The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Heavy Metal on a Budget
If you are a metal player with only $500 to spend you can still find a great guitar. Some of the best gear manufacturers put out instruments that will probably be right up your alley. Schecter, Jackson, Ibanez, and ESP are some of the biggest names in the guitar world. You don’t need to spend a fortune, and you don’t need to compromise on sound and quality if you are on a budget.
Below you’ll find my thoughts on some of their best offering for the metal guitarist who doesn't have a ton of cash to spend. There are some great electric guitars under $500 on the market, but the ones on this list are made for metal.
Remember, it’s not the shape of the guitar that matters, but the tone. For metal, look for guitars made from mahogany or basswood. You can go with a whammy bar, or look for a tailpiece that will give you better sustain and resonance. Pickups should be hot and have a good low end.
Bells and whistles aren’t important: You want a guitar that’s sonically impressive more than anything.
Top 10 Guitars for Metal Under $500
Here is my shortlist. Read on for more information on each guitar.
- ESP LTD EC-256
- Schecter Omen Extreme-6
- Ibanez RG450
- Jackson JS32 King V
- Squier Contemporary Active Stratocaster
- Jackson Adrian Smith SDX
- PRS SE Standard 24
- Epiphone Goth Studio
- Kramer Pacer Classic
- Dean Razorback
How to Choose the Right Guitar for Metal
There are basically three steps to finding the right guitar, no matter what style of music you play:
- Research: Read every piece of information you can get your hands on. The internet makes this easy. Be sure to visit the websites of the different guitar manufacturers to get your info first-hand. Read reviews whenever you can, but keep in mind that most gear reviews are done by players who are really happy or really frustrated. Most people are somewhere in between.
- Play: Get out to local music stores and try guitars you think you might like. Try different guitars of the same model and similar guitars made by different manufactures. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the guitar shop employees, but always verify anything they tell you by doing your own research.
- Choose: Once you’ve found out exactly what you want, it’s time to take the plunge. Whether you buy online or from a local store, always pick a reputable retailer with a good return policy. Ideally, you should be able to take the guitar home for a while and play it, and bring it back if you don’t like it.
You may find you need a whammy bar on your new guitar. You may find you need a 7-string guitar. You may decide you hate all the big guitar manufacturers and want something offbeat.
The point is, whatever you decide has to be right for you. Consider the models mentioned below as suggestions (coming from a writer who has played metal guitar for almost 30 years by the way) but this list is by no means comprehensive. Be sure to check out the manufacturer's websites for the most up-to-date info on their gear.
Okay, enough preaching! Here are a few great metal guitars that should cost you less than $500.
ESP LTD EC-256
The ESP LTD EC-256 is my top choice here. ESP LTD is a brand that excels in the world of heavy metal. The EC-256 has a classic look with great appointments, making it one of the best choices out there for metal guitar players on a budget. It looks awesome and has a more comfortable feel compared to many single-cutaway guitars.
ESP LTD 256 Features
- Body: Mahogany
- Neck: Mahogany set neck with 22-Extra Jumbo Frets and Rosewood Fretboard.
- Pickups: ESP Designed LH-150
- Bridge: Tune-o-Matic with stopbar tailpiece.
The EC-256 has metal roots. The ESP LTD EC-1000 has become a classic in the metal community, known for its great tone and beautiful design.
The EC-1000 itself is based off of the ESP Eclipse guitar. Unfortunately, both of those guitars will put you over your $500 spending limit. But the EC-1000 has a little brother in the EC-256. This guitar will give you a lot of the good stuff you find in the EC-1000, and still get you in under your budget.
The mahogany body and mahogany neck make for great resonance, typical of Les Paul-type instruments. Think deep resonance and solid, chunky chords. Next to Epiphone, this is probably the best alternative to the Les Paul you're going to see in this price range.
Plus, the EC-256 looks amazing! In addition to the classy black finish (which is, of course, the preferred option for metal) it comes in sharp yellows and greens and a cool dark-brown sunburst.
Hear the ESP LTD EC-256!
Schecter Omen Extreme-6
The Schecter Omen Extreme-6 is another great choice. I really like Schecter guitars, and I highly recommend them in this price range. In fact, I've owned an Omen for over a decade. This is a guitar that offers quality and performance in a package that seems to cost less than it should.
Schecter Guitar Research was once considered an up-and-comer in the metal guitar market, but now they’ve etched their name among the elite guitar manufacturers for heavy music.
Schecter Omen Extreme-6 Features
- Body: Basswood
- Neck: Bolt-on maple with 24 Extra-jumbo Frets and Rosewood Fretboard
- Pickups: Schecter Diamond Plus High-output Humbuckers
- Bridge: String thru(other options available)
Schecter models like the Blackjack and Hellraiser are quickly becoming legends, but you won’t land one for under $500. But don’t worry; Schecter hasn’t forgotten about you!
The Schecter Omen Extreme 6 is a gorgeous guitar, build up from the C-shape body Schecter made famous. It may look pretty, but this guitar has some serious metal cred.
The high-output pickups add some bite to resonance of the basswood body, and combine well with the punch of a bolt-on maple neck. If you aren't going to go with a mahogany bodied guitar, this is the next best thing. The inlays on the fretboard look pretty awesome too!
It's worth noting that the Omen lineup features a few different models for different types of metalheads. You can get a version with Floyd Rose if you feel like you need it, and there are Omens with 7 and 8 strings if you feel like you need a little more range to create your mayhem.
The Ibanez RG Series are some of the most amazing metal guitars out there. They range in skill level from guitars intended for beginners, to instruments more suited for professionals. There are several models in this price range, and they are outstanding guitars for intermediate players. But if I am going to pick the best Ibanez guitar for under $500 it will be the Ibanez RG450.
With a fast Wizard III neck, hot pickups, and the Ibanez Edge II tremolo, the RG450 still manages to come in at an affordable price.
Ibanez RG450 Features
- Body: Basswood
- Neck: Wizard III 3-piece maple, 24-frets with maple or rosewood fingerboard
- Pickups: Ibanez Quantum
- Bridge: Edge II tremolo
Ibanez is known for making great metal guitars, thanks to key components such as thin, super-fast necks and outstanding in-house hardware such as the Edge tremolo system. For decades the RG has gotten the job done in everything from glam metal and thrash to death metal, power metal, and progressive metal.
I have also found that they offer excellent value, and even in the intermediate price ranges, you can expect excellent quality and sound. This is why Ibanez is the first choice of many guitars players who play heavy metal music.
Note that there are different models of the RG450 available with slightly different woods and aesthetics.
I also suggest checkout out the S Series, specifically the S520. It is a little more expensive, but with a thinner mahogany body, it is perhaps more suited to shredders.
Jackson JS32 King V
Jackson guitars are known in the heavy metal world as the ultimate weapons, and the Jackson King V is one of the best-known guitars in the Jackson metal arsenal. Back in the 1980s, Jackson instruments were played by just about every influential metal band out there.
As metal has evolved so has Jackson, and through their JS Series, they offer affordable instruments for up-and-coming players.
Jackson JS32 King V Features
- Body: Basswood
- Neck: Bolt-on Maple with 24 Jumbo Frets and Rosewood Fretboard
- Pickups: High-Output Jackson Humbuckers
- Bridge: Jackson Double-Locking Tremolo
The King V is a classic metal guitar with some modern attitude. Here Jackson brings us a great, budget-friendly version of the King V that will meet the needs of intermediate and pro metal guitarists alike. Jackson still puts out the same great shredder guitars like the Soloist and Dinky, but if you are into extreme metal you want this bad boy slung over your shoulders.
Basswood is a great tonewood for heavy metal, especially if you tune your guitar down a step or more. Some players may wish to upgrade the pickups eventually, but otherwise, the King V is a metalhead's dream. At such a reasonable price you can make whatever upgrades you want, or maybe none at all!
The Jackson JS32 King V
Squier Contemporary Active Stratocaster
Is Squier a good guitar brand for metal? Ordinarily, I would say you are better off looking elsewhere, but they have a few guitars in their Contemporary Series worth checking out. Usually, when it comes to Fender and Squier we’d be lucky to see an HSS with a Floyd Rose, but these guitars are built with the metalhead in mind.
Squier Contemporary Active Stratocaster Features
- Body: Poplar
- Neck: Bolt-on Maple with 22-fret Rosewood Fingerboard
- Pickups: Squier Active Humbuckers
- Bridge: Floyd Rose Licensed Tremolo
Stratocasters have been used in heavy metal since the genre was invented, and their tone is unmatched. Of course, a Fender is way above our $500 budget, but Squier will get you under with a few bucks to spare.
The thing is, with most Strats you have to swap out the pickups to get the high-gain sound you want for metal. With the Squier Contemporary Active Stratocaster that work is done for you.
5 More Guitars for Metal
Here are the next five guitars that round out my list of best guitars for metal under $500:
- Jackson Adrian Smith SDX: I rarely recommend signature gear, but I love this guitar. If you don’t know, Adrian Smith is one of the guitar players in Iron Maiden. It is tough to get a true superstrat for under $500, but this one ticks all the boxes.
- PRS SE Standard 24: It looks awfully classy to be slogging around the heavy rock world, but with a mahogany body and dual humbuckers the Standard 24 can get the job done in the metal. I would recommend it for guitar players looking for a versatile instrument, not just one for extreme music.
- Epiphone Les Paul Goth Studio: I hesitate to recommend this guitar over the Les Paul Standard. The only reason I do so is because it is a hundred bucks cheaper. Still, if you have the cash, I’d suggest you are better off with the Standard model. But, if you like the Goth Studio, it is a fine guitar for the money. It looks awesome, and the open-humbuckers will sound a touch hotter than the chrome-covered pickups on the Standard.
- Kramer Pacer Classic: Speaking of superstrats, I know if I don’t mention Kramer somebody is going to have a fit. Kramer has had their ups and downs over the years. The Pacer is a throwback to the world of ‘80s hard rock and heavy metal.
- Dean Razorback: It is tough to think of a guitar that looks more metal than the Razorback. Dean is a great guitar brand for metal, and their ML Series guitars are fantastic. This is an interesting twist on the ML design, one sure to come in handy if you ever need to use your guitar for self-defense.
Adrian Smith on His Jacksons
Remember, only you can choose the right guitar for your style and needs. Take your time, do your research, and shop around before making your purchase. You’ll be glad you did.
So which would I choose?
Personally, I'd go with the EC-256 over the Schecter Omen, but only by a narrow margin. I love mahogany bodies and set mahogany necks for metal, and the EC-256 gives me that in a very affordable way. I do like the Schecter though, so if you prefer a guitar with a bit more punch don't let my opinion sway you.
One more thing worth noting: Even though you may purchase a less expensive guitar now, you still may choose to upgrade it later. There are many intermediate-level electric guitars out there that start out as “pretty good” but with a few upgraded components can become metal tone machines.
If you choose a guitar made from good tonewood, and with a solid structure, you can always modify everything else down the road. Of course, these guitars are good enough to leave them as-is if you wish to.
Good luck! With a little patience, you can definitely find a great metal guitar for under $500!
Your Opinion: Which is the best metal guitar under $500?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Carly on July 28, 2017:
I think I am quite disappointed to not see a mention of the Antoria Custom Les Paul copy, or indeed the brand Antoria. I had a black left hander Les Paul back in the late 80`s, and it was so smooth & precise on the neck & frets and the sound was amazing.
Anton on July 09, 2015:
Hey! Just wanted to give you a heads up about the Jackson JS22-7 - it seriously rivals the RG7421 for like... half the price! It's an absolute steal and I love mine immensely.
Guitar Gopher (author) on March 25, 2014:
Go for it, Raymond! :-)
Raymond Philippe from The Netherlands on March 24, 2014:
I wish i could make some noise with these guitars. Good info btw.
Guitar Gopher (author) on November 19, 2013:
Thanks My Cook Book. I've been trying to get better at cooking lately, so maybe you should try to learn guitar! :-)
Dil Vil from India on November 19, 2013:
I don't know how to play, good information anyway. Thank you for sharing sharing this informative hub.