Heavy metal guitarists are known for their technical prowess, powerful tones, and ridiculously tight strumming patterns. To maximize the effectiveness of these attributes, a suitable heavy metal guitar is essential.
Although a guitar's qualities are subjective in many musical genres, heavy metal guitars need to produce certain results to be well suited to the playing style. These unique models are full of attitude, aggression, and character.
Best Guitars for Thrash, Black & Death Metal
Table of Contents
- Best Guitars for Thrash, Black & Death Metal
- What Makes a Great Death Metal Guitar?
Highly respected metal guitarist Nita Strauss collaborated with Ibanez on her signature JIVA10 model, and the result is a speed-enhancing, huge-sounding guitar. With an uncommon combination of nyatoh and quilted maple forming its body, the JIVA10 feels unique to play.
The tonewood blend is completed by the addition of a maple/purple heart neck and a classy ebony fingerboard. For playing fast riff blitzes and transitioning quickly up and down the frets, these materials are ideally suited.
Another aspect of this Ibanez axe that makes it a great choice for heavy metal guitarists is the 3-piece Nitro wizard neck. It makes technical guitar playing a less arduous task, especially with the finishing touch of treated fret-edges.
Aggression is a required quality from a metal guitar, so Strauss insisted that specially configured DiMarzio pickups be installed on the JIVA10. Offering plenty of bite, snarl, and power, these pickups are sure to give your amplifier a strenuous workout!
What separates a decent heavy metal guitar from an exceptional one is the small nuances. The JIVA10 boasts brilliant tremolo-producing ability, thanks to the inclusion of Edge-Zero II technology, and the EKG-style fingerboard inlay adds to the character of this fire-breathing guitar.
The term “legend” is sometimes used generously to describe musicians, but few could argue with labeling Slipknot lead guitarist Mick Thomson with that accolade. His signature model is a great choice for aspiring metal guitarists.
The SL2 has several features chosen to promote playability. Thomson's guitar playing is precise, technical, and fast-paced, and these are the qualities enhanced by his collaborative model with Jackson.
Featuring a 25.5-inch scale and a mahogany body, the SL2 provides both comfortable playability and resonant tones. The maple neck has an oil finish to allow your fingers to transition with lightning speed, and the ebony-compound radius fingerboard further enhances this quality.
In terms of the tonal capabilities of the SL2, Thomson's signature AHB-3S Humbuckers, designed with pickup experts Seymour Duncan, produces a wide range of heavy metal sounds. For crunchy riffs, shredded solos, or rhythmic palm-mutes, the SL2 is highly capable.
The Damien Platinum 6FR by Schecter is an affordable heavy metal guitar that is packed with top-end features. A solid body instrument, the 6FR has a mahogany body that feels robust but doesn't weigh you down on stage.
Heavy metal guitar necks need adequate rigidity, and this is provided by the 3-piece maple construction on the Platinum 6FR. The neck plays fast and smooth, catering for speedy riffs and motifs.
The body is made from solid mahogany, a tonewood known for its durability and tight sound. If tremolo is an effect you like to use, or are curious about using, the Floyd Rose Special tremolo fitting will be a welcome addition.
Tuning stability is of paramount importance for heavy metal guitarists. The aggressive nature of the genre means that strings are constantly subjected to tension and release.
With Grover Rotomatic tuners installed, the Damien Platinum 6 FR boasts robust tuning stability that you can rely on.
ESP LTD’s GH-600 is the signature model of Gary Holt, an acclaimed guitarist who has played in two exceptional heavy metal bands, Exodus, and more recently, Slayer. This metal-axe is full of character and aggression.
The thick tone of the GH-600 is largely due to the installation of dual EMG pickups. Combined with a top-end distortion pedal, these pickups sound gigantic. There’s also plenty of sustain offered by these pickups, making them well-equipped for metal soloing.
The GH-600 features the timeless Eclipse body shape that heavy rock and metal guitarists have raved about for decades. The single-cutaway design further boosts the guitar’s sustain, while the top is shaped with a slight arch to improve comfort.
Reaching the upper registers on the fretboard is essential for heavy metal guitarists. That's why Gary Holt insisted that his signature model has a sharp cutaway, to ensure that there's no hindrance when you slide up to shred the high notes.
ESP has also fitted the GH-600 with a stylish rose bridge and tailpiece. This is known to enhance the tremolo-producing ability of the guitar. The bridge is a remake of the classic Floyd Rose blade tremolo and adds an authentic touch to the instrument.
Glam metal is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated genres to ever branch out from the heavy rock. In the late 1980s, some incredible music was made under the umbrella of this boundary-pushing style.
The HM Strat was one of the signature guitars to be produced around that time. Combining eccentricity with the ferocity needed from a heavy metal guitar, it was a popular choice for shredders in the decade of large hair and large sounds!
The tone of the recreated HM Strat is warm, with particularly aggressive mid-range frequencies. When combined with a powerful tube amp, the guitar screams with natural distortion.
Keeping with the theme of glam-metal, the HM Strat has a detachable whammy bar. A signature of the genre, the bar can be used to obliterate your solos and add a touch of flair to your riffs.
The pickups used in the HM Strat are perfect for hard-hitting metal tones. With an HSS configuration that consists of a humbucker in the bridge and single coils in the middle and neck positions, you get a smooth blend of sweet harmonics and razor-sharp output.
The exquisite solid-body Pro-Mod MK24 is a collaboration between two guitar icons, Charvel and Jackson. The two manufacturers came together to create a special electric guitar that caters to all styles of metal.
With an alder Jackson Dinky body, the MK24 is surprisingly lightweight, making it suitable for long, energetic performances. The Charvel Speed Neck is reinforced with granite, to blend stability with smooth playability.
Charvel's influence is most apparent on the guitar's fingerboard. With the familiar 12"-16" radius, you get a consistent tone across the frequency range, and the platform for technical metal guitarists to express their fast runs.
The pickups used on the Pro-Mod MK24 are two Seymour Duncan humbuckers. In the bridge position, you will find a Full Shred SH-10, bubbling with power and energy. This offsets the vintage-styled Alnico II Pro APH-1N pickup that is positioned in the neck position.
The Charvel DK24 also produces warm tremolo thanks to the addition of a recessed Gotoh Custom 510 tremolo bridge. Sitting flush with the body of the guitar, it adds layers of texture to your tone and boosts the tuning stability.
The PRS SE Mark Holcomb signature was engineered to provide metal guitarists with high-end components, flawless playability, and sharp biting tones. Boasting many features that Holcomb uses to produce his technical guitar licks, this solid body model is great value for money,
The proprietary fixed bridge reinforces the tuning stability of the guitar, while the 20" fretboard radius is well suited to technical styles of metal. The neck is made from maple and combined with an ebony fingerboard to promote smooth transitions between notes.
The tone of the PRS SE Mark Holcomb model is ideal for thrash metal. Punchy and clear-sounding, it produces red-hot lead tones and the classic heavy metal chugging power-chord sound.
With Holcomb's signature Seymour Duncan Alpha and Omega humbucking pickups installed, this PRS guitar has a balanced tone across the fretboard.
The guitar comes in Drop C tuning from the factory, so you can get to work on some low-end riffs straight away.
The C-1 FR-S by Schecter is a versatile heavy metal guitar made with top-tier components and with attitude in abundance. With a total of 24 frets made from stainless steel installed on a smooth ebony fretboard, this guitar feels great in your hands.
A solid-body guitar, the C-1 FR-S can handle the most aggressive of strummers. The chosen pair of humbucking pickups were specifically selected to complement each other.
Situated in the bridge position is an Apocalypse humbucker that snarls in the low-end. In the neck position, the Sustainiac pickup enhances the length of each note, allowing you to play endless lead lines and rung-out chords.
For technical heavy-metal guitarists, the fast-playing neck combined with a Floyd Rose tailpiece will be a welcome addition. These components allow you to be precise with your picking.
The JS32 by Jackson features their renowned Dinky body style and offers a thick, confrontational tone. Affordable and minimalistic, the JS32 is the perfect metal guitar for those who like to plug in and shred, with no messing around.
The Dinky JS32 is rich with sustain, so you can let the notes of a solo or riff ring out freely. Thanks to the lightweight and resonant poplar body, the guitar can be easily worn for long periods of practice or recording without causing fatigue.
Speed is vital for heavy metal guitarists, and the JS32 offers it in abundance. The rapid maple neck is designed for technical motifs and riffs, encouraging your fingers to pace up and down the fretboard.
The staple Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo bridge adds to the warm tones of the JS32 and ensures tuning stability no matter how energetic your strumming becomes. The pickups produce a high output that is perfect for metal guitar.
A pair of Jackson's custom-built ceramic-magnet humbuckers are responsible for the snarling tone of the Dinky JS32. In the treble-end, they sound smooth and harmonically rich, but when you play more aggressively they become red-hot in an instant.
10. ESP LTD EC-256
Despite its relatively low-price, the ESP LIT EC-256 is littered with high-end features that could easily convince you that it's much more expensive. Offering lightning-fast playability, a versatile array of tonal options, and solid construction, it's an option worth considering.
The snappiness of the EC-256’s tone is largely a result of its mahogany body. This material is known to add a little bite to the mid-range. Sustain is also available in bucket loads, thanks to the set-neck design.
The shape of this ESP LTD axe is based on their revered Eclipse body. A thing of legends amongst metal guitarists, the sharp-cutaway design opens the door to the higher frets and makes for smooth traveling up and down the fretboard.
The top of the guitar is arched ever so slightly. The advantage of this is that it reduces the bulkiness of the body while making the guitar more comfortable, regardless of your picking or strumming style.
The pickups installed by ESP were hand-picked for their heavy metal compatibility. Designed by the manufacturer, the dual humbucking pickups provide a wide range of tones, while the coil tap and be switched to activate single-coil tones also.
What Makes a Great Death Metal Guitar?
Finding the perfect guitar for blues, indie rock, folk or jazz is pretty straightforward. It's easy to pinpoint the pickups, materials, and manufacturers that musicians prefer for these genres. Heavy metal is a little more tricky.
Metal guitarists know that their chosen axe must have certain qualities: aggressive tones, fast-playing necks, high outputs, and high-quality materials. However, there are other things to consider also, due to the unique nature of heavy metal guitar playing and the incredible technical skills it requires.
The age-old debate of single-coil vs. humbucking pickups is relevant when choosing a heavy metal guitar. Although single coils produce a cleaner tone that is preferred for less heavy styles of rock, humbucking pickups are preferred for heavy metal due to the thickness they add to your output.
Most metal guitarists have a tremolo bridge installed on their guitar, especially if they play a lot of lead guitar. The main advantage of having tremolo is that the bar can be used for dive bombs or adding some vibrato to your tone.
Heavy metal guitarists who predominantly play rhythm and chord-based riffs should probably avoid tremolo. It can overcomplicate things and is only necessary if you love to shred out solos.
Scale length can be a confusing thing to wrap your head around. When people hear of short-scale guitars, they seem to anticipate that this means a loss of power and output.
That's not always the case, but the thing to be mindful of when considering what scale length would perfectly suit death metal guitar is that short-scale models don't cope well with drop tunings.
Drop C and Drop D are extremely common in metal music, and having a guitar with a long scale length will allow you to detune your strings with no issues.
I have tons of respect for death, black, and thrash metal guitarists. Their technical skills are incredible, and the sheer power of their tone is a truly unique listening experience.
In some genres of rock music, you can get away with just using any old guitar and relying on pedals to do the work for you. Metal requires much more consideration, so it’s really important to choose a model that feels comfortable and sounds exactly how you desire it to.