I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
The Legacy of Shred
If you’re a guitar player who is into shredding you’re part of a legacy that includes some of the best musicians in the history of hard rock and heavy metal. You are helping to carry a torch ignited by players like Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani, and continued on today by amazing talents such as Herman Li, Alexi Laiho, Chris Broderick, and Jeff Loomis.
Shred is about more than guitar calisthenics and more than technical knowledge. It’s about squeezing every ounce of energy out of six strings and twenty-four frets and taking the guitar to new heights.
Each generation of guitar players builds upon the work of those who came before them and continues to push the boundaries of the instrument.
If you are part of this next generation, you need the right tool for the job. There are a lot of great guitars out there for metal, but if you’re a shredder you need something built just for your needs.
There were dark days, not long ago, when such instruments were becoming increasingly hard to find. But fortunately, the Age of Shred that started back in the 1980s is seeing a resurgence, and more and more players are pushing themselves to get better on the guitar.
The top rock guitar manufacturers have responded with some of the best guitars for shredding ever devised.
Top 5 Guitars for Shredding
Here is my shortlist of the best guitars for shredding.
- Charvel Pro Mod San Dimas
- Ibanez RG550
- Jackson Pro Series Dinky
- EVH Wolfgang Special
- Fender Player Stratocaster HSS/HSH
Read on for more information on each instrument. As always, be sure to check out the manufacturer websites for the latests specs and info on their products.
Charvel Pro Mod San Dimas
My first pick is the Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas. There are few guitars in the history of shred with a more storied reputation than the San Dimas Strat. These guitars first came to the attention of the public back in the '80s, in the hands of players like George Lynch, Warren DeMartini, and Jake E. Lee.
For the uninitiated, the San Dimas Strat was basically a superstrat made by Charvel guitars. Back in the '80s, they were everywhere, in the hands of some of the best guitar players in metal and hard rock. If you played metal and wanted a seriously hot-rodded Stratocaster this was your weapon of choice.
Today, Charvel is owned by FMIC (Fender) and while you can still drop a ton of cash on an American-made San Dimas, there are much more affordable models available through their Pro Mod lineup.
The Pro-Mod San Dimas features a classic Seymour Duncan pickup set, a JB at the bridge and a '59 at the neck, in addition to a Floyd Rose tremolo, alder body with a one-piece maple neck with 22 jumbo frets.
If you are looking for a guitar with the speed, sound, and precision that epitomizes the age of shred, to me that is the Charvel San Dimas Strat.
Hear the Pro-Mod San Dimas
Ibanez is the first name many players think of when it comes to shredding. For the past thirty years, Ibanez guitars have been played by some of the slickest players in rock and metal, from Steve Vai all the way up to Herman Li.
There’s a reason they’ve built such an impressive reputation. Ibanez's necks are legendary, and perhaps the fastest in the industry.
And their hardware is high-quality as well. Unlike many gear manufacturers, Ibanez makes most of its hardware themselves rather than relying on the brand power of well-known pickup and hardware manufacturers.
While there are many great Ibanez models, the RG and S series are the ones that offer the most to the shred crowd. Both are similar in design, with Strat-type bodies, a pair of humbuckers and usually a single-coil in the between. But the S is a thinner guitar, with a sleeker design and a contoured top, where the RG is a bit beefier.
If I have to pick one, the Ibanez guitar I'm most impressed with of late is the RG550. This is another blast from the past that was reissued a couple of years back
The RG550 features a basswood body, 5-piece Maple/Walnut Super Wizard neck, an HSH pickup configuration with two Ibanez V humbuckers and an S1 single coil. and an Edge Locking tremolo.
It's a little darker than your typical superstrat, and perhaps more suited to heavier styles of music, but the Ibanez RG550 is a shred machine through and through.
Ibanez Genesis Guitars
Jackson Pro Series Dinky DK3
Jackson is another name people think of when it comes to metal and shredding. The Rhoads, Kelly, King V, and Warrior are all amazing designs that put out great metal sounds. Choosing one Jackson model above the others is almost impossible: You just end up feeling like you need one of each! That said, when I think of shredding and Jackson I think of the Soloist and the Dinky.
Jackson Pro Series instruments are some of the best electric guitars under $1000. The Soloist is perhaps the flagship of the Jackson lineup, and many of metal’s hottest players have depended on it as their main guitar for years. But I am going to choose the Dinky for a couple of reasons. First, it has a bolt-on neck. Yes, the neck-through design of the Soloist offers great tone and sustain. I simply prefer the punch of a bolt-on neck.
The Dinky also has a slightly smaller body style, which a lot of players find easier to negotiate.
The Jackson Pro Series Dinky DK3QM features an alder, ash or Okoume body with a one-piece maple neck and fingerboard, or maple neck with ebony fingerboard, three Seymour Duncan pickups and a Floyd Rose tremolo. Design-wise, it sort of walks the line between the RG550 and San Dimas listed above.
More on the Pro Series DInky
EVH Wolfgang Special
Eddie Van Halen is not only the greatest guitarist ever to walk the earth, but he might also be the greatest tinkerer. From the time he was a teenager he tweaked and modified his instruments until he got the sound he wanted.
But even though his “Brown Sound” tone became legendary, Eddie never rested on his laurels. He went through partnerships with companies like Kramer, Peavey and Ernie Ball in a quest to build the perfect guitar.
Nowadays, Eddie runs his own company with his EVH brand and has presented us with perhaps the ultimate creation of his life’s work, the EVH Wolfgang. The Wolfgang combines all the great stuff that makes Eddie’s sound, from custom-wound pickups to the Birdseye maple neck, to the Floyd Rose with his patented D-tuna system.
The USA model is pretty expensive, but the Wolfgang Special is worth checking out. It features a basswood body with a maple arch top, maple neck, and fingerboard, EVH Floyd Rose tremolo with D-tuna system and a pair of EVH humbuckers.
The EVH Wolfgang is the superstrat evolved. These guitars have come a long way from Eddie's original designs so many years ago. They're now available with hardtail bridges, ornate bindings, ebony fingerboards with block inlays and nickel-covered pickups.
Hear the Wolfgang Special
Fender Player Strat HSS/HSH
I can't list a bunch of superstrats without having a real-deal Strat in there as well. With all of the incredible options, we have today, it’s easy to forget about all of the great guitarists who have played a Fender Stratocaster. In many ways, it is the original shredder guitar. It was a favorite of shred pioneers like Yngwie Malmsteen, Ritchie Blackmore, and Jeff Beck, and even Eddie Van Halen built his legendary guitar from aftermarket Stratocaster parts.
The Stratocaster was the model for the guitars like the RG and Soloist that would follow in its footsteps. Yes, even today there are lots of guitarists shredding on the Fender Strat.
The Strat is a classic guitar, and for the modern shredder, there are good and bad points. One of the bad things is that Fender no longer makes an American Stratocaster with a Floyd Rose bridge. For players who use the whammy bar a lot, this could lead to serious tuning issues.
However, you can grab a Player Series HSS Strat with a Floyd. The Player Series is an upgrade to the Standard Series MIM Stratocaster, and it is a pretty good guitar for the money.
Another plus is that Fenders Strats just sound great, as they always have. They are bright and snappy, usually with alder bodies, and with a humbucker in the bridge position they really nail that classic metal shred sound.
Fender Player Strat HSH
What Makes a Guitar Good for Shredding?
Traditionally, super-Strat style guitars made from brighter tonewoods such as alder or ash and bolt-on maple necks worked well for shredding, and they sounded great paired with overdriven British amps. Like stock Fender Stratocasters, these guitars had great tonal character and clarity, and with a hot humbucker in the bridge position, they had the power to push the amp hard.
We’ve come a long way from Eddie’s Frankenstein Strat and the copycats that followed, but the basic idea is still the same. These days you’ll still find plenty of instruments out there made in the superstrat mold, but the best gear makers have greatly improved on that design over the past 30 years.
With the rise of high-gain amplifiers like the Peavey 6505 series, and with the trend of many players to detune, manufacturers are incorporating warmer tonewoods like mahogany and basswood, and even employing set neck and neck-thru designs instead of the traditional bolt-on necks. This gives a guitar a more resonant character and greater sustain.
Whether you choose to go the traditional superstrat route or opt for one of the new weapons of metal mayhem, there is a wide range of choices out there for the modern shredder.
Long Live the Shredder
I hope this article gave you some idea of where to start on your quest for the right guitar to meet your needs. I'll admit some of the options are little pricey, but there are some great metal guitars under $300 out there as well.
Remember that great guitar players have used all kinds of different instruments, and even though the guitars recommended above have served shredders well over the years there is nothing wrong with choosing your own path.
My choice? Maybe I'm old-school, but when it comes to shredding, the Strat-style does it for me, and the Charvel San Dimas Strat is the ultimate hot-rodded Stratocaster. But I think every one of the guitars mentioned here will get the job done in a big way.
Keep on practicing, never give up, and good luck on your quest to find the best guitar for shredding!
Your Thoughts: Which Guitar for Shred?
Need more options? In the articles below you can read about some of the best metal guitars in the world, many of which have been used by shredders looking for something off the beaten path. There are no rules: Find a guitar you love and play!
- Metal guitar shootout! Having trouble making a decision between some of the best metal and shred guitar brands on the planet? This article can help you sort things out.
- Some of the top guitars for classic metal, extreme metal and shred. They look and sound as metal as you ever need to get.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Guitar Gopher (author) on November 14, 2019:
Why not? Eddie, Yngwie, Blackmore, Lynch - many great guitarists played guitars with less than 24 frets. Especially in the shred heyday of the '80s.
youarehigh on November 13, 2019:
The #1 shred guitar could not possibly only have 22 frets. Are you freaking insane.
John on August 17, 2015:
should include ESP