Legendary Guitars of Metal: Musicians and Their Beloved Axes, Part 2

From aggressive designs to powerful tones, discover the legendary guitars that became the heartbeat of metal music.

In the electrifying continuum of metal’s rich tapestry, the symbiotic relationship between the artist and their guitar is ever-potent, crafting the melodies and riffs that reverberate across generations. These revered instruments, characterized by their distinctive designs and resonant tones intensified by distortion, have met their match in the virtuoso grips of legendary artists akin to Dimebag Darrell and Tony Iommi, to name a few.

Embarking further from where our initial article commenced, we delve deeper into the world of guitars that have defined metal music. From the unique legacy of the ML series to the enduring grace of the SG series, these guitars stand as the unsung heroes behind the metal maestros, sculpting tracks that resonate deeply within the fervent echelons of the metal fraternity.

The Dean ML Series: Dimebag Darrell’s Iconic Companion

Dimebag Darrell and the Dean ML Series guitar
Dimebag Darrell (Pantera)

In the late 1970s, Dean Guitars birthed an icon in the metal genre, the ML series, a line of guitars that seamlessly blended the aggressive aesthetics of the Flying V and Explorer designs. Renowned for its distinctive body shape, the ML series swiftly carved a niche for itself, winning the hearts of metal aficionados globally.

At the core of its allure lies its ability to deliver warm and rich tones, coupled with an extended sustain that forms the bedrock of metal music. This guitar thrives in the midst of a mix, thanks to its pronounced mid-range frequencies. Crafted predominantly from mahogany or basswood, the body of these guitars serves as a resonant chamber that further amplifies its warm tonal characteristics.

In the world of metal, where the aggressive tones reign supreme, the ML series stands tall, equipped with high-output pickups such as the Dean DMT series or Seymour Duncan pickups. These pickups, in harmony with its set neck construction, create a sound palette that is both aggressive and smooth, catering perfectly to the needs of metal guitarists.

Adding to its accolades is the ease of tuning and stability provided by the integration of Grover tuners and a Tune-O-Matic bridge, features that enhance the user experience significantly.

The ML series found its true master in Dimebag Darrell, the renowned guitarist for Pantera and Damageplan. Darrell’s association with the series brought forth several signature models, including the legendary “Dean From Hell”. Other notable artists who have wielded this beast are Michael Schenker, known for his stints with UFO and Scorpions, and Eric Peterson from Testament, each leaving a distinctive mark in the metal genre with the ML series as their trusted companion.

The Gibson SG: Metal’s Time-Honored Trustee

Tony Iommi and the Gibson SG guitar
Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)

In 1961, Gibson introduced a redefined version of the Les Paul model, the SG, which would eventually cement its legacy as a mainstay in the metal genre. Distinguished by its double-cutaway body, the SG not only presents a distinctive visage but also offers guitarists effortless access to higher frets, facilitating intricate solos and riffs that are synonymous with metal music.

Encased in a body typically crafted from mahogany, the SG is celebrated for its warm and rich tones. Its excellent sustain has made it a coveted instrument among metal and rock guitarists, who often seek to forge deep, resonant soundscapes. The slim taper neck profile of the SG is a guitarist’s delight, promising swift and comfortable playability, an attribute that particularly appeals to lead guitarists.

Equipped with powerful humbucking pickups, such as the Gibson ’57 Classic or Burstbucker pickups, the SG can effortlessly churn out aggressive tones, making it an indispensable tool in the arsenal of a metal guitarist. Additionally, the inclusion of a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece enhances the instrument’s stability and sustain, adding to its appeal.

The SG has found prominent advocates in legendary figures such as Tony Iommi, the backbone of Black Sabbath, who is regarded as the pioneer of heavy metal guitar. Iommi’s career-long association with the SG, even spawning signature models with Gibson, stands testament to the instrument’s influence in shaping the metal genre. Another iconic ambassador of the SG is Angus Young of AC/DC, whose electrifying performances have often been accompanied by various SG models, including ones customized to his specifications.

The Gibson Explorer: A Vanguard of Metal’s Sonic Evolution

James Hetfield and the Gibson Explorer guitar
James Hetfield (Metallica)

As a part of Gibson’s revolutionary modernist series in 1958, the Gibson Explorer made its debut alongside the famed Flying V, heralding a new era of design and sound in the musical world. Recognizable by its angular and futuristic body shape, the Explorer swiftly became a hallmark of rock and metal music, embodying the bold and innovative spirit of these genres.

Constructed predominantly with a mahogany body, the Explorer promises a rich and resonant sound that has captivated metal guitarists over the years. Its powerful and punchy tones serve as the heartbeat of metal anthems, lending depth and vigour to compositions. The instrument features a rosewood fingerboard coupled with a slim taper neck profile, an amalgamation that promises swift and comfortable playability, a vital feature for artists who venture into the realms of complex and fast-paced compositions.

Equipped with high-output humbucking pickups, the Explorer is adept at delivering the aggressive tones that are quintessential to metal music. This prowess is further amplified by the inclusion of a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece, elements that enhance the guitar’s sustain while ensuring tuning stability, allowing artists to delve deep into their performances without reservations.

Among the luminaries who have championed the Explorer is James Hetfield of Metallica, whose utilization of the guitar, especially during the band’s nascent stages, played a pivotal role in crafting their heavy, iconic sound. Though predominantly a favourite in the metal sphere, the Explorer’s influence transcends genre boundaries. The Edge from U2 and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top have also wielded this instrument, crafting iconic sounds and memorable riffs in rock and blues music. Additionally, in the power metal arena, Matias Kupiainen of Stratovarius has harnessed the Explorer’s capabilities to deliver fast-paced and potent metal riffs, showcasing the instrument’s versatility and enduring appeal.

The ESP Horizon Series: A Harmonious Blend of Aesthetics and Metal Mastery

Richard Z. Kruspe and the ESP Horizon Series guitar
Richard Z. Kruspe (Rammstein)

In the diverse landscape of metal music, the ESP Horizon series stands as a beacon of versatility, winning over the hearts of guitarists since its inception in the 1980s. A favorite across various metal sub-genres, from the classic metal nuances to the aggressive beats of modern metalcore and djent, the Horizon series has proven to be a reliable companion for artists looking to make a robust statement with their music.

The Horizon series is celebrated for its sleek and modern design, a harmonious blend of aesthetics and functionality that caters excellently to the demands of metal music. Its construction, predominantly featuring a mahogany body adorned with a maple top, paves the way for a balanced tone accentuated by a strong midrange, a sound profile that promises to hold its own in any mix. This structural prowess is further complemented by the inclusion of a thin U-shaped neck, a feature that facilitates fast and comfortable playability, becoming a haven for enthusiasts of shredding and complex riffing.

Armed with high-output pickups from the reputed houses of EMG or Seymour Duncan, the Horizon series guarantees aggressive tones that resonate well with the metal genre, providing the power and depth necessary for aggressive playing styles. These guitars also come equipped with Floyd Rose or Hipshot bridges, ensuring tuning stability even during intense performances characterized by heavy string bending and vibrato, allowing artists to immerse themselves fully in their performances without concerns of technical glitches.

Notable artists who have embraced the Horizon series include Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom, renowned for crafting fast-paced and aggressive guitar riffs with these instruments, and Richard Z. Kruspe from Rammstein, whose usage of the Horizon series during live performances has contributed to the heavy and industrial tones that the band is globally acclaimed for.

The John Petrucci Series: Shaping the New Wave of Progressive Metal Music

John Petrucci and the John Petrucci Series guitar
John Petrucci (Dream Theater)

At the cutting edge of innovation in the metal guitar realm stands the highly acclaimed John Petrucci Series, a collaborative marvel birthed from the synergy between Music Man and the legendary guitarist John Petrucci. Launched in the early 2000s, this series has continually set new benchmarks with its groundbreaking pickup technologies and ergonomic designs, becoming a staple choice for progressive metal guitarists in need of a diverse range of tones and playability features.

The inception of this series marked the beginning of an era of versatility in the world of metal guitars. These instruments, carved from the unique vision of John Petrucci and the engineering prowess of Music Man, stand testament to what a focused collaboration can achieve. The series aims to cater to the nuanced demands of modern progressive metal guitarists, offering a wide spectrum of tones that adeptly handle both metal and progressive music genres.

Constructed primarily with a basswood or alder body crowned with a maple top, guitars from this series promise a balanced and resonant tone that resonates well with enthusiasts of the genre. The roasted maple neck, renowned for its stability and resistance to environmental changes, enhances the user experience, promising a seamless playability that stands the test of time.

At the heart of this series lies custom DiMarzio pickups, conceptualized and crafted in close association with John Petrucci. This collaboration has paved the way for a versatile tonal palette, ranging from pristine cleans to the heavy distorted tones that are synonymous with metal music. Moreover, the inclusion of a custom-designed floating tremolo system and Schaller locking tuners ensure tuning stability, allowing musicians to fully immerse themselves in their craft without any hindrances.

The John Petrucci series has found its foremost ambassador in the maestro himself, John Petrucci of Dream Theater, who leverages the series’ versatility to craft the complex and varied sounds that the band is known for. Other notable users include Steve Morse of Deep Purple and the multifaceted Albert Lee, both of whom have explored the series’ versatility across varied music genres, further solidifying its position as a beacon of innovation and versatility in the metal music scene.

The Final Note: Celebrating the Icons of Metal Guitar Craftsmanship

As we draw the curtains on our exhilarating journey through the annals of metal’s most iconic guitars, we pause to admire the masterful craftsmanship and pioneering innovations that have graced the stages and studios of the world. From the innovative designs that shaped the golden era of metal to the modern virtuosos crafting the future with each strum, these guitars have proven to be more than just instruments. They are the harbingers of the fierce spirit and the relentless pursuit of excellence that define the metal genre.

The relentless growls, the thunderous roars, and the harmonious symphonies that have emanated from these stringed wonders have left an indelible mark on the world of music, carving out a legacy that transcends time.