How to get a Killer Metal Guitar Tone
I’m going to give you some pointers on getting a killer Metal guitar tone. Now keep in mind, guitar tone is subjective. What might be music to one’s ears may be noise to another. But for Metal, the majority of guitarists with over a decade experience will agree with at least half of what I say for a reason.
The honest truth is tone is about half technique, half equipment. You can have a guitarist with the best equipment, but if she’s a shitty guitarist, she’ll get a shitty guitar tone. I’m not talking about performance here, I’m talking straight up tone. Now, take a technically proficient guitarist with mediocre equipment, and she’s getting some pretty good tones out of what she has to work with. So first off, work on your technique. Equipment is secondary.
Guitar tone depends on several physical things – the guitar’s body, the guitar’s pickups, and the amps. There are even minor things that will affect your tone, like old dirty strings will sound like old, dirty strings. And of course, a bad chord will make the worst sounds at the worst possible moments.
But assuming you have decent, relatively new strings and working chords, you want a heavier guitar. Heavier guitars tend to have better sustain and they are less likely to have muddy sounds.
The second thing you want is a tube amp. We could argue until we’re blue in the face which tube amp is best for Metal, but 9 out of 10 Metal guitarists who have been playing for awhile will go with getting a tube amp over a solid state one. Now, you can get good sounds from a solid state modeling amp. You don’t absolutely need a tube amp to get a killer Metal tone. But solid state amps break up at higher volumes, whereas when you push a tube amp to its limit, that’s when it sounds great. And, I’m assuming you’ll be playing in clubs or recording in a real studio. So you’ll want to turn it up.
And lastly you need good pickups. I used to be a Seymour Duncan fan boy. I love the pickups Randy Rhoads used. But I have one guitar with DiMarzio’s and you know what? They’re just as good. Pickups are another thing that we can argue until we’re blue in the face on which pickups help you get that killer Metal tone, but once again, it’s subjective. Don’t cut corners here though, because 9 out of 10 Metal guitarists who have been playing for awhile will agree that cheap pickups are cheap for a reason – they tend to suck.
Now, all that said, assuming your technique is really good, for some odd reason, some amps don’t work well with some guitars and some pickups don’t sound good with some guitars. You absolutely have to bring your favorite guitar into the guitar shop and try her with different amps. This is a MUST. You’ll have to find a combination that fits together.
Lastly, this is my personal opinion. I do not like using too many effects. I prefer to go guitar straight into the amp 90%+ of the time. That’s just me though. The more you cut the signal, the more you affect the tone.
And one last thing – I don’t like active pickups. I just don’t like them. Yes, there are absolutely awesome guitarists out there who use active pickups. Not denying that. I’m just saying that I don’t like them.
If you actually want to hear my playing, go here. For these songs, I used various tube amps. Each amp is different, but generally for rhythm tones, I have the bass around 80%, the mid-range around 40%, and the treble around 90%. For lead tones, I generally have them all around 60%. But keep in mind, like I said for getting a killer Metal tone, there are a lot of factors. Each setup is different and you’ll have to adjust accordingly. Keep fiddling around with the knobs until you find something you like.
-Roman (the guitarist from Astral Eyes)
Roman is a Classically trained Composer. He plays Guitar and Piano for Astral Eyes. He’s also an amateur historian, a gun nut, and a fan of the Green Bay Packers who still has a soft spot for Brett Favre, despite the harsh breakup.
Photograph of amp tube by Olli Niemitalo. Photographer licensed this image for public domain. Thanks Olli!