Best Epiphone Guitars for Metal and Hard Rock

Updated on January 13, 2017
Guitar Gopher profile image

Michael is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

The Epiphone Les Paul Custom Prophecy EX is a great choice for metal.
The Epiphone Les Paul Custom Prophecy EX is a great choice for metal.

Epiphone and Metal

They might be one of the most popular guitar companies out there, but does Epiphone make good guitars for metal? If you are into shred, hard rock, thrash, doom, extreme metal or anything else with searing, buzz-saw guitars you might not immediately think of Epiphone as your go-to brand. You should!

For metal we want hot pickups, the right tonewoods, fast necks and solid tuning stability. We want a guitar we can count on to get the sound we want, and look good doing it. It would be nice if it is affordable too!

The heavy metal and hard rock worlds are very demanding when it comes to tone, and we need guitars that are up to the challenge.

Epiphone is a not only among the best guitar companies in the world when it comes to quality budget and intermediate-level guitars. It turns out they’re also pretty good at creating guitars that excel in hard rock and heavy metal. To understand why, we need only look at their Gibson heritage.

Most Epiphone guitars are designed after classic Gibson models such as the Les Paul and SG. And, true to the form of their Gibson cousins, many Epiphone guitars utilize mahogany for their body and neck wood. Mahogany is a resonant tonewood with great character and low-end. This makes it an outstanding tonewood for metal.

But choosing a great wood for the chassis of the guitar is only part of the story. Pickups, electronics and other appointments matter too, if we’re going to achieve a killer sound for metal. You can look to an Epiphone guitar as your weapon of choice, but which one?

In this article you'll read about some of the best Epiphone guitars for metal and hard rock. These are my picks, based on my three decades as a metal guitarist. If I were you, this is where I would start.

So, let’s check out some gear!

Prophecy Les Paul Custom Plus EX

The Les Paul has long been my favorite guitar for heavy music. This is coming from an old-school metalhead who great up playing superstrats and pointy-shaped guitars. Eventually I figured out that the design of the Les Paul, combined with a high-gain amp, gave me the thick, heavy tone I was looking for.

The Epiphone Les Paul Custom is a great choice for metal. It has the right tonewood profile, and it comes with Epiphone’s ProBucker pickups. I’ve been very impressed by these pickups over the past few years. They’re versatile, and seem great for any genre, including metal.

But if you really want a metal tone machine, check out the Prophecy EX version of the Les Paul Custom. It has a few features that set it apart from the standard-issue LP Custom.

First, it has a hot, high-output EMG 81/85 pickup set. Many metal guitarists regard these pickups the penultimate choice for extreme music. It has quilt maple top, which looks great under either the Midnight Ebony or Midnight Sapphire finish. The neck is a slightly thinner D shape, topped with a rosewood fretboard.

This guitar is one step closer to the dark side if are into the Les Paul Custom design, and its looks and features make the Prophecy Les Paul Custom Plus EX one of the best Epiphone guitars for metal.

More on the Prophecy Les Paul Custom Plus EX

Les Paul Studio

Maybe you aren't ready for the Prophecy Les Paul Custom yet. Maybe you just need a basic budget guitar. The Epiphone Les Paul Studio is a great all-around guitar for beginners and intermediate players. It has a mahogany body and a set mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard like more expensive Les Pauls, and it has the rock-solid tuning stability of a Tune-o-matic bridge with stop-bar.

For a few bucks more you can jump up to the Les Paul Standard or Les Paul PlusTop PRO, but there are a couple of reasons why I recommend this guitar for metal instead. For one thing, the price is right. If you want a more expensive Les Paul there are other options, such as the Prophecy Les Paul Custom above.

Secondly, while both guitars feature Alnico Classic pickups, the Studio has the open-coil version. Open coil pickups tend to be a little hotter and brighter than covered pickps. The PlusTop PRO has ProBuckers, which are very good pickups. But, again, for the money I think there are better choices for metal.

Finally, the Les Paul Studio just looks metal. The basic, bare-bones aesthetics have a certain appeal for heavy music that sunburst-top guitars don’t quite manage.

If you want an even more metal-looking version of the Studio, check out the Epiphone Goth Les Paul Studio. It’s basically the same guitar with different cosmetics, and a much darker vibe.

Check out the Goth Les Paul Studio

SG G-400 PRO

The SG is another classic Gibson rock guitar that has been adopted by the metal community. The Epiphone version of the SG is the G-400. There are several different models, but in this case we’re going to focus on the G-400 PRO.

Like the Les Paul, the G-400 has a mahogany body with a set mahogany neck, and a Tune-o-matic bridge with stop-bar tailpiece for solid tuning. The humbuckers are Alnico Classic Pros. These pickups have a cool coil-tap feature which lets you split the humbuckers for a single-coil sound.

I think this guitar is a smart choice for guitar players who are into metal, but also want something that will bridge the gap to other genres. The flexibility of the pickups present a huge range of tonal possibilities, letting you go from extreme metal, to rock, to jazz or blues, if you were so inclined.

Guitarists like Tony Iommi and Angus Young made the SG a legend in the metal and hard rock world. With the Epiphone G-400 you can grab hold of that sound and vibe for a very doable price.

Les Paul Custom Classic PRO

Here’s one more Les Paul Custom to think about. The main thing to consider on this version is the Gibson pickups. This is the 490R/498T set which could once be found on many stock Gibson Les Pauls. They’re versatile pickups, and like all Gibson pickups they have their share of fans and haters.

Personally, I like them, which is why I recommend checking out this guitar. I had a couple of Gibson Les Pauls loaded with the 490R/498T set at one time, and to me they sound great for high gain and hard rock. These are the open-coil version, so they should be a touch hotter still. And, the electronics feature a push-pull coil tap for a little more versatility.

If you don’t like the sizzle of EMGs, but you want something a little better than the stock Epiphone ProBuckers, the Les Paul Custom Classic PRO might be the guitar for you. With gold hardware and aged binding it has a cool look that I think works well with metal too!

1984 Explorer EX

The Explorer is yet another Gibson design that the heavy rock community has embraced with a vengeance. This is a design that was originally introduced in 1958, before heavy metal even existed. The Explorer saw some ups and downs until eventually catching on, and today it is regarded as a legendary metal guitar.

Those original Explorers were made from Korina, a resonant tonewood with a warm butterscotch color. These days, it’s all about mahogany. Of course this is what we see in the Epiphone version as well.

You know I like mahogany, but I also like the Explorer design when it comes to heavy music. Some players find them unwieldy, but I think the heft of the body also accounts for the thick tone. You can go with a Gibson if you want to, but this Epi version ticks all the right boxes if you are into extreme metal.

The 1984 Explorer EX also has a couple of tricks up its pitch-black sleeve, in the form of a high-output active EMG 81/85 pickup set. Compared to the standard Explorer design you’ll also note simplified electronics, and the absence of the pickguard for a stark look.

For guitarists into pointy shapes and the classic Explorer design I think this guitar is tough to beat. If that's you, and you’re looking for a guitar with the aura and sound for extreme music, the Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX might be the ticket.

There is also a Goth Explorer out there, which is a more budget-friendly option.

Epiphone Signature Models

It turns out a lot of people like Gibson guitars for metal, and some of those people are pretty darned famous! In some cases Gibson even makes signature models for the guitar greats who use their gear. For metal players, this often means an Epiphone signature model instead of a Gibson. That’s okay. Epiphone has come out with some pretty cool guitars based on the Gibson guitars used by famous metal players.

I am not particularly a fan of signature model instruments. I don’t really want some other dude’s name on my guitar. But I have to admit that some of these Epiphone guitars look pretty good, and have some excellent features. Somebody must like them, because Epi makes a bunch of them.

Here’s a shortlist of a few of the standouts for your consideration:

  • Zakk Wylde Les Paul Custom: You know this one. Zakk’s bull’s-eye Les Paul Custom is one of the most famous guitars in the history of metal. It comes with Zakk’s EMG pickup set. You’ll have to apply some of Zakk’s alterations such as the eye-bolt strap buttons and sanded-down neck yourself.
  • Tony Iommi SG Custom: Iommi is one of the guitar players who put the SG on the map in the metal world. His Epiphone model is stocked with his signature Gibson pickups, and features some pretty cool cross inlays as fret markers. Yes, there is a right-handed version.
  • Bjorn Gelotte Les Paul Custom: Based on the Les Paul Custom used by the long-time resident guitarist of In Flames. Stocked with gold-colored EMG Metalworks pickups. Features include an ebony fretboard.
  • Matt Heafy Les Paul Custom: The driving sound behind Trivium. The Heafy Les Paul is equipped with an EMG 85/81 pickup set and features an ebony fingerboard.

Guitar World Looks at the Tony Iommi Custom SG

Epiphone Les Paul Goth Studio
Epiphone Les Paul Goth Studio

Choose Your Epiphone

There is a reason Gibson guitars are so loved for metal and heavy music, and Epiphone carries on that tradition. This article aimed to present a range of the best Epiphone guitars for metal, from models for beginners such as the Les Paul Studio, to those good enough for pro and gigging musicians such as the Prophecy Les Paul Custom EX.

These guitars are your top choices, based on my own opinion. But make sure you do your own research and decide for yourself! There are certainly other Epiphones out there that can get the job done in metal.

If you are looking for a versatile guitar, you’d be wise to strongly consider the Les Paul PlusTop PRO or Custom PRO. I think these are two of the top intermediate-level guitars in the world.
If you are a total beginner, there is nothing wrong with going with the Les Paul Special II or SG Special. They are very affordable guitars with a thick sound, and they’ll get a newbie metalhead started off right.

Of course you can also save your pennies for a Gibson, but Epiphone's offerings are getting better and better each year. They have become a viable alternative for guitarists of all skill levels.

Good luck on your quest to find the best Epiphone guitar for metal. I hope you found this article helpful

Your Opinion: Which Epiphone for Metal?

Which guitar do you like best?

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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Got to be the 1984 explorer.

      But in white with black hardware (which you didn't mention! *grumpyface*).

      The look of it is just too cool, bit bored of pure black guitars now if I am honest.

      I think some may also like the prophecy GX, with the dirty fingers (and a fetching red). Suitable for all who don't want actives but the higher body join that the prophecies offer.

    • Guitar Gopher profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael James 

      2 years ago

      Thanks Artur! If we were talking about Gibson I'd tell you the Explorer is going to be a touch darker sounding. In the case of these two Epiphone guitars, the sound will be more similar. In other words, if you greatly prefer the look and feel of one over the other, you may find the sound too close to call. But remember, too, that you have an extra volume and tone control for each pickup with the Les Paul, so that gives you a little more flexibility.

      I'd suggest checking them both out if you can, and letting your ears and hand make the choice for you. Good luck!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Great article! Good you just tell me if there is any big sound difference between the Epi LP custom EX and the 1984 explorer EX? Once they got the same pickups and the explorer costs less 150eur in my country...


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