Who has the best individual metal guitar tone?

I made a post on my Facebook page yesterday about some EMG Metal Works James Hetfield pickups. This generated a comment or two that got me thinking about the perfect metal tone (thanks Vim). Has anybody got it? I’m not sure they do. And maybe that’s OK.

There are many metal bands (past and present) who have been known for their tone. For me, some of the better metal tones have come from bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Trivium, Anthrax, Slipknot and Iron Maiden. One thing they all have in common is the dual guitarist approach. Does any one guitarist have the perfect tone or are the two individual tones in bands like these required to generate that tone we come to know and love?

These questions are perhaps better answered through live concert footage. Why? Because many studio recordings will have so many layers that it becomes difficult to know how many guitars are actually being played. For example, check out how many guitars are in Drain You by Nirvana.

Nirvana had one guitarist. One guitarist, Five guitar layers. What hope do us mere mortals have?!

Back to the concert footage though. Watching concert footage allows you to truly experience the individual tones each guitarist has (on the right songs). Here are some of my favourites.

Megadeth—Hangar 18

There aren’t many songs that feature dual guitar parts like this song. If you want to hear the difference between two guitar tones, this is a great example.

When Dave Mustaine and Chris Broderick are playing in unison the guitar tones are awesome. When one is playing rhythm while the other plays lead, the tonal variety really shows. Do I prefer the combined guitar tones? Absolutely. These seem more like the tones I recognise from the original recordings. It’s the reason layered and panned guitar parts sound so full and amazing.

Metallica—Fade to Black

I’ve mentioned before that this is my all-time favourite song … by anybody. The advantage of this live recording is that you get to hear clean and distorted tones from both guitarists. Of course the magic occurs once again when both guitarists are playing similar parts in unison. The sound is just so … epic.

The end guitar parts just prior to the solo when Kirk plays my favourite solo of all time are brutal. Brutally good. Have you ever tried to capture that combined tone on your own? It’s a difficult thing to do.


Trivium own one of my favourite modern metal tones. I am a huge fan of their latest release and their dual guitar attack is near faultless. With this live recording you can hear the differences between Matt and Corey’s guitar tones. They are different, but when combined, their depth of tone and distorted clarity is just amazing.

Is it exactly like the album? No. Should it be? Heck no. But that’s not what we’re wondering today. What we’re wondering is if it’s possible to have that one perfect metal tone. If you go back to the first video where Butch Vig explains the layered guitar parts for Drain You by Nirvana, you have to wonder how many different guitar parts there are on your favourite guitarists’ recording. That applies to bands where there is only one guitarist as well.

Personally, I don’t believe there is one single guitar tone that is perfect in isolation. That’s not a bad thing and it certainly won’t stop me from trying to capture that perfect tone. I love a good challenge.

Do you think there is one guitarist who has nailed that perfect tone in the studio and/or on the stage? If yes, let me know. Who has that perfect tone?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.