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
PRS SE Floyd Custom 24
PRS 513 (discontinued)
PRS SE 7-String
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 make, since most PRS guitars price in the $2000 - $3000 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 core 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: $300 - $1100
- S2, Mira and midrange models: $1000 - $1500
- Core models and Private Stock: $1800 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. SE Floyd Custom 24
IDEAL FOR: Hard rock, speed metal, lead metal and tremolo enthusiasts
- Tone is nothing short of wonderful
- Licensed Floyd Rose tremolo system and locking tuners
- Push/pull tone knob controls
- Bird inlays
- Color selection is a bit odd
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. But what if we compared the SE models to other guitar brands? Is anyone upset that the American Telecaster doesn't have a carved 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 other PRS lines, 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 beginner's price tag. It's versatile, sure, but also certain to please anyone looking for an axe that can handle the heavy stuff.
2. PRS 513 Electric
IDEAL FOR: All styles, genres, the studio, recording and live performances
- 13 different sounds between two pickup selector switches
- Amazing tone
- Carved top
- Solid tonewood
- Price is high, if not expected
- No Floyd
While PRS is known for versatility, the 513 is perhaps the most versatile in terms of tonal capability. Now, you might be wondering: How does that benefit someone who wants to add it to a metal guitar rig?
When you buy a guitar as nice (and as expensive) as a PRS, you want to know that it'll fit your style. The reason I like the 513 for metal is because it's extremely adaptive to just about any style you can think of.
That includes whatever hard rock or metal riffing you can dish out. Moreover, the pickups on the 513 (513 stands for five pickups and 13 sounds) are also bass-friendly and thick, resonating well with lower EQs and tunings. It can sound like a single-coil Strat or a thick humbucking power axe. These features make the 513 an ideal fit for someone who wants a metal-friendly PRS guitar but, might also like to dabble in other styles and doesn't want a guitar that's limited to the metal genre.
Here's the bottom line: The 513 will sound good wearing a number of different hats. Most any PRS model that I'd consider ideally metal a going to be a great instrument in a slew of different styles and situations.
Moreover, the 513 somehow manages to look really metal, yet classy and high end. It's a refreshing alternative to the embellished metal aesthetics that you'll often see in a lot of other guitars.
Using pickup positions to target the ideal metal tone
The 513 has two single coil pairs at the bridge and neck position along with a middle single coil rail between them. This gives you a total of five different pickup selection options. Per the following screenshot:
The blade gives us these combinations:
- Bridge and middle
- Middle and neck
Based on the selector switch alone your heaviest pickup configuration will come from either the middle and neck or just the neck position. This holds particularly true if you're thinking in terms of hard rock rhythm and power chords.
For lead and solos, a heavily saturated distortion will pierce through with some extra definition on the bridge positions. Generally, you can use positions one through three for lead and four through five for rhythm.
Using the second three-way blade to thicken your signal
Notice that there's a second blade, slightly above and to the left of the tone and volume knobs. This is a three-way selector that gives you the following options:
- Down (heavy humbucking)
- Middle (clear humbucking)
- Up (single coil)
That middle position essentially splits the two coils for each humbucker, giving them a clearer and brighter tone.
Your most optimal metal configurations will come from the middle and neck pickup positions along with the down position from the three-way tone selection blade or the "heavy humbucking" setting. You'll be looking at some trial and error to get used to all the different sounds. However, once you learn how to utilize them, you'll be set to dial in a great tone for metal, classic rock or just about any sort of guitar-friendly music you could think of. The 513 is a big investment but, a really safe and reliable bet for the resident headbanger.
3. SE Custom 24 7-String
IDEAL FOR: Low tunings, performing, recording, metal and all skill levels
- Tone handles lower tunings without issue
- Pickups are decent out of the box
- Bird inlays
- No Floyd version
- Color selection could be better
Seven string guitars are intended specifically for metal and lower tunings, so I'd be remiss not to include the SE Custom 24 7-String in this list. It bums me out that there isn't a "Floyd" version but, the bridge that it comes with is nothing to sneeze at. Everything we like about the SE Custom 24 is intact, right down to the bird inlays and a slight bevel to the body of the guitar.
Pickups, tuners and the bridge are all PRS stock, which helps keep the price of the guitar down. As much as I'd like to see a Floyd Rose and EMG pickups make an appearance, their absence is what's keeping this guitar under $800.
While it's ideal for metal players it's also a great fit for those who use a lot of open tunings or might want an intermediary between a regular and baritone guitar. But there's no question that for heavier stuff, the low B string makes a huge difference. While seeing it on a PRS might take some getting used to, it can sound every bit as metal as the Ibanez K-7 signatures.
The thing is a monster.
Higher gain levels and tone
This guitar performs at its strongest when played through a high gain medium as it was clearly designed for saturating distortion. I ran it through the same amps and effects that were outlined in the Floyd SE Custom 24 section, and had no trouble pushing a heavy metal tone. Harmonics ring with plenty of intensity while lower notes and power chords have a deep growling resonance that feels distinctly metal. It doesn't sound at all weak or like PRS simply slapped a seventh string onto a garden-variety SE.
It's definitely a niche guitar that I wouldn't recommend to many outside of the metal or open tuning fan club. If you're in one of those camps, this is a fantastic bargain.
What amps and pedals does it work best with?
If you're buying the Custom 24 7-String with metal in mind, make sure that you're pairing it with a high gain distortion source, either from a pedal or dirty channel on your amplifier. This guitar isn't going to make weak, classic-style distortions sound bigger.
In other words, don't expect that pairing any 7-string with a Boss DS-1 distortion is going to get you a great metal tone. It'll still sound like you're doing a Boston cover. Instead, add a distinctly heavy distortion source that was also designed for the metal style. High gain levels are a must, so I'd recommend any of the following, if you go the pedal route:
When you do setup a pedal and/or amplifier for your distortion, make sure you push the gain high and use an EQ that favors the low end with some extra bass to take advantage of the lower tunings. If all that is setup correctly, the thicker strings will do the heavy lifting.
4. Floyd Custom 24
IDEAL FOR: All styles, rhythm and lead, metal, hard rock, recording, session guitarists and live performing
- Solid tonewood sounds fantastic
- Pickups are a top-of-the-line, in-house PRS job
- Five-way selector switch adds some tonal variety
- Floyd is a nice functional and aesthetic touch
- Finish is beautiful
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 fancy 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 just called "PRS Treble" and "PRS Bass," though they sound fantastic and are on par with the expensive Gibson Burstbucker line. You can actually buy these PRS pickups separately. The screenshot below is from a Sweetwater listing, and while you can't see it, the retail price is $179 for just one pickup. Buying the bass and treble versions together would cost you around $400.
So, 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 "uncovered" this means they'll have a little bit of a brighter 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.
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.
5. PRS signature metal artists
While the PRS brand doesn't immediately conjure up a lot of metal names, there are plenty of hard rocking guitarists that have used PRS either in part or exclusively, over the last couple of decades. A number of them have their own signature models that could be worth a look if you're into the metal scene.
I'll list the four most prominent. Mark Tremonti up first:
The Mark Tremonti Signature
Mark Tremonti's signature guitar is a PRS Singlecut design that has an SE version as well as a full-blown made-in-Maryland version, similar in quality to the "Floyd" Custom 24. Tremonti also had a signature pair of PRS pickups made, which are again, similar to what you'll see on the Gibson Les Pauls. The SE version is significantly stripped down, though is still a popular and well-liked guitar, good for most styles of music, metal included.
The Dustie Waring Signature
Dustie Waring's signature PRS had a very limited order window and is tough to find these days unless you go deep into the used market. However, it's distinctly metal-leaning with DiMarzio pickups, a Floyd Rose tremolo system and punishing heavy tone. It may actually have been the best PRS guitar for metal in recent memory.
Too bad they didn't sell it longer.
The Maryland-MADE (Core model) Mark Holcomb Signature
Like Waring's signature model, PRS limited the ordering window of Mark Holcomb's speed-friendly PRS design 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.
Every once in awhile I've seen them on Amazon.
You might have better luck with some of the boutique and/or local dealers, if you really want one.
The SE Mark Holcomb Signature
If you can't find the Maryland-made version but still want the look and feel of Holcbom's signature PRS, there's an SE version available that's fairly new and looks to be a keeper in the PRS lineup.
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."
Keep in mind: There are some cutbacks compared to the more expensive model. However, the SE version actually does include the Mark Holcomb signature pickups from Seymour Duncan which is an amazing value. If you want to spend low and get a great PRS metal guitar, I love this option.
The Zach Myers Signature
The Zach Myers signature from PRS is still produced, available to purchase and is most popular in its SE form, which costs around $700 retail. Thus it's much cheaper (and more easily accessible) than the Waring and Holcomb signatures.
It's a more basic setup with cheaper parts, though still sounds quite good, with a cutaway and all the PRS SE trimmings. If you're on the budget train, this is a solid buy that doesn't feel like a compromise.
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 styles.
These models are certainly some of the most ideal guitars for metal, but they're not the only workable options.
Not by a long shot.
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 (the Boss power stack is a good option)
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 Musicians Friend and Guitar Center.
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) or tweet.