Are you looking to make death metal music in the modern age? Do you have an older metal guitar that you do not feel is up to the job anymore? Are you looking to replace your old steed with the best guitar for death metal?
Well, you are in the right place, for today we will be running through 6 of the best guitars for death metal that money can buy, as well as going through some of the most important things to consider when looking to buy metal guitars in the first place.
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What to Look For
In searching for the best metal guitar for yourself, there are a few things you will want to bear in mind along the way.
Granted, everyone’s own experience with their instrument as well as what they will be wanting it to deliver them can vary wildly, but there are a few basics worth heeding before jumping straight in and trying to find the best guitar for death metal, for there are certain building materials that are inherently better for making death metal music.
It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that the best wood for death metal guitars is mahogany. While the reasons for this can sometimes border on superstition, there are some perfectly valid scientific reasons, regardless of whether you use passive or active pickups.
A mahogany body produces a warmer, darker, punchier, and altogether beefier tone when conducting the vibration of the strings, the kind of tone that puts the heavy in heavy metal.
The chug is an essential part of a person’s ability to play death metal, and a mahogany body provides it in spade, allowing a girthy chug without sacrificing any of the guitar’s ability to resonate properly, all while offering forth an impressive amount of sustain on the notes.
Mahogany is also a fairly inexpensive wood from which to construct a guitar and is in fact highly durable considering the cost. The main downside comes in the form of the weight of the wood, being one of the more dense and heavy tonewoods, hence the bulk and durability.
Alternatively, there is alder, a tonewood that provides more of a mid-range sound with brighter inflections, ideal for a guitar like the Stratocaster. This would be a slightly more rogue choice for metal guitarists, though it would also be in acknowledgment of a lot of the roots of the genre, e.g. Ritchie Blackmore et al.
Another option would be basswood, which offers more of a balanced tone, with a girth in the bottom end that is mirrored by the brightness in the upper range. Most importantly, it is far lighter than mahogany, meaning that it can cater to just about any stage antics you might find yourself yearning for and is in fact one of the best guitars for the job. Many metal guitarists swear by it, especially those who have been a bit in the back hard by heavy mahogany.
Alongside tuning, the gauge of the strings on the guitar is another important thing to consider. Any heavy metal guitar equipped with a set of 9 gauge strings, for example, is scarcely going to cut it. They will simply be too light to do any of the damage that death metal musicians are looking to do.
The bizarre part is that, even though the best metal guitars are catered for death metal guitarists and the like, they usually come fitted with either 9 gauge or 10 gauge strings as standard.
You will, instead, want to cut off those strings and fit on a set of 12 gauge or 13 gauge strings as standard, especially since most death metal guitarists see fit to tune their guitars down to at least drop C (or even C standard in some instances).
A thicker string is also going to give you far more to bounce off of, allowing that almighty chug to ring good and ring true, projected forth through the girthy mahogany tonewood and outwards through the appropriate pickups and amplifiers. Lower tunings are more of a standard in modern metal than in classic metal, so proceed considering your own allegiances.
If you are looking to be a metal machine that speeds through ranges of fat riffs, then it would seem that a ‘C’ shaped neck would be the way to go. They are rather inoffensive, not getting in the way at all of your high-speed escapades all over the fretboard.
The ‘C’ shape is also arguably the most popular and common neck shape, so you are not going to struggle to find the best guitar for death metal for you that comes along with a ‘C’ shaped neck.
Similarly, anyone looking to play metal will want to consider the kind of bridge they are getting involved with. A popular choice among metal guitar players is the Floyd Rose double locking tremolo system, one of the more subversive guitar bridge types.
Advocates believe it is the best for staying in tune as well for the comfort and speed as well, all of which are essential components to consider for virtually any style of music.
These are more on the expensive side, however, so you can absolutely get away with using a hardtail bridge (e.g. a tune o Matic bridge), which is still comfortable enough and stays in tune enough to get the job done.
Typically, a bolt-on neck is indicative that the guitar in question is less expensive. This is not always the case of course, for there are plenty of guitars in a higher price bracket that features a bolt-on neck.
However, a guitar with neck-through construction is easily the more popular option on a death metal guitar for the simple reason that they provide more sustain than a bolt-on neck might, though this comes at an inherently higher price point of at least $600.
In a similar vein, it is worth considering the fingerboard on the guitar. Ebony, maple, or rosewood fingerboard are all popular and apposite choices for the job. Maple delivers a marginally brighter tone which will be less desirable for the metal genre. There are relatively few differences between the ebony and rosewood fingerboard, so at this point, it will come down to personal preference.
Best Guitars for Death Metal
So, without further ado, let us get into the business of outlining for you the best death metal guitars this side of 2022, wherein we will outline for you the various pros and cons of each so that you might be able to make your own judgments without our own opinion holding too much sway in the eventual choice of death metal guitar that you do make.
1. Jackson JS32 Rhoads
This is a guitar straight from hell itself, a classic death metal guitar shape of a Rhoads, willing to be ridden like one of the four apocalyptic horses foretold and prophesied in the bible.
The guitar has looks and sounds to back it up. It is fitted with the kind of Jackson high output humbucker pickups that all heavy metal guitarists ought to be familiar with. They can be crystal clear and deliver a thorough and nuanced study of dissonance, perfect for articulating long sweeps of notes.
The body itself is relatively light and made from poplar, and thus more comfortable than a more cumbersome mahogany body. The neck is a bolt-on maple neck with reinforcements that negate the fact that it is a bolt-on, alongside a neck profile that is perfect for the more speed-minded guitarist.
The locking nut makes this a keeper for anyone who has previously struggled to keep their guitar in tune consistently. The main issue with this guitar is that it is nigh on impossible to play sat down, owing of course to its hellish shape.
- The ideal aesthetic for a metal guitar boasts a more than hellish shape to exemplify how the music sounds.
- Nuanced and powerful Jackson humbucking pickups.
- Locking nut means that the guitar is going to stay in tune for far longer than it otherwise might.
- The hellish shape makes it nigh on impossible to play while sitting down, something to think about.
2. Ibanez RGA42FM
Well gee, that sure is a catchy name! It sometimes seems like the names of heavy metal guitars are about as unfriendly on the eyes as their bodily appearances.
This guitar, however, will not leave the user in any way disappointed. This classic shape is a louder variant of the Stratocaster shape, mirrored in its tonal qualities, which are incredibly loud and amped up.
Many believe this is exactly what a metal guitar ought to sound like, with clarity and power present in spades. The vibrato system is also comfortable and more than up to the task of manipulating pitch at a whim without sacrificing the tuning and temperament.
The guitar itself is said to feel very good, with a thin ‘C’ shaped neck especially built to accommodate a righteous shred. The angular shape, contrary to common sense, fits surprisingly well with the user’s body, contouring to the various shapes of the various users.
The guitar also comes in a number of crazy and kooky colors, rendering this a perfect opportunity to express oneself other than through the music.
- This guitar has death metal written all over it, with angular shapes and flamed body patterning beneath the surface.
- Loud pickups that are more than up to the task of translating the hellish soundscapes within you without.
- Top-notch tremolo system.
- Comes in plenty of bodacious and bombastic colors.
- The wood that the guitar is constructed from is on the heavier side.
- The looks, depending on the color chosen, are not for everyone.
3. ESP LTD EC-401
ESP has long been known as one of the more underground guitar brands to rely upon for heavy metal guitar excursions. This particular model will be of interest to guitarists used to or wanting to in the future tune down to various drop tunings, or perhaps want to learn some drop A songs on guitar.
This guitar can certainly deliver tonally, able to bear many of the lower tunings that have come to characterize death metal of late.
The shape of this guitar is extremely reminiscent of a Gibson Les Paul, though with a hellish twist that renders it far more demonic, as though a cross breed of the Les Paul and an SG.
This is a very practical guitar shape made from maple and rosewood and mahogany, using the best elements of each. Thus, it is said to be a delight to hold and play metal guitar with.
- Perfectly suited for the lower standard and drop tunings that have come to characterize death metal music in the latter part of the 20th century.
- Tonal characteristics are varied, but with the right dialing in can be called upon to play just about any kind of metal imaginable.
- Comfortable neck shape and size mean that it will be a delight to both ascend and descend at speed.
- The more traditional look might not be to everyone’s taste.
- On the more expensive side of metal guitars, sometimes breaching the $1000 mark. It is up to the user whether it is worth it or not.
4. Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special HH
A plain old Fender Stratocaster is already one of the most versatile guitars in the business, so for them to have taken this adept instrument and channeled its versatility into a death metal guitar makes this an ideal instrument for someone wanting to experiment outside the usual run of the mill sounds of the genre.
With guitars like this, Fender and Squier have sought to rethink this iconic model of guitar from that of a classic rock steed into something more powerful, fitted with humbucker pickups (though still fed through a five-way selector switch that enables you to customize and particularise your sound on the fly and with ease).
There are plenty of color combinations to choose from, and this axe comes fitted with medium jumbo frets, an adequate answer to the question of what are jumbo frets in the first place.
- Attention to detail that is almost out of sync with the
- The reasonable price point for such a powerful guitar.
- 5-way pickup switch allows more customization of tone and timbre, in the studio and on the fly at a concert.
- The low price point will definitely be exhibited in the build quality, even if it is not abundantly present in the sound itself.
- The overall aesthetic and visual appearance is not very metal, and if you are someone who is unable to cope with the judgment of meatheads then this is going to be a problem.
5. ESP LTD EC-256
As ESP metal guitars go, this is easily one of the best of their more affordable instruments. Much like other guitarists of the same brand, they offer a comfortable playing experience as a point of top priority.
Much like the instruments of older progenitors of the metal genre like Ritchie Blackmore, this guitar comes kitted out with extra-jumbo frets, making fast playing with style and ease as easy as can be.
More than anything this guitar is simply a lot of fun. The various parts individually feel like their price, the tuner and the pickups not being the best of the best on the market, but the parts come together to form a fairly cohesive whole that can produce a surprisingly wide range of tones.
Despite the hellish horn, the design is more classic than a lot of other metal guitars, with a smooth carving in the area which comes into contact with the user’s stomach. Considering the price, the individual parts are brought together and fitted as one unit in a very satisfactory way.
- Easily one of the best ESP LTD guitars at this price range,
- Meaning that you get plenty of bang for your buck.
- A plethora of different color combinations to choose from.
- Also comes fitted with a push-pull pickup separator and a toggle for loudness.
- Individual parts are not the best on the market, and some might even need replacing out of the box if you are a fussier musician.
6. Schecter Hellraiser C1
This particular metal guitar is oft considered to be one of the best, managing to master a number of key aspects of the instrument in one neat package. Besides being a hardcore instrument aesthetically and eponymously, it is also constructed from highly capable materials at a price point that is a little more expensive than some but that will deliver the goods reliably and consistently.
The surface finish of the guitar is quilted, while the body itself is made from sturdy and reliable mahogany, a righteous tonewood if ever there were one. They even push the boat out with the design on the frets, boasting an almost medieval iconography that is heavily reminiscent of earlier incarnations of heavy metal which favored intensely pagan imagery in aligning themselves with satan against god.
The humbuckers fitted on the Hellraiser are active and battery powered so as to deliver a crushing tone capable of raising all the hell desired. This will definitely be a guitar for those willing to take their death metal to new heights of sonic genocide.
- Powerful battery-powered pickups offer a rich and detailed tonal spectrum.
- Perfect for those looking to take their sonic genocide into extreme new territories.
- Materials are of a high pedigree.
- Strong attention to detail in the visuals too.
- Immense value considering the price.
- The price might be a bit of a push for some, and that is perfectly okay.
So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling somewhat wiser about what makes a death metal guitar, and about whether your own instrument qualifies and can do the job.
Even if you have not walked away from this article with a concrete idea of what your next will be, I hope that you have at least got more of an idea of what to look for in purchasing a guitar for the production, manufacture, and overall creation of death metal and the like.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
There are a whole host of options for metal guitars, and thus no one holistic guitar that you should get that is going to cheat your way to the top. I suppose the trick is to look out for a guitar that is more pointy than your average more round-edged axe. These tend to be more hellish in appearance and are thus aimed more towards hellish kinds of music like metal.
The best way to get a death metal guitar tone is simply to experiment with all of the elements you have available to you and see what works. One of the key elements will obviously be distortion, but there is also a middle ground to be carved out in metal genres, of distortion that is both powerful but that also allows for the clear enunciation and sounding out of individual notes, especially when picking out melodies or sweep picking arpeggios and the like. Humbuckers are fairly commonplace because they offer a thicker and beefier tonal quality that many guitarists in the genre simply prefer.
While there is no one holistic tuning that all death metal guitarists prefer over all others, death metal guitarists have been known to gravitate towards drop G as a matter of preference. This involves tuning the guitar down to A standard and then further detuning the bottom-most string to G, meaning the lineup of strings is: G – D – G – C – E – A. The string gauge and intonation needed for this kind of tuning are beyond the call of duty for most guitars that have not been specially fitted for the purpose.
I would say so, yes, though I am one for more experimental takes on music. While there are certain precedents for the kind of guitars that are used to make metal music these days, at a certain time people would have been experimenting with all sorts of different models of guitar, trying to make it work. Early progenitors of heavy metal like Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore used a Fender Stratocaster (without humbuckers!), so I would truly suggest that anything is possible. However, as there are certainly tonal expectations for metal music, it might be difficult for some instruments to fulfill said expectations when the time comes. Many, for example, downright refuse the use of a hollow body or acoustic for mainstream styles of metal music.