Jackson vs Ibanez vs ESP LTD vs Schecter: Metal Guitar Shootout!
Top Metal Guitars
If you’re thinking about a new guitar, and you play heavy metal, four of the top brand names on your list are probably Jackson, Ibanez, ESP LTD and Schecter. And, you’re probably trying to decide which one will get you the sound you are looking for with the best quality components.
It’s no wonder you are stumped. These four guitar makers are at the top of the heap when it comes to instruments for hard rock and heavy metal. So how do you pick one above the others?
In the interest of saving time I’ll make this short and sweet.
The correct answer is simple: Go get one of each.
But for most of us this isn’t practical, and we need to find a way to pick one over the others.
In this article I’ll choose top instruments from each brand and pit them against each other. We’ll look at construction quality, sound and different specs, and we’ll see what other people are saying about these guitars. In the end it is unlikely one guitar is going to blow the others out of the water, but you ought to have a better idea about which one is right for you.
To be honest, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this whole thing. In the ‘80s I would have sworn by Ibanez to the end. In the ‘90s my allegiance shifted briefly to Jackson. When Schecter arrived on the scene I was blown away with their quality and attention to detail. And, recently I’ve been checking out some ESP LTD guitars that I’ve been super-impressed with.
I don’t know where this process will take us, and I have a feeling I’m going to learn something here too. So let’s get to our metal guitar shootout!
Metal Guitar Shootout Rules
Like any good grudge match, we’re going to have to come up with some rules to make things fair. Remember, we’re comparing guitar brands here, not necessarily the guitars themselves. I’m going to present the guitars that best represent each brand, which meet certain criteria, and see how they stack up against each other.
Even if you are considering a totally different style of guitar, these comparisons should still serve as a reference point.
Remember, too, that while I’ll be presenting specs, facts and details, some of what you’ll read is based on my own opinion. I’ve been around the block a time or two over the past 30 years when it comes to metal guitars, and I have experience with each of these brands.
Here are the three rules for the shootout:
- Guitars must be comparable in cost. I’ll be looking at instruments around the $1000 price range, give or take a couple hundred bucks. I think this is a range that allows manufacturers to put their best ideas forward without cutting too many corners.
- Guitars must be of “traditional” design. These companies make some great metal-looking, pointy-shaped guitars, but trying to compare unique designs doesn’t help us much. Here we’ll compare guitars with basic double or single-cut designs.
- Guitars must have a whammy bar. This is just to ensure a level playing field. Of course whether you ultimately choose a guitar with a tremolo or fixed bridge is up to you, but in this price range I think what type of tremolo bridge a company offers says a lot about overall quality. Plus, this is metal. You need a whammy bar.
Easy enough? On to the gear!
Jackson Pro Series Dinky
The Jackson Pro Series is a line of high-quality guitars for serious musicians. You might be wondering why I chose the Dinky here instead of the Soloist. While the Soloist is certainly the big dog of the Jackson lineup, the Dinky really struck me as having a more versatile array of options, and perhaps a better overall chance of matching up with the other guitars in the this review.
With an alder body, the Dinky lives up to its super-strat heritage. You may be expecting to see basswood or even mahogany here, but Jackson’s use of alder tells me they are going for a classic hard rock vibe with this guitar, not the dark, resonant tones of more modern metal. I like it.
A one-piece maple neck with choice of rosewood or maple 24-fret fingerboard is fast and flat, perfect for shredding. Indeed, this is shaping up to be a guitar made for the classic metal head, and the pickup choice brings it home. Direct-mounted Seymour Duncan humbuckers, a JB at the bridge and ’59 at the neck, are a high-quality choice here that will handle anything from ‘80s glam metal to modern thrash.
The bridge is a Floyd Rose 1000. The pickups are controlled via a 5-way switch, and the Pro Dinky features black hardware.
- What I like: This is guitar made for classic metal. From the tonewoods to the pickups, the Pro Series Dinky harkens back to the style of guitar that put Jackson on the map. For old-school metal guys like me who grew up on everything from Dokken to Iron Maiden to early Metallica, this guitar is a thing of beauty.
- What I don’t like: Cutting corners on the bridge is a big pet peeve of mine with guitars in this price range. While I’d rather see a Floyd Rose Original here, the Korean-made Floyd Rose 1000 isn’t a bad choice.
- What other people are saying: While reviews of this guitar are overwhelmingly positive, the two complaints I read the most are about the bridge and pickups. I agree with the bridge issues, but I can only assume the people who don’t like the pickups prefer the sound of something more modern, and maybe active. If EMGs are your thing, you may be disappointed with the passive Duncans.
Hear the Jackson Pro Series Dinky
Along with Jackson, Ibanez has long been regarded as the best guitar brand for metal on the planet. They transformed themselves from a guitar company that made some great copy instruments in the ‘70s, to a leader in the hard rock guitar world by the early ‘80s.
The RG is the flagship of the Ibanez lineup, with models ranging from pro-quality and costing thousands of dollars, to those made for beginners. Here’s we’ll look at the RG655, a solid guitar in the middle of the RG roster.
A basswood body is typical of the RG template. It’s a tonewood that brings some warmth and woodiness without the cost and weight of mahogany, and works well in a guitar like this. The neck is a Super Wizard 5-piece maple/walnut assembly with a 24-fret rosewood fingerboard.
While maple is a bright tonewood that will add some pop, it will be rounded out by the presence of the walnut. It’s also worth noting that several RG models come with maple tops, though I suspect it is for aesthetic purposes.
So far we see a picture of a typical metal/hard rock guitar, with tonewoods we’d except on an instrument in this price range. But with Ibanez the details are where things get interesting.
Where other companies rely on specialty gear makers for their hardware and electronics, Ibanez uses equipment made especially for their guitars, usually by them.
The bridge is an Ibanez Edge. This is a high-quality and innovative design developed and improved upon by Ibanez themselves over the years. The pickups are made by DiMarzio, another quality appointment.
- What I like: I like the bridge. Ibanez hardware is always top notch. I love the neck. I also like how this particular guitar only has two humbuckers instead of two humbuckers with a single coil in the middle. I’ve never had much use for that single coil. Of course that’s a matter of opinion.
- What I don’t like: I'm not so much a fan of single-coil middle pickup common on RGs. On Strats it's a great idea, but on a guitar built for shred I've never had a use for it.
- What other people are saying: Being an Ibanez, the hot pickups and fast neck get a lot of positive remarks. This guitar has proven to be among the most popular in the Ibanez lineup in recent years. Also check out the Iron Label Series!
Guitar World Checks Out the RG655
ESP LTD EC-1000FR
I can remember back when owning an ESP guitar meant you were probably already a rock star. When they came out with the more accessible ESP LTD lineup I wasn’t all that impressed. As a veteran guitarist it seemed like these were instruments aimed at junior-high kids, with odd shapes and even odder colors. Maybe they were at the time, but these days they are putting out some guitars that definitely have my attention. The EC-1000 is one such guitar.
Mahogany body with a maple top, set mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard. It’s pretty obvious the EC-1000 is going for a Les Paul-like vibe here. While this tonewood combination will achieve a similar resonant growl to a Gibson Les Paul, the EC-1000 takes things several steps further into the realm of sonic metal mayhem.
Let's look at the pickups. A set of active EMG 81/60 active pickups will provide the high-output modern sounds many player are looking for in today’s metal. If you expect to tune down a step or more this guitar is a great option.
Moving on to the hardware, a Floyd Rose bridge brings more versatility to the sound than with a typical LP-style guitar. The binding and block inlays look really classy.
- What I like: The EC-1000 is a beautiful guitar, modeled after the ESP Eclipse. If I were looking for a Les Paul-style guitar and played in a metal band, this guitar would get serious consideration even before I looked at Gibson.
- What I don’t like: I don’t like the Floyd Rose! I’d much rather see a tune-o-matic bridge on a guitar like this. But I made the rules, didn’t I?
- What other people are saying: In many reviews people compare the EC-1000 to a more expensive Les Paul, often with a great deal of hyperbole. Honestly, it’s not going to sound like a $2500 Les Paul Standard, but I do believe it is a great guitar for the money. The most common negative comment is fretbuzz, which I suspect would be eliminated with a proper setup.
Hear the LTD EC-1000T/CTM (Non-FR)
Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR
In every review where I talk about a Schecter guitars I rant and rave about what great quality they are for the price. This is always the first thing I think of, and every Schecter guitar or bass I have ever played struck me as an instrument that ought to cost more than the price tag said.
There are a few Schecter models that could have stood in for this shootout, but the Hellraiser is a model with some varied options and designs, including a cool Solo 6 body style that compares favorably to the EC-1000 above. But we’re going to look at a more basic Hellraiser, the C-1 that started it all.
The Schecter Hellraiser features a mahogany body with a set mahogany neck and 24-fret rosewood fingerboard. The Schecter C-shape body style has a slight arch to it, which makes it very attractive and comfortable to play.
While this is a guitar built for the dark tones of modern metal, it has some flexibility to it too. The active EMG 81tw/89R pickup set has coil tap through push/pull volume knobs, making for a wider array of possible sounds.
The Floyd Rose is again a 1000 model, but overall the hardware here is high quality. (Note: Schecter’s website says the bridge is a Floyd Rose 1000, but some sources, possibly earlier models, claim it has a FR Original. As always, check the details before you buy!) The binding and Goth inlays on the fretboard look great too.
- What I like: I love the look of Schecter C-1 style guitars. They’re both classy and modern and have a great feel about them.
- What I don’t like: Like the Jackson, this guitar would be even better with a Floyd Rose Original bridge. In fact, I’d probably go with the tune-o-matic and string through body option here.
- What other people are saying: I have to tell you, I had trouble digging up legitimate negative comments about this guitar. The worst I could find was a few complaints of lack of sustain, which is common in guitars with floating tremolos.
The Schecter Hellraiser Series
The Winner is . . .
Is it even possible to pick a winner out of that? Well, we can try. Let’s start by handing out some awards.
Best Guitar for Classic Metal: The Jackson Pro Dinky. With the Seymour Duncan pickups and alder body, this thing just screams classic hard rock and metal. Jackson certainly has some guitars in their lineup that will please the detuned modern metal crowd, but when I think of Jackson I think of the glory days of metal, hard rock and thrash. This, in my opinion, is what Jackson does best.
Best Guitar for Modern Metal: The ESP/LTD EC-1000. With the combination of mahogany tonewoods and hot active pickups this guitar is made to be detuned and plugged into a high-gain amp. ESP started out making custom guitars back in the days of glam metal and thrash, and you can still find some of that influence in the LTD lineup, but this appears to be a company with it’s focus set on the now and the future.
Best Guitar for Shred: The Ibanez RG. Always has been. Probably always will be. The neck is where it is at with this guitar, and there are few out there faster than Ibanez. That said, Ibanez is also the guitar company that made the 7-string what it is today. They have some pretty hardcore models that work well in today’s metal climate of 7, 8 and 27-string guitar.
Best All-Around Metal Guitar: Schecter Hellraiser. Yeah, with the look and construction of most Schecter guitars it’s easy to see they’re going for a modern-metal vibe. However, with the coil taps and different options available the Hellraiser series is one of the most versatile guitar models out there. Schecter is not a guitar brand I think of for classic metal or shredding, and not even the first company I think of for modern metal. But they are a guitar company that does everything well, and they probably build the best quality instruments in this price range.
So, who is the overall winner? I’m an old-school metal guy who grew up in the ‘80s. I’d probably go with the Jackson by a very narrow margin. But I think it's worth mentioning that, in the videos above, my winner for classic metal is being demoed by a modern metal guy, and my winner for modern metal is being played by a classic metal guy! These guitars are all incredible, and every one of them is metal through and through.
But what’s important is what you would choose. What kind of metal do you play? What are you trying to accomplish? Which guitar brand will best meet your needs?
I hope this article got you a little closer to answering those questions!