Top 10 Best Metal Guitars Under $500

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The number of different electric guitar models available from the major online music stores is vast. Having this amount of choice is amazing, but overwhelming. 

If you’re looking to pick up a new guitar mainly for playing metal, it can be incredibly difficult to narrow down the models which are best suited to the metal style and which represent the best value for your budget (specification-wise).

I have therefore put together a list of the 10 guitars which I would go for if I was looking to buy a guitar for playing metal today for under $500. There is some variety here, but the driving focus of the list is on suitability for a metal playing style, quality and a maximum price of $500 – here’s the list:

Although there is no reason why you can’t play metal on any guitar, in my opinion the models listed above all share a similar set of key attributes and features which make them ideal for metal playing: their playability, pickups and hardware. 

Let’s take a closer look at each model and I’ll explain why I think they’re the best models in the sub-$500 price range.

Ibanez RGA42FM 

Ibanez are a go-to brand for metal players and their selection of guitars in the sub-$500 price range is solid, but I had to go for the RGA42FM as the standout option. Aesthetically, the RGA42FM is a beautiful instrument with its sharp super stat styling, flamed maple top and neatly recessed pickups. The spec sheet for the guitar is no less impressive and ideally suited for technical metal playing.

Playability

For me, playability comes down to a few main factors. 

First off, let’s consider the weight of the guitar. Amazon’s spec sheet for the guitar lists the weight at 7.92 pounds. If we use a Gibson Les Paul for comparison (with an average weight of between 9 and 12 pounds), the RGA42FM is light.

Next up, let’s look at the neck dimensions. The guitar features a Wizard III maple neck, which is much thinner and flatter than your typical Fender Stratocaster style neck. My last Ibanez was a RG3EX1 which featured a Wizard II neck and I can definitely vouch for the comfort and speed of these Ibanez necks. When you’re trying to pull off technical metal playing, the thin, flat and smooth Wizard neck definitely helps to reduce fatigue. As with most Ibanez guitars, the RGA42FM also features 24 frets which is helpful if you’re learning certain songs which venture into the higher fret range.

Pickups

The RGA42FM comes with a dual-humbucker configuration. These are Ibanez’s own passive Quantum humbuckers. Ibanez’s page on the guitar states that the Quantum pickups are particularly good at tracking high speed staccato playing, so these pickups appear to be orientated more toward the technical metal player.

Hardware

The RGA42FM features a simple F106 fixed bridge which is ideal if you’d prefer not to have to deal with a Floyd Rose style floating trem.

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

Here are some more key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Body Top: Flamed maple
  • Body Back: Mahogany
  • Scale: 25.5 inches
  • Factory String Gauges: .010/.013/.017/.026/.036/.046
  • Factory Strings: D’Addario® EXL110
  • Number of Frets: 24
  • Neck Type: Wizard III maple neck
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SubZero Paradigm & Baritone Paradigm

I first found out about SubZero guitars through the UK band Loathe (check out my last post titled What Guitars Do Loathe Use? for the lowdown on the SubZero model which Connor uses). In summary, they’re the in house brand of the York, UK based musical instrument retailer Gear 4 Music. As such, the lineup is seemingly fantastic value for what appear to be some great looking and well-specced guitars.

The SubZero Paradigm is a bevelled Telecaster-style guitar which features a beautiful burl maple veneer accompanied by minimalistic black hardware. It looks like pure class and is hands down the best looking instrument in this list.

As an interesting alternative option for the heavier player, SubZero also offer the Paradigm as a baritone model for tunings significantly below standard.

The Paradigm baritone is a little higher at $365.50 (at time of writing on Gear 4 Music ), but both models are comfortably within budget.

Playability

The body of the guitar itself is nicely contoured at the back and bevelled at the front, which makes for a comfortable playing experience. 

The neck of the guitar has a simple C shape, but also features a natural satin finish for smooth movement up and down the fretboard.

Pickups

The guitar features two medium-high output humbucking pickups which are also splittable via a coil tap. A coil tap enables you to cancel out and reduce the amount of wire that the guitar’s signal is running through to produce a lower output. The result is a tone which is less hot than the full humbucker tone and brings the sound closer to single coil territory. This is a cool feature on such an affordable guitar and allows for significant versatility in your playing if you’re feeling like temporarily shelving the metal for some chicken pickin’.

Hardware

The Paradigm features a simple hardtail bridge. Notably, the guitar also boasts locking tuners to help in maintaining tuning – another surprising and welcome addition to such a well-priced guitar.

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

The guitar has luminescent inlays which glow when charged under light – awesome for live performers and late night songwriters alike.

Here are some other key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Scale Length: 25.5 inches (27 inches for the baritone)
  • Body Material: Alder
  • Body Top: Poplar Eye Burl
  • Neck Material: One Piece of Hard Rock Canadian Maple
  • Fretboard Material: Thermally Treated Maple Laminate
  • Number of Frets: 24
  • Neck Finish: Natural Satin
  • Bridge Pickup: Black Covered Humbucker, Ceramic Magnet, 15.2k
  • Neck Pickup: Black Covered Humbucker, Ceramic Magnet, 11.5k
  • Switch: 3 Way Blade Switch
  • Tuners: Black Locking Tuners
  • Bridge: Hardtail
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SubZero Generation Pro-FR

The second SubZero entry to the list is the Generation Pro-FR. 

Like the Paradigm, the Generation Pro-FR has the appearance of a far more expensive guitar than it is. The glacier burst in the poplar eye burl on the top of the body looks awesome and appears to fade out into the natural wood colouring around the edges. 

Shape-wise, the guitar offers a slightly different take on the usual super Strat styling which is somewhere in between a regular super Strat and an ESP Horizon III. I’m a big fan of the back of the guitar with its contrasting mahogany and walnut neck against the ash body on either side.

Playability

The guitar features a slim mahogany and walnut neck with a C profile and a natural satin finish which is a classic pairing for spirited metal playing.

Deep contouring at the neck heel and into the body make for an exceptionally comfy guitar with excellent upper fret access.

Pickups

Dual humbuckers deliver the tone goods on the Generation Pro-FR, with a higher output ceramic magnet humbucker on the bridge and a medium/high output ceramic magnet humbucker on the neck for a nice jazz interlude between chugs.

Hardware

The standout feature is the Floyd Rose special trem and locking tuners, allowing you to incorporate smooth pitch bends, dive-bombs and flutters into your playing. 

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

As with the Paradigm, the Generation Pro-FR also features luminescent inlays which glow when charged under light.

Here are some other key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Scale Length: 25.5 inches
  • Body Material: Ash
  • Body Top Material: Poplar Eye Burl
  • Neck Material: 5 Piece Mahogany and Walnut
  • Fretboard: Thermally Treated Male Laminate
  • Neck Depth: 19mm and 1st Fret / 21mm at 12th Fret
  • Number of Frets: 24
  • Neck Finish: Natural Satin
  • Bridge Pickup: Black Humbucker, Ceramic Magnet, High Output
  • Neck Pickup: Black Humbucker, Ceramic Magnet, Medium/High Output
  • Switch: 3 Way Toggle Switch
  • Tuners: Black Locking Tuners
  • Bridge: Floyd Rose Special Tremolo in Black
  • String Gauge: 10-46
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ESP LTD EC-256

I have an ESP LTD EC-1000 which I bought primarily for playing metalcore. Given how much this guitar excels at this style, I had to include an LTD EC which fell within the $500 budget and here it is. 

In terms of appearance, the EC-256 is far more understated than my, in retrospect, somewhat gaudy purple quilt top EC-1000 with all its abalone (pictured below).

The simple black model with white binding looks fantastic. As an owner, I dig the shape with its Les Paul inspiration, but with its thinner body and more aggressive cutaway.

Playability

The body appears to be contoured at the back in the same locations as my EC-1000 which gives the guitar just that extra degree more comfort to play than the equivalent flat-backed Gibson Les Paul. Again, when we’re considering that the guitar is going to be used for metal (which I would consider a form of cardio), the more comfortable the guitar the better.

I couldn’t see a formal spec sheet entry on what the finish of the guitar is, but my EC-1000 features a standard glossy finish all over (including the neck). This is perhaps not the most effective neck finish for rapid playing, although I wouldn’t say that the finish is a sticky gloss finish (compared with, say, the finish on a 1998 Epiphone Korina Explorer I had which seemed to be much more grippy on the thumb). The gloss neck isn’t a downside, it just provides different benefits – in my view, a grippier surface for anchoring your thumb.

Pickups

The guitar comes loaded with a set of ESP-designed humbuckers (which differ to my EC-1000 which has EMGs). These pickups are not necessarily metal-orientated like my EMGs, so I think more will depend on your amp settings to orientate them in that direction if you’re interested in a heavier sound. For classic metal, with the right amp these should be solid.

Hardware

Much like a regular Gibson Les Paul, the EC-256 features a Tune-O-Matic bridge and tailpiece. A classic and reliable combo for anchored, palm-muted down picking sessions.

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

Here are some other key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Body Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Material: 3-piece Mahogany
  • Neck Shape: Thin U
  • Scale Length: 24.75 inches
  • Fingerboard Material: Roasted Jatoba
  • Number of Frets: 22
  • Bridge Pickup: ESP-Designed LH-150B
  • Neck Pickup: ESP-Designed LH-150N
  • Bridge: Tune-o-matic and Tailpiece.
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Schecter Omen Extreme-6 

As with the EC-256, I’ve included this Schecter as an owner of a 7 string Hellraiser (I’ve embedded a photo of my guitar at the top of this post). On the basis of the quality of that guitar, I wanted to find a Schecter within the $500 price range and the Omen Extreme-6 meets the bill.

With its figured maple deep cherry colourway (also available in blue as shown in the demo above), the Omen Extreme-6 is a striking guitar which is nicely complimented by its understated cream binding and unusual vector fretboard inlays. 

Playability

Interestingly, the Omen Extreme-6 differs to my Hellraiser in that it features a bolt-on unpainted neck (whereas my Hellraiser has a set neck painted and glossed to match the body). This should make for smooth, fluent movement in your arpeggio runs up and down the neck. 

Pickups

The guitar features a pair of high output Schecter Diamond Plus humbuckers. As with the SubZero Paradigm, the Schecter also features a coil-tap which enables you to switch to a lower output sound more reminiscent of a single coil. This added versatility is a nice touch if your musical horizon expands beyond the realm of metal.

Hardware

Just like my Hellraiser, the guitar features a tune-o-matic bridge with a string through body and nice, metal knurled knobs in black chrome. A simple, but solid setup.

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

Here are some other key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Guitar Body Top: Quilted Maple
  • Guitar Body: Mahogany
  • Bridge: Tune-o-matic with string through body
  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Finger Board Material: Rosewood
  • Scale: 25.5 inches
  • Number of Frets: 24
  • Pickups: Schecter Diamond Plus
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Jackson JS32Q DKA Dinky HT

Jackson has always been a go-to brand for metal orientated guitars in my view, with one of the reasons being that headstock. The scythe-like sharp angle combined with the classic Jackson logo is one of my favourite designs and matches the aggression of metal playing perfectly. 

The Jackson JS32Q Dinky combines a super Strat shape with that classic, sharp Jackson headstock and pearloid shark fin inlays. The quilted maple top is a nice final touch to the complete the metal aesthetic.

Playability

The guitar features an unpainted, satin-finished maple neck with 24 frets, allowing for fast playing and easy movement up and down the neck.

Pickups

The Jackson comes loaded with a pair of Jackson high output humbuckers which sound awesome when the gain is dialled up.

Hardware

The JS32Q DKA features a string-through hardtail for simplicity and which Jackson state offers improved vibration transfer for increased sustain.

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

Here are some other key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Body Material: Poplar
  • Body Top Material: Quilt Maple
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Neck Finish: Satin
  • Scale Length: 25.5 inches
  • Number of Frets: 24
  • Bridge: Jackson HT6 String-through-body Hardtail
  • Tuners: Jackson Sealed Die-cast
  • Bridge Pickup: Jackson High Output Humbucker
  • Neck Pickup: Jackson High Output Humbucker
  • Pickup Switch: 3-Position Blade
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Epiphone Les Paul Muse

As with the LTD EC-256, the Epiphone Les Paul Muse occupies a less metal-orientated part of the spectrum on this list. However, I think the Muse model is a fantastic modern spin on the classic Les Paul which will have the flexibility to handle the technical requirements of metal playing while also catering to many other playing styles.

Visually, the black model is spot on with a simple colour scheme of black paint, cream bindings and pickup surrounds, chrome hardware and transparent knobs. Suit up and look the part.

Playability

This is where the Muse shines. Unlike a standard heavy Les Paul, the Muse has a chambered body (meaning that there are routed air pockets cut into the body of the guitar) and is therefore physically much lighter. This will help to reduce playing fatigue particularly when standing while playing.

As with most Les Pauls, the Muse features a painted and finished neck, so it’s perhaps not the fastest to play, but the finished neck will assist in keeping your thumb anchored.

Pickups

The guitar features a pair of Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers which are capable of coil splitting and phase controls. 

Coil splitting is different to coil tapping (discussed above in relation to the SubZero Paradigm). A humbucker pickup (also called a double coil) has two coils, one of which has the north poles of its magnet pointing toward the strings and the other with the south pole of its magnet pointed toward the strings. Coil splitting is where the signal from one of the humbucker’s two coils is removed from the circuit, meaning that you are left with just a single coil tone.

The effect of this is to add greater range to the tones the Muse is capable of delivering, with the option of producing a more Statocaster/Telecaster-like sound by just pulling on the volume knob for either the bridge or neck pickup. The humbucking mode can then be reengaged by pushing the volume knob back into place.

For metal players, this is a really cool feature when you are transitioning into the clean section of a song.

Another interesting aspect to the guitar is the “treble bleed” circuit, which is intended to maintain the guitar’s tone and clarity at lower volumes. Epiphone seem to have had the bedroom or apartment player in mind with this design. It’s helpful that you don’t need to crank your ENGL Fireball when you have sleeping neighbours.

Hardware

As you would expect from a Les Paul, the Muse features a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece. Standard.

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

Here are some other key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Body Material: Mahogany (chambered and thin with a belly scarf)
  • Body Top Material: Maple Cap
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Shape: Custom C
  • Scale Length: 24.75 inches
  • Fingerboard Material: Indian Laurel
  • Number of Frets: 22
  • Fretboard Inlays: Trapezoid
  • Neck Joint: Glued in Set Neck
  • Bridge: LockTone Tune-O-Matic with LockTone Stop Bar
  • Tuners: Grover Rotomatic
  • Neck Pickup: Alnico Classic Pro
  • Bridge Pickup: Alnico Classic Pro
  • Controls: 2 Volume with coil splitting and treble bleed, 2 Tone with phase switch
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way toggle
  • Factory String Gauges: .010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046
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Epiphone SG Muse

Making an entry in its own right alongside the Les Paul Muse is the SG Muse. I love the SG shape, so wanted to include this model in the list as an alternative to the mainly super Strat and Les Paul dominated list.

Appearance-wise, the black model looks mean, yet minimalistic (but Lari Basilio is definitely selling the pink/purple model above). The black paint highlighted by the cream pickup surrounds and tendon cover are a great match alongside the chrome pickup covers and transparent knobs.

Playability

As an owner of a Gibson SG (pictured below), I’m a big fan of the SG for metal playing mainly thanks to its incredibly light weight, easy upper fret access and dual humbuckers. The Muse model shares these attributes.

Pickups

Just like the Les Paul, the SG Muse features the same coil-splitting and phase controls as well as the treble bleed setting, making this a very versatile guitar for metal styles that incorporate clean playing.

Hardware

The SG Muse features a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece. Keeping things simple.

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

Here are some other key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Body Material: Mahogany 
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Shape: Custom C
  • Scale Length: 24.75 inches
  • Fingerboard Material: Indian Laurel
  • Number of Frets: 22
  • Fretboard Inlays: Trapezoid
  • Neck Joint: Glued in Set Neck
  • Bridge: LockTone Tune-O-Matic with LockTone Stop Bar
  • Tuners: Epiphone Lightweight
  • Neck Pickup: Alnico Classic Pro
  • Bridge Pickup: Alnico Classic Pro
  • Controls: 2 Volume with coil splitting and treble bleed, 2 Tone with phase switching
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way toggle
  • Factory String Gauges: .010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046
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Ibanez S Series S621QM  

I had to include an Ibanez S Series guitar on the list purely because of how comfortable these models are to play. From an aesthetic standpoint, the S621QM looks great with its quilted maple top and dragon eye burst staining. The quilt has a traditional appearance that wouldn’t look out of place on the back of a cello – a disarming contrast to the style of music we’re looking to play on it.

Playability

This is where the S Series really shines. These guitars are incredibly thin and lightweight, so feel like an absolute dream to play (I had a seven string S Series a couple years back). 

Just like the RGA42FM discussed earlier, the S621QM features a super thin Wizard III neck which makes for an incredibly comfortable fretting experience and facilitates fast paced metal playing by helping to reduce the fatigue associated with too many sweeps on a chunky neck (we’ve all been there). 

I find that the less cumbersome a guitar feels to play, the more prone I am to just grabbing it and doing a little practice. As such, I think the ergonomic attributes of the S Series will help to encourage routine practice.

Pickups

The guitar is served by a pair of passive Ibanez Quantum pickups. Dial in your amp for a high gain assault and these will serve you well for modern technical metal styles.

Hardware

The S621QM features a fixed F106 string-through hardtail. Simple.

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

Here are some other key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Neck Type: Wizard III
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fretboard Material: Rosewood
  • Number of Frets: 24
  • Bridge: F106 
  • Neck Pickup: Passive Quantum Humbucker
  • Bridge Pickup: Passive Quantum Humbucker
  • String Gauges: .010/.013/.017/.026/.036/.046
  • Factory Strings: D’Addario® EXL110
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ESP LTD MH-203QM

Rounding off our list is this LTD MH-203QM which features an interesting combination of single coil pickups in the neck and middle positions coupled with a humbucker at the bridge. On the appearance front, the see-through blue model looks primed for some modern metal with that classic ESP Horizon shape and sharp headstock design. The maple fretboard is a winning bit of icing.

Playability

The guitar features a sweeping body contour at the back for a comfortable playing experience. Contouring has also been carried out at the back on the lower horn for easier upper fret access. 

The unpainted, satin-finished neck is well suited to aid fast-tempo metal techniques.

Pickups

In an interesting departure from the usual humbucker-centric design of metal guitars, the MH-203QM features single coils in the neck and middle positions alongside the humbucker in the bridge. 

As the bridge setting is the usual domain metal players stick to, the guitar will clearly perform aggressively as you would expect but with the option of really simmering down in the neck and middle settings for the cleaner sections in your songwriting.

Hardware

The standout feature of the LTD’s hardware is that LTD Floyd Rose, further adding to the range of flourish and character you can apply to your songwriting with the addition of wild string bends, dive bombs and flutters.

Other Noteworthy Spec Features

Here are some other key features from the guitar’s spec sheet:

  • Construction: Bolt-on Neck
  • Scale: 25.5 inches
  • Body Material: Mahogany
  • Body Top Material: Quilted Maple
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Maple
  • Neck Contour: Thin U
  • Number of Frets: 24
  • Tuners: LTD
  • Bridge: LTD Floyd Rose
  • Neck Pickup: Passive ESP Designed LS-120N
  • Middle Pickup: Passive ESP Designed LS-120M
  • Bridge Pickup: Passive ESP Designed LH-150B
  • Switch: 5-Way Switch
  • Factory Strings: D’Addario XL120 (.009/.011/.016/.024/.032/.042)

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