If you’re playing metal, you need weapons of mass tonal destruction. But there’s also more to the ideal armament than shredready guitars with blazing fast necks and supersaturated amps. For example, if you’re performing tight, stutter-like rhythmic punches, you need an amp that can react to your attacks with lightning speed. Solid-state amps can typically charge mercilessly ahead without the slight latency of tube amps, but, then again, not many metal maniacs go for non-tube options (although some players do love solid-state amps). In addition, modeling amps such as the Kemper Profiler and the Fractal Audio Axe-FX have gained a lot of support from metal players we’ve interviewed.
On the guitar front, many noted metal guitarists wield Vs, Dimes, and evil, edgy shapes of all types, but others like more conventional-looking instruments. Some younger players even swear by what you might call their “dad’s or grandpa’s guitars,” such as Strats and Les Pauls. Ergonomics, feel, and playing ease are important no matter what style of music you play, but energetic metal artists who bounce around stages like enraged demons should also consider the weight of the guitar, as a heavy plank and a hour (or more) of intense physical activity can produce significant discomfort during or after the show.
Signal processors are usually part of the mojo of all types of music, as exploring new sounds is always entertaining and instructive. However, a fair amount of metal stars don’t use many pedals at all—which means you should make sure you have the right guitar and amp if you’re planning to go the “no effects” route. In other words, your “naked” tone should be absolutely awe inspiring.
Obviously, in all cases, guitarists need to check out available gear options and discover what feels and sounds right to them. But we thought we’d have some fun and make a few suggestions to get you started on your own metal armory.
The GJ2 Inspiration Series guitars by the legendary Grover Jackson strut something even hotter than their mean, angular looks—they’re also nicely affordable. The hardtail version goes for $799 street, and the Floyd Rose version costs just $899 street—hard case included! gj2guitars.com
Just Like Jason
The inspired melodic shredding by Jason Becker is honored with his Carvin JB24 Jason Becker Numbers Tribute Guitar ($1,599 retail). It’s made in the USA, and Jason himself worked with Carvin on the design details. carvinguitars.com
The ESP Guitars E-II Arrow ($1,899 retail) puts a metal spin on the classic V shape, and includes EMG 81 pickups, a Floyd Rose bridge, and an ebony fretboard. espguitars.com
It may be a bit more hard rock than metal, but, man, the Ibanez PS120BK Paul Stanley Signature ($1,199 retail) has all the attitude and bravado of the Kiss frontman. You also get Seymour Duncan pickups, chrome hardware, and a bound ebony fretboard. ibanez.com
One glance tells you that the Teye Guitars Gypsy Arrow ($4,950 retail) is one bold, ostentatious, and expensive instrument. But there’s nothing like it out there, and you’ll look like a conquering monarch with this aggro art piece around your neck. It comes with Lollar pickups, an ebony fretboard, and a SuperSustain bridge. teye.com
EIGHT FERAL AMPS
The Orange Rockerverb 50 and 100 MKIII amps ($1,999 to $2,149 retail) deliver a fat wallop with chime-y articulation. They’re also built as tough as a battleship. orangeamps.com
Peavey’s 6505 amp is one of the definitive superpower machines for metal and hardcore players. But if you want all the rage with a little less weight, the very portable 6505 MH ($499 street) can bring the aggression with variable 20/5/1 watts (great for recording). peavey.com
Recording metal mania in a home studio is a dangerous game. One explosive barrage of hot riffs, and you could be looking for another place to live. Happily, Laney’s three-channel Ironheart IRT-Studio amp ($599 street) can be recorded direct via USB or XLR, keeping the savage sonics quietly managed by headphones or low-level monitoring. Peace in our time! laney.co.uk
The Right Stuff
Putting a Marshall in your rig is kind of like buying IBM in early days of computer tech—you can’t go wrong! The Marshall JCM800 2203 ($2,599 street) delivers a guttural, EL34-driven roar that evokes everything people adore about hard rock and metal tone. marshallamps.com
As you can easily sample your own vintage amps (or anyone else’s), spin through onboard presets and user samples, and have effects ready to go in the box, it’s no surprise why so many former tube metal-heads have gone digital with the 600- watt Kemper Profiler Power Head ($2,670 retail). kemper-amps.com
Classic Hard Rocker
The ENGL Artist Edition E651A ($1,999 street) has quite a hard-rock pedigree, as the original Artist Edition—a modified version of an E650 Ritchie Blackmore Signature head—was prized by Jimmy Page, Paul Stanley, Scott Gorham, and Doug Aldrich. The 100-watt E651A features four ECC83 preamp tubes, four EL34 power tubes, and Clean and Lead channels. englamps.de
Tremonti’s Choice You may not initially think of the classy and sophisticated PRS as a maker of brutish amps, but Mark Tremonti swore by the PRS Archon (the 50 Combo shown here is $1,649 retail) during the making of his new album, Cauterize. In fact, all of the distorted amp blends on the record were 40 percent Archon with the rest of the textures comprised of two other amps. prsguitars.com
Vai’s Hot Rod
If you love melodic shred, Steve Vai has to be one of your guys, so why not explore his signature Carvin amp, the VL300 Legacy head ($899 retail)? The Legacy serves up 100 watts in a three-channel amp with a variable boost for “more more,” and footswitchable reverb. carvinamplifiers.com
FOUR FIERCE ACCESSORIES
Go Low If your crammed pedalboard doesn’t have room for a DigiTech Whammy, the DigiTech Drop ($149 street) can increase your tonal poundage from a half-step to a full octave detune. Chunk your heart out! digitech.com
Delayed Havoc What’s a soaring, climactic metal solo without some delay to kick in a rush of ambient bliss? The new Boss DD-500 ($299 street) gives you a ton of sonic options for your atmospheric forays. The flavors include Analog, Tape, Reverse, Vintage Digital, and Shimmer, and there’s a tap tempo switch for keeping in the groove with your drummer. bossus.com
Three-Way Rage Bare Knuckle’s Juggernaut ($280 direct; approximate, based on British pounds) is hand-wound, delivers articulate midrange frequencies, and gives you the engine to create crushing rhythm tones, fluid and saturated solo tones, and shimmering clean tones. That’s pretty much everything you need to negotiate any metal soundscape. bareknucklepickups.co.uk
High-gain amps and effects tend to produce hiss and other noises that can compromise the more tender parts of your savage displays of musical bedlam. Rocktron’s MicroHUSH ($119 street) can clean up your ragged signal (up to 65dB), and its tiny footprint can squeeze into even the most crowded pedalboard. rocktron.com