Parent article: Best Cheap Electric Guitars
Recently updated on February 12th, 2021
Removed DBZ guitars since they're no longer in production. Added the Epiphone Les Paul Custom and made minor formatting changes.
QUICK HIT: Five electric guitars for metal that line up looks, tone and features with the heavy modern and hard rock playing styles.
Best Guitars for Metal: Five Picks
Ibanez Prestige Series
Ibanez James Shaffer (Korn) Signatures
PRS Custom 24
Gibson Les Paul Studio
Epiphone Les Paul Custom
To do metal right, you need two things:
First, you need a particular type of guitar and gear.
Second, you need an aggressive playing style that employs said gear.
In this article, I'm going to work on the guitar portion of the metal equation.
Not just any guitar can make metal work and sound like it should. The genre demands a certain intensity, fullness and punch that you can't get from a Fender Stratocaster or jazzy hollow body.
It just doesn't work.
If you want to get into the metal style, and you want your guitar to cooperate, the selection must be made carefully.
Your search should be limited to the guitars that sound metal and handle the metal tone properly, producing heavy power chords, long-winded sustain and a nice chime on the high end. It's a sound that you can only get with certain instruments.
Further, these guitars should also be classy. You shouldn't have to get a guitar in some bizarre, contorted shape just to say, "Look, I can play metal!"
Instead, I'll direct you to guitars that, in my experience, are perfectly adept at handling the heavier metal tones while not having to rely on gimmicky "metal" designs to simply look the part.
These are serious guitars that are both heavy-hitting and genuinely classy.
A Couple Favorites
PRS Floyd Custom 24
Ibanez APEX20 Munky 7-String
It’s important to establish ahead of time what you want to spend; a guitar budget, if you will.
That budget should take the following factors into consideration.
- Your interest and experience with the guitar
- A price range you consider to be affordable
- The role you want your new guitar to fill
The first two items are fairly self-explanatory. The third is using the word "role" to describe whether the guitar will be your primary option for gigging, song writing, a backup or just something to fiddle around with when you’re bored.
All three of these factors should come together to get your final budget, which will essentially be a low and high of what you want to spend.
For example: $500 to $1000.
It’s smart to set these numbers up ahead of time since it helps you eliminate a lot of guitars that are either too high in price or too low in quality.
We’ll cover a pretty wide range of cost but, keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily a low-budget list.
Those looking for more affordable pricing can consult the following section where I've listed four guitars that are well under the $1000 mark and excellent options for any metal player.
Economy Models: PRS, Ibanez & Epiphone
Economy models are lines of guitars made as a cheaper alternative to an otherwise expensive lineup. While companies do have to cut quality to get prices lower, many of these guitars are surprisingly well-built and competitive in terms of tone and functionality.
In a lot of cases they can serve as excellent backup guitars or as a second tuning guitar to travel with.
In particular, these three are good enough to serve as a backup or as your primary instrument, either in the studio or on the road:
I like both PRS SEs for metal because of the Floyd Rose tremolo systems on each and the EMG pickups in the Torero.
The Epiphone Les Paul custom is a close mimic of the Gibson version that's played by a number of notable metal guitarists including, Tool's Adam Jones, A Perfect Circle's Billy Howerdel and many others.
The Ibanez S67QM is a step down from the S5570 that we highlight in the first spot below, though it boasts many similar features and is built for the same type of fast metal playing.
All four hover between the $600 and $800 mark.
Read more: Best Epiphone Les Pauls
Non-Economy Models: Ibanez, PRS, Gibson & DBZ
These guitars spare no expense, and are a significant upgrade over their economy counterparts, in terms of parts, tone and overall quality.
Specifically, improvements are often seen in the tonewoods and pickups used. PRS also has a far more distinct and aesthetically-pleasing carved top on their expensive guitar lines, which you'll immediately notice in the Custom 24.
Upgrades in the pickups will often come from a reputable third-party manufacturer like Seymour Duncan or Dimarzio, which is a significant contributor to both cost and sound quality.
PRS and Gibson usually make their own pickups which, in most cases, are every bit as good as the brand names you'll see. For a guitar that's metal-friendly, look for the upper-tier of the Gibson and PRS in-house designs or the third-party offerings from one of the following companies:
- Seymour Duncan
You'll spend extra for nicer pickups but, you'll get a lot more quality and value for the money. For those who are trying to track down the ideal metal guitar, buying high is the way to go if you can handle the bigger budget.
In many cases, it's worth the additional investment.
When it comes to price range Ibanez is pretty comprehensive, offering everything from $100 starter packages to four figure signature instruments (Joe Satriani and Steve Vai are big fans).
They’re also ideal guitars for the modern rock sound and playing style, catering to speed, thick tone and oftens including a Floyd Rose-style tremolo system.
For metal players, I like the RG Series Prestige models.
In particular, the 652 is one of my favorites.
1. Ibanez Prestige Electric Guitars
IDEAL FOR: Lead metal players, session guitarists and anyone who spends a ton of time in the recording studio
- Thin body and neck are super easy to play
- Pickup arrangement gives you a versatile tone bank
- Bridge and guitar design both look really sleek
The Prestige series from Ibanez has every quality I would hope for in a great metal guitar. First, the thing just looks completely hardcore and classy, with a slim body design, Lo-Pro Edge bridge and tremolo system (a Floyd Rose mimic) and a three-part (HSH) pickup arrangement.
It's perfectly designed for the hard rock speedster with a super thin neck that's only 17mm thick at the first fret position. This makes the neck feel very flat and easy to play, with only a slightly rounded back.
The body itself is also surprisingly thin, making the entire guitar fairly lightweight.
This can also increase functionality for those who have smaller hands or who use their thumb to play the lower strings.
Any metal guitarist who is more of a lead player will stand to benefit the most, though the RG models can handle rhythm work just as smoothly. Keep in mind you're paying for some lead features, like the five-way switch, extra middle pickup and wizard neck.
I'd also recommend this one to studio or session guitarists, since the versatility of the pickup system gives you a lot of different tones to choose from.
It's just really easy to play with a lot of touch and care, perfect for recordings that have to be spot on.
Features and Specs
The wizard neck is a Maple and Walnut combo, while the body of the guitar is a fairly lightweight Mahogany.
With such a detailed pickup configuration the tone of this guitar can fit a lot of different molds. Though for the metal player, I think you'll be surprised at how thick and heavy it sounds, considering the thinness of the body and neck.
On high gain levels, it's truly a metal machine giving you thick low-end power chords and lengthy sustain on the higher frets and harmonics.
The tuning system locks in two places (at the bottom of the fretboard near the headstock) and then allows you to fine tune via the bridge.
Other perks worth mentioning are an included hardshell case and a simple volume/tone system to compliment the five-way selector.
It's one of my absolute favorite lead metal guitars.
2. APEX200 and APEX 20 Munky Signature Series 7-string
IDEAL FOR: Rhythm metal, full-time 7-string players, studio guitarists or those who use a lot of low and alternate tunings
- APEX20 and 200 appeal to a wider range of budgets
- Color scheme on the 200 is excellent
- Both guitars come with Dimarzio pickups
- Alder body on the 200 resonates beautifully
- On the APEX20 you downgrade to Basswood and a Gibraltar bridge
I'm a big fan of Korn and have always loved the signature guitars Ibanez puts out for Brian Welch and James Shaffer.
Shaffer worked with Ibanez and Dimarzio to design the APEX20 and APEX200, both of which contain the Dimarzio Blaze pickups with a single coil at the neck and dual single coils at the bridge.
For the metal guitarist in me, one of the most attractive aspects of the APEX200 is simply aesthetic.
With a red, black and gray color scheme, the thing just looks like hard metal.
A blank fretboard and lightly-colored headstock look great as well.
The APEX20 is the more affordable version of the APEX200 but, if you watch Korn's live performances, you'll note that Shaffer actually uses both guitars.
It's a nearly identical-looking design, though with a black and silver color scheme that swaps in black pickups instead of the red ones used in the 200.
Both guitars play really heavy and are ideal metal instruments, giving you the power of Dimarzio pickups and the metal style that Korn embodies. They're functional, capable guitars and not at all gimmicky fan fare.
The APEX200 is built with an Alder body and Lo-Pro trem bridge, features that are both absent in the 20.
For the APEX20 you downgrade to a Basswood body and a standard Gibraltar bridge. Though it's still what I would consider a higher end guitar, especially after seeing that Shaffer still uses it on stage.
Together both instruments do a great job of accommodating a wider range of budgets.
I'd recommend the APEX20 to intermediate guitar players and those who aren't going to be using the seven-string as their primary guitar. It can make an excellent road companion or second guitar for lower and alternate tunings.
For those who are more exclusive seven-string players, and who plan to use this as their primary axe, the APEX200 is worth the extra investment. While either one can serve on the varsity squad, I like the 200 as a more genuine replica of what Shaffer plays and a stronger overall metal guitar.
If any kind of modern metal or hard rock is your thing, you can't go wrong with either.
Paul Reed Smith
If you’re not going to go with the SEs, the real-deal American-made models from PRS are some of the nicest guitars money can buy. You'll get the high end PRS pickup designs and a beautiful carving on the top of the guitars, both features that are scaled down on the SE models.
They're the guitar of choice for a number of popular metal guitarists, including Staind's Mike Mushok, Miles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry's Chris Robertson, Mark Holcomb of Periphery and many others.
If you want to combine classy design with heavy guitar playing, PRS is a nearly perfect balance.
I like PRS for the metal player who also wants a guitar that will allow them to dabble in other genres and styles. The versatility and functionality of the PRS lines are so good that they can handle just about any style of music.
One of my favorite recommendations to metal players is the Floyd Custom 24.
3. PRS Floyd Custom 24
IDEAL FOR: Hybrid lead and rhythm players, professional studio guitarists, session guitarists, live gigging and any musical style
- Carved top with the Floyd Rose is a sight to behold
- PRS pickups sound incredibly good
- Thick power chords and low tunings sound full and heavy
- Lead tones and high notes give off a nice chime
Like I said, PRS guitars are known for being adaptable to a lot of styles.
Thus, the Custom 24 is one of their most popular models because it can produce so many different sounds.
The tone of the guitar is really thick and heavy, which adapts really nicely to the high gain levels and heavy distortion used in metal and hard rock. The Floyd Rose tremolo system gives it some added appeal to lead metal players along with the locking tuners at the top of the neck.
Low-tunings and power chords are particularly well-accommodated in this guitar since you can drop the strings a few semitones without worrying about losing a tune.
Who would I recommend it to?
I'd recommend this guitar for a metal player in just about any scenario. Whether you're on the road traveling, recording at home or working as a session player, the Floyd Custom 24 is an absolute beast.
It could be even more helpful if you're a session player with an emphasis in metal but, with a client list that crosses a number of different genres and stylistic leanings.
In that situation, this guitar gives off a professionalism and classiness that will make you more attractive to other bands and clients that aren't exclusively hard rock. In other words, they'll know you're serious about your craft and a capable musician if you walk in with a Custom 24 in tow.
Gibson or Epiphone Les Pauls
The Gibson Les Paul is considered a staple of the classic rock genre, despite the fact that it has found its way into nearly every type of music, metal and modern hard rock included.
You’ll find the Les Paul conducive to loud power chords, having been utilized by popular rockers like Billy Howerdel, Adam Jones, Billy Corgan, Tom Morello and Slash, just to name a few.
The humbucker design of the Les Paul produces a heavy tone with a thick resonance that's friendly to low power chords and high-register solos alike.
Most will also come with a variation of Gibson’s BurstBuster pickup, which provides a “meatier” tone.
I like the Les Paul Studio because of its friendly price point.
For metal aesthetics, I'd recommend the black and silver color scheme.
Let's take a closer look.
4. Gibson Les Paul Studio
IDEAL FOR: Rhythm and lead metal, studio guitarists, gigging and professional session work
- Gibson pickups sound great on either the rhythm or lead spectrum
- Price point is inviting
- Has all the classic appeal that the Gibson Les Paul is known for
- Burstbucker pickups would have been a nice to have
This is one of the few Gibson models that you can get around the $1000 mark.
They release a new version every year, so used models from a few years back can come down pretty cheap.
Like the PRS lines, the Gibson Les Pauls are adaptable to a wide range of music though are particularly adept at handling heavy metal tones and modern rock. The Studio comes with coil-tapped 490R and 498T pickups that provide a thick sound with the extra sustain and chime that you need for both rhythm and lead metal playing.
The combination of a Mahogany body with a carved Maple top gives you two dense tonewoods that produce tight lows and a brighter response on the higher frets.
This will satisfy the needs of both the lead and rhythm player alike.
The Ideal Player
It's a popular second guitar, perhaps to leave at a studio or carry on the road as a backup. However, it can also handle first string duties just fine and serves as the primary guitar for plenty of performers and professional session guitarists.
As far as sound quality goes, the pickups are a modest downgrade from the Gibson Burstbuckers that come with the more expensive models, though you can add them for a fraction of what you’d pay for something like a Gibson Les Paul Standard.
Think of it as the nice car, without the GPS, sun roof and rear-view backup camera.
5. Epiphone Les Paul Custom
IDEAL FOR: Budgets, lead metal, and most styles.
- Hardware is good for the price (Grover tuning heads, ProBucker pickups)
- Balanced tone profile
- Nails the Gibson Les Paul look
- Price point is excellent
- None for the price
If you don't want to spend the four figures required to reel in the Gibson Les Paul, the Epiphone Les Paul Custom is far more affordable and is almost indistinguishable from its Gibson counterpart.
Even the tonewood used in the body of the guitar is the same, with Mahogany for both.
We like the humbuckers included with the Gibson Les Paul better (Gibson-branded pickups are great) than the pickups in the Epiphone, which are just a generic stock option called "ProBucker" 2 and 3, not to be confused with the Burstbuckers on the Gibson.
Though at nearly half the price of the Gibson, you could swap out the pickups and have an appreciably similar guitar. Particularly for fans of classic rock or older styles of metal ('80s and '90s) this is a great choice.
What about B.C. Rich?
I don't have anything against B.C. Rich guitars and I understand that they're a curious omission from a "best metal guitars" list.
While I wouldn't say they don't have any good guitars, I personally have very little experience with them, so I want to avoid recommending something to you that I'm not familiar with.
At the same time, I've always found them a bit gimmicky.
I think a good metal guitar should be able to handle the sound and tone of heavy music without having to embellish the style and look of metal.
In my opinion, B.C. Rich relies more on the metal look than they do on tone and quality.
That's why I like guitars like the PRS Custom 24 and Gibson LP Studio. They can handle metal with the best of them but they don't have to look overtly dark or brooding to do it.
They just sound great.
So while I can't really speak to the value and quality of B.C. Rich guitars, they're just not my first stop.
How important is the seventh string?
When you go to buy a metal-friendly guitar, the 7-string option should never be a deal breaker.
The seventh string, when you have it, is a tool and not a necessity. Players that use them do so based on a stylistic or mechanical preference and not because it's absolutely necessary for metal.
For example, Mark Holcomb plays metal like crazy on his 6-string PRS.
So if a 7-string guitar is something you want to pursue, it'll certainly fit the metal mold. At the same time, it's not a hard requirement.
If you have questions or thoughts about this list, feel free to email me directly or get in touch via the comments section below.
I'm always happy to talk guitars.