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The 13 best metal guitars 2021: the ultimate machines for heavy riffing at any budget

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The 13 best metal guitars 2021: the ultimate machines for heavy riffing at any budget
(Image credit: Future)

From thrash to djent and beyond, this guide is taking a look at the best guitars for metal out there right now, all tailor-made for world-dominating heaviness.

Since its gradual inception in the 60s and 70s, metal music has been constantly evolving. As such, the guitar industry has done its best to keep up by modifying and building on previous designs, or starting anew and taking a completely different approach.

There’s a lot out there at the moment, so trying to find the best metal guitar for you can be difficult - this is where we help! We’ve put together a list of the top options currently on the market. 

The world of metal guitars is awash with a vast array of different options - 6, 7 and 8-string models, baritones, multi-scales, different neck profiles, active pickups, high output passive pickups and more - there’s a lot to consider when trying to find the best metal guitar for you. 

Let’s also not undermine the importance of how it looks, either. If you’re looking for a kille metal guitar, it has to look the part too. Pointy headstocks and bodies are typically metal, but sometimes a more understated body shape with a cool finish can do the job nicely too.

Below, you’ll find a selection of the best metal guitars available right now, covering a range of budgets and features. We’ve included some buying advice too, in case you need a little more guidance.

Looking for a great Black Friday music deal? Check out our Black Friday guitar deals page for all the latest news and the best metal guitar offers.

Best metal guitars: Product guide

Best metal guitars: PRS SE Mark Holcomb

(Image credit: PRS)

The Periphery guitarist’s signature is one hell of a beast

Specifications
Price: $899/£899/€1,068
Body: Beveled Maple Top with Quilted Maple Veneer, Mahogany Back
Neck: Maple with satin finish
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: Mark Holcomb Seymour Duncan Alpha and Omega humbuckers
Controls: Volume and push/pull tone controls with 3-way blade pickup switch
Hardware: Plate Style (String-Through) bridge, black chrome hardware
Left-handed: No
Finish: Holcomb Burst
Reasons to buy
+Incredible value+Stunning custom finish+Capable of a lot more than djent

While there is certainly no shortage of metal players who have been seen with a PRS in their hands, it would be fair to say the brand is more associated with vintage class and PAF-style pickups than anything too modern. Which is exactly why this signature was such a welcome addition to their collection, bringing more metallic power to the PRS catalogue without straying too far from what they’re famous for. 

Firstly you’ll notice the signature Mark Holcomb pickups made by Seymour Duncan bring plenty of ceramic roar, with a considerable increase in output compared to most PRS models. That said, this set is still passive and can also be split by pulling out the tone knob – which means you’re getting a whole host of tones out of just two humbuckers.

And though these models ship tuned to Drop C, with a Fender-style 25.5” scale length they work just as well in standard – unlike baritone guitars, which are made with longer scale lengths to facilitate thicker strings at lower tunings. If you’re looking for a PRS that can chug with the best of them and still retain the versatility the brand built its name on, this guitar might just be it.

Read the full PRS SE Mark Holcomb review

Best metal guitars: Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster V4

(Image credit: Fender)

2. Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster V4

One of the best metal guitars for those that like a simple aesthetic

Specifications
Price: $1,599/£1,149/€1,259
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 22
Pickups: 2x EMG Jim Root Signature Daemonum Open-Coil Active Humbuckers
Controls: 1 x Volume, 3-way selector switch
Hardware: 6-Saddle String-Through-Body Hardtail With Block Saddles, Locking Tuners
Left-handed: No
Finish: Arctic White
Reasons to buy
+Slight twist on the EMG sound+Sturdy and road-worthy+Actually used by the man himself
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn’t look particularly metal

The Jim Root Jazzmaster is the first of the Slipknot axe-slinger’s signature models to feature his own set of customised EMG pickups. The Jim Root Daemonum humbuckers were designed to give him everything he loved about the classic EMG 81/60 combo, with the added benefits of more vintage-flavoured Retro Active pickups. 

With a body made from mahogany, and simple but effective hardware, the Jim Root Jazzmaster is built like a tank and so is ready for all the chuggy metal riffs you can throw at it. It’s also not obviously somebody’s signature guitar, so if you’re not a Slipknot fan, but you want something reliable that looks simple and classic, can handle incredibly heavy tones and will play beautifully, then the Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster is one of the best metal guitars out there.

Best metal guitars: Jackson JS32T Rhoads

(Image credit: Jackson)

This affordable Randy Rhoads V is a total victory

Specifications
Price: $299/£274/€299
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
Reasons to buy
+Pickups sound snappy, with plenty of definition+Affordable+Satin finish neck is a delight to play
Reasons to avoid
-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 Jackson JS32T Rhoads review

Best metal guitars: LTD EC-1000 EverTune

(Image credit: LTD)

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

Specifications
Price: $1,099/£999/€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
Reasons to buy
+EverTune bridge ensures constant tuning+Classic metal tones+Unobtrusive bridge design
Reasons to avoid
-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 LTD EC-1000 EverTune review

Best metal guitars: Fender Dave Murray Stratocaster

(Image credit: Fender)

This hot-rodded classic is perhaps the archetypal SuperStrat

Specifications
Price: $1,199/£889/€999
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
Reasons to buy
+Rock-solid Floyd Rose tremolo system+Versatile set of sounds+Iconic Iron Maiden tones
Reasons to avoid
-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 Iron 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 Fender Dave Murray Stratocaster review

Best metal guitars: Ibanez RG550

(Image credit: Ibanez)

One of the best shred guitars of all time returns

Specifications
Price: $999/£899/€999
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
Reasons to buy
+Tonally versatile+Astoundingly speedy playability+A faithful reboot of one of shred and metal's most iconic guitars
Reasons to avoid
-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 Ibanez RG550 review

Best metal guitars: Epiphone Extura Prophecy

(Image credit: Epiphone)

7. Epiphone Extura Prophecy

A modern, versatile take on one of the all-time classic metal guitars

Specifications
Price: $899/£799/€919
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 24.72”
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2x Fishman Fluence Proprietary
Controls: 1 x Volume, 1 x Tone (acts as push/pull for pickup voicings), 3-way selector switch
Hardware: Brushed Nickel, LockTone Tune-O-Matic Bridge, Locking Grover Tuners
Left-handed: No
Finish: Yellow Tiger Aged Gloss, Purple Tiger Aged Gloss, Black Aged Gloss
Reasons to buy
+Really cool finishes+Versatile Fishman Fluence pickups+Classic headstock and body shape
Reasons to avoid
-It’s at the top end of the Epiphone price bracket

The Extura Prophecy is essentially a modern, feature-laden Epiphone Explorer. It’s fitted with a pair of Fishman Fluence pickups that offer three different voicings - one is your classic Gibson PAF sound, one is a high output humbucker sound, and the other is a clear, single-coil sound. As a metal player, you’re likely to spend most of your time on the modern, hot humbucker sound, but having that classic PAF-style bite alongside a nice single-coil tone means you’ve got options for when you need to utilise dynamics.

Whilst the price might be quite high for an Epiphone, you do get an awful lot of guitar for your money. On top of the premium pickups, you get a mahogany body and neck, ebony fingerboard, Grover tuners and locking hardware.

The neck profile is great too - it’s a little thinner around your treble strings, plus there’s a really nice contour where the neck joins the body for easy access to the higher frets. Add into the mix some eye-popping finishes and you’ve got one of the best metal guitars to help you stand out!

Best metal guitars: Schecter Reaper-7 Multi-scale

(Image credit: Schecter)

8. Schecter Reaper-7 Multi-scale

A pro-level, modern 7-string that’s perfect for metal

Specifications
Price: $949/£899/€1025
Body: Swamp Ash with Burl Top
Neck: Maple/Walnut Mluti-ply
Scale: 25.5” - 27”
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2x Schecter Diamond Decimator
Controls: 1 x Volume, 1 x Tone (acts as push/pull for pickup voicings), 3-way selector switch
Hardware: Black & Chrome
Left-handed: Yes (Satin Charcoal Burst only)
Finish: Satin Inferno Burst, Satin Sky Burst, Satin Charcoal Burst
Reasons to buy
+Pro-level 7-string at a great price+Nice mid-range bite+Coil tap pickups adds versatility
Reasons to avoid
-Multiscale might not be for everyone

This is a 7-string multi-scale guitar that is perfectly suited to metal. The extra low string means you don’t have to tune down (though you still can), and really helps with playing super heavy riffs. 

The pickups are Schecter’s own Decimator humbuckers, which have a fairly high output, making them suitable for use with high gain sounds, plus they’ve been voiced to handle the bottom end of the low B string. They’ve got a nice mid-range bite to them which will help cut through a mix, plus you’ve got coil tap options, so you can essentially turn them into single-coil pickups, making the guitar actually really versatile. 

The body has been thoughtfully designed - there’s a bevel in the top so your picking arm sits comfortably against it, making fast-paced chugging that bit easier. The neck is a maple/walnut multi-ply with carbon fibre reinforcement rods which helps keep any unwanted neck movement to a minimum. The multi-scale fingerboard also keeps the bottom end tight, the top end clear, plus it helps with intonation and comfort.

Best metal guitars: Charvel Joe Duplantier Signature Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 2 HH

(Image credit: Charvel)

A Gojira signature model that oozes class

Specifications
Price: $599/£480/€511
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
Reasons to buy
+Stripped-back, to-the-point setup+Tight tones+Excellent playability
Reasons to avoid
-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 model does something similar: adopting the sophisticated broad strokes of classic guitar design and appropriating a 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 Charvel Joe Duplantier Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 2 HH review

Best metal guitars: ESP LTD SC-607 Baritone

(Image credit: ESP)

10. ESP LTD SC-607 Baritone

Adrenaline galore with the Deftones riff master’s signature

Specifications
Price: $1,199/£1,379/€1,444
Body: Mahogany
Neck: 3-piece maple neck-through
Scale: 27"
Fingerboard: Macassar Ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: Fishman SC Signature Fluence set
Controls: Volume with push/pull for different voicings, Tone, 3-way lever switch
Hardware: Tonepros Locking TOM w/ String Thru, LTD Locking tuners
Left-handed: No
Finish: Purple Satin
Reasons to buy
+An eye-catching shade of purple+Multiple voicings thanks to the Fishman Fluence pickups+Perfect for down-tuning
Reasons to avoid
-Not as usable in regular tuning 

Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter actually had two signatures to unveil when NAMM arrived at the beginning of 2020. While the other model, the six-string SC-20, was released in celebration of two decades since his first signature (and in a very fetching sonic blue) – it’s this SC-607 seven-string baritone in Purple Satin that really got our attention.

First of all, it benefits from the guitarist’s signature active Fluence pickups – which feature a second voicing for “more heat” and will ultimately help you get close to those earth-shaking tones he’s known for. With a neck-thru and string thru, you will be guaranteed maximum resonance at lower tunings and dependable stability courtesy of the locking tuners and bridge. All in all, it’s easily one of the best baritones we’ve seen this year…

Best metal guitars: Kramer SM-1

(Image credit: Kramer)

11. Kramer SM-1

An old Kramer classic revisited

Specifications
Price: $1,049/£949/€1,049
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany neck through
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2 x Seymour Duncan Cool Rails, 1 x Seymour Duncan JB
Controls: Volume, Tone, Coil-switch, 5-way blade pickup
Hardware: Floyd Rose 1000 Series tremolo, black die-cast machine heads
Left-handed: No
Finish: Candy Blue, Orange Crush and Maximum Steel
Reasons to buy
+Pointy headstock and pointy headstock inlays+A nice mix of Seymour Duncans+There’s a finish called Maximum Steel!

Now owned and operated by Gibson, the new line of Kramers hark back to the brand’s glory years – when some of the most respected names in rock were swearing by their American-made instruments. While many of the relaunched models cater to the more glam end of the rock spectrum, the SM-1s feel more suited to metal in its extremes.

Based on the old Stagemasters, which were introduced in the mid-80s, these are Kramer’s first neck-thru model; the all-mahogany body and neck ensures a lot more low-end punch. There’s a recessed cavity for the Floyd Rose, unlike the Pacer Vintage or Baretta six-strings, which allows for deeper divebombs and higher harmonic screams. And to top it all off, the blend of medium and high-output passive Seymour Duncans – which can be easily split via the switch under the volume knob – makes this a very versatile tool indeed.

Best metal guitars: Schecter Omen-8

(Image credit: Schecter)

An affordable eight-string that delivers

Specifications
Price: $499/£469/€495
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
Reasons to buy
+Superb playability+Affordable for an eight-string+Impressive build
Reasons to avoid
-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 Schecter Omen-8 review

Best metal guitars: Wylde Audio Odin Grail

(Image credit: Wydle Audio)

13. Wylde Audio Odin Grail

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

Specifications
Price: $1,189/£999
Body: Mahogany with Flame Maple Top
Neck: Maple
Scale: 24.6"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 22
Pickups: EMG 81 humbucker, EMG 85 humbucker
Controls: Bridge volume, neck volume, tone
Hardware: Black Tune-o-matic locking bridge, string-through-body bridge, Grover machine heads
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: RawTop
Reasons to buy
+Great playability+Classic EMG humbucker tones
Reasons to avoid
-Divisive appearance

The Odin Grail 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 out there.

Best metal guitars: Buying advice

Jim Root playing is his Jazzmaster V4

(Image credit: Fender)

Firstly, metal can be played on any kind of guitar - if you’ve got the right amp, and you’ve got the chops, then you can use pretty much anything to get a menacingly metal sound . However, there are some great guitars out there that are perfectly suited to metal players.

Chances are, you’ll want a guitar with humbuckers, as opposed to single coils (though icons like Yngwie Malmsteen and Dave Murray of Iron Maiden are known for rocking Strats). Will you be needing a nice clean tone too, for those quieter breakdowns and interludes? If so, maybe look for something that has coil-tap options.

There’s also the active vs passive pickup decision to make. EMGs are seen in many of the best metal guitars around, and more recently, so are the Fishman Fluence sets, though there’s also a lot to be said for a high output passive pickup, especially if you’re pushing it hard into the front end of a nice, high-gain amp.

Another big consideration is the tuning(s) that you’ll be playing in. If you’re in drop D, or C, then you’ll probably be ok with a 6-string and a thicker string gauge. 7-string guitars give you an extra low B string, and 8-strings give you a low F# (obviously these can be tuned differently). A longer scale length can aid in low tunings too, so that’s something to keep an eye on when picking out the best metal guitar for you.

Many guitars designed with metal in mind will have fairly thin neck profiles and a flatter neck radius - this makes playing speedy licks and riffs a little more comfortable. Most of them will also come shipped with a fairly low action - obviously this is down to personal preference, but a lower action tends to bode well for fast-paced music.

What kind of bridge the guitar has should be thought about as well - if you’re doing a lot of palm muting near the bridge, then a fixed system may be easier. However, the allure of dive-bombs can make a guitar with a locking or Floyd Rose trem system tempting.

With that in mind, here is our selection of the best metal guitars out there right now, covering as many bases as possible. There are some incredible instruments here, but the PRS SE Mark Holcomb signature model just nips the top spot. Like all PRS guitars, it’s made to an incredible standard, it’s classy and understated, it’s superb to play right out of the box, and it sounds phenomenal - chunky and aggressive, yet clear and defined. There are also some really cool signature models out there right now too, including the Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster V4.

Buying a guitar online

Concerned about buying a guitar online without playing it first? You needn’t be. Online music instrument retailers like Thomann, Guitar Center and Sweetwater 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.