The world of gear aimed at metal players is as huge and nebulous as the genre itself. The countless styles of playing and varied musical flavours that fall under the ‘metal’ umbrella can make getting into metal guitar somewhat overwhelming. To make it a little easier, we’ve put together this guide to some of the best guitars, pedals and amps metal players can get in 2019.
In choosing the right guitar for metal, you’ll want to consider a number of factors. Factors like “is it black?” and “is it pointy?”, as well as less important ones such as pickup output, scale length and neck profile.
As with choosing gear for any style of music, it’s important to think about how you’re going to use it – for leads, rhythm, or both in equal measure – and consider the context of the signal chain it will be placed in. An EMG-loaded guitar might pair well with some amps, but sound muddy and undefined through others. Equally, you might find yourself having to over-saturate your sound if your pickups aren’t powerful enough for your rig.
Solar E1-7 FBB
Nothing says ‘metal’ quite like a seven-string Explorer-shaped guitar. Ola Englund’s Solar Guitars has been making fast-playing, high-output guitars since 2017, and given how much gear Englund has tested to its metal limits himself over the years, we’re inclined to trust his own designs when it comes to chugging.
The E1-7 Flame Burst Black comes with an Evertune Bridge and contemporary-output Seymour Duncan Solar Pickups, a perfect pairing for modern metal. The seventh string gives you a vital handful of extra semitones, meaning you can tackle E-tuned thrash and B-tuned death metal on the same axe.
Retails for €1,299 / $1,444
Jackson Jeff Loomis Kelly
Jackson guitars are found in the hands of many of metal’s great players, from Christian Andreu of Gojira to Scott Ian of Anthrax, to name just a couple. And then there’s Arch Enemy man Jeff Lomis, who had his signature model announced at NAMM 2019. The 24 frets, extreme lower cutaway and Floyd Rose tremolo easily lend the guitar to leads, but its carefully-voiced Seymour Duncan Jeff Loomis Blackouts will still articulate riffs from the lower end of the fretboard.
Another black E-type, its visual design screams aggression and lets anyone in the vicinity know they aren’t about to hear any country licks anytime soon. Its natural, open-grain black finish also adds a touch of subtlety – well, sort of.
Retails for $5,199 / £4,046
2019 Gibson SG Standard ’61 Hardtail
Sometimes, metal isn’t all about Floyd Roses and high-output pickups. While some metal players might sooner grab a ukulele than a 60s design fitted with vintage-voiced pickups, the SG has serious metal pedigree, and this 2019’s Gibson SG Standard ’61 is a perfect match with some styles.
A vintage-style pickup can be a deadly pairing with fuzz, especially when downtuned. The more restrained output of the pickups doesn’t push the effect into square-wave territory, instead, the fuzz’s character is allowed to shine. If you’re looking to play metal centred around vintage fuzz tones, you might want to look to something like 2019’s SG standard ’61. And of course, visually, the SG harks back to the very beginning of everything metal…
Retails for $1,999 / £1,499. Read our review of the tremolo-fitted 2019 SG here.
For a more modern take on the ‘tune low, play slow’ approach, Dunable guitars have you covered. Our review of the boutique builder’s Cyclops highlighted the attention to detail and extreme quality you get from this custom shop – and the R2 is no different. Offered with a variety of custom options, you can tune the R2 to exactly what you need. The 25.5-inch scale length also means you won’t get the same string-floppiness at lower tunings as you might from a shorter scale guitar, and its offset design provides a unique sleek look.
Starts at $2,150 / £1,673.
Charvel Angel Vivaldi Signature
Angel Vivaldi’s prog-metal shreddery has resulted in this sharp-looking S-type. Seven strings are combined with an outrageous cutaway, providing scarcely believable access to its 24 frets. This means the guitar will both chug and solo with the best of them. The restrained pickups also mean this won’t compromise on the tone when you shift into a quieter section. The neck is also exceedingly comfortable for a seven-string, and while the axe’s look might not be for everyone, it’s certainly eye-catching.
Retails for $1,299 / £1,139. Read our review here.
Using a pedal-based sound for metal is ultimately a balancing game. How much gain is coming from the amp? How much of it is coming straight from a distortion pedal? And how much is being created from the volume hitting your amp’s front end?
As with guitars, it comes down to how you’ll be using your rig. Some metal players will never change tones during a show, setting-and-forgetting a high-gain sound. But if you want to switch to something cleaner, or just don’t want to lug a full stack to gigs, you’ll want to take a look at some stompboxes. Here’s some inspiration to get you started melting faces.
Redbeard Red Mist Mk IV
Skindred guitarist Mikey Demus’ collaboration with ThorpFX this year brought us the Red Mist MK IV, which Demus built to ensure every single rented backline amplifier, be it a Fender Twin or a 100-watt Orange, does that “detuned chuggy-chuggy thing” (his words) that he relies on.
The “big box of doom and destruction” that is the Red Mist Mk IV kicks out a distortion tone with tons of gain, without becoming fizzy or muddy, thanks to ThorpyFX’s pedal-building experience and Demus’ attention to detail. This could save you from backline woes – or it might just find a good spot on your pedalboard in its own right.
Retails for £184.99 / $238. Read our review here.
SUNN O))) & EarthQuaker Devices Life Pedal
The world of boutique distortion pedals was shaken this year when drone-metal legends Sunn O))) announced a collaboration with EarthQuaker Devices. The two huge names came together to create the Life Pedal, a combined octave fuzz and distortion. While the extreme tones might not be for every style of metal, it will delight fans of strange fuzziness.
Sunn O)))’s affection for gear is on clear display here, with nods to the amplifier that gave them their band name, to the Pro Co Rat plain to see. But, characteristically, everything has been turned up just one notch higher. Grab a set of 0.060 gauge strings, drop down to A#, and drone on. Hooded robes and fog machine recommended, but optional.
Retails for ~$500 / ~£450. Read our interview with Sunn O))) about the pedal here.
Horizon Devices Precision Drive
Periphery’s Misha Mansoor gifted djent players across the world last year with the introduction of Horizon Devices, and its modern metal-focused pedals. The Precision Drive assumes that you already have a high-gain amplifier set to stun, and acts as a general overall tightener instead of adding a huge amount of gain. The tried-and-tested method of running a TS-style overdrive into a high-gain amp is a failsafe for a tight, modern tone, and as an added bonus the noise gate will keep even the heaviest signal in check when you’re not playing.
Retails for $220 / £199.
Stone Deaf Warp Drive
Stone Deaf pedals are known for their EQ-sculpting capabilities, and the Warp Drive is no different. The parametric EQ can set loose up to 20dB of boost or cut on a particular band, On top of its extensive EQ controls, it piles a noise gate to keep things hum-free, but that’s not to say the pedal is restrained – far from it. This thing really roars.
Retails for £139 / $179.
The ridiculously affordable SF300 has seen a resurgence in popularity recently, and for good reason. A direct clone of the Boss FZ-2, it excels at the gnarly, scooped fuzz sound popularised by Electric Wizard and Monolord when set to mode two. Mode one gives a more rounded, mid-present sound, but is still extremely nasty. If the fuzz modes are proving too much, the boost mode is on-hand to push a cranked amp over the edge without getting it too swamped in mud. The SF300 proves a great affordable alternative to finding a vintage FZ-2, and still brings the doom.
Retails for $24.99 / £23.99.
Revv Amplification’s G3, released last year, has seen high praise. In our testing it handled everything we threw at it, producing a clear, defined high-gain tone that never sacrificed the character of your playing for the sake of extremity.
Its wide range of voicing options and amp-channel-based design means that you can place the G3 in front of anything and it will start raising tonal hell. Essentially, it has a switch labelled “aggression”, so what else do you need?
Retails at $229.99 / £199. Read our review here.
TC Electronic Sentry
Playing with loads of gain will inevitably produce some noise issues. You might be fine with this, but for some styles, killing the hiss and string noise between notes can accentuate the percussive nature of your playing.
There are countless noise gates on the market, and some pedals like the above Precision Drive have them built-in, but the Sentry gets a special mention due to a few killer features. The pedal’s Toneprint support means it can be completely customised to gel with the rest of your rig. Failing that, the hard-gate mode brings the extreme noise attenuation that a full-blown metal sound needs, dropping the decay time to almost nothing.
The three-band gate also means that not all of your signal gets clamped down on, helping solos and dynamic playing pass through without compromising on the noise reduction. The send/return loop also isolates certain hiss-prone pedals.
Retails for $128 / £78.
Due to the versatility of pedals on the market today, choosing a specifically ‘metal’ amplifier perhaps doesn’t matter quite as much as it did before – but this depends on how you want your rig to work, and again, on what kind of music you want to play. Here are some go-to amplification choices for your metal rig.
Boss Katana Head MkII
With its six-preamp channel, extensive in-built effects and huge headroom, the Katana Head MkII proves a versatile workhorse for any guitarist. But for metal players, the Lead and Brown preamp modes will offer more than enough gain.
While the 50-watt version might be more than loud enough for a lot of situations, the 100-watt version brings a couple of other benefits, namely more expansive footswitch support and the option to chain two amps together in a stereo configuration. While the Katana doesn’t contain any valves, the range’s popularity is a testament to its tonal performance.
Lists for £369 / $349. Read our review of the 50-watt Katana MkII here.
Orange Rockerverb 100 MK III
You’ve seen it atop countless backlines, stacked high on walls of 4x12s. Deftones. Sleep. Mastodon. Sepultura. Unsurprisingly, these big names are using high-wattage Orange amps for a reason – the volume, the gain, the hefty mids presence – all of these factors add up to a killer British-voiced metal tone that’ll have you playing for hours. Its tube-driven nature and well-rounded midrange also mean that fuzz pedals will work particularly well with it.
The Rockerverb 100 MK III is the culmination of tweaks to the range, now a decade and a half old, with a number of useful features thrown in. Extensive footswitch support adds the versatility of a pedalboard (for those 30-second clean intro sections) and the option to drop the output watts for a lower headroom lets you play at home with the thing cranked, without receiving too many noise complaints. On stage, that can all go out the window as you go nuts with the master volume. Pair with two 4×12 cabinets for optimum results.
Retails for £1,749 / $2,245.
Revvstar Generator 100R
With two channels and more features than you could shake a heavy metal stick at, the Generator 100R provides a versatile set of metal tones, with bags of gain on tap and killer voicing – the G3’s bigger sibling. A notable feature here MIDI control – letting you switch channels at precisely the right moment. The digital utility is offset by the distinctly analogue arrangement of tubes, producing the high-end high-gain Revvstar Amplification is known for. Also, it glows red. Metal.
Retails for $2,199 / £1,712.
Mesa Dual Rectifier
Like the Orange, the Rectifier’s metal front plate has become an iconic staple of backlines across the world of heavy music. The list of metal bands who use Mesa amplifiers is remarkably similar to a list of metal bands that exist.
Long associated with grinding modern tones, the Dual Rectifier does also sport a Vintage setting for a more rounded, saturated sound. But the Modern setting is where the amp excels, giving your tone a characteristic bite in the upper mids – which allows for tight, modern tone that doesn’t disappear into the mix, even as you embark on the dangerous journey of scooping your midrange.
Retails for $2,299 / £1,790.
Hughes and Kettner Black Spirit 200
The Black Spirit 200 does a stellar job of simulating the nitty-gritty responsiveness and feel of tubes, in a smaller and lighter form factor. There are four channels here, with Lead and Ultra proving the most intriguing for shredders. While its in-built effects aren’t as extensive as the Katana’s, for straight-up, balls-to-the-wall metal, the Black Spirit 200 performs fantastically, especially at its price point.
The Sag feature, emulating more old-school valves, will also work well for those looking for a Sabbath-esque throwback to their tone.
Retails for €799 / $888.
Check out our list of best metal guitars under $1,000, too.