Best Metal Guitar for Beginners
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 a 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. All of the instruments in this review come in around $200, which is a good ballpark budget for your first guitar. 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.
All that said, if you are very serious about this metal guitar thing, and if you have more than $200 to spend, and if you are undaunted by pointy-shaped guitars, I strongly suggest checking out the Jackson JS32 Series. They are some of the best budget guitars out there, and great metal guitars for serious beginners.
Let’s look at some guitars!
Epiphone LP Special II
The Gibson Les Paul is a legendary rock guitar with a dark vibe that makes it perfect for metal. From Randy Rhoads to Metallica to Zakk Wylde to Mastodon, the Les Paul has proven it is capable of serving as the ultimate tool of metal doom.
That’s because of the tonewoods chosen to build this guitar. Mahogany is a warm, deep-sounding wood that really brings out those guttural lows in your tone. As metal guitarists we like mahogany, and we like the Les Paul.
The Epiphone LP Special II doesn't have nearly the same high-quality components and design as the Gibson version, but it doesn't have the high price tag either. It’s a great guitar for a beginner and it incorporates a mahogany body and neck into the design, just like its legendary Gibson cousin.
With its single-cutaway design, rosewood fingerboard, hot Epiphone 700T humbuckers and Tune-o-matic style bridge this thing is a great budget Les Paul, and a solid choice for beginners.
While Epiphone may not be a brand you associate with metal right away, the LP Special II should not be overlooked, especially if you intended to branch out into other styles like rock, blues and jazz. It’s a versatile guitar, but then again that’s why so many guitarists in so many different genres love the Les Paul.
Hear the Epiphone Les Paul Special II
Jackson JS22 Dinky
Jackson is one of those brand names that makes 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. Jackson has been the benchmark of metal guitar greatness since the 1980s, so it makes sense to start your guitar playing career with a Jackson in your hands.
The JS22 Dinky is an affordable version of the classic Jackson Dinky. It features a basswood body and maple neck. Basswood is a deep tonewood similar to mahogany 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 rosewood fingerboard extends to 24 frets and includes those 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 shred, classic metal and thrash. 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.
Note: Jackson also makes the JS22-7 Dinky, a 7-string version of this guitar.
Learn More About the Jackson JS22 Dinky
If you like the Jackson Dinky but aren’t so thrilled with a smaller body style, consider the Ibanez GRG120DBX. Like Jackson, Ibanez is among the elite brands when it comes to metal guitar. Their RG-Series guitars, which the GRG120 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 the same tonewood profile, dual humbuckers (in this case Ibanez Powersounds), a whammy bar and even some pointy inlays in the rosewood fingerboard.
However, there are a few significant differences, mainly related to the body style. The GRG has a flatter, slightly wider body, where the Dinky has an arched top and somewhat smaller body. Both guitars have fast necks, but it is worth noting that Ibanez has a particularly strong reputation for fast, flat necks.
You could plug these guitars in side by side and probably end up deciding you like them both. Unless one brand calls to you over the other, your decision will likely come down to which body style you like the best.
It is also worth noting that the tremolo bridges on these guitars 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. These are basic guitars for beginners, with basic tremolo systems.
Squier Affinity Stratocaster HSS
Here is a guitar that’s very different from those previously mentioned in this article. It is made from brighter tonewoods, and it has one humbucker and two single coil pickups. Is the Squier Affinity Stratocaster a good guitar for metal?
The Stratocaster 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. There are a lot of things I like about that approach, and some things I don’t.
Dark, aggressive sounds have their place, but many of the most legendary metal bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest relied on the Strat to get the sounds they wanted.
Of course they installed a humbucker in the bridge position to make the guitar sound heavier, and oftentimes they retrofitted their Strats with Floyd Rose tremolos. But, back then the Stratocaster was a force to be reckoned with in the metal scene.
I’m not saying you’ll launch some kind of old-school-metal revolution if you start out on a Strat (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. With an HSS model you’ll have your humbucker for heavier riffs, but also a pair of single coils to experiment with.
And, it doesn’t hurt that Squier Affinity Strats are among the top guitars for beginners, period.
ESP LTD M-17
I’d never advise a beginner 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. However, I know some of you won’t be able to stop yourselves, so I may as well recommend a good 7-string.
ESP LTD is a brand that caters to the metal crowd, born from the ESP Guitar Company. If you are just starting out on guitar you are probably too young to remember how ESP began to dominate the metal scene in the 1990s with custom-made guitars in the hands of some of the top players.
After a while the rest of us started to get a little jealous, so we were pretty happy when ESP introduced its affordable lineup of ESP LTD guitars.
The ESP LTD M-17 is a great choice in a first 7-string. It has a classic metal look with its double-cut design and reverse headstock, but what’s under the hood is more important.
Basswood is used for the body for the deep resonance you need in a 7-string, and the maple neck helps with high-end articulation. Add in a pair of hot ESP pickups, a rosewood fingerboard and a Tune-o-matic bridge and you’re in detuned, 7-string metal heaven.
Note: ESP LTD also makes the M-10, the six-string version of the M-17.
Choosing Your First Guitar
You've just read about five of 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 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 basics 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 LP Special II and Squier 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.
The Jackson JS22 Dinky and Ibanez GRG120 are good choices for wannabe shredders. Their fast necks and hot pickups will help you learn to play with speed and precision.
Finally, if I am unable to stop you from choosing a seven string as your first guitar, go with the Jackson JS22-7 Dinky or ESP LTD M-17 and play it low and heavy.
Good luck choosing your first metal guitar, and practice hard. I hope to be buying your albums in a few years!
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More Metal Guitar for Beginners
Need more advice on how to choose the right starter guitar? These articles can help!
- Here are some more picks for the top electric guitars for beginners. This article expands your options to incorporate different genres and styles, not just those starter guitars that are right for metal.
- Get some advice about how to pick out your first electric guitar, including how to handle yourself in the guitar shop and how to evaluate a guitar, even if you can’t play one.
- Got a few extra bucks in your pocket? Good for you! Check out some of the top metal guitars for serious beginners.
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