There are a few things that most every musician needs when it comes to rocking out to the best of their ability. You need a guitar and an amplifier, of course, and while some like AC/DC’s Angus Young need nothing else besides maybe a cable and some picks, most players use a customized collection of effects pedals combined with a nice pair of pickups. Depending on your particular taste in styles, there are plenty of choices out there to help in your quest of attaining the ultimate tone. And while some of our more experienced readers have already come up with their own personalized collection of gear to best suit their needs, those of you out there looking for a bit of inspiration can learn a lot from taking a look at a few of the more successful products out there being used by some of the best in the business! Even though some of these choices might not end up making it in your own collection, it’s never a bad idea to study the competition – check out what works for them and what might end up working for you. With that said, this week we will be taking a look at some of the more tried and true effects pedals as well as some popular choices of pickups in the world of heavy metal. Read on and check out some of our favorite heavy hitters!
Popular Rhythm Effects Pedals for Metal
In order to get those heads banging, you’re going to need a solid rhythm section. Coupled with a pair of active pickups such as Seymour Duncan’s Blackouts or EMG’s EMG 81/85 combo, a good metal distortion pedal can give you the exact type of crunch you’re looking for, and trust me, there are a lot of choices out there. Check out a few of the more popular choices for rhythm effects from some of metals best!
Although some might find endorsed products a bit too commercial or overused for their taste, sometimes it’s not such as bad idea to take a lead from someone who has spent their life perfecting his or her own perfect tone. Although this is an overdrive pedal and is generally meant to boost the gain on an already overdriven amp, you can combine the effects on the pedal while using clean amp settings to get a nice metal crunch when necessary. Those looking to add a bit of flare to their pinch harmonics will also find a lot to like here as this pedal can make even lower end guitars attain the effect without the sound clouding over. Whether you’re a fan of the Wylde’s sound or looking to create one of your own, the MXR Zakk Wylde overdrive pedal will give you a lot to like.
Perfect for those looking to add a good amount of increased low tones for that extra punch in the rhythm section, all in a straight forward and easy to use package. Perfect for beginners, the two control knobs and simplified execution means that the pedal will give you great balance at almost any setting. The output knob essentially works as a volume knob for the effect while the distortion knob controls how much of the effect you want in your signal. Those working with humbuckers will love the fact that even at the most distorted levels, little tone definition is actually lost, which unfortunately can’t be said for your standard single coil, although they still maintain modest levels. Another great thing about this pedal is that it works just as good for those looking to do a bit of lead guitar work along with their duties on rhythm; the MXR Distortion Plus pedal will give your harmonics a tone that definitely cuts through with plenty of that metal scream.
Those looking for a bit more control when it comes to their effects pedals will love all the controllable and programmable features of the DM4. Made to deliver a wide range of popular distortion and overdrive effects, this pedal is a staple of many of today’s hardest rockers including James Hetfield of Metallica. The 16 featured digitally modeled effects include some of the most vintage and popular tones around including the Tube Driver, Pro Co RAT, Tube Screamer, Big Muff and the Fuzz Face. The included bass/mid/treble controls ensure that you will have enough customizable power to create your own perfect tone, down to the even the little things. Also, you have your choice of four programmable presets which makes switching to your perfect combination of effects and settings a breeze, especially helpful during that live show environment! Add in true bypass and you have yourself a pedal worthy of any metal heads collection.
Popular Lead Effects Pedals for Metal
Now that you have your rhythm effects taken care of, it’s time to pick out a strong lead effects pedal to make your solos stand out and scream like no other! A popular choice among many players is the wah-wah effect, made popular in metal by notable guitarists such as Slash and Kirk Hemmet, although plenty of players in other genres such as Eric Clapton used it heavily during the sixties and seventies. Alright, so now let’s check out some of the popular choices for lead metal guitar effects!
While this pedal works superb for rhythm metal guitar, the amount of control and tones you can achieve with the MXR Fullbore makes it just as great for leads. Created with ultra high gain distortion in mind, one of the more popular features of the pedal has to be the built in Noise Gate which ensures that your distorted lead tones will keep all of its definition intact with none of the added noise associated with playing in high gain. The extensive EQ controls allow you to shape your sound with extreme precision. The added Scoop Switch gives you the ability to add an instant high or low frequency boost for extra presence while ensuring that clarity in the solos is never affected. Rhythm or lead, the MXR Fullbore is a great choice for any metal guitarist.
Ever wonder how Metallica gets that signature scream in their solos? Based off Kirk Hemmett’s popular Dunlop DCR1SR Crybaby Rack Wah, this pedal has been meticulously designed to recreate Hammett’s signature tone, right down to the EQ, volume and tone settings. The effect itself has plenty of great range. You have enough lows to keep things sounding thick but enough highs to cut through the rhythm section – perfect for those wah metal solos. While those out there looking for something with plenty of sounds will be disappointed with the small amount of variations offered, players out there simply searching for a killer wah sound to play through heavy distortion will absolutely love the scream of this pedal. All in all, if you’re looking to recreate arguably the most signature metal lead sound to come out of the ‘80s, there’s no easier way than with Dunlop’s KH95 Kirk Hammett Wah.
Popular Pickups for Metal
Essentially for metal, you will want to go with “hot” pickups, meaning extra signal strength that gives players more control/clarity and less noise/signal loss when playing at high gain. You can achieve this by buying overwound passive single coil pickups, adding a preamp to passive pickups or lastly- and the best of the three in my opinion – buying active pickups. Active pickups are superior to the other two choices in that they have the best signal retention, meaning that they won’t lose their signal’s punch when passed through multiple effects pedals, although these usually come in your standard humbucker size, meaning those with single coil pickup guitars such as a Stratocaster or Telecaster might have to settle for what fits, such as the overwound single coil. Also, they need a 9 volt battery to operate, but well worth it for what you gain. Anyways, any hot pickup style is still better over stock non-hot in terms of metal.
Easily one of the more popular one-two punches out there in terms of pickups for metal and are highly regarded as the “classic” metal set-up. Zakk Wylde popularized the 81 lead 85 rhythm configuration used by most today although other notable players such as Kirk Hammett use 81s as both neck and bridge pickups. Known for their distinct tone, these pickups give metal players the extra boost of signal power made available through their active setup while producing a smooth control at higher levels in comparison to most standard pickup models. This means better high gain control and less feedback when pumping it up to 11. These pickups are so popular several notable guitar manufacturers feature them as stock for several of their models including ESP, Schecter, Dean, Epiphone, B.C. Rich, Jackson and Paul Reed Smith.
Just as the EMG 81/85 PU’s have their fans, so do the Blackouts. These pickups feature a more old-school metal sound that takes advantage of the power of an active pickup system. You’ll get plenty of compressed but powerful tones complete with that aggressive deep chunky sound that older metal is known for. Their added humbucking design means less noise and more pure tone. The biggest difference between these and the EMG 81/85 is that they have a far wider range of output signals, meaning higher highs and lower lows, which can be good or bad depending on your preference. Those on the side of the blackouts dislike the overly compressed tone of the EMGs while the other side of the fence complains about the excessive bass on the Duncans. Either way, both make for a solid choice as a metal guitar pickup.