Dylan Carlson of Earth uses a Telecaster. A Perfect Circle’s Troy Van Leeuwen a Jazzmaster. And Fenriz from Darkthrone doesn’t even care about his equipment. Metal and its countless strains are, like punk, more an attitude and aesthetic rather than a particular sound.
Which is to say that there’s no such thing as a ‘best’ metal guitar. However, no one can deny that there are instruments geared towards the playing styles that metal demands, be it shred-heavy, riff-led or doom-laden. Yes, there are hundreds more nuances to metal, but going through them all will require a grimoire, preferably inked in blood.
So based on those three main styles, we’ve compiled our list of recommended metal axes under $1,000 that have: aggressive pickups, a fast neck and flat fretboard, and other modern playability features. Having a two-octave range and wild designs score points, too. Here are the guitars, in no particular order.
Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR
As though its name isn’t enough of a hint. The Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR is a performance guitar that metalheads of all stripes – riff monsters and fretboard blazers alike – will find useful in their arsenal. And, at under a grand, it’s a decent value buy, too.
- Bound mahogany body with an arched top (option of quilted maple top)
- Two EMG active humbuckers: 89R at the neck and 81TW at the bridge
- Shred-friendly: very fast neck, flat fretboard radius and 24 extra jumbo frets
- Floyd Rose 1000 tremolo system
- Abalone Gothic cross inlays add a touch of flair
- Retails for under $1,000
A mahogany body and three-piece mahogany neck are the robust building blocks upon which the Hellraiser C-1 FR’s other features have the opportunity to shine. And none more so than the pair of active EMG humbuckers.
There’s an alnico V 89R at the neck and ceramic 81TW at the bridge. Both are ‘dual pickups’, meaning an actual single-coil sits within the same housing and can be engaged via the guitar’s push/pull volume knobs. Compared to typical split-coil humbuckers, these pups each have a dedicated preamp and coils for the single-coil ‘section’. So you can expect more convincing single-coil tones from the Hellraiser.
The construction on the C-1 FR is metal- and rock-friendly, too. It has a thin C-shaped neck, a flat, 14-inch fretboard radius, and 24 extra jumbo frets – in other words, it’s a blazing fast neck. (The only thing missing is a compound radius fretboard that you’ll find on many Jacksons.) And finally, a Floyd Rose 1000 Series lets you go divebomb mad with your trem.
Squier Contemporary Active Strat HH
Modern metal… and Squier? Not until the brand released its 2018 models did the two become somewhat reconcilable. And it’s thanks to the Contemporary Active Strat HH, which marks Squier’s foray into the Super Strat market.
- Two Squier Active Humbuckers
- Floyd Rose-licensed double-locking tremolo
- Fast neck and flat fretboard
- Narrow-tall frets, Squier’s largest, make bending strings easy
- Retails for under $400
As its name suggests, the Active Strat HH packs a preamp and two ceramic humbuckers to deliver clear, fat and hot tones ideal for any type of metal, be it riff-led, shred-heavy or atmospheric. The sustain on these pups will sing for days, and its low-end punch will make you ask yourself, “Is this really a Strat?”
Those active pickups aren’t the only metal-leaning spec on the guitar. Squier managed to slap on a Floyd Rose-licensed dual-locking tremolo system for your pinch harmonic shrieks and, of course, tuning stability. A slim C-shaped neck profile, flat 12-inch fretboard radius, and large narrow-tall frets also cry out for blazing fast solos – bear in mind, though, that there are only 22 frets here.
But when it comes to tonewoods, the Active Strat foregoes the more common basswood and mahogany for a poplar body. A maple neck and rosewood fretboard, however, bring things back to the norm.
And you can’t deny that the reversed matching headstock, sleek satin finish and black chrome hardware is f***ing metal, too.
It’s one of Ibanez’s longest-running models, and deservedly so. The S520 is a dependable, robust six-string that’s ever so slightly geared towards metal and rock thanks to its pickups, Floyd Rose-style tremolo system and fast neck. Beginner guitarists eager to dive into those heavier genres will find plenty to love about this axe.
- Sophisticated, ‘rounded’ good looks with a sculpted top
- Two Ibanez Quantum humbuckers with heightened bass
- Mahogany body, maple neck and jatoba fretboard
- Edge Zero II tremolo bridge that offers tuning stability
- For shredders: very fast neck, flat fretboard radius and two-octave range
- Retails for about $500
Simplicity lies at the heart of the S520. Its elegant finish, sculpted top and black hardware don’t wail for attention, and it’s versatile enough for most (heavy) genres of music.
The S520’s pair of Quantum humbuckers are responsible for most of its ‘high-definition’ tone. These pickups offer a heightened bass response with a full midrange and articulate highs, perfect for those palm-muted riffs and screaming solos. You can also engage the neck humbucker in parallel, which gives it a brighter, single-coil-ish bite.
The Wizard III maple neck on the guitar is built for shred players, too. It’s thin and has a very flat 15.8-inch fretboard radius – not to mention 24 jumbo frets – that your hands and fingers will have no problem gliding across. And an Edge Zero II tremolo system, which provides tuning stability as you’re abusing the whammy bar, is yet another shred-friendly feature.
Jackson RR24 Pro Series Rhoads
Scythe through the moshpit with the Jackson RR24 Pro Series Rhoads. The guitar’s razor-sharp design elements – from the Flying V shape to the spear-like headstock to the sharkfin inlays – complement the aggressive, in-your-face tones it’s capable of. That it bears the name of a canonized metal hero is an added bonus.
- Striking design to own the stage
- A pair of hot Seymour Duncan humbuckers
- Shred-friendly: compound radius fretboard and two-octave range
- Through-body maple neck
- Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo system
- Retails for under $1,000
Besides its appearance, the highlight of the Pro Series RR24 has gotta be its pickups. A Seymour Duncan Duncan Distortion Trembucker (TB-6) sits at the bridge, while a Duncan Distortion (SH-6N) occupies the neck position. The former is a ceramic-based, crazy-hot humbucker that has rich upper midrange harmonics and is built for rock and metal. The latter, meanwhile, is another ceramic-based, high-output pup that’s best employed for smooth, high-gain solos. Either one will assault your amp head and shove it into overdrive.
The other standout feature on the RR24 is its compound radius fretboard. It goes from 12 inches at the nut to 16 at the end of the neck, and is ideal for players who alternate between lead and rhythm playing. Add 24 jumbo frets, an oiled neck finish, neck-through-body construction, and a Floyd Rose double-locking trem system, and you’ve got yourself a shred machine.
For tonewoods, the RR24 doesn’t stray from the norm: it has a mahogany body (the Charcoal Gray finish has an ash top), maple neck and ebony fretboard.
Dean ML79 Floyd
Dean’s wild ML silhouette is pretty much synonymous with Dimebag Darrell, and the ML79 gives you an affordable way to cop the late Pantera guitarist’s style. For its asking price, the China-made six-string is a steal – and it’s a practical option to take on the road, too.
- Iconic body shape
- Has an option with flame maple tops
- Two high-output DMT Design humbuckers
- Floyd Rose Special dual-locking tremolo system
- Retails for under $600
The ML79 is a stylish guitar that leans slightly towards riff-driven metal – or, true to its calling, the funky rhythms of Pantera. It has a mahogany body and set neck for fuller-sounding power chords, as well as a 24.75-inch scale, medium V-shaped neck profile, and moderate 12-inch fretboard radius that even non-metal players will find comfortable. A Floyd Rose Special dual-locking trem system is perhaps the only shred-friendly appointment on the ML79.
The ML79’s pair of DMT Design humbuckers aren’t the best pickups around, or on this list, for that matter. But don’t let them deter you – they’re still hot enough to push the front-end of your amp.
Washburn Parallaxe PXL20B
The Parallaxe PXL20B is a practical choice if this is going to be the only guitar you’ll own for a while. Because, although still a guitar for heavier music styles, the PXL20B is far more versatile than the “shred machine” Washburn bills it as – think of this as a fiercer Les Paul.
- Leans towards the hard rock/heavy metal side
- Two Seymour Duncan humbuckers that can be run in series or parallel
- Deep cutaway for easy access to higher frets
- Babicz Full Contact bridge that adds sustain
- Locking Grover tuners for stability
- Retails for under $800
Two Seymour Duncan humbuckers are responsible for most of the PXL20B’s versatile-yet-heavy tone. An SH-4 JB Model at the bridge cranks out the hot, crisp and punchy tone with an upper midrange bump, while an SH-2N Jazz Model at the neck dials things down a little – the latter, particularly, is known for its clarity even while heavily distorted. Both have alnico V magnets, and can be activated either in series or parallel via a push/pull knob.
The guitar is kitted out elsewhere, too. A Babicz Full Contact, Tune-o-matic-style bridge ensures excellent sustain, while Grover locking tuners keep your tuning in check. For tonewoods, the PXL20B has a mahogany body and neck, and ebony fretboard – again, similar to a Les Paul.
That Les Paul connection comes through again in the PXL20B’s 24.75-inch scale length and moderately flat fretboard. But with only 22 frets and no trem system, it’s clear this axe is better suited for metal genres that don’t require soloing up and down the fretboard – doom, stoner, heavy, black, metalcore and so on will do just fine.
Charvel Pro-Mod DK24 HH FR
Don’t let its (relatively) muted looks throw you off—the Charvel Pro-Mod DK24 HH is one helluva aggressive beast. Not as aggro as extreme metal, mind you, but of the ’80s and ’90s hard rock and heavy/hair/shred metal ilk. So if you’ve always wanted to rock spandex and keep those locks matted and long, this Super Strat will suit you just fine.
- Hot-rodded Super Strat looks
- Two Seymour Duncan humbuckers with scooped mids
- For shredders: rolled fretboard edges, compound radius fretboard and two-octave range
- Floyd Rose 1000 double-locking tremolo system
- Retails for $899
Charvel’s found a design that looks like an old-school metalhead’s dream instrument, but with a bunch of modern shredder specs. Such as a 12-to-16-inch compound radius fretboard, a graphite-reinforced maple ‘speed’ neck, rolled fretboard edges, and 24 jumbo frets. A no-load tone control also lets you remove that pot from the circuit altogether for full transparent tone.
Which is where the pair of Seymour Duncan humbuckers come in. An SH-10B Full Shred sits at the bridge: while not as hot as the other pickups on this list, the alnico V pup is wound for brightness, a tight low end and, crucially for metalheads, scooped mids.
And an SH-2N Jazz Model at the neck is a vintage-output unit that maintains its clarity under loads of distortion – like the bridge humbucker, the SH-2N has an alnico V magnet and scooped mids. The pickups are also wired to a five-way selector switch, with the in-between positions unlocking the inner/outer coils of either humbucker.
In terms of tonewoods, the DK24 has an alder body with an option of a quilt maple top as well as a maple fretboard. The DK24 also comes as an okoume-bodied version – that one has an aged ebony fingerboard.
Solar Guitars A2.6C
If you’re lucky enough to score one before each run sells out, Solar Guitars’ A2.6C represents great bang for your buck. Or should we say, “metal for your money”. The six-string is a performance instrument whose stealth black looks hint at its not-so-secret mission: to help you crank out the blackest, death-iest metal tones possible.
- Elegant, sophisticated aesthetics: satin black finish and all-black hardware
- Shred-friendly: fast neck, 13.75-inch-radius fretboard, two-octave range and deep cutaways for easy access to upper frets
- Neck-through-body construction for more sustain
- Two Duncan Solar humbuckers
- Retails for under $600
Ola Englund knows metal. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his company’s guitars are engineered for the speedy riffs, rhythmic assaults and grim solos of contemporary technical and extreme metal. Even players inspired by the more ‘classic’ metal guitarists, from Kerry King to Alexi Laiho to Ihsahn, will find a great axe in the A2.6C.
The made-in-Indonesia A2.6C is one of Solar’s cheapest models, yet its specs tell a whole ’nother story. It has a mahogany body, C-shaped maple neck, and ebony fretboard with 24 extra jumbo frets, all of which are admittedly par-for-the-course.
But its construction and build quality are what sets it apart. There’s a set-through neck that adds sustain and is super comfortable to play, dramatic cutaways to hit the higher frets, and rolled fret edges.
Sound-wise, a pair of Duncan Solar humbuckers issue out hot, beefy and articulate tones that are comparable to a Seymour Duncan Custom 5 (bridge) and ’59 (neck). No fancy switches of push/pull knobs here – there’s only a master volume, master tone, and a five-way selector switch that also splits both humbuckers into single-coils.
Simply put, the Mitchell MD400 boasts features and specs that are more common on a guitar quadruple its cost. It may not look like a headbanger’s instrument of choice, but for those into prog, heavy, hair and other ‘less extreme’ forms of meta – or just shredders – the MD400 is arguably the best option, at its price, there is.
- Unique, alnico V rail pickups: a humbucker at the bridge and a mini-humbucker at the neck, both coil-split
- For shredders: rosewood fretboard with 15.75-inch radius, 24 medium jumbo frets, and huge cutaways
- Retails for about $400
The MD400 has a gorgeous AAA quilt maple veneer top in a variety of translucent finishes, body and neck bindings, offset abalone dot inlays, and a carved mahogany body. But where it really shines is in its features.
The guitar has one alnico V humbucker at the bridge and one alnico V mini-humbucker at the neck. Both are ‘rail’-style pickups, which are quieter, and provide a more consistent tone and sustain across the strings. And both pickups have been coil-split, too, just in case you need it for your other blues band.
Other features on the instrument lean towards the speed merchant category. It has a flat 15.75-inch fretboard radius, shallow C-shaped neck, 24 medium jumbo frets, dramatic bevels on both cutaways, and a string-through body and set neck for added sustain. As we mentioned, the MD400 is not your average ‘budget’ guitar.
ESP LTD EC-1000
The ESP LTD EC-1000 is a high-output, aggressive riffing and soloing monster that comes in a familiar single-cutaway shape. Quality after-market components also make the $900 price tag more palatable, even if you’re a beginner.
- Mahogany body and three-piece mahogany neck – it’s built like a tank
- Two EMG active humbuckers: 60 at the neck and 81 at the bridge
- TonePros Tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece
- Sophisticated good looks with double-bound body, bound neck, and ESP’s flag inlays
- Retails for under $900
Lift the EC-1000 up and you’ll feel how robust – and heavy – it is. A solid mahogany body with a carved top and three-piece set-through mahogany neck are responsible for the guitar’s heft, but this isn’t your friendly neighborhood Les Paul.
Two EMG active humbuckers make sure of that. You’ll find the common EMG 81 at the bridge, but an EMG 60 at the neck. The 60 has ceramic magnets, which yield singing highs and thick mids that are great for clear, articulate solos. Together, the pickups provide slightly more versatility than the 81/85 configuration, which is more common in metal axes.
Other specs on the EC-1000 also lean towards the heavier genres. It has ESP’s slim U-shaped neck, a very flat fretboard radius, 24 extra jumbo frets, locking tuners, and a TonePros locking Tune-o-Matic bridge and tailpiece.
And last but certainly not least, you’ll be drooling all over the guitar’s classy good looks. It’s available in a bunch of finishes and flamed maple tops, and a few come in all-gold or black hardware for a touch of luxe.
The Ibanez RGEW521FM sports all the features of a premium model – such as after-market pickups – and is designed for one distinct use, in this case modern rock and metal. Oh, and it’s also affordable for mere mortals like us.
- Stunning good looks: a flamed maple top, bound Macassar ebony fretboard and bound body
- DiMarzio Tone Zone and Air Norton humbuckers
- Shred-friendly: super fast Wizard III roasted maple neck, very flat 15.75-inch fretboard radius and 24 jumbo frets
- Retails for under $700
The standout feature of the RGEW521FM is its pickups. You get two DiMarzio humbuckers – an Air Norton at the neck and Tone Zone at the bridge – that are built for crunchy rhythm and hot-as-hell leads, respectively. The pickups are wired up to five positions, which include the neck unit in a parallel configuration.
Everything else about the axe also screams “rock” and “metal”. Its Wizard III neck is really thin, its 15.75-inch-radius fretboard is flat, and its mahogany body fattens up your tone and enhances sustain.
The cosmetic features on the RGEW521FM also tip towards the high-end. It has a gorgeous flamed maple top – in only one natural finish, though – a blazing red back, and a bound body and neck. Wherever your tastes lie, you can’t deny that for 700 bucks, this Ibanez kills it.
Gibson SG Faded
Granted, the Gibson SG wouldn’t typically be uttered in the same breath as “metal guitar”, but hey – if it’s good enough for Tony Iommi, it’s good enough for us. Don’t sling this on expecting super modern metal tones, though. The SG Faded is better deployed in classic metal or hard rock, like the music of 60s- and 70s-era Blue Öyster Cult and, of course, Black Sabbath.
- Straightforward, muscular SG tone
- Beautiful satin-y Worn Bourbon finish that shows off the grain
- PAF-inspired pickups: Gibson 490R and 490T
- Retails for under $1,000
Lightweight, comfortable to play and built for tearing into distorted chords while galloping on stage, the made-in-America guitar looks ready to rock ’n’ roll. And we’ll salute it for that.
The Gibson 490R/T alnico II humbucker set here is modeled after original PAF models, but offers more midrange than those classic units. As PAF-inspired pickups, these are vintage-leaning and aren’t as articulate or hot as modern humbuckers – certainly not high-output enough to push an amp. But, without going into genre debates, if you consider Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown or Sabbath’s Paranoid as heavy metal, then these will work well.
A SlimTaper set neck, 12-inch fretboard radius, 24.75-inch scale and Tune-o-Matic bridge ensure the SG Faded retains its core ‘Gibson-ness’. The SG Faded remains a solid beast of an instrument that’s better suited for ‘fire and forget’ players who don’t want to tinker too much with their tone – because it’s already there.
Jackson JS22 Dinky
If you aren’t already playing metal, the Jackson JS22 Dinky will make you want to. This guitar represents all the things upon which Jackson has staked its claim to fame: metal- and rock-ready performance axes with fast necks and bold humbuckers.
- Graphite-reinforced, satin-finished slim maple neck that’s built for speed
- For shredders: compound radius rosewood fretboard, from 12- to 16-inches, with 24 jumbo frets
- A pair of high-output Jackson humbuckers voiced for richness, sustain and overdriven tones
- All-black hardware for the quintessential metal look
- Retails for under $300
This Super Strat model’s minimal looks belie its bevy of features that you won’t typically find on a sub-$300 guitar. The biggest of these is the compound radius fretboard: It goes from 12 inches at the top, all the way down to an extremely flat 16 inches nearer the body. Which means it’s as comfortable to hold down chords as it is to shred at a hundred miles an hour on the upper frets. And the 24 extra jumbo frets here lend even more shred cred to the Dinky.
The two Jackson High-output Humbucking ceramic pickups are exactly that: They’re loud, work beautifully with distortion, and deliver full, rich tones with a long sustain. But as with many similar guitars in this price range, don’t expect amazing clean tones from the Dinky.
ESP E-II FRX
Okay, we know this is way above the $1,000 budget, but just look at it! What resembles a weapon from Warcraft is actually the ESP E-II FRX, an axe that will feel right at home in the hands of a prog metal guru, visual kei player or GWAR devotee. The Japan-made guitar isn’t all about its ferocious appearance, though. It’s a premium instrument that boasts killer pickups, hardware and construction.
- Killer body shape and finish
- Two active EMG 89 humbuckers
- Legit Floyd Rose Original tremolo system
- Shred-friendly: thin, fast set-through neck and two-octave range
- Retails for $1,999
The pickups on the E-II are just as brazen as its body shape. They’re active alnico V EMG 89 and 89R humbuckers – which are based on the 85s that metalheads swear by – and are articulate, rich and powerful enough for any metal sub-genre. These are ‘two-in-one’ pickups, too, packing full single-coils (EMG SAs) within their enclosures. You can access those brighter tones via push/pull volume and tone knobs on the guitar.
Built for fretboard acrobatics, the E-II has a Floyd Rose Original tremolo system, 24 jumbo frets, a thin U-shaped neck and a 12-inch-radius fretboard. Gotoh locking tuners keeps your tuning in check while you’re off divebombing, and Schaller Straplocks reaffirm the guitar’s status as a flashy tool built for the stage.
ESP didn’t skimp on the tonewoods and construction, either. A flamed maple top – in the exclusive Reindeer Blue finish – sits above a mahogany body, while the three-piece maple neck boasts a set-through design. The latter feature creates a smooth heel, all the better to reach those upper frets on the ebony fingerboard.
If you’re looking for our other recommended guitars and pedals, check this page out.