Picking the right guitar for Death Metal is much more involved than sinister-guitar-styles and deadly-pointy-shapes in dull-dark-colors. We need to help you find the best instrument within your budget along with one that compliments your fierce playing style.
We are going to talk about each metal guitar by price, construction and quality and which one fits best for you. This guide is going to focus on intermediate level guitar players. I will throw in a few budget-friendly starter guitars for the broke-ass-beginner, just set your expectations to “you get what you pay for” – However, with Death Metal Guitars, you CAN, in fact, polish a turd… and in this guide, I will teach you how. So put your disco-stick away and let’s get started.
Brief History of Death Metal
When Metal hit the music scene back in the 1970s, it spun the (R)evolution for underground Death Metal bands of the 1980s such as Possessed, Death, Venom, Obituary, and many more… and here we are some 38 years later in 2020. Guitar technology has changed significantly, even the Godfather of Death Metal himself, Chuck Schuldiner, would be impressed by today’s standard of guitars. –R.I.P.
Brutal Death Metal Guitar Sound
Now in the new-age Death Metal, guitarists are still seeking those dark, thick, and resonant sounds. When playing riffs and leads, you’re going to want your axe to be articulate and pronounced. Thick heavy distortion through your Active or Passive guitar pickups is much needed. Also, you’re going to need heavy gauge strings and down tuning from standard “E” tuning to “C” standard (CFA#D#GC) or drop “C” (CGCFAD) – more on guitar tuning later. You will want your deathcore guitar to out-growl the singer – impossible you say?
Mahogany Tonewoods Are Best For Death Metal
Each tonewood gives the guitar a different and unique tonal sound. But in this section, we need to find the best DEATHWOOD.
Why is Mahogany Tonewoods Best For Metal Guitar? Mahogany woods are best for Metal guitars because it produces a warm, dark, punchy and beefy tone that will knock your head off; it gives Death Metal guitarists that sought-after meaty chug, chug, and articulate guitar notes that resonates well, and an impressive sustain. Aside from the sound aspect of the wood, Mahogany is not an expensive wood for manufactures to produce and is highly durable, dense and heavy in weight. Albeit excessively heavy.
Alder tonewoods, while not as heavy in weight as mahogany, have a more midrange brighter sound, ideal for guitars like the Stratocaster… so probably not the most ideal tonewood for Death Metal, but acceptable. It should be noted: Obituary guitarist, Trevor Peres guitar of choice is the Fender Stratocaster.
Basswood is a softwood and would be a good choice if you like that fat balanced tone slightly on the brighter side. Best of all, unlike Mahogany, it is lightweight for your hostile uncontrollable aggressive-stage-rage. You could do a backflip wearing this guitar around your shoulder and the worse thing that could happen is dinging the guitar and concussing the drummer. The guitar will be just fine.
Regardless of what tonewood you choose, your instrument has to be a solid body guitar. We don’t play Death Metal with Acoustic, Semi-Hollowbody, or Hollowbody guitars… don’t be a dumbass.
Metal Guitar Tuning Like a Madarchod
Tuning your death axe down to “F”-ail is a possibility, but my personal recommendation here is to tune down to “C” if you have a 22 fret 6-string guitar (F*ck 7-string guitars). True story, I knew this one guy we called Fast Eddie who played a 27-string Xiphos XPT700, I think his real name was Stevedave, anyhow he would tune his axe down to “B” and it sounded like a gurgling-douche-queef. Don’t be a Stevedave!
Guitar String Gauge – When Girth Matters Most
Okay, string gauge is very important. Probably the most important part about heavy metal guitar next to tuning. The first thing you are going to need to do is cut off those weak-ass 9-gauge strings your new guitar came with and swap them out with 12-54 -gauge strings. You might even want to drop to 13-56 -gauge if string-action isn’t as important to you.
Playability – Play High-Speed Solos, Slickerly
Fast — A fast-playing fast neck is fast. — “C” shaped necks might be the most popular, think Charvel. The next popular would be Modern Flat Oval, think Ibanez. Each to their own, I’m a “C” guy. My favorite neck profile ever played was a 1992 Peavey Tracer, which had more of a hybrid neck.
Making your guitar even faster requires sanding / smoothing off the Nitrocellulose lacquer on the back of the neck. Nothing worse than sweaty hands sticking to the back of the neck.
“Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.” ~ George Carlin.
The guitar bridge is another important element to look for when shopping for a Death Metal guitar. My preference is the Floyd Rose Double Locking Tremolo system, it’s the best for staying in true tune, but also for comfort and speed as well. If you’re a poor-cheap-bastard on a budget, then you’re probably gonna have to substitute this part of the guitar for a shitty string-thru bridge. That’s okay tho-, it is still quite comfortable, fast and can also hold tune just fine. On a serious note, my 7th favorite guitar in my arsenal is a string-thru.
Neck-thru or Bolt-on Necks – Best Neck Bone
Typically bolt-on necks are what you find on budget metal guitars, but also some of my favorite, more expensive, guitars are bolt-on. Neck-thru are arguably more popular in the Death Metal world, and they produce much better sustain; neck-thru is found on guitars $600 and up. For me, with neck-thru being painted and lacquered-to-hell, I am perfectly fine with a maple bolt-on neck with a rosewood fingerboard. Otherwise, a light sanding will be in order.
Fingerboards: Ebony, Rosewood, and Maple are all popular and fine fingerboards. Maple delivers a brighter tone so that one should be out of the equation for seeking the Death Metal guitar sound. It comes down to Ebony or Rosewood; whatever you choose between those two, it will be perfectly fine. Once you go black… it’s Ebony love.
Deciding on a 6-String or 7-String Guitar – AxeShaft
I’ll cut to the chase; 6-string is where I am at. But if you have the budget that allows for the extra costs in upgrades (since 7-strings upgrades cost more than 6-string upgrades), and you can shred a 7-string like the fastest guitarist AXEHOLE on the planet, then sure, go with a 7-string Death Metal guitar. But this is not required nor mandatory to be a Death Metal artist — the seven-string will better serve you if you’re Grindcore Metal player.
Trevor Peres and Kenny Andrews of Obituary both play six-string guitars… and sound DOPE. Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel also plays 6-string like a lunatic. Or you could do like Witold Kieltyka of Decapitated and play 6-string and 7-string universally.
Passive or Active Pickups – Sound Whore
If you’re on a lower budget, then that means you have to accept budget guitars are going to have cheaper pickups; passive. Which is fine, because you can always upgrade later.
If you play through a lot of pedals and effects on stage and want that added punch in the face, then you might want to go with Active pickups. Just make sure you carry around extra 9v batteries!
That’s why I love Seymour Duncan TB-6 pickups. While they are passive, they possess plenty of punch, aggressiveness and I never need to worry about batteries going dead during a gig.
Best Heavy Metal Guitars
Budget $300 – You Broke-Back-Budget-Fudger
Yamaha PAC112v – What, Yamaha? Who is the prick writing this??? Dollar-for-dollar, this is a great playing and well-constructed electric guitar. No, it may not seem like one of the best guitar brands for Grindcore and Death Metal… sure, I’ll give you that. But you want the best axe that can play metal for under $300, don’t you? Get some dull-gloomy-rattle-can-spray-paint and paint the heifer… then phuck-off! You’ll thank me someday when you learn how to play heavy metal guitar. You may even learn other styles of music along your journey… hopefully.
For $300, this is going to be the finest instrument out of the box and ready to play. It’s not METAL, but it can play METAL. If you are new to guitar, then the Yamaha PAC112v is the perfect starter instrument for you. It’s equipped with an Alder body, maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard, cheapo Yamaha Alnico pickups, Vintage-style tremolo with block saddles. Nothing exciting, but more focused on the smooth playability with this guitar.
Ibanez RG421 – As much as I hate Ibanez guitars, this one, without question, is much more metal than the Yamaha. It’s also a sub-$300 Ibanez. I wouldn’t expect too much out of it. It’s probably around the same level of a guitar as the JS32 Jackson that I mention later on. Both having good features and not-so-good-features.
The Ibanez RG421 is equipped with cheapo Quantum Humbucker (probably the worst cheapo pickups in this budget section), mahogany body, fast maple Wizard III neck (remember, this is a flat oval profile, not for everyone), Jatoba fingerboard, and an economy fixed bridge.
*Used Schecter Omen-6 – You can find great deals on used guitars. Go to your local mom-and-pop guitar store and see if they have a used one laying around. If nothing else, you can surely find oodles of them online in pristine condition with a cheap price-tag.
This instrument has some of the elements I thrive for; lightweight, excellent wood tones, and style. This instrument is equipped with cheapo Schecter Diamond Plus high-output alnico humbuckers, basswood body, fast maple neck with a rosewood fretboard, and a licensed Floyd Rose Locking tremolo.
Jackson JS32 Dinky Series – I’m a HUGE Jackson fan, but the JS32 Dinky is tied for 3rd as my favorite of these five budget deathcore guitars. For a beginner learning how to play metalcore music on guitar, and if you get your action and string-height setup right, this will be a killer starter instrument. This instrument is equipped with Jackson High-Output cheapo pickups, licensed Floyd Rose Tremolo, Poplar body, maple bolt-on neck. With some mods and setup work, this axe could be a top contender.
Please for the love of Christ, go to your local mom-and-pop guitar store to buy it. They’ll likely even set the damn thing up for you, and you’ll feel good knowing you’re supporting a local small business. Give some love to your local businesses!
Dean Dave Mustaine VNMTX – I was trying to avoid signature models because I think these cheap ones are gimmicky. It almost didn’t make the list, but with its price point of $299, it’s hard to find a brand-new metal guitar within this spectrum. It has decent specs, so it might be a good guitar for a gigging stage bashing or beginner.
It has a basswood body, maple bolt-on neck with a rosewood fretboard, generic Dean humbuckers, mini Grover tuners, and a string-thru-body. The guitar they ship to you will likely need a setup, especially if you want to put heavier gauge strings on it. It will need a little work out of the box, but that is to be expected with any budget guitar.
Budget $500 to $700 – Where Death Meets the Dirt
Jackson Pro Series Soloist SL2 – Currently on sale at Sweetwater for $300-off right now. You can pick one of these bad boys up for $699 shipped to your door. There’s no secret that I hold passionate love deep down to my loins for Jackson guitars, and the PRO Soloist SL2 gives me a massive boner.
Jackson Soloists are guitars that you can rip some high-speed solos with – flawlessly – if you got the guitar chops. This instrument is loaded with Seymour Duncan TB-6 in the bridge and an SH-6N in the neck, mahogany body, maple neck, neck-thru construction, ebony fretboard, Alumiloid Piranha inlays, and a Floyd Rose FRT-O5000 Double-Locking (licensed) tremolo. This instrument is the balls!
Agile Interceptor PRO 727 (7-string) – For you 7-string freaks, this one is for you. You can find these over at Rondomusic.com for $549 + $30 shipping. This is a shredders’ wet dream; its neck is smooth as butter and this axe will allow you to reach notes that you’ve only had nightmares about. At this price point, it’s a bargain.
If you have not heard of Agile guitars, then you need to get up to speed, son. These are some of the most underrated instruments on the interwebs. Honorable Mentions: Also, have a gander at Hornet, Reaper, Intrepid at RondoMusic.com. All make for good Death Metal guitars.
Schecter Reaper 6 – Another Sweetwater clearance sale at $300 off with an out the door price-tag of $699 and free shipping.
The Reaper in Satin Charcoal Burst is the sexiest METAL looking instrument on this entire intermediate guitar level list. If my boner wasn’t popping out over the Jackson PRO right now, I think I could easily fall in love with the Schecter Reaper-6. Schecter is proven to deliver brutal death metal guitar sounds.
Syren Tregan XT – The Syren Tregan XT is an instrument that will charm any Death Metal guitarists. At a price point of around $500 to $600, it might be the perfect lethal-style axe that will garner you some attention onstage.
With its bold look; featuring a two-tone paint job, Floyd Rose Licensed tremolo system, Grover tuners, black hardware, and a more comfortable tapered back, the XT screams to be played. What’s more, the Syren XT employs a Passive/Active switch, along with the built-in powered Preamp, which offers even greater flexibility when playing. In passive mode, the alnico humbuckers give you smooth tones for strumming to your favorite tunes. The active mode adds more edge and bite while enhancing the tone and harmonics of the guitar, turning the Syren XT into a shred machine.
The Tregan features a super fast neck with Syren’s Wing inlays and deep cutouts for comfortable access to all twenty-four frets. The smaller headstock and unique body shape were designed to give the guitar perfect balance and a comfortable feel.
B.C. Rich Warlock (used 2000 to 2010 model) — Probably the most iconic metal guitar ever created, but the new “Extreme” models are over $1,399. So to stay under budget, you’re going to need to again explore the used guitar market.
You can find quality used Warlock “Special Edition” models under $500 quite easily, but make sure you avoid the “Bronze” series, as those are budget guitars… under $300, and not of the best of quality. Shopping for discontinued B.C. Rich guitars can be daunting, so make sure you do your research!
B.C. Rich Draco V [Used] — Most metal axe known to mankind, this is not just a stage presence instrument, it is a player’s weapon that can articulate riffs, resonate tone and sustain, and produce that modern metal sound with speed and comfort. B.C. Rich is the definition of metal. While this is a discontinued product, it can still be found on the used market between $500 to $700 if you look around, but good luck finding a case for it.
Surely if you play a Draco, girls will know you have a small wanker. That’s okay, no matter how tiny the one-eyed-monsters is, and despite how bad your guitar playing skills are, this axe will still get you laid. #winning!
Budget $700 to RichAXE – Guitars To Abuse
ESP LTD EC-1000 – This is an all-around great instrument for different breeds of musicians. Not country tho-, f*ck country. It ticks the box for most of all the ‘desireable’ materials and components for Death Metal guitar, including tonewood, hardware, and electronics. Mahogany body and neck, ebony fingerboard, locking LTD tuners, EMG 81/60 Active pickups. The bridge is a comfortable Tonepros locking TOM bridge and tailpiece, though I still personally prefer the Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo for speed, comfort, and tuning reliability.
At a $900 price-point, this makes for a great universally ideal Metal axe. This guitar looks cool and has nice curves, and should be the top player on the list… but it’s not. Sorry, LTD.
Diamond Guitars Barchetta STE FR – Diamond Guitars is owned by Dean B. Zelinsky, we know this brand isn’t a household name.
Diamond Guitars are formally known as DBZ Guitars (Dean B Zelinsky). If you know who Dean is, then you know he’s been a true professional in the guitar building game even before Ronald Reagan was elected president. He founded Dean guitars in 1977, and now his newest creation is Diamond Guitars. Dean said he won’t attach his name to anything he doesn’t believe to be a “superior instrument”. He, himself, is a brand you can trust.
For around $850 you can have a Floyd Rose Barchetta STE guitar that is well equipped with EMG 81/85, Grover Tuners, Mahogany tonewood, and a set neck. Even in the middle of the spectrum price range, the build construction of the instrument is going to be superior; and Diamond Guitars are not cutting any corners with the hardware and styling.
At the time of this posting, it does appear the guitar is currently back-ordered. This is definitely a guitar, along with others in the Diamond lineup, to check out.
B.C. Rich Warlock Extreme — The ‘Extreme‘ models are several steps above the aforementioned “Special Edition” Warlocks listed in the $500 budget models. Sadly, the headstock on the Extreme models isn’t the aggressive metal Widow headstocks, these newer models are now the general pointed headstock. Boo!
But the instrument has many great features from its stylistic-warlock-design, Nyatoh Palaquium mahogany tonewoods, Shredzilla Ultra Slim Contour neck shape with a fast satin finish and Ebony fretboard, neck-thru design, Fishman (made in the USA) Fluence Modern humbucker pickups; Alnico neck and Ceramic bridge, Special electronics: 9-volt battery compartment, 25K audio taper, Floyd Rose 1000 PRO Series tremolo, and Grover 18:1 tuners. All that for under $1,500. Keep in mind that Floyd Rose 1000 Series tremolo is a whopping $250 part on its own. Make no mistake, this is a pro-level instrument.
And for my #1 pick… drum roll, please…
ESP E-II FRX – Okay, I know this section is for guitars over $700, and I know including this ESP E-II might be seen as a dick move since it is a $2,000 instrument, but it has to be put on the list. You can rest assured, no matter how bad you abuse this instrument, how fast and aggressive you play it, it’s staying in tune. How is that even possible you ask? Because it’s a friggin $2,000 guitar, that’s why!
What Brand of Guitar for Death Metal?
- Not Yamaha
- Diamond Guitars
- B.C. Rich
Best Death Metal Guitar Riff To Play
Chugga, Chugga, Chugga, Burp, Chugga, Chugga, Burp, Burp
….and while playing, growl like you have to take a massive dump.
Learn and play this on your new Metalcore Death Metal Grindcore Guitar then get back with me! Peace \w/
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Wikked article! Very practical information. And I enjoyed hearing your personal preferences about nearly every single product haha this one goes up to eleven. JACKSON 4 LIFE!! Or.. death I guess.
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it \w/