There are certain pieces of equipment that just work for certain genres. Take the Telecaster for example; sure, it has a great design and very well built but the reason every other country guitarist uses it isn’t because they like copying each other (it especially isn’t true when you think about how important originality is in music), it’s simply because the twang of the Telecaster is like no other and when it comes to country music, it just works.
Today we will be focusing on all things heavy metal, from the guitars most of the pros use to their favorite pickups, and while originality will ultimately separate you from the rest of the players in the race, you have to get in that race first, so take a tip from the veterans the next time you’re shopping around for the perfect gear!
Popular Guitars for Metal
Jackson USA: A very popular metal guitar brand and just as commercially successful. The Jackson guitar brand began when Randy Rhoads approached custom guitar company Chavel in order to create a brand new guitar for the guitarist. The end product would be known as the Concorde and was such a departure from Chavel’s Stratocaster type designs that owner Grover Jackson decided to put his own name as the brand. Soon after, several more ‘80s era metal heads grew to love the unique designs and comparatively tougher look of the Jackson brand guitars as well as the company’s reputation for high quality custom craftsmanship.
Notable Players: Chris Broderick of Megadeth, John Cambell of Lamb of God, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Jeff Hanneman of Slayer, Scott Ian of Anthrax, Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden, Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth
ESP: The Japanese-owned guitar company based in North Hollywood, CA, got its start during the ‘70s as a high-quality replacement guitar parts manufacturer. After gaining a reputation for outstanding custom guitar parts, the company began to manufacture guitars as a whole. By the ‘80s, ESP was building custom guitars for Page Hamilton of Hamlet, Vernon Reid of Living Colour, Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones as well as Vinnie Vincent and Bruce Kulick of KISS. Along with Jackson and Dean, ESP found immense popularity in the ‘80s thrash metal scene and soon became synonymous with the genre after notable acts such as Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth began consistently using the guitars.
Notable Players: Kirk Hammett of Metallica, George Lynch of Dokken, Gus G who plays for Ozzy Osbourne, Izzy Stradlin formerly of Guns ‘N Roses, Timo Tolkki of Stradivarius, Jeff Hanneman and Tom Araya of Slayer, Rob Caggiano of Anthrax, Rob Holliday of Prodigy, James Hetfield of Metallica
Schecter: The Company got its start in 1976 as purely a replacement parts producer for existing guitar manufacturers such as Gibson and Fender. By the early ‘80s, Schecter was manufacturing over 400 parts and their supply just couldn’t keep up with demand, causing the company to be sold to a group of Texan investors who relocated the company to Dallas and began producing above par quality guitars to much success. Several of their early designs were based off of popular Fender models such as the Schecter Saturn and Mercury, being off shots of the Telecaster and Stratocaster, respectively. It was during this time in the mid-eighties that Schecter got its first huge endorsement by classical metal guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. Today, they are endorsed by several of the biggest names in not just metal such as Robert Smith of The Cure as well as Robin Zander of Cheap Trick and have gained a reputation for creating great quality guitars based off of popular models at comparatively affordable prices.
Notable Players: Kenny Hickey of Type 0 Negative, Sean Danielsen of Smile Empty Soul, Robert DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots, Richard Pierce of Rambler Tommy Victor of Danzing, Chuch Wright of Quiet Riot, Dez Cadena of The Misfits
Popular Pickups for Metal
EMG 81 and 85: Quite possibly the most popular pickups in all of metal, the 81/85 combo is used by hundreds of metal guitarists around the world. 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 the them as stock for several of their models including ESP, Schecter, Dean, Epiphone, B.C. Rich, Jackson and Paul Reed Smith.
Seymour Duncan Blackouts: Another solid and popular line of pickups for aspiring metal guitarists, these bad boys feature a more old-school metal sound, especially when combined with 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 them 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 Blackouts dislike the overly compressed tone of the EMGs while the other side of the fence complains about the excessive bass on the Duncans.
The first thing you’ll need is a good distortion pedal, and what better way to sound like your favorite guitarist than by getting yourself their signature series effect pedal! The late great Dimebag Darrell has a pedal designed specifically for his signature sound, great for all your distortion needs. Also, you can’t go wrong with a classic, such as MXR's M78 Badass Distortion. Check out the Eddie Van Halen Phaser 90, popular with many of today’s lead metal guitarist looking to add a bit of a sweep to their solos. Want something that screams a bit more? Try out Seymour Duncan’s Original Crybaby Wah, Kirk Hammett’s favorite wah-wah pedal, used on most of Metallica’s early to mid era solos.