I remember when I first got an electric guitar and a small practice amp.
I couldn’t wait to get home and learn some of my favorite Adam Jones riffs.
Except my guitar sounded nothing like his.
I played around with with the knobs on my amp and my guitar. I tried the coil split feature.
Nothing worked. My guitar sounding nothing like my favorite bands.
I had no idea how to make my electric guitar sound metal!
I soon learned I needed a few more pieces of equipment. And a different amp. Luckily, my guitar was well-suited for metal music, at least.
Keep reading to skip my period of extreme disappointment and subsequent education. We’ll show you how you can get that metal sound right from the start.
Table of Contents
- 1 How To Make An Electric Guitar Sound Metal
- 2 How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Sound Like Rock?
- 3 How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Sound Like Death Metal?
- 4 How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Sound Grunge?
- 5 How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Scream?
- 6 How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Sound Crunchy?
- 7 How To Make Your Guitar Sound Metal: Final Thoughts
How To Make An Electric Guitar Sound Metal
Getting your guitar to sound metal is a sum of different factors. This includes gear, different parameter settings, and playing technique. Although it is open to personal tone preferences, some common elements include higher gain settings and pronounced mids.
When you’re tweaking your guitar tone for a certain genre it doesn’t just come down to your amp or distortion pedal settings. You’ll need to get the proper gear, set it up, and use the proper technique.
There are plenty of metal subgenres. And even within the same subgenre, you’ll have many variations. With that in mind, we’ll cover all the aspects while reflecting on different tones that you can make depending on what you’re aiming for.
In generally, it is best to get a guitar with humbuckers, if you want to sound metal. Even better, they should be high-output humbuckers, sometimes even with active electronics. Read our comparison of humbucker pickups vs single coil for more on why humbuckers are best for metal.
They don’t necessarily have to be high-output ones. You can also do well with regular medium-output ones which are also very useful for classic old-school metal.
The truth is, no other features on your guitar will impact your tone as much as the pickups. You should also stay away from hollow-body guitars that can cause unwanted feedback.
If you want a solid-body amp, there are plenty of cost-friendly options with decent digital processors. This article lists some great guitar amps for metal music.
An old-school-style option like the Roland Jazz Chorus is not the best way to go for metal tone. But anything with digital modeling is more than great.
Although expensive, tube amplifiers are perfect. However, make sure to have something metal-oriented. That means nothing that’s vintage-style. The brand or exact model is up to you.
Finally, we come to distortion pedals. These are a tricky subject. Some of the metal-focused stuff is a no-brainer choice for the most part. For tube-driven amps, a simple overdrive works wonders and just boosts the tubes enough to get them to distort more “organically.”
This is a practice that many metal guitar players do, no matter the specific subgenre or personal tone preferences.
Other pedals and effects are up to you. In most settings, we’d recommend getting a delay or a reverb. Delay could make things sound more modern, but you get what works the best for you. It’s just important to have something to add more dimension to your tone.
If you are thinking about a multi-FX pedal, those have their place. They give you tons of different effects and are a lot of fun to play with, but you will need individual effects pedals to really dial in your tone. We have an article comparing the use of a multi-effect pedal vs individual pedals, if you want to know more.
Setting It Up
Now we get to the difficult part. The first thing that you need to look at is the EQ. This is where people usually make their first mistake and cut the mids.
From our experience, it’s usually better to keep them above 40%. Ideally, above 50%. This is the part of your tone that will give that rough “punch” and help you cut through the mix.
Of course, some specific styles require you to “scoop” the tone by cutting most of the mids. In that case, it’s usually better to complement it with the second guitar player who has a more “open” tone with stronger mids.
So-called parametric EQs exist on some amps, meaning that you can adjust the mid-frequency. It’s a bit more complicated but gives you the peak mid-frequency to work with. Play around with it and see what works for you.
We’d also advise not to push the bass knob up high. If you do, you end up making a lot of unnecessary rumbling noise when playing with a bassist in a band.
Another common beginner mistake is to set the gain up high. On most amps, this will make your guitar sound too “fuzzy” or “muddy.” Don’t use high-gain settings to mask the mistakes in your playing. Keep it under 70%. On some amps, even 50% is more than enough.
With tube-driven amps, you’ll get additional “organic” distortion by increasing the volume. They also require a minimum volume setting, usually at around 40%, to get their full potential.
Solid-state amps usually won’t change their tone when you adjust the volume. However, some solid-state amps with digital processors can replicate that as well.
If you have additional controls, like presence or resonance, these aren’t that crucial. However, a presence control, which works with the power amp section, can help you cut through the mix.
We’d usually advise setting it above 60%. But if you need a darker tone, like doom metal, set it below 50%.
These same rules go for distortion pedals. Just bear in mind that increasing gain and volume on them will also drive tube amps to distort in their own way. If your pedal has a simple tone knob, keep it above 50%.
As for other effects and pedals, it all comes down to your preferences. I would advise not to put too much chorus or other modulation effects on high-gain settings.
Playing Technique Matters
Finally, it also comes down to the way you play. Try playing around with different pick attack angles. Additionally, proper use of palm muting will help you get that “chugging” tone. But overall, getting things very tight and to the point technically is crucial for a good metal tone.
A proper bending technique is required for lead metal players. It’s extremely important to hit the right note. This comes with time and a lot of practice.
How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Sound Like Rock?
This comes down to several factors, including required gear and parameter settings. Generally, keep the gain settings at moderate levels, use milder distortion, and set the midrange frequencies higher.
How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Sound Like Death Metal?
Death metal usually requires “scooped” mids for old-school tone, and the opposite for modern sound. Use high-gain settings and pedals or amps designed specifically for metal. Humbuckers are highly recommended.
How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Sound Grunge?
Grunge tone requires mid to high-gain settings, preferably with old-school-style tube amps. Use conventional distortion pedals and cut some of the high-end.
How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Scream?
Guitar “screaming” comes down to high-gain settings, great sustain, some feedback, and proper playing techniques. Bending a higher string and doing controlled vibrato, while not letting other strings ring out, helps you get the “screaming” effect.
How Do I Make My Electric Guitar Sound Crunchy?
The “crunch” in your tone is a combination of milder gain and pronounced mids and highs, preferably on tube-driven amps.
How To Make Your Guitar Sound Metal: Final Thoughts
Making your guitar sound metal comes down to a number of factors. Arguably the most important is an electric guitar with humbucking pickups. And ideally high-output pickups.
You also need the right kind of amplifier and the right pedals. The actual settings you need come down to personal preference. We gave you some guidelines above. Play around with them, until you find a sound you like. Practice with some of the best guitar riffs to learn here.
If you have a specific guitarist whose sound you want to emulate, you can find the information you need online. You’ll want to learn what equipment they use and how they set it up.