarzio Fusion Edge Humbuckers (neck and bridge) | Controls: Master volume, 3-way selector | Hardware: Lo-Pro Edge 7 Tremolo, Gotoh tuners, locking nut | Left-handed: No | Finish: Pearl White Flat
Although a few dozen companies collectively produce the several hundred different seven-string solidbody electric guitar models that fill the market today, Ibanez has had a head start on all of them, thanks to being the first manufacturer to mass produce this type of instrument roughly 30 years ago.
The RGD3127, which is part of Ibanez’s made-in-Japan Prestige line, is a perfect example of a seven-string that combines familiar, classic features with new enhancements and details preferred by today’s seven-string specialists. Better yet, according to the company’s literature and website, Ibanez RGD series guitars are designed to be “the heaviest-sounding metal axes ever built.”
With its single master volume control knob, pair of DiMarzio Fusion Edge ceramic magnet passive humbucking pickups and three-way pickup selector switch, the RGD3127 may seem stripped-down and minimalist, but make no mistake—this is an upscale instrument built with exacting attention to detail, particularly when it comes to performance, playability and sound. In particular, the DiMarzio Fusion Edge pickups are a revelation, delivering crisp, clean tones and outstanding note-to-note detail when pushed with high-gain distortion. The midrange is deliciously full-bodied, the bass offers ample twang and thump and the treble is bell-like and shimmering. Overall the tone is big and ballsy, but with a hi-fi-like sheen and resonant, acoustic-like projection.
4. Solar A2.6
Ola Englund-crafted model is built for speed
Launch price: $820 | Body: Swamp Ash | Neck: maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x Duncan Solar humbuckers (neck and bridge) | Controls: Volume, tone, five-way selector | Hardware: Grover 18:1 tuners, hardtail bridge | Finish: Matte
When he’s not building six-strings, Ola Englund plays guitar in The Haunted and Feared—so it’s safe to say he knows his way around an extreme metal axe. And the Solar A2.6 is without doubt an extreme metal instrument. With its sharp cutaways, ergonomic contours and a headstock that you could spear fish with, no one would mistake this for a pop or country music machine.
The A2.6 boasts a solid swamp ash body with a maple neck and ebony fretboard, and everything on the instrument is slick and built for speed, from the neck-through construction to the extremely rounded heel to a neck profile that's as slim as they come.
A pair of Duncan Solar humbuckers sit in the neck and bridge positions, with a five-way blade selector to switch between them. Positions two and four split the pickups’ signals for a wide array of tones, and, perhaps surprisingly given its looks, the A2.6 performs just as well as a clean machine as it does an overdriven metal monster.
5. Wylde Audio Odin
Zakk Wylde gives the LP a makeover
Launch price: $999 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24.6" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: EMG 81 humbucker (bridge), EMG 85 humbucker (neck) | Controls: Bridge volume, neck volume, tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Tune-o-matic locking bridge, string-through-body bridge, Grover tuners | Left-handed: Yes (Grail Bullseye finish only) | Finish: Death Claw Molasses, Grail Crimson Gold Buzz Saw, Grail Genesis Bullseye, Grail Gangrene Bullseye
If you’re in the market for a metal guitar, it’s safe to say that Wylde Audio will have you covered. Wylde's company offers an array of axes with which to bludgeon audiences, but the Odin stands out for its classy looks—a variation on Wylde's at-one-time ubiquitous Les Pauls—and excellent playability.
First and foremost, there’s the fat, three-piece maple neck, which imbues the Odin with top-notch stability and tone. The active EMG 81 pickup in the bridge position is a classic move, offering powerful output and sustain and razor-sharp response. Ditto the EMG 85 in the neck, which brings with it plenty of thick, rounded sounds. And the Odin’s looks—the unique finishes, old-school headstock and Wylde’s trademark oversized block fretboard inlays—can’t be beat. A guitar that is unapologetically bold and brash, just like Wylde himself.
6. B.C. Rich MK5 Warlock
Affordable model that gets right to the point
Launch price: $499 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: B.C. Rich High Output Humbuckers (neck and bridge) | Controls: Volume 1, volume 2, tone 1, tone 2, 3-way selector | Hardware: Tune-o-matic bridge, stopbar tailpiece, die-cast tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Gloss Black
With its gloss black finish and white binding surrounding the entire top, fingerboard and headstock, the mid-line MK5 Warlock has a classy, elegant appearance that contrasts the radical curves and points of its body shape. German carving around the body’s top edges and a rosewood fretboard completely free of inlays further enhance the MK5 Warlock’s sophisticated appeal. Although the MK5 Warlock has a set-in mahogany neck, the heel is smoothly and seamlessly contoured to the mahogany body to provide the same “heel-less” feel of B.C. Rich’s beloved neck-through-body designs. The neck is also finished in gloss black and has a 24 3/4–inch scale, 24 medium jumbo frets, a 13 3/4–inch radius and a slim, shallow C-shaped profile.
What really seals the deal is the MK5 Warlock’s crisp, refined tone. The pickups deliver output that’s not too hot or weak (there’s that “just right” balance again), providing aggressive attack and upper midrange snarl along with tight, refined bass that keeps even the most distortion-saturated tones sounding clear and well-defined. With clean amp settings the treble sparkles and shines without sounding thin or shrill. While its looks may say “metal,” the MK5 Warlock is really ideal for any style of music where a dual-humbucker guitar is welcome.
7. Jackson JS32T Rhoads
The Rhoads V flies high again
Launch price: $333 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: High-output Jackson humbuckers (neck and bridge) | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Adjustable string-through-body compensated bridge | Left-handed: No | Finish: White with Black Bevels, Satin Black
The JS32T looks sharp and plays sharp, offering all that Randy Rhoads goodness at a very low price. The tune-o-matic-style bridge allows for extremely low action, and, combined with the satin-finish neck, will have your fingers flying high (again) up and down the fretboard. Add Jackson’s high-output humbuckers to the equation and the Rhoads serves up enough snap and sizzle to fuel any metal anthem.
Other features include a basswood body, maple neck and rosewood fingerboard, one volume and one tone knob and a three-way selector switch. A particularly nice touch is the string-through-body design. Then, of course, there’s the killer white-and-black finish and classic, trademark shape—just don’t try to sit down while playing it.
8. Charvel Joe Duplantier Signature Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 2 HH
Sweet looks, vicious sound
Launch price: $827.57 | Body: Nato | Neck: Nato | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Duncan-Designed HB-103N (neck) and HB-103B (bridge) | Controls: Master volume, 3-way selector | Hardware: Charvel-Jackson Compound Radius Compensated Bridge with Anchored Tail-Piece, Charvel Branded Die-Cast Locking Tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Satin White
Don’t let the soft, rounded curves and T-style body and headstock fool you: the Joe Duplantier Signature packs the sonic wallop Gojira fans crave. A more affordable version of Duplantier’s custom shop guitar, the Pro-Mod San Dimas boasts a nato (so-called Eastern mahogany) neck and body in place of mahogany, as well as a set of super-hot Duncan Designed HB-103s in place of the more expensive model’s custom-wound humbuckers.
Whether you’re looking to pull out some dark and doomy chord work, shredding leads or Gojira-type harmonic squeals, this Pro-Mod has you covered. It might look minimalist, with black hardware against a stark satin white finish—there aren't even any fret makers on the fingerboard—but the Joe Duplantier Signature Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 2 HH provides maximalist metal tone.
9. Schecter Omen-8
A lot of strings, a little price
Launch price: $619 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 26.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: Schecter Diamond Plus ceramic humbuckers (neck and bridge) | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Custom-8 hardtail bridge | Left-handed: No | Finish: Vintage White, Gloss Black, Walnut Satin
Schecter has been in the 8-string market for a few years now, but the Omen-8, boasting a contoured basswood body, maple neck and 24-fret rosewood fretboard with jumbo frets, is the company’s most affordable model.
The Omen-8 comes with a .010 string on the top, going down to .069, and it's intended to be tuned (low to high): F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E. The neck is a bit longer—scale length is 26 ½ —but the extra size is not very noticeable, nor is the neck too thick. The fingerboard is fairly wide, as to be expected, but is not beyond navigation.
Played acoustically, the Omen-8 exhibits a strong, defined tone with plenty of sustain. With the distortion cranked, the naturally chunky tone comes through. Given the price, there are some noticeable issues—passive humbuckers are susceptible to noise and interference and the heel joint is a bit clunky—but overall the Omen-8 exhibits great playability and a solid build. And for eight strings, the price can’t be beat.
10. Epiphone Limited Edition Brent Hinds Flying V Custom
Massive Mastodon tones
Launch price: $1,332 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Lace USA Brent Hinds Signature Hammer Claws Humbucker (neck and bridge) | Controls: Neck volume, bridge volume, master tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Epiphone LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge, traditional "V" tailpiece, Grover Rotomatic tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Silver Burst
With its glued set-in mahogany neck and mahogany body with V-shaped string-through-body tailpiece, the Brent Hinds Flying V Custom is inspired by the timeless 1958 Flying V design. Like the first V, it also has two humbucking pickups, a pickguard covering only the lower half of the body, a master tone and individual volume controls and a 22-fret neck with a 24 3/4–inch scale.
Even the neck’s slim, rounded profile is based on that of a 1958 V. However, it also shares several features similar to a Les Paul Custom, including the ebony fingerboard with block inlays, multi-layer body and headstock binding, bound fingerboard, top hat knobs with metal inserts and “split-diamond” headstock inlay. The most significant customized touch is the pair of Lace USA Brent Hinds Signature Hammer Claws humbuckers that deliver soulful midrange and solid bass thump that sounds equally awesome clean or distorted to oblivion.
In general, the guitar is loaded with so many cool features that there’s not just one reason to consider adding it to your arsenal. But if you’re still sitting on the fence you should also know that it has Hinds’ skull graphic logo in neon green on the back of the headstock. Game over.