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Have you decided that your guitar needs an upgrade to be able to play the style of death metal you wish to play? The genre is certainly demanding with what it requires a guitar to do, and most standard guitars simply will not suffice.
Fortunately, the industry is wise enough to make guitars tailored to different styles of play. The following guitars are great options for anyone looking to upgrade their rig, with something available for every budget.
Schecter Damien Platinum 6 – Best Overall
Schecter has long been one of the most popular guitar brands for heavier styles of music. For those with a moderate budget, the Schecter Damien Platinum 6 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a prime choice offering a massive degree of versatility.
There are a few things that make this guitar exceptionally noteworthy, with its 3-piece Maple neck being one of them. This neck is extremely smooth to play thanks to its thin C-shape contour.
The Damien Platinum 6 features a Mahogany body with and a beautiful Rosewood fretboard adorned with platinum bat inlays. With its satin black color finish, the Damien Platinum 6 is practically built for death metal considering its aesthetic appeal.
Of course, the real star of the show here is the fact that the Damien Platinum 6 is loaded with a pair of EMG humbuckers. Every metal player knows that EMG humbuckers are a critical component to any heavy tone that is also tasteful.
For the price, the Damien Platinum 6 presents one of the best values on the market for any death metal guitarist. It might not be priced at a “professional” budget level, but the guitar does play like a premium model.
In fact, you could very well find that the guitar in its stock condition is all you’ve ever been searching for. Plus, you could easily afford a guitar case with the money you’ll be saving on the sticker price.
Ibanez Prestige RG5121ET – Best Premium
Are you only concerned with acquiring the best guitar possible without concern for its cost? The Ibanez Prestige RG5121ET (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is definitely one of the best guitars for death metal that money can buy.
Ibanez has been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to the guitar it designs for heavy music genres. The Prestige RG5121ET presents the very best of what Ibanez has to offer in this realm.
This guitar has a familiar Super Strat shape with a body made of African Mahogany. At the time of this writing, the Prestige RG5121ET only comes in the color finish of Polar Lights.
The Prestige RG5121ET may have one of the fastest necks you’ll ever play in your life. It is constructed of a combination of Maple and Wenge in 5 pieces and features Ibanez’s signature Super Wizard HP neck contour.
This guitar has phenomenal pickups, featuring Fishman Fluence ceramic humbuckers. To say that these respond well in high-gain musical situations is an understatement.
The Prestige RG5121ET is built of top-shelf components, right down to its hardware. Some of these features include:
- EverTune bridge
- Treated fret ends
- Luminlay fret markers
- Macassar Ebony fretboard
The Prestige RG5121ET is definitely a pricey guitar that will be out of the practical budget range for average guitarists. Fortunately, its high price is not only warranted by its construction and capabilities, but it also includes a hardshell case.
Jackson JS Series Dinky Arch Top JS32Q DKA HT – Best Budget
Just because you have a smaller budget does not mean you have to sacrifice playability on a guitar designed for death metal. The Jackson JS Series Dinky Arch Top JS32Q DKA HT (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a fantastic option for beginners and those who want a quality guitar at a reasonable price.
For years, the Jackson’s Dinky series has been highly reputable for not only being inexpensive but for being fast shredders that pack a punch. The JS32Q DKA HT is no exception, offering the same great playability at a budget-friendly price.
This guitar features a Poplar-crafted Super Strat body style, with a beautiful quilted Maple top. You can get this guitar in a number of color finishes, all of which display its quilted top in an eye-dazzling manner.
One of the best things about the JS32Q DKA HT is that its Maple neck has a compound radius ranging from 12” to 16”. Its Amaranth fretboard has 24 frets, offering 2 octaves of playability.
The JS32Q DKA HT is stocked with a pair of Jackson-designed high-output humbuckers. These should be more than suitable for any heavy style of music, especially those with sizable levels of distortion.
Perhaps the only area that JS32Q DKA HT cuts corners is where its hardware is concerned. However, while these components are borderline basic, they are still practical enough to get the job done.
ESP LTD Alex Wade AW7B
For those who don’t know, Alex Wade plays in the death metal band, Whitechapel. It would stand to reason that, if you’re influenced by similar bands, the AW7B should be more than capable of satisfying your needs.
This 7-string guitar has a Swamp Ash body with a neck made of 2 pieces of Maple, 2 pieces of Walnut, and 1 piece of Paduak. Because it is a 7-string guitar, the scale length is slightly expanded to a length of 27”, which is great for lower tunings.
One of the best things about the AW7B is the fact that it’s stocked with a pair of DiMarzio D-Activator humbuckers. These are exceptionally responsive to the dynamics inherent in one’s technique, which will please those who utilize a sense of touch in their playing approach.
ESP has gone the extra mile to add some features that make the AW7B truly feel like a premium playing experience. Things like its Hipshot bridge and its locking tuners go a long way in making this a very enjoyable time to play.
The AW7B isn’t going to be for everybody, but for those that enjoy its capabilities and aesthetics, it’s one of the best 7-strings to be found. Plus, its price includes a hardshell case.
Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR-S
If the music you’re playing demands extreme versatility from your guitar, the Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR-S (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is one of the best guitars for the money. This guitar has everything that a technical guitarist could ever need or wish to utilize in the heat of the musical moment.
The Hellraiser C-1 FR-S features a Mahogany body with an exquisite quilted Maple top. Its neck is crafted from 3 pieces of Mahogany and has a thin C-shape contour, which allows the hand to grace its Rosewood fretboard with ease.
While this guitar plays like an absolute dream come true, its pickups are highly commendable and complete the package. The Hellraiser C-1 FR-S has an active EMG humbucker at the bridge position and a Sustainiac pickup at the neck.
Ultimately, what this means is that you’ll have an excellent array of tonal options available outside of traditional stock setups. Punishing, heavy chugs with soaring leads are all fair game with this pickup combination.
Furthermore, the Hellraiser C-1 FR-S also comes stocked with a Floyd Rose locking tremolo. With this and its 2-octave range, there isn’t a song that is outside the bounds of the Hellraiser C-1 FR-S’s capabilities.
Perhaps the only gripe to be had is that the guitar doesn’t come with a case. At this price, a case is something you would expect to be included.
Ibanez Iron Label RG Baritone
Most of the time, standard guitars do not cut the mustard when it comes to lower drop-tunings. In these instances, something like the Ibanez Iron Label RG Baritone (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) really shines as a viable choice.
As its name implies, this is a baritone guitar that has an expanded scale length of 28”. Playing in those lower tunings is going to be stress-free thanks to the design’s capable tuning stability.
To help with the tuning stability, Ibanez has made sure to feature locking tuners at the headstock. Now, you can be extra sure that your guitar will stay in tune, no matter how hard you pummel the strings.
The Iron Label RG Baritone features a Nyatoh body with a fast Wizard III 5-piece neck made of Maple and Walnut. Its Ebony fretboard features 24 frets and is quite elegant in the fact that it does not have any fretboard inlays.
As far as pickups go, the Iron Label RG Baritone is stocked with a pair of DiMarzio D-Activator humbuckers. These pickups shine in high-gain settings and respond incredibly well to the dynamics inherent in one’s playing technique.
Jackson Pro Series Signature Misha Mansoor Juggernaut HT7
Misha Mansoor might not technically be a death metal guitarist per se, but he is one of the most respected names in the entire metal genre. It stands to reason that the Jackson Pro Series Signature Misha Mansoor Juggernaut HT7 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is one of the most capable guitars on the market for anyone who possesses a high level of technical capability.
Considering Periphery’s reputation for djent, you can be sure that the 7-stringed Juggernaut HT7 packs quite a heavy punch. Plus it’s priced exactly where an advanced guitarist can feel comfortable without feeling like they are spending too much money.
The Juggernaut HT7 has a Basswood body with a 1-piece caramelized Maple neck that has a thin U-shape contour. It’s a bit of a rarity, but this guitar’s fretboard is also made of caramelized Maple, which adds a certain degree of snappiness to its play.
You’ll fall in love with the sound of the pair of Jackson-designed MM1 humbuckers that are stocked into this guitar. Its tonal capabilities are expanded by the fact that its tone knob doubles as a push/pull for even more versatility.
Jackson has made sure that all of the heaviest tunings are accommodated here with locking tuners. However, the only thing that is unexpected to see at this price point is a plastic nut, though it can be debated that this doesn’t make much of a difference to its playing experience.
Jackson X Series Soloist SLA6 DX Baritone
Looking for a sleek baritone that is affordable and in no short supply of death metal aesthetics? The Jackson X Series Soloist SLA6 DX Baritone (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is sure to fit the bill with its no-B.S. design.
This guitar features a Nyatoh body in a familiar Super Strat body style, and has a wicked-fast Maple neck with a compound radius of 12” to 16”. Its fretboard is made of Laurel and provides 24 frets, which are adorned by attractively aggressive Pearloid Piranha Teeth inlays.
Because this is a baritone, its scale length is slightly longer than average guitars, measuring 26.5”. With that being said, this shouldn’t feel like much of a change compared to the scale lengths of other baritone guitars found on the market.
The X Series Soloist SLA6 DX Baritone is designed to slay with its stock EMG humbucker pickups. It seems as if the EMG 81/85 combination featured here really brings out the depth of character inherent in its longer scale length design.
Maybe the only thing that is a slight letdown here is that the guitar doesn’t have locking tuners. Fortunately, this is a rather inexpensive and easy upgrade to perform if one finds the need for it.
Are you considering an 8-string guitar but find that your budget doesn’t afford most of the 8-string guitars on the market? The Ibanez RGMS8 is a practical choice for anyone wanting to get their toes wet without necessarily having to upgrade in the years ahead.
This guitar has a Nyatoh body with a 5-piece neck crafted from a combination of Maple and Walnut. The neck alone is worth trying, as it features Ibanez’s Wizard III contour for speed and precision.
One of the things you’ll notice here is that the RGMS8 has a multi-scale design, as evidenced by its slanted frets. The scale length ranges from 25.5” to 27.2”, which seems to combine the ranges of both a standard guitar with that of a baritone.
If you’re somebody that primarily plays in lower tunings, you’ll love the Ibanez-designed Array MS pickups stocked into this guitar. These are crafted to enhance the lower ranges of the guitar’s tone, providing that extra punch where needed.
The RGMS8 won’t be for everybody, but it is perfect for those who want an 8-string experience without paying a premium price. While some of its hardware may leave a bit to be desired, these are aspects that can be upgraded in the future with minimal cost.
What To Look For When Buying A Guitar For Death Metal
Shopping for a new guitar can be a complex experience of different emotions. Often, excitement can blind one to the features that one should be aware of.
On the flip side, guitarists can also become wracked with nervousness at the daunting idea of not knowing exactly what they need. Follow along through the following points and you can keep that nervous apprehension at bay and proceed with confidence.
It might seem obvious, but the amount of money you are able to put towards a guitar is going to dictate what is available to you. However, that doesn’t mean that, just because you have, say, $1000, you should purchase a guitar for that price.
It’s important to always be aware of where you are in your journey. If you’re a beginner, spending money on a high-ticket item just does not make sense from a practical point of view.
In general, it’s best to at least provide yourself with some growing room. If that’s not manageable with your budget, then respect the boundaries of your budget by all means.
With that being said, it is worth everybody’s time to explore the offerings available on the used market. These will come at a discount and, more often than not, can be found in nearly-new conditions.
Perhaps the most important thing that you will need to consider when buying a guitar specifically for death metal is its pickups. This factor plays the greatest role in how the guitar itself sounds when amplified.
While there are always exceptions to the rule, you will be best off with a guitar equipped with humbuckers. These tend to have a wider presence with more warmth than what is offered with single-coil pickups.
Many death metal guitarists opt to employ a guitar stocked with active pickups. These are usually powered with a 9V battery and produce much more output than standard passive pickups.
There are many excellent brands that specialize in pickups designed for heavy music genres. The one brand that many death metal guitarists swear by is EMG, which has a reputation for being a long-standing component of these types of guitar rigs.
What tuning do you see yourself playing in? If you’re playing in lower alternate tunings, a standard guitar may have some issues with tuning stability.
This can usually be remedied by stringing the guitar with thicker strings. However, this often comes at the sacrifice of certain techniques which may become more difficult to pull off.
For those who primarily play in lower tunings, it’s worth considering a baritone guitar as opposed to a standard guitar. Baritone guitars have longer scale lengths, which, in turn, support lower tunings with ease.
These types of guitars will also have a bit more depth in terms of the tone it produces. But, for death metal, this is usually a welcomed aspect.
There are some other things you will want to look out for, though whether they are of importance to you is a matter of personal preference. For the most part, this usually comes down to the hardware featured on the guitar.
Something like a Floyd Rose tremolo can add a range of expressions that is necessary for certain songs and techniques. Likewise, locking tuners can add a massive degree of tuning stability, especially for those lower tunings.
Don’t Forget To Consider Your Amplifier
Before you go out and buy a guitar, it’s important to consider the amplifier you are using. You could buy the greatest guitar in the world, but if played through a lackluster amp, will still sound lackluster.
Outside of the guitar’s pickups, your amp actually plays one of the most important roles in how your guitar sounds. Take the time to consider whether it's your guitar that needs the upgrade or the amp.
Best Brands For Death Metal Guitars
Navigating any market without some sort of an idea of its popular brands can be a nightmare. All of the following brands are the most respected when it comes to guitars crafted for death metal players.
Schecter is one of the biggest guitar brands among communities of guitarists who play heavier styles of music. Since the late 1970s, Schecter has gained an immaculate reputation for producing unbelievably luxurious guitars, often priced affordably with respect to each budget range.
Most of the guitars produced at Schecter are made in Japan. However, since 2021, Schecter has been producing a number of models in the US.
If you know your metal music history, you know that Jackson guitars have seemingly been there since day 1. There’s a reason why Jackson has become so ubiquitous in heavier styles of music, and why virtuosos like Randy Rhoads employed them exclusively.
Today, Jackson continues to expand on its colorful legacy by offering guitars appropriate for every budget level. The company’s offerings range from traditional designs to styles that are more modern.
Ibanez is one of the most popular Japanese brands in the entire guitar industry. In each decade of its guitar manufacture, Ibanez has created waves and innovated the way guitars are made.
Ibanez guitars are known for their extreme degree of precision when it comes to craftsmanship. The company was also one of the very first to implement revolutionary designs aimed at heavy music, specifically with the 7 and 8-string guitar.
Top Guitars For Death Metal, Final Thoughts
There is perhaps no better time to be alive as a metal guitarist with regard to how many offerings are available. Many companies have gone the extra mile in crafting guitars that are tailor-made for heavy genres like death metal.
Plus, as this article illustrates, you don’t necessarily need to spend a ton of money on a guitar that will get the job done. Make sure you try these guitars out in a shop the next time you’re actively looking for a new guitar.