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5 Best Epiphone Guitars for Metal and Hard Rock

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

The best Epiphone guitars for metal.

The best Epiphone guitars for metal.

Most Epiphone guitars are designed after classic Gibson models such as the Les Paul and SG. In fact, Epiphone recently revised much of their lineup to bring each instrument closer to their Gibson namesake.

And, true to the form of their Gibson cousins, many Epiphone guitars use mahogany for their body and neck wood. Mahogany is a resonant tonewood with great character and low-end.

Pickups, electronics, and other appointments matter too. Even though you aren't dropping thousands on a Gibson, you still ought to expect a quality instrument, and Epiphone delivers.

But the question is:

Are Epiphone Guitars Good for Metal?

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

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.

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.

1. Les Paul Custom

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 tone I was looking for.

If I wanted a stock Epiphone Les Paul for metal, my first choice would be the Les Paul Custom. Here’s one more Les Paul Custom to think about. The key thing to consider on this version is the ProBucker pickups. These replaced the Alnico Classics a few years back and they are a big step forward. They’re versatile pickups, and personally, I like ProBuckers for metal.

The Epi Les Paul Custom features a mahogany body, ebony fingerboard and the electronics feature a push-pull coil tap for a little more versatility. With gold hardware and aged binding, it has a cool look that I think works well with metal too!

If you can, I recommend checking out the Epiphone Les Paul Classic Custom PRO. It features open-coil pickups which are, in my opinion, better for metal and extreme music.

2. SG Custom

The SG is another classic Gibson rock guitar that was adopted by the metal community. The Epiphone version used to be called the G-400, but Epiphone now calls them SGs across brands. There are several models, but in this case, we will focus on the SG Custom.

Like the Les Paul, the SG has a mahogany body with a set mahogany neck and a Tune-o-Matic bridge with a stop-bar tailpiece for solid tuning. The humbuckers are Alnico Classic PROs. These pickups have a cool coil-tap feature that 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 presents a vast 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 version, you can grab hold of that sound and vibe for a very doable price.

3. Explorer

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

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

You know I like mahogany, but I also like the Explorer design for 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.

4. Flying V

For metal guitarists into pointy shapes, I think the Gibson Flying V is tough to beat. It’s a classic, and if you are looking for a guitar with the aura and sound for extreme music, yet you need to stick to a tight budget, the Epiphone version might be the right choice.

The Explorer and Flying V both feature Epiphones ProBucker pickups, same as the Les Paul Custom above. The great thing about these Epis is that you can swap out the pickups any time you want. While I like the ProBuckers, upgraded pickups give you something close to a Gibson for a fraction of the price.

5. Les Paul Studio

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 Pau Ferro fingerboard, and it has the rock-solid tuning stability of a Tune-o-Matic bridge with a stop-bar.

For a few bucks more you can jump up to the Les Paul Standard, but there are two reasons you might want to check out the Studio for metal instead.

  • The price is right. If you want a more expensive Les Paul there are other options.
  • 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.

There is also the Studio LT. This is a much less expensive instrument, and it features open-coil pickups. Open coil pickups tend to be a little hotter and brighter than covered pickups.

Epiphone Artist Signature Guitars

It turns out many people like Gibson guitars for metal, and some of those people are pretty darned famous! Sometimes 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. Over the years, Epiphone has come out with some cool guitars based on the Gibson guitars used by famous metal players.

I am not a fan of signature model instruments. I don’t 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 bulls-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 has stocked with his signature Gibson pickups and features some 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.

Prophecy Les Paul Custom Plus EX

Consider this one a bonus. 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. I don’t believe it is in production any longer, but if you can get your hands on one, I think you’ll be pleased.

It has a hot, high-output EMG 81/85 pickup set. Many metal guitarists regard these pickups as the penultimate choice for extreme music. It has a 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.

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 Custom or Standard. 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?


Jimbo on August 11, 2017:

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 (author) on June 22, 2017:

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!

Artur on June 21, 2017:

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...