If Gear4music's Metal J II electric guitar catches your eye, the chances are that BC Rich, Dean, Jackson and ESP guitars also figure highly on your wishlist. These more prestigious brands, who all have a reputation for making guitars that appeal to shredders and heavy metallers, all offer guitars for well under £200. However, if a Floyd Rose vibrato is a must-have, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Step forward Gear4Music's Metal J II. Sporting a licensed locking Floyd Rose vibrato, high output pickups in HSH configuration, 24 frets, a reverse headstock and some rather pointy cutaways, this guitar is aimed squarely at metal fans who want serious bang for not much buck.
First impressions are good. The action is reasonably low and the neck is slender - perfect for speedy scale runs, string skipping and sweep picking. The matt finish of the maple neck isn't exactly eye-pleasing and a final coat of satin or gloss lacquer would make it feel better, too, but it's not a hindrance as you cross the neck.
Top-fret access is fantastic so if you spend a lot of time up at the dusty end you will appreciate this guitar. Comfortable to hold and comfortable to play, then; so far the Metal J II ticks the two most important boxes.
The Floyd Rose vibrato is pleasingly responsive: you only need to give it a gentle push to generate some serious pitch changes. This is good news as too much energy spent operating the whammy bar makes other pick-hand duties like, er… picking, all the more difficult. There are no such worries here, though.
The tuning isn't as stable as it could be; rock solid tuning under heavy abuse is the whole point of a locking system, after all. Still, the tuning discrepancies are small enough to live with.
We found the intonation on our review model of the Metal J II needed adjusting. Of course, you've got to expect some compromise on a highly spec'd guitar retailing for under £150, but Floyd Rose systems are not easy to set up so it's not really a DIY job and we don't think it's too much to ask for a guitar to be fully set up on purchase, regardless of its price tag.
We were also disappointed to encounter some of fret buzz, mainly mid-fretboard, but also up at the 21st to 24th frets. Factor in the cost of a visit to a local luthier to rectify these flaws to your budget and you should still have a very decent axe for under £200.
Tonally, the Metal J II's combination of humbucker and single-coil pickups, plus a five-way selector switch, gives you plenty of sounds to experiment with. As you might expect from the name and appearance of this guitar, the sounds are geared towards rock and metal.
There is plenty of output on tap; the bridge humbucker sounds fat and brash and has a nice treble hike to help solos cut through. The neck humbucker is perfect for heavy metal riffing; it's a touch warmer sounding but still has that treble spike for presence.
The single-coil pickup is rich in the mid-range and bass. Don't expect funky Stratocaster tones here - this is much beefier. The amount of single-coil buzz may irk players used to more refined sounds, but if you just want to thrash out power chords with your amp set to 10, you probably won't care.
Overall, the Metal J II is a reasonably well-made, well-equipped guitar, made to appeal to aspiring shredders. If you need a Floyd Rose-equipped guitar for less than £200 then we recommend you try one.