Metal guitars are significantly different from other electric guitars. It’s ridiculous to say that a Metal guitar must be electric and has pickups. It’s not about the wicked pointy shapes either. There are several key elements that guitars for Metal should have and you must pay attention to: tonewood; humbuckers; neck profile; bridge and hardware.
- Tonewood – when it comes to the guitar construction, wood is the key, as it provides the base for the tone, sound resonance and sustain. The best you can get is, hands down, mahogany – highly resonant and adds depth and darkness to the tones. A cheaper but another solid options is basswood which is exceptionally resonant and reflective.
- Humbuckers – with pickups the answer is simple: single-coil pickups won’t do. Period. They are solid and add accuracy and precision, but they lack width and get quickly overwhelmed during aggressive solos. Humbuckers, both passive and active, give the versatility of the tones and completely eliminate the hum. Active are probably better, as they give stronger output and better control.
- Neck profile – alrighty, neck must be thin. Yeah, sure, you can play Metal on a normal-width neck, but the thinner the neck, the easier it is to deal with hard solos, shredding and complex rhythmic sections. Potentially best necks have a compound-radius profile, with slimming and flattening towards the heel. Another important thing here is the neck construction. Prioritise neck-thru-body construction – it means that neck and body are the same piece of wood, which provides surreal playability.
- Bridge and hardware – Metal is a style that requires exceptional flexibility of bridge and hardware. Best bridges for Metal are Tremolo or Tune-O-Matic. Most Metal heads will tell you that the classic and rock-solid option is the Floyd Rose, but unless you know how to deal with it – it’s extremely hard to deal with. However, this legendary bridge gives crazy vibratos and flexibility. As for the hardware (tuners), prioritise locking tuners as the heaviest duty version, which is essential to keep the axe in tune during aggressive sound assaults.
Which guitar should I buy?
As with guitars of any genre, you should always choose the one that best fits you, your personal style and the level of your technique. If you are a complete newbie, go for more affordable options such as any of the Jacksons, it’s the safest option for you. They cost almost nothing and they will give you enough roaring and shredding to understand what Metal is. However, they have a very basic setup and won’t give you a lot of versatility, but in this early stage, you don’t need too much. Also, I do not recommend the Floyd Rose bridge – it would be pretty hard to use for you at this point.
If you are more advanced you have more options. Best ones are ESP and Schecter. They both use premium materials and, most importantly, high-end electronics. Feel free to choose the ones with the Floyd Rose bridges and hot active humbuckers (such as the Schecter Hellraiser C-1 Floyd Rose-S BCH or ESP LTD KH-602), they will give you the flexibility, sound sustain and punch a Metal guitar needs.
Does it have to be expensive?
Of course, a guitar is a serious investment. But even if you are a pro, it’s possible to buy a mean Metal beast for under $1000 (yes, I’m talking about the ESP LTD Deluxe EC-1000VB and Schecter OMEN-6). You should only look at the expensive options (above $1,000) if you are a Metal head and a pro – that’s the only time when such a high price would make sense. For everyone else, who is learning Metal or simply can’t afford higher options, go for the two options mentioned above – it has the same quality, power, versatility and those dark Metal undertones you need to play on any stage. There are also super cheap options for under $400, yet I would only recommend them for complete newbies.
Who makes the best guitars for Metal?
The market for Metal guitars is a pretty solid market with some serious and well established players. While Fender and Gibson are the kings of the general guitar world, slightly smaller players that create a fine instrument of mind-blowing quality produce Metal guitars. Top three players are ESP, Schecter and Jackson. Japanese ESP is an ultimate Metallica favourite, which does not only provide them with guitars, but partnered with the players to create customs for them and by them. Thus, both James Hetfield and Kirk Hammit have a number of guitars by their own custom designs for any wallet. The Schecter is the new kid on the block and they specialise on high-quality Metal guitars. They produce their own electronics, which they only use for cheaper options. They do have high-end produts, but they use more exquisite EMG electronics and hardware (and amen to that). American Jackson is, probably, the most popular choice of Metal players. Even the most affordable guitars are decent, powerful and versatile. This is the safest and most affordable option.
Choosing the best guitar for Metal is easier than it looks, simply because the market is smaller. There are also fewer brands and more precise characterises that you are looking for. Thus, when choosing a guitar look for highly resonant tonewood; with active/passive humbuckers which give versatility of tones; floating or tremolo bridge, for the punch and fire of the sound; and thin neck, for ultimate comfort and playability. The exquisite guitar is, hands down, Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR S BCH, which I recommend to the Metal heads and pros. However, in terms of all the characteristics mentioned above, the best option in the list is ESP LTD Deluxe EC-1000VB. Among budget options, the best one is Schecter OMEN-6.