One exciting part of playing the guitar is playing along with and mimicking the sounds or tones from some of your favorite songs and guitar players.
For a beginner guitarist, knowing how to dial in a metal tone can be very confusing, especially with the wide range of amps and effects. So, how do you make your guitar sound metal?
- Use a guitar with high-output pickups
- Choose an amp suitable for metal – a low-gain amp won’t get you far on its own
- Adjust your EQ settings – high bass and treble with medium mids
- Use effects pedals – distortion pedals and noise gate pedals
- Ensure that you have a good picking technique
Following each of these ideas will set you on track to have the perfect metal tone, undoubtedly providing you with hours of inspiration and jam sessions.
However, it is vital to understand each aspect of making your guitar sound metal to then tweak your guitar tone according to your preference. Let’s discover the details of achieving the perfect metal tone.
How To Make Your Guitar Sound Metal
As a guitar player, it is only natural to draw inspiration from the music and guitarists that we listen to.
Metal music has made an incredible impact on the guitar world for several decades now – leaving millions of guitarists with the desire to find the perfect metal tone.
Classic metal bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, and more modern bands like Animals As Leaders or August Burns Red have undoubtedly shaped the course of guitar tone, revolutionizing how a guitar can sound.
Of course, finding the perfect tone is essential to play along with your favorite songs or even compose music in the same style and genre.
There is arguably nothing more thrilling for a guitar player than getting their guitar to sound like their guitar heroes and favorite bands.
However, knowing how to achieve certain tones is somewhat of a mystery for many guitar players, especially for styles like metal. So, here is a breakdown of everything you’ll need to make your guitar sound metal.
Use A Guitar With High-Output Pickups
The first thing you want to look at is ensuring that the pickups on your guitar have a relatively high output. This will help to drive your guitar amp, providing a much “punchier” and aggressive sound – true to the style of metal.
Many metal guitarists prefer using active pickups. The reason is that active pickups have preamps which help to provide a much hotter (or higher output) signal than even the highest output passive pickups.
The other bonus to active pickups is that they are far less noisy compared to high output passive pickups. Being able to limit or remove the noise from pickups is essential in the style of metal where a lot of high gain is used.
If you have a guitar with passive pickups or even low output pickups, it is not all bad news. You will still be able to get a metal sound from your guitar. However, you will be even more reliant on the following steps.
Lastly, make sure to have your pickup selector set to the bridge pickup.
Choose An Amp Suitable For Metal
One of the most limiting factors for a beginner guitar player is the amp they are using.
Although several excellent quality beginner amps come loaded with a wide variety of tones, many beginners end up with a one-channel amp that doesn’t give you too much to work with.
An essential aspect of making your guitar sound metal is having a high gain setting on your amp. However, if you have a one-channel amp, you will likely find that even turning your gain control doesn’t provide the tone you were hoping for.
That doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with it. The amp will just need assistance from effects pedals, which we’ll cover later.
While it’s not absolutely necessary, having an amp with a separate overdrive channel will be far better suited to generating a metal sound without the help of external effects.
If your amp has an overdrive channel, you’ll want to turn your gain control up high.
Read More: Understanding Bass Amps & Guitar Amps
Adjust Your EQ Settings
Aside from having the gain control on your amp turned up high, you will also want to tweak the EQ controls on your amp. The EQ controls are your bass (low-end frequencies), mids, and treble (high-end frequencies).
A vital aspect of a suitable metal tone is having a tight, punchy low end. Start by turning your bass control to roughly seven or so. This will help thicken your tone, making your riffs sound “beefy” – all this metal terminology can be rather humorous.
You don’t want the bass to be overpowering, as this will interfere with other instruments in the mix or band context, causing the sound to be muddy or undefined.
Many people suggest turning your mids very low. Bands like Metallica inspired this. While this can work in some contexts, it can often make the guitar sound somewhat lifeless.
This is because a guitar is a mid-range instrument, so reducing the mid frequencies can alter the qualities that a guitar is known for. Keep your mids around 5, and adjust from there until it sounds good to your ears.
Lastly, you want to turn those treble frequencies up as high as the bass. This will help the guitar cut through the mix, making your riffs clear and well-defined. Around 6-9 will work well, depending on the amp and the guitar you are using.
Use Effects Pedals
It is widespread for guitar players to use effects pedals to achieve a great metal tone.
This will undoubtedly come in handy for those whose amps don’t cut it for metal no matter how much you turn up your gain. Here are a few pedals that work great for metal music:
Distortion pedals are undoubtedly the most commonly used pedals in metal music.
In many cases, the quality of distortion that comes from pedals is better than in amps. These are used in conjunction with the clean channel on a guitar amp since all of the gain will be provided by the pedal.
You can, however, blend the distortion from your amp and pedal to achieve the best of both.
The BOSS Audio DS-1 Distortion Pedal is a solid example of this type of pedal.
A common issue with very high gain, distorted guitar tones is that they can be very noisy.
Using a noise gate pedal is a great way to ensure that your tone sounds very tight and controlled and that no other sound apart from what you are trying to create will come through the amp.
This Noise Gate Pedal by Donner is a good example of one.
Ensure That You Have A Good Picking Technique
Lastly, having a good picking technique is essential to metal music. You want to ensure that your picking attack is consistent, especially when playing fast riffs.
Then, using techniques like palm muting is a great way not only to reduce the noise coming from your distorted guitar but also to make your riffs sound “beefy” – again with those classic metal tone terminologies!
At the end of the day, paying close attention to every aspect of your equipment, the settings on your equipment, and your playing technique will set you on course to get the perfect metal tone.
That way, you are guaranteed to have hours and hours of epic jam sessions and ultimately get better at playing your instrument.
As always, Happy Playing,