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The 11 best guitars for metal: the best you can buy for heavy riffing

The 11 best guitars for metal: the best you can buy for heavy riffing
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Buying a guitar online

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Concerned about buying a guitar online without playing it first? You needn’t be. Online music instrument retailers like Thomann, Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend offer hassle-free returns as standard, so you can purchase a guitar, play it in the comfort and privacy of your home and, if it’s not for you, send it back with ease. Check the specific returns policy for your chosen retailer before you purchase, but most offer between 30-45 days to return an item, as long as it’s in original condition.

How pointy the headstock is is just one of many factors to consider when you're on the trail to find the best guitars for metal.

For starters, you're definitely going to need a guitar that offers effortless playability for when it's time to deliver rapid-fire thrash riffs and blazing solos. As such, your new guitar needs to be set up for a low action and also offer a comfortable neck.

The pickups should be a big consideration, too. You'll definitely need a high-output bridge humbucker for the tight palm-muted distorted tones that heavy metal demands. EMG's active designs have long been the standard pickup of choice, but these days there are plenty of passive options that can capture that level of heft you need.

Other factors to consider when buying a guitar for metal include the bridge system - would the addition of a Floyd Rose locking tremolo help improve your solos? - should you opt for seven- or eight-strings, or a low-tuned baritone? And, of course, there's the aesthetics to think about: exactly how metal are you prepared to go?

Below, we've selected some of the best guitars for every style of metal on the market right now, from signature shredders and classic reissues, to 7-string bargains. Our top pick would have to be the Ola Englund's Solar A2.6, due to its precision playability, defined metal tones and slick look. But rest assured, whichever you choose, one of this brutal lot is sure to handle the heaviest riffs you can play.

The best guitars for metal right now

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1. Solar A2.6

Ola Englund's precision-tooled metal machine

Launch price: $820/£615 | Body: Swamp ash | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x Duncan Solar humbuckers | Controls: 1x five-way blade pickup selector, 1x volume, 1x tone | Hardware: Grover 18:1 tuners, hardtail bridge | Left-handed: | Finish: Trans Blood Red Matte

Effortless, speedy playability
Defined metal tones
Rock-solid tuning
Coil-splits make is surprisingly versatile
You'll need to be careful around that razor-sharp headstock!

As guitarist with The Haunted and Six Feet Under, extreme metal is Ola Englund's bread and butter, and that in turn demands an extreme instrument. With its sharp cutaways, ergonomic contours, and a headstock that you could hunt boar with, the A2.6 looks the part. 

There are no clunky parts; the heel, such as it is, is rounded out into oblivion. Similarly, the neck is whittled down into a profile reminiscent of Ibanez’s slimmest Wizard necks. The hardtail bridge is as unobtrusive and stable as they come, and it’s good to see a set of 18:1 Grover tuners. 

A pair of Duncan Solar humbuckers are seated in the neck and bridge positions, with a five-way blade selector to switch between them. In positions two and four, the ’bucker’s signals are split. This, allied to a tone pot with plenty of torque, gives the A2.6 a wide range of tones.

Read the full review: Solar A2.6

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2. LTD EC-1000 EverTune

The best guitar for metal players who want to stay in tune

Launch price: $1,427 / £999 | Body: Mahogany with maple cap | Neck: 3-piece mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 24 | Pickups: Seymour Duncan JB humbucker, Seymour Duncan Jazz humbucker (EMG 81/60 reviewed) | Controls: 2x volume, tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: EverTune bridge, Grover tuners | Left-handed: Yes (without EverTune) | Finish: See Thru Black, Dark Brown Sunburst

EverTune bridge ensures constant tuning
Classic metal tones
Unobtrusive bridge design
EverTune is complex to get to grips with initially

The EC-1000ET is an all-mahogany single-cut loaded with an set of EMG 81 and 60 active humbuckers, a comfortably modern neck and a high level of construction quality. 

Its key selling point, however, is a fitted EverTune bridge - unlike other tuning systems, it doesn't tune your guitar for you or offer altered tunings. Instead, once set and tuned, it simply aims to stay there, thanks to a series of tension-calibrated springs and levers. We tried everything we could to knock it out of whack: huge, three-step bends, wildly exaggerated string stretching... we even put the guitar into a freezer. It came back perfectly in tune every single time.  

What's more, a guitar that's perfectly tuned and intonated up and down the neck seems to play much more musically. We're not aware of any tone compromises, either. The EC sounds as full and aggressive as ever, with the more mellow tones of the neck EMG being pleasantly rounded, and all bereft of any metallic spring clank. If never going out of tune is important to you, this is one of the best guitars for metal going.

Read the full review: LTD EC-1000 EverTune

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3. Jackson JS32T Rhoads

This affordable Randy Rhoads V is a total victory

Launch price: $333 / £274 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x high-output Jackson humbuckers | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Adjustable string-through-body compensated bridge | Left-handed: No | Finish: White with Black Bevels, Satin Black

Pickups sound snappy, with plenty of definition
Satin finish neck is a delight to play
Just trying to play it while seated...

The Jackson Rhoads V-style is about as pointy as guitars get, and Jackson hasn't made any health-and-safety concessions with the JS32T: it can still pierce skin if deployed with sufficient force. 

The Rhoads is a sharp player, too. The tune-o-matic-style bridge makes low action a cinch, and the almost waxy feel of the satin neck finish is a dream to speed up and down. The high-output own-brand humbuckers offer plenty of snap and presence, providing the definition to handle distorted playing of all styles. 

Dial in a Marshall-y distortion and bust out Crazy Train, and we dare you to stop grinning: the JS32T just nails that sound. It's also cheaper than rival Vs, plays like a dream, delivers classic tones and even functions as a weapon off stage. A winner.

Read the full review: Jackson JS32T Rhoads

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4. Fender Dave Murray Stratocaster

This hot-rodded classic for the Iron Maiden guitarist is perhaps the archetypal SuperStrat

Launch price: $1,024 / £889 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 21 | Pickups: 2x Seymour Duncan Hot Rails for Strat SHR-1B (bridge, neck), 1x Seymour Duncan JB Jr SJBJ-1N | Controls: Volume, 2x tone, 5-way selector switch | Hardware: Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo | Left-handed: No | Finish: Sunburst

Rock-solid Floyd Rose tremolo system
Versatile set of sounds
Iconic Iron Maiden tones
Better suited to more classic sounds

Murray's Strat has an air of refinement; a sober, classy aesthetic complementing a nuanced, classic rock tone. But make no mistake: with two Seymour Duncan Hot Rails stacked humbuckers in neck and bridge, and a JB Jr in the middle, there's plenty of firepower on offer. 

Given that Maiden's increasingly progressive sound makes all sorts of demands on Murray's gear, we're not surprised by the harmonically rich bark of the bridge 'bucker through an all-valve head, lending a fiery heat and squeal to solos. That said, it also has some unexpected sweet spots when the signal is just pushed to breaking point. 

Ultimately, the Dave Murray Stratocaster is one of the best options at this price for metal, with plenty of crunch and scream and a top quality vibrato, arguably trumping Murray's US-built signature model (retailing at more than twice the price) with regards functionality and versatility - if not outright quality.

Read the full review: Fender Dave Murray Stratocaster

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5. Ibanez RG550

One of the best shred guitars of all time returns

Launch price: $999 / £899 | Body: Basswood | Neck: 5-piece maple/walnut | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 24 | Pickups: Ibanez V8 humbucker (bridge), S1 single coil (middle), V7 neck humbucker | Controls: Volume, tone, 5-way selector | Hardware: Edge locking vibrato | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Desert Sun Yellow, Road Flare Red, Purple Neon, White

Tonally versatile
Astoundingly speedy playability
A faithful reboot of one of shred and metal's most iconic guitars
Not for players who prefer thicker necks
The finishes won't be for everyone!

Introduced in 1987 and discontinued in 1994, the Ibanez RG550 remains the childhood sweetheart of many players. Designed as a mass-appeal version of Steve Vai’s famous JEM777 model, it had character in abundance. For this reboot, Ibanez has skilfully managed to extract the very essence of what was so popular about the original RG550 and piece it back together in a way that enhances its legacy. 

The Japanese-made 2018 vintage is, essentially, a masterclass in everything that is good about shred and metal guitars. The neck feels lithe - your hand glides, rather than simply moving - while the Edge vibrato is rock-solid and the overall craftsmanship is exemplary. 

Tonally, the RG550 covers a lot of bases. It always did, despite its pointy appearance, meaning you could comfortably stray into all kinds of genres without too much fuss. The US-designed V7 bridge humbucker delivers the razor-sharp riff platform you’d hope it would, while the V8 neck ’pup offers a hint of compression at higher gain settings, which levels lead lines nicely.

Read the full review: Ibanez RG550 review

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6. Charvel Joe Duplantier Signature Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 2 HH

A Gojira signature model that oozes class

Launch price: $827 / £480 | Body: Nato | Neck: Nato | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Duncan HB-103 humbuckers | Controls: Volume, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Adjustable tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece | Left-handed: No | Finish: Satin White

Stripped-back, to-the-point setup
Tight tones
Excellent playability
Could be too simplistic for some

Joe Duplantier describes his Charvel signature model as “a killing machine with class” (the same could be said of his band, Gojira). This Charvel Joe Duplantier does something similar: adopting the sophisticated broad strokes of classic guitar design and appropriating a Fender Telecaster headstock for genuine retro kudos to offset a beefed-up, T-style body shape. 

Played clean the Pro-Mod is persuasive with lots of gutsy Americana twang from the bridge pickup, with warmer, woodier cream in the neck - perfect for creepy intros or blues, while cranking up the gain sees the Duplantier in its element. This guitar feels alive, with a compound radius neck and smooth oil finish that are supremely comfortable for chord work or ripping leads. A neatly sculpted heel adds to what is a most accommodating instrument.

Read the full review: Charvel Joe Duplantier Signature Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 2 HH

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7. LTD M-17

One of the most affordable seven-string guitars on the market

Launch price: $284 / £209 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x ESP LH-107 humbuckers | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Adjustable tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece | Left-handed: No | Finish: Black

Excellent first seven-string guitar
Top-notch build quality
Extremely playable
Clean tones aren't up to much
You'll want to replace the pickups down the line

The LTD M-17 is one of the biggest seven-string bargains out there. Sure, on paper, the spec isn't going to blow anyone away: basswood body, ESP Designed humbuckers, flat black finish... there's nothing out of the ordinary here. However, the ESP-embossed backplate and tuners, not to mention the M-17 inlay at the 12th fret, make the guitar look more expensive than it is. 

The through-body stringing is a nice touch, too - it increases sustain and resonance, which proves especially satisfying when you let that low B ring. Speaking of which, the M-17 ships in standard seven-string tuning (B E A D G B E), which, coupled with its six-string-standard 648mm (25.5-inch) scale length, eases the transition for newcomers. 

String definition isn't quite as sharp as the M-17's bigger brothers, and you'll have to crank your amp's gain to really get your palm-muted chug on. But what chugs they are - a guitar for all seasons the M-17 is not, but it doesn't cost the earth, either.

Read the full review: LTD M-17

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8. Wylde Audio Odin

Zakk Wylde's hard-rock and metal-focused LP-alike

Launch price: $999 / £999 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24.6" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: EMG 81 humbucker, EMG 85 humbucker | Controls: Bridge volume, neck volume, tone | Hardware: Tune-o-matic locking bridge, string-through-body bridge, Grover machineheads | Left-handed: Yes (Grail Bullseye finish only) | Finish: Death Claw Molasses, Grail Crimson Gold Buzz Saw, Grail Genesis Bullseye, Grail Gangrene Bullseye

Great playability
Classic EMG humbucker tones
Divisive appearance

The Odin is a cool twist on Zakk Wylde's beloved Gibson Les Paul format. It's that neck that's got us hooked. In common with the rest of the Wylde bunch, the Odin has a fat-profile neck, like something you'd find on a pre-'59 Gibson Les Paul. It's made from three pieces of maple and that, along with its substantial girth, makes the neck feel rigid. That's great news for tuning stability and tone. 

The active EMG 81 bridge unit is a metal staple, stuffed with ceramic magnets for powerful output and sustain, and the razor-sharp response that you need with high-gain distortion. The 85 neck 'bucker is a bottomless pit of low-end, but in typical EMG style doesn't sound muddy when you kick in the dirt. 

The fat neck and bright attack of the Odin's ebony fingerboard propel riffs and licks through your amp. If metal is your gain, this is one of the best metal guitars for you.

Read the full review: Wylde Audio Odin

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9. Chapman ML1 Modern Baritone

One of the best baritone guitars for metal

Launch price: $449 / £449 | Body: Alder body with ash veneer | Neck: Maple | Scale: 28" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x Chapman Sonorous Zero Baritone humbuckers | Controls: Volume, tone (w/ push/pull coil-split), 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Hardtail bridge, Graph Tech nut | Left-handed: No | Finish: Gloss Graphite

Superb value
Stunning looks
Great tuning stability and playability
Best suited to metal - but that's what we're here for!

This low-tuned baritone is a very well-made, nicely thought-out instrument with superb attention to detail. Small things like the binding on the body, the rounded heel joint and locking tuners all add up to a guitar that is above what you’d expect for that level of spend. 

Clearly, djent-style riffers are going to benefit from the high output humbuckers, and the guitar has an overall heft to it, thanks to the alder body and ash top. But it’s far more versatile than it may first appear, largely down to the coil-splittable pickups, which offer an extra dimension tonally.

Read the full review: Baritone guitar round-up

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10. Epiphone Björn Gelotte Ltd Edition Les Paul Custom

This In Flames signature model is one of the best Les Pauls for metal

Launch price: $1,332 / £599 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: EMG 81 (bridge), EMG 85 (neck) | Controls: 2x volume, 2x tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: LockTone Tune-O-Matic bridge w/ stopbar tailpiece, Grover Rotomatic tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Ebony, Bone White

Iconic EMG active humbucker tones
Classic Les Paul playability
Great looks
Scale length could be a little short for down-tuners

Sure, this Les Paul is built in China, but Gibson DNA runs right through it in terms of tone, look and feel.  So, too, does Gelotte's. The classic Custom headstock inlay is tweaked to incorporate In Flames' jester mascot, while Gelotte's signature is emblazoned across the truss rod cover. 

A pair of active EMG humbuckers - a gold-plated 81/85 set from EMG's Metal Worksseries - provide the firepower, and the result is quite spectacular.  As expected, thick, commanding rock and metal tones are its bread and butter: the EMG 85 in the neck is a weapon for precise, high-gain leads, and a classic partner to the 81's full- throated bite. 

Cleans range from piano-ish clarity to light blues crunch; only when rolling back the tone do you lose a little definition. It all makes for a decadent guitar that pairs classic looks with all the power of a modern metal electric.

Read the full review: Epiphone Björn Gelotte Ltd Edition Les Paul Custom

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11. Schecter Omen-8

An affordable eight-string that delivers

Launch price: $619 / £469 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 26.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x Schecter Diamond Plus ceramic humbuckers | Controls: 1x volume, 1x tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Custom-8 hardtail bridge | Left-handed: No | Finish: Vintage White, Gloss Black, Walnut Satin

Superb playability
Affordable for an eight-string
Impressive build
Disappointing midrange tones

The Omen-8 is Schecter's most affordable eight-string, and its maple neck and 24-fret rosewood fretboard are highly playable, making it great for eight-string beginners. With a scale length of 26.5 inches - an inch longer than a Stratocaster - you'll find the guitar has increased string tension and therefore should increase the tuning stability of the strings. 

The Omen-8 comes with a .010 string on the top, going down to a meaty .069, and it's intended to be tuned from low to high to: F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E. Played acoustically, it exhibits a strong, defined tone with plenty of sustain. The longer neck isn't really noticeable, and it's not as thick as you might fear. In fact, it's a pleasure to play. 

When it comes to electronics, the massive passive humbuckers sound heavy, but both are susceptible to noise/interference, so a set of EMGs or Seymour Duncans would surely make a terrific upgrade. With the distortion cranked, the naturally chunky tone comes through despite the less-refined pickups. The Omen-8 has clout where it counts, though, with great playability and a solid build.

Read the full review: Schecter Omen-8