Looking to get the best metal guitar sound? In this post I’ll go through all the most important things you need to know including your amp settings, pedals and which guitar to choose. So let’s get started!
The easiest way to get a better metal tone is to increase the bass setting on your amp, use the bridge pickup on your guitar and use a distortion pedal instead of the gain setting on your amplifier. Using a guitar with active pickups will also help to improve sustain without increasing feedback.
How to improve guitar tone for metal:
- Use high quality gain (with amp or pedal)
- Use either scooped amp settings or tighter bass
- Use the bridge pickup
- Add some pedals (distortion and compression are useful)
- Use a high gain amp
- Pick a guitar designed for metal
1. Crank the Gain
It should come as no surprise that in order to get the best metal guitar amp settings, you’ll need to crank up the gain. But it’s not quite as simple as wacking your gain setting up to 10. It really depends on what kind of amp you’re using, as well as your guitar and pedals.
If you’re using a high quality amp, then having your gain setting on 10 will usually be fine. But if you’ve not got a very good amp, increasing your gain too high will cause the sound to become muddy and muffled, which really isn’t what metal should sound like. You still need your chords and individual notes to have definition so you can hear them clearly.
So how do you get this clarity, without losing the sustain that high gain gives you. Well, this leads us to step two.
2. Adjust your EQ
The EQ (equaliser) setting refers to the amount of bass, mids and treble your amp emphasises. Here’s what they mean.
- Bass: this refers to the amount of low-frequency sound. High bass settings give your tone a boomy quality, but it can sound muffled if you crank it up too high.
- Mids: this refers to the mid-frequency sound. This a really important setting for guitars, but it’s often overlooked. The higher the mids, the thicker your tone will sound.
- Treble: this refers to the high-frequencies. The higher the treble, the sharper and crisper your tone will be, but if it’s too high that it starts to sound sharp and can cut through too much (which will definitely annoy your lead singer!).
So what settings should you use for metal?
Instead, you can try having your bass, mids and treble all set to 5 and then work from there. If your tone sounds muffled, then up the treble and decrease the bass. If you’re struggling to hear your guitar amongst the other instruments, increase the mids. And if you need more warmth and sustain, then up the bass.
I’ve written a full guide to metal amp settings here if you want more detail and example settings.
3. Utilise the Pickup Selector
The pickup you’re using will also really affect the kind of tone you’ll hear through your amp. Most guitars have at least two pickups, one located in the bridge position, and one located in the neck position. You can them use your pickup selector to either use them in isolation or combination, depending on which position it’s set to.
- Bridge pickup: this sounds sharper and crisper because it favours treble frequencies. It’s usually used for lead guitar because it allows you to cut through the mix.
- Neck pickup: this sounds more mellow and warmer because it favours bass-frequencies. Hence, it’s mainly used for rhythm guitar.
Switch between your pickups and see which sounds best. Usually, metal lead guitarists prefer using the bridge pickup, and rhythm guitarists prefer the neck pickup.
4. Add Some Pedals to Your Rig
If you’re struggling to dial in your amp settings to create that high-sustain, rich wall-of-sound you associate with metal guitars, then consider adding some pedals to your rig. Usually, a distortion pedal is a metal guitarists best friend. Here’s a couple of my recommendations.
Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal
I’ve always been a big fan of Boss pedals because they’re well built, easy to use and have a clean and cool looking design, but most importantly they sound great. The Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal gives you that powerful sustain you need for metal, and allows you to adjust the tone and level easily.
TC Electronic Dark Matter
This is a great option if you’re looking for something a little more affordable, but without a huge dip in quality. It’ll give you gain on tap, which is absolutely what you need for metal, but it also allows you to adjust the treble and bass seperately which is a great addition. You can check out the TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Pedal on Guitar Center for a great price.
5. Get the Right Amp
If you’re serious about getting the best metal tone, then you’ll need some high quality amplification behind you. There are so many different types of amps out there, by so many different manufacturers that it can seem like chaos. So here are a few brands to look out for.
Orange Amps are again hugely popular with a range of guitarists like Black Sabbath’s Tony Lommi and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. They have a powerful and punchy output that sounds on the grittier side.
Blackstar is one of newer amplifier manafacturers that has made a name for themselves over the last decade or so. What’s really unique about Blackstar amps is their Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) tone control. If you turn it counter-clockwise then you’ll get more midrange which sounds more British. But if you turn it clockwise, then you’ll get less mid-range, meaning it sounds more American.
If you want an American amp, and use a lot of gain, then you’ll probably look to Mesa/Boogie amps to give you exactly that. They produce a tight and aggressive distorted tone that is great for cutting through the mix.
Peavey amps produce a thick and heavy high-gain sound that’s very typical of American heavy metal music. If you’re looking for the kind of “wall of sound” that’s associated with this kind of music, then Peavey amps are well worth a look at.
6. Pick a Guitar Designed for Metal
Again, if you’re serious about getting the ultimate sound, then you should invest in your guitar. This is a really big topic so I’ve created an entire post dedicated to what to look for in metal guitar.
Some things you’ll probably want to get the best metal guitar include:
- Active pickups
- A fast neck
- Low action
- Tremolo bridge
Head over to this post on the most important metal guitar features to learn more.
So there you go! That’s how to decide if locking tuners are actually worth it for you! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful: