Updated by Bobby
Updated February 4th, 2022
Added the Mark Holcomb and Dusty Waring signature models. Also made significant changes to article formatting. Pricing and product listings were updated and old/discontinued products were removed.
QUICK HIT: Roundup of the best PRS electric guitars for metal, heavy rock and modern playing styles, within a wide price range.
Most PRS guitars are made for versatility. Rock, metal, blues, light jazz - you name it.
As a result, many of them are favorites of rock guitarists like Myles Kennedy, Tony Rombola, Mike Mushok, and a slew of others. Even John Mayer has gotten in on the action. It's a known strength of the PRS brand that most of their guitars can hang with most genres, metal or otherwise.
But the best PRS guitar for metal, specifically, should meet the following criteria:
- Be capable of handling low tunings
- Have a modernized pickup design
- Be accommodating to quick movement
I've played PRS guitars since before I had a driver's license, so I can say confidently that they're a top-notch brand. Even the budget SE models - considered cheap electric guitars by PRS standards - are high-value purchases, especially if you're willing to add a new set of pickups.
And with high marks for versatility and tonal variety, almost any of these guitars can produce a strong metal tone. Further, as a long-time consumer and devoted player of the PRS line, I do believe there are some models that are ideal for certain styles and genres. In short, some do metal better than others.
To that end: These are my PRS picks for metal and hard rock.
Best PRS Guitars for Metal (our top 4 picks)
PRS SE Floyd Custom 24
PRS SE Mark Holcomb
PRS DW CE 24
PRS Floyd Custom 24
A word about pricing
Note that the SE models are always going to be more affordable than the other PRS lines. This is because the SE line was designed to be a more affordable series, since most Maryland-made PRS guitars are in the $3000 - $5000 range. Over the years, PRS has gotten much better about offering a wider range of pricing and selection in their product catalog.
For example, the S2 series sits between the SEs and the Maryland models in terms of cost. If you aren't ready to spend big on the PRS core models, you've got other options. Here's a rough estimate of what you'll be able to expect from each tier:
- SE models: $500 - $1100
- S2, Mira and midrange models: $1200 - $1800
- Core models and Private Stock: $2000 and up
If you like the core models and want to get the price down, you can look for older and used versions of the guitar you're after.
I got my CE 24 from Guitar Center for nearly half of what it would have costed brand new, simply because I dug up a 2005 model that hadn't been heavily used. It was a great find that let me on the PRS bandwagon for a fraction of what I would have had to pay to get a new CE and a current year model.
If pricing is an issue, just shop around, do your homework and check the used market. You don't have to pay $3000 to get a real deal PRS. And besides, even the budget PRS options (the SE and S2 models) are still great guitars. In fact, we'll start the list with one of them.
1. PRS SE "Floyd" Custom 24
I think most dissatisfaction with the SE models shows up largely because people compare them to the core PRS lineup. Like this bit, I spotted in a forum:
The SE's aren't made in Maryland (they're manufactured in South Korea) and they don't have the nice carved top like the other PRS models.
It's true. The SE models are quite "flat" if you compare them to the exquisite carving of the nicer PRS lines. Further, they are "designed" in Maryland but put together in South Korea.
Core models are designed and assembled at PRS headquarters in Stevensville Maryland.
But what if we compared the SE models to other guitar brands? Is anyone upset that the American Telecaster doesn't have a carved Maple top? Does it bother us that many of the Ibanez models are manufactured overseas? If you assess the SE models on their own terms, without comparing them to their Maryland PRS counterparts, they do extremely well.
Where the SE Floyd Custom 24 excels
The highlight features on this guitar would have to be the Floyd Rose Tremolo system and locking tuners. This makes it particularly ideal for lead guitarists and those who do a lot of heavy tremolo work. Dustie Waring (we'll get to his signature PRS later) is a big fan:
I'm a sucker for Floyds. And I'm pretty excited that there's a PRS that comes with one. - Dustie Waring, Between the Buried and Me
Regardless of how attractive you might find the Floyd, the tone of this guitar is incredibly warm and full, like you would expect from the nicer PRS guitars. Particularly when played clean, there's a thickness and resonant bass response that sounds really good. I was able to pair this one with both my amplifiers:
- Line 6 Spider IV
- Fender '68 Vibrolux
One solid state and one tube amp, with roughly the following settings:
Both sound great with the SE Custom 24. For a metal tone, I used my Boss MD-2 distortion pedal on the following settings:
Everything about it sounded thick, full and perfect on lower tunings. Drop D, drop B, open D and C - everything sounded like you would expect from a metal tone. This is of course without changing the stock pickups, which is the only area that I might say could use an upgrade.
Even if you don't change the pickups out, this guitar is a long-term, professional option at a lower-tier price tag. It's versatile, sure, but also certain to please anyone looking for an axe that can handle the heavy stuff.
IDEAL FOR: Hard rock, speed metal, lead metal, and tremolo enthusiasts
2. PRS SE Mark Holcomb (and Maryland version)
PRS limited the ordering window of Mark Holcomb's Maryland PRS design (the non-SE version) to only a couple of months back in 2015. The guitar is loaded with Holcomb's signature Seymour Duncan pickups and specially-designed to accommodate his speed and the advanced technical playing that's typical of progressive metal.
You might have better luck with some of the boutique and/or local dealers, if you really want one.
The SE version is a different story.
The SE Mark Holcomb Signature
The look and feel of the Maryland-made version is captured in the SE version of Holcomb's PRS, which includes his signature humbuckers (the same ones in the Maryland version) and a body design that's appreciably similar to the original, but without the body carving on the top piece.
Leaving out the nuanced body carving saves you a lot of money.
Overall, it's a high-value guitar that stacks up really well to other brands.
Like I mentioned earlier, you don't necessarily have to only compare PRS SE models within the PRS brand.
In Mark's own words:
"With my SE signature model, we managed to capture all of the defining characteristics of my Maryland-made guitar and turn it into a streamlined, less-costly package. It is an incredibly special instrument, and one that is now the primary focus of my rig in the studio and onstage."
There are certainly some cutbacks compared to the more expensive model.
However, the SE version is an extremely solid and high-value guitar in its own right. If you want to spend low and get a great PRS metal guitar, just pretend you don't have the Maryland version to compare it to.
IDEAL FOR: Progressive rock, metal, modern rock, lead/rhythm hybrid styles, and heavy distortion
3. PRS DW CE 24
Since the Dusty Waring signature is a Maryland-made model (no SE version), it's going to be more on the expensive side, retailing around $2650 at the time of updating this article.
But that's actually a pretty decent deal, considering many Maryland PRS models can easily go as high as four or five thousand, particularly the Custom 24 and McCarty series.
The CE is more affordable, but still gives you the full PRS treatment.
A solid Mahogany body with the carved Maple top gives you that slick, contoured PRS body design.
Add the Mojotone DW Tomahawk humbuckers and the Floyd Rose 1000 and you have an extremely aggressive, distortion-friendly PRS guitar that can handle any metal or hard rock style you could throw at it.
Read more: Mojotone DW Tomahawk humbuckers
IDEAL FOR: Lead and rhythm hybrids, heavy power chord progressions, recording, and live performances
4. PRS Custom 24 "Floyd"
To be fair, the Custom 24 with or without the Floyd Rose system, is a beast of a guitar, capable of handling nearly any musical style you could throw at it. It just seems to sound amazingly good in whatever situation it's put in. The "Floyd" version of the Custom 24 gets some additional functionality points for metal, particularly lead players who would utilize the floating tremolo system. Like most Floyd Rose bridges, this one comes with locking tuners so your guitar can handle heavy trem bar work.
Every feature is a top notch PRS job, made by hand at the company's Maryland headquarters, free of any international outsourcing.
Solid tonewood throughout signals sky-high quality
The top of the guitar is a solid piece of carved Maple which gives the Custom 24 a little extra weight and density. This also gives the tone its brightness and tight response, helping to accentuate the higher notes and tighten up the lows.
Solid Mahogany makes up the rest of the guitar's body, which provides a warm, almost soft response, helping to balance out the brightness of the Maple. Combining Maple and Mahogany is a time-honored luthier's tradition that has been used in many of Gibson's most popular SGs and Les Pauls, dating back to the 1950s.
Combined with the beautiful carving, this mixture of slab tonewood is one of the guitar's most attractive and best-sounding features. The neck uses a Rock Maple wood while the fretboard is a dark-colored Ebony.
Every part of the Custom 24 is top of the line
Like Gibson, PRS makes their own brand of pickups which are incredibly good. The pickups on the Custom 24 are a high output design called the PRS M humbuckers, on par with the expensive Gibson Burstbucker line.
You can actually buy these PRS pickups separately. The screenshot below is from a Sweetwater listing where the retail price is $170 for just one pickup.
Don't assume that PRS cut corners with their in-house pickup brand just because they use overly simplistic names like "treble" and "bass." These pickups are exceptionally good.
Since the pickups are covered this means they'll have a little bit of a warmer tone, though the difference between covered and uncovered pickups is fairly subtle.
Other features and overall value
Other perks include the 24 frets (given the name), a five-way pickup selector and the coveted "bird" inlays. The pickup selector gives you the following options:
- Position I: Bridge humbucker
- Position II: Bridge humbucker with neck singlecoil in parallel
- Position III: Bridge and neck humbuckers
- Position IV: Neck singlecoil with bridge singlecoil in parallel
- Position V: Neck humbucker
Despite what seems like a basic volume/tone setup, the Custom 24 is capable of a wide range of sounds. Credit PRS for getting you the five-way selector switch and the additional tone options when it would have been just as easy to run a three-way switch with non-splitting humbuckers.
Now, the elephant in the room: What about the crazy-high price tag?
Is the Custom 24 worth it?
It's certain that once you spend this kind of money on a guitar, you're getting the absolute best that money can buy. You aren't compromising or sacrificing any quality aspects. The entire guitar is 100 percent top-of-the-line quality.
Whether or not it's worth it to you is difficult to say.
Personally, I love PRS guitars and have owned my 2005 CE 24 for the better part of a decade. I bought it used but, it still wasn't cheap. If you ask me, the difference in quality is worth it, if you can swing the price tag.
And it's not to say that the cheaper budget guitars, especially within the PRS brand, aren't great as well. But once you get used to the nicer versions it's tough to go back.
So yes, it's a plunge but one that you aren't likely to regret.
IDEAL FOR: All styles, rhythm and lead, metal, hard rock, recording, session guitarists and live performing
Are other PRS guitars good for metal?
The great thing about PRS is that it's hard to get one in a bad situation.
They're all just so well designed that they can capture the tones and styles of almost any guitar-focused genre.
Somehow, without a lot of bells and whistles, tone shaping and EQ adjustment is really versatile on these guitars so there aren't a lot that I'd call a "bad" choice in any situation, including metal.
I'd be willing to say that almost any PRS guitar can handle the metal style.
These models are certainly some of the most ideal guitars for metal, but they're not the only workable options.
What else can I do to get a better metal tone?
The guitar is only one piece of the puzzle.
If metal is what you're after, and you go with a different PRS than what is on this list (or even if you choose one from this list), there are a few more things you can do to encourage a thicker, more metal-friendly sound.
Three, in particular:
- Heavier strings (an above .50 gauge will give you a thicker tone)
- Replacing stock pickups (Seymour Duncans or DiMarzios are nice additions if you get a PRS with low-quality pickups)
- Use a high-saturation distortion pedal (here are a few of our favorites)
Even if you don't end up with a seven-string metal monster from PRS, you can do some modding and accessorizing that will help get you closer to the tone you're looking for.
From a tone and style perspective the guitar is never the end-all-be-all.
Where else to shop for PRS guitars?
If you go on the PRS website, they have dealers listed under each model.
In a lot of cases, especially for the PRS Private Stock, dealers will be local and will have to be contacted by phone or via their own website. Though you can always find a lot of PRS guitars from the major music gear retailers as well, like Sweetwater and Musician's Friend.
Amazon, Craigslist, and eBay are also good places to check.
Thoughts or questions?
Have thoughts or questions about what PRS guitar to buy or how to rig plan?
Let me know.
I'm always happy to answer a comment below.