The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Beginner Metal Guitars
If you are a beginner looking for your first guitar you have a lot of options. If you also happen to be into heavy metal, some of those options may not seem so interesting. As a wannabe metalhead guitarist, you probably have certain criteria in mind for your guitar, and many of the plain, old beginner’s instruments out there simply don’t make the cut.
That’s good. If you are going to succeed at this guitar thing you need to be inspired, and if you already have an idea of what lights your fire you are a step ahead of many newbies. Metal is a genre that takes a tremendous amount of passion and, unlike some of the trendier forms of music, in metal the guitar player calls the shots.
In this article, you will discover several of your best options for your first metal guitar. I tried to keep them affordable so you can stick to a reasonable budget. You want an instrument that’s high in quality and sounds good, but obviously nobody wants to spend too much on their first guitar.
I’ll throw in one caution: Don’t get too excited about crazy, pointy-shaped guitars as a newbie. There are some amazing designs out there, and some that I absolutely love, but save those for when you are a bit more advanced.
As a beginner, you are going to want to spend a whole lot of time sitting down and practicing, and odd-shaped guitars often interfere with your ability to sit and play correctly. As a result, you may end up learning some bad techniques.
If you are very serious about this guitar thing, and if you are undaunted by pointy-shaped guitars, I suggest checking out the Jackson JS32 Series. They are some of the best budget guitars out there, and great metal guitars for serious beginners.
Remember that the advice in this article is based on my own opinions and experiences. I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions. Also, remember that prices and specs can change over time.
That said, let’s look at some guitars!
Top Metal Guitars for Beginners
Here's a quick overview of the guitars that made my list. Scroll down to learn more about each instrument.
- Jackson JS22 Dinky: Best for classic metal and thrash.
- Schecter S6 Deluxe: My top choice for extreme modern metal.
- Ibanez GRG120BDX: Best for wannabe shredders.
- Jackson Rhoads JS32
- Epiphone LP Special II
- Epiphone SG Special
- ESP LTD M-10
- Dean Vendetta 1
- Squier Affinity Stratocaster HSS
- Kramer Baretta Special
Jackson JS22 Dinky
Jackson is one of those brand names that make you immediately think of metal. While I have no idea if anyone keeps such statistics, it is a safe bet that Jackson guitars have seen the stage with more metal bands than any other brand in history.
That is one of the reasons my top recommendation is the Jackson JS22 Dinky. This is an affordable version of the Jackson Dinky, a classic guitar in the metal world. Jackson has been the benchmark of heavy guitar greatness since the 1980s, so it makes sense to start your guitar playing career with a Jackson in your hands.
A friend of mine who had just started learning guitar brought his JS Series Dinky over to my house a little while back and I was really impressed with what Jackson could do with a budget-level guitar.
Jackson JS22 Features
The JS22 Dinky features a poplar body and maple neck. Poplar is a deep tonewood similar to mahogany or basswood, but not quite as rich. Still, it is capable of bringing out those lows we want, and the maple bolt-on neck helps to add a little clarity to the tone.
The amaranth fingerboard extends to 24 frets and includes signature Jackson shark-fin inlays. Rounding out the specs we see a pair of Jackson humbuckers and a synchronized tremolo bridge.
This guitar is a smart choice for beginners who are inspired by classic metal and thrash, and it's nice that it comes in under $200. It is basic enough not to overwhelm a newbie, but the inclusion of the whammy bar and extended fretboard gives you the tools you need to experiment.
Jackson JS Series Dinkys
Schecter C6 Deluxe
I really love Schecter guitars, especially for metal, and I’ve said that many times. At one time the Schecter Omen was priced right for beginners, but it has gone up in both quality and price in recent years. That’s great, but it left a gap where Schecter didn’t really have a legitimate offering for new guitar players.
I loved the Omen so much I bought one for myself. Now there’s the Schecter C6 Deluxe, and it reminds me a lot of my Omen. It's a straightforward, great sounding guitar that seems like it ought to cost a lot more than it does.
The C6 Deluxe has a basswood body and a maple neck with a 24-fret rosewood fingerboard. The pickups are Schecter Diamond Plus humbuckers controlled via a single volume and single tone control, and a three-way switch.
Where I love the Jackson above for its classic style and sound, I think this Schecter is a more modern metal option. If you intend to tune down, if you need a dark sound, or if you just want something a little meaner, this guitar is the way to go.
I’ll also add that, like the Omen, this guitar is a solid platform for an upgrade. As you get better you may simply change the pickups and maybe the tuners instead of needing to upgrade to another guitar.
The C6 also comes in a version with a Floyd Rose tremolo (see video), though it's a little more expensive.
More on the C6 Deluxe - With Floyd Rose
The Jackson JS22 Dinky is my top choice for classic metal, thrash, and hard rock. The Schecter C6 Deluxe is my first pick when it comes to guitar for modern extreme metal. And, the Ibanez GRGA120 is my top pick for guitars built for shredding.
Like Jackson, Ibanez is among the elite metal guitar brands. Their RG-Series guitars, which the GRGA120 is based on, are some of the most popular instruments for shredders and metal guitarists.
At first glance, this guitar looks very similar to the Jackson above. It has a poplar body, dual humbuckers (in this case Ibanez Powersounds), and a whammy bar. Both even feature archtop bodies.
Both guitars have fast necks, but it is worth noting that Ibanez has a particularly strong reputation for fast, flat necks. If you feel the need for speed (or think you will) this is the guitar for you.
I have a long history with Ibanez, and it’s cool to see that a beginner guitar has the same kind of great feel as the more expensive models I’ve owned and played. Ibanez’s attention to quality for their affordable instruments is impressive.
More Guitars for Metal
You’ve read about my top three choices when it comes to the best electric guitar for metal. I feel like those guitars will get the job done for any beginner, but there are a few more you might consider. Just because they didn’t make my top three doesn’t mean they aren’t great guitars, so check them out. Most can be had for under $200.
- Jackson Rhoads JS32: I know some newbies are going to want a pointy-shaped guitar, and this is the one I recommend. It is a little easier to sit with than typical V-style guitars, so practice will be a bit less taxing. It's a classic metal design that looks amazing.
- Epiphone LP Special II: The Epiphone LP Special II is my top pick in my article on the best electric guitars for beginners, and it makes sense to mention it here. I love Les Pauls for metal, and I play one myself. With its single-cutaway design, hot Epiphone 700T humbuckers and Tune-o-matic style bridge this thing is a great budget Les Paul and a solid choice for beginners.
- Epiphone SG Special: If the legendary Les Paul doesn’t do it for you, consider the equally legendary SG. Epiphone may not be a brand you associate with metal right away, but these guitars should not be overlooked, especially if you intended to branch out into other styles. They’re versatile guitars, with a darkness that works great for heavy music.
- ESP LTD M-10: ESP LTD is a brand that caters to the metal crowd, born from the ESP Guitar Company. The ESP LTD M-10 is a great choice in a first guitar. It has a classic superstrat look with its double-cut design and reverse headstock, with a basswood body and a pair of hot ESP pickups, a rosewood fingerboard and a Tune-o-matic bridge.
- Dean Vendetta 1: Dean is another great brand for metal. The Vendetta is a double-cut guitar with a basswood body, 24-fret fingerboard a set of mean humbuckers. Dean also has an ML version for beginners you might consider if you prefer pointy guitars.
- Squier Affinity Stratocaster HSS: I like the Strat for heavy music, though it has been largely pushed out of the metal scene in recent years. These days, much of the allure of metal is about detuning and playing as heavy and as aggressively as possible. But if you prefer old-school sounds there is nothing wrong with a Strat, with a humbucker in the bridge position of course.
- Kramer Baretta Special: Take yourself back in time to the shred-era of the 1980s when single-pickup guitars were hot. If you are into shred I recommend the Baretta Special. The one downside is that, because it only has one pickup, it limits a newbies exposure to different sounds a bit.
Hear the Epiphone Les Paul Special II
Can Beginners Start on a 7-String Guitar?
I usually advise beginners not to start out on a 7-string guitar. Newbies have a hard enough time learning the theory and techniques to manage six strings without worrying about what to do with a low-B.
Seven-string guitars have their place in metal for sure. They can sound brutal through a high-gain amp, and they’ve gone a long way toward shaping modern extreme music. But they do make things harder when you are first starting out.
Sevens have the same six strings you’ll find on a normal 6-string guitar, with the addition of one fatter, lower-pitched string. This means you’ve got another string to stumble over as you’re trying to learn basic chord and scales. For an intermediate-level guitarist, this is a minor issue until they get used to it. For beginners, it can mean tremendous confusion.
However, there are some exceptions to my advice to avoid a 7-string as a newbie. If you are absolutely, positively, unwaveringly sure that the music you want to learn involves 7-string guitars, I say go for it. My number-one rule for choosing a first guitar is to start out on an instrument that inspires you.
If a seven-string guitar inspires you, that’s what you should get. Just be aware that you’ll have a bit harder time learning the basics.
If you are determined to start out on a 7-string, check out my article on 7-string guitars for metal for advice and recommendations.
Do You Need a Floyd Rose for Metal?
You don’t need a Floyd Rose tremolo metal, but some players feel they are a major asset to their sound and style. That’s great for veteran players, and personally I love them, but I’m not sure they are the best option for newbies.
The guitars I mentioned above are basic guitars for beginners, with basic tremolo systems or fixed bridges. Even those with tremolos are not capable of staying in tune after huge dive bombs and aggressive action. They aren’t meant for that, and to accomplish those tricks you need a double-locking tremolo bridge.
But, many such as the Schecter S6 and Jackson JS Dinky do come in versions with a Floyd Rose. They cost a little more, but you can whammy ‘til your heart’s content without going out of tune.
So, if that’s the case, why should you avoid them as a new guitarist? Floyds take a little work to set up correctly. Changing strings is more complicated. These are just more things to add to the confusion of learning guitar. Once you’ve been playing for a while you can jump into the world of whammy bars, but as a newbie you’d be smart to start with a more basic tremolo.
However, I will say the same thing I said about 7-strings. If you really, really want a guitar with a Floyd Rose when you are first starting out, go for it. Just be aware of the extra challenge and be ready for it.
Can You Play Metal on Any Guitar?
You can play metal on any guitar, and guitarists have throughout music history. But realize there are good reasons guitar players in heavy music gravitate toward instruments with hot humbuckers, fast necks and sometimes whammy bars.
For metal you need the thick sound you get from a humbucker, and tonewoods like mahogany and basswood generate a dark, deep sound. Thin, fast necks help you to play a little faster and more precisely.
You’d struggle to get the same sound out of a Strat with three single-coil pickups or a semi-hollow body guitar. But, guitar players have done it, particularly in hard rock and classic metal.
One of the reasons I recommend the Epiphone Les Paul Special II for most beginners is because it is so versatile. It will do the job for any style of music, including metal.
If you’re not crazy about that guitar that’s fine, but at the most basic level I would advise a beginner interested in metal to choose a guitar with a humbucker in the bridge position.
If you’ve already got a guitar that doesn’t meet those criteria, don’t sweat it. You can learn to play metal on any guitar. Remember that your very first guitar is just a starting point. Keep with it, and you’ll move on a serious metal guitar soon enough.
Choosing a Guitar for Metal
You've just read about the top instruments when it comes to metal guitars for beginners. Now you have a choice to make. What are you going to do? Here are a few final thoughts.
I love heavy metal, and I've played it my whole career as a guitarist and bassist. I want to see the genre thrive far into the future, and I love it when young guitar players start out with the idea that they will concentrate on heavy metal. In this age of terrible prime-time talent shows and auto-tuned pop divas I fully support anyone who chooses to really put in the time to learn an instrument in a challenging genre.
But every newbie has a long way to go, and a lot of hurdles ahead. In this article I purposely chose guitars with strong basic qualities, even though they may not seem so flashy. You need to be concentrating on your skills and your sound, and each of these instruments will allow you to get started on that the right way.
The Jackson JS22 Dinky, Schecter C6 Deluxe and Ibanez GRGA120 are my top choices, for classic metal/thrash, modern extreme metal and shred respectively.
The LP Special II and Squier HSS Strat are traditional rock guitars that also have what it takes to do the job in metal. They will give you the versatility to explore other genres, tones and styles, and that will only make you a better metal guitarist.
Dark, aggressive sounds have their place, but many of the most legendary metal bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest relied on the Les Paul Strat to get the sounds they wanted.
I’m not saying you’ll launch some kind of old-school-metal revolution if you start out on a Strat or Les Paul (though I wouldn’t hate it if you did) but I do think, as a newbie, it is smart to start out on a versatile guitar capable of a wide array of sounds.
Look to companies like ESP LTD and Dean for some quality guitars at affordable prices. They made this list for a reason, and these are brands you can count on for metal.
Above all else, and above anything I’ve told you, do your own research and find a guitar you really love. That’s the most important thing.
Good luck choosing the best metal guitar as a beginner, and good luck learning guitar.
How will you begin your metal career?
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.
Gatorcrock on November 28, 2018:
I'm a big fan of Ibanez RG series, but, quality has really gone down over the years. You can still get a Gio that will set up nicely out of the box, but be prepared to do a little work to them. IE; neck is fast for a beginner, you will most likely have to do some fileing or sanding to the fret wires, or shredding becomes a different term to playing. Pick ups are great for heavy metal ( infinety series), tuners are basic as can get and be prepared to tune eve ry time you play plus. Overall good starter. Glad to see a mention of the les paul special2. Have both and its apples and oranges when comparing. Also, i have the Squire bullet sss, for me its the basic any beginer should start with, versitile in many different genres.