Doom Metal goes back a long way, with some people citing Black Sabbath being the pioneers. Every decade has added to the fuzzed-out, psychedelic genre with loads of bands going for the distinct sound. Today we check out the 5 best guitars for Doom/Sludge.
The Best Guitars For Doom Metal
|Gibson Les Paul Custom
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|ESP LTD Deluxe
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|Gibson Standard Les Paul P-90
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|Epiphone Les Paul Standard
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This Reverend Contender HB electric guitar is classically retro, but the offset body and six-in-line headstock give the guitar a modern feel. The Reverend Contender HB has a pair of HA5 pickups. These classic-style humbuckers are a bit hotter than vintage for extra punch and excellent clarity. This guitar effortlessly combines vintage with cutting-edge—a hallmark of Reverend’s original designs.
With its Fishman Fluence humbuckers, iconic design, and amazing specs and components, the Epiphone Les Paul Prophecy is easily the best Gibson Les Paul on the market right now. In fact, I think I’d still take one of these over a proper Gibson Les Paul. It is that good…
A near-perfect guitar in every way. The neck is rapid, it looks like a weapon when you’re wearing it, and it sounds incredible, thanks to its Seymour Duncan JB/59 passive pickup setup. It ain’t cheap, but this could well be on the best Les Paul-style guitars ever created.
Which Should You Buy?
These are our #1 picks for right now. The top option – the Gibson Les Paul Standard – is a phenomenal guitar. But it is very expensive. Although if you’re recording music, it will pay for itself in quality and tone.
If you’re looking for something under $500, go for the Epiphone SG – it’s a killer guitar and perfectly suited for doom metal.
The Epiphone SG is a phenomenal guitar, one of our absolute favorites, as it plays beautifully, isn’t too heavy, and has tone FOR DAYS…
It’s also really affordable too.
The reason why most of the models, save for the Reverend and SG, are Les Paul-style guitars is that, for doom metal, you want PLENTY of low-end and Les Paul-style guitars deliver the thickest, lowest tone of any style of electric guitar.
This is why the Gibson Les Paul is used, pretty much ubiquitously, by all the greatest doom metal guitarists.
But this doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands of dollars on a Gibson Les Paul. Epiphone’s Les Paul range is just as good for non-professional (and even professional) players. The Epiphone Les Paul Custom, for instance, is around 80% cheaper than the Gibson Les Paul Custom and it looks and plays almost as good.
Plus, with Epiphone, you get more options when it comes to pickups. The $899 Epiphone Prophecy, for instance, comes with Fishman Fluence pickups which sound incredible. Though, for that classic, warm, fuzzy doom tone, you’ll probably want to stick to humbuckers as you get on the Epiphone SG and Epiphone Les Paul Standard (or Custom).
Alternatively, if you do want an expensive guitar make sure you check out our guide on how to buy expensive guitars for less.
Let’s Talk About The Genesis of The “Doom” Sound…
Doom Metal without a doubt got its roots from Black Sabbath throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Doom Metal is known as a genre for having slower tempos and sparse arrangements that are focused on heavy guitars.
While Black Sabbath got the genre started, during the 1980s many other bands from England started taking what Sabbath did, and made it heavier. Bands like Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General paved the way for many other bands.
Around the same time, in America and Sweden, Doom Metal was catching on with bands like Candlemass, Pentagram, and Saint Vitus. By the end of the ’80s, Doom Metal started catching on and lending influence to bands like Kyuss, Melvins, Sleep, and Fu Manchu.
While amps and effects make up a good portion of what Doom/Sludge guitarists use to tailor their sound, it all starts with the guitar. It always starts with a guitar.
We have already discussed tunings in a different article, that you can find here. But what are the best guitars for Doom Metal?
This list is a tough one since Doom Metal has always been very DIY. What are the best guitars for Doom Metal? What brands? What styles? What shape?
Well, every player has a favorite but there are also some trends that we can follow that covers the entire history of the best guitars for Doom Metal. We can look at the gear the pioneers used, and we can also look at what the new generation uses.
Many guitarists in the genre use whatever guitar they can afford. Some people use rare and difficult-to-find guitars. But today we are going to check out the ones you can buy just about anywhere.
#5 Gibson Standard Les Paul P-90
Gibsons are used a lot by Doom/Sludge artists. So you may see more than one on this list! When it comes to specs, this is a regular Les Paul, through and through. The difference is the amazing Custom Shop pickups.
- Mahogany Neck and Body
- Nitro lacquer
- 22 Frets
- Grover Tuners
- Rosewood Fretboard
- Classic 50’s neck profile
- Gibson Custom Shop P-90 Pickups
So it is essentially your basic Les Paul, right?
What sets this model apart from other Les Paul models is the P-90 pickups. Gibson has been making these in their Custom Shop for decades. Originally they were fitted for their semi-hollow guitars, used in Jazz.
The P-90 is essentially a very large single-coil pickup. Since so much of Metal music requires copious amounts of gain/fuzz/distortion, having a P-90 pickup adds clarity and plenty of high-end. The bridge pickup in particular sounds really dirty. Filthy, even.
Gibson P-90s are pretty famous for not only having a clear tone that can deal with high gain tones but retain midrange and clarity. Even better, they produce feedback like crazy.
The feedback can be used in some creative applications, or you could dampen it with a noise gate. At any rate, P-90 pickups are a great choice for Doom/Sludge due to their powerful sound, and “cutting” nature.
Clear-sounding pickups are a godsend to guitarists that plan on tuning down their guitar. Since most Doom/Sludge is tuned down, the Gibson P-90 is an obvious choice.
Gibson is an obvious choice for Metal musicians everywhere, but what about something a little less expensive?
#4 Epiphone SG Tony Iommi Signature Guitar
Here we have the signature guitar of the legend himself: Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. The Epiphone version of his signature is much less expensive than its Gibson counterpart. We kind of love Epiphone around here…
Tony has played SG models since the inception of Black Sabbath. Tony bought his first Gibson SG in a guitar shop near Brighton in 1967. He had briefly flirted with the idea of using Fender Stratocasters but ended up using the SG to record with. The rest is history.
Tony put his own touches on the classic model:
- Mahogany Body
- 1960’s Slim Taper neck
- Cross Inlays
- Ebony Fretboard
- Gibson Custom Shop Iommi pickups
- 2 Tone/ 2 Volume setup
- Nickle hardware
- Black Finish
- Bound Fretboard
Being a huge Black Sabbath fan, I needed to own one of these. I had one for a few years, the year after they hit the market. I have owned a fair share of SG guitars over the years, both Epiphone and Gibson. The Tony Iommi signature is pretty amazing value for the money.
The Gibson USA Tony Iommi pickups sound huge and crushing. They are definitely based on the original PAF pickups that Gibson designed. This gives them a warm tone that sounds great under high gain. Tony is the only guitar player, so he has to cover a lot of sonic territories.
The bridge pickup sounds great with fuzz or distortion and it definitely chugs hard. The bass and mid-response allow the guitar to cut through the mix really well.
The neck is the same as most SG guitars and practically plays itself. The slim taper is perfect for riffing or shredding. The SG has been around for so long because of its versatility. The Tony Iommi signature takes that versatility and sharpens it for Metal.
This one was an obvious choice. But what about something less obvious?
#3 Reverend Double Agent
Reverend likes to take a classic guitar idea, and tweak it until it becomes its own design. The Double Agent has been around for 20 years now, and it’s the wildcard pick for this list.
Why is it a wildcard? Well, I am sure Reverend doesn’t cross many people’s minds when it comes to the best guitars for doom metal. But I have some personal experience with them.
I picked the Double Agent because it is extremely versatile, hence the name. The Double Agent has a hot-rodded humbucker in the bridge and a single-coil P-90 in the neck. This creates a “best of both worlds” scenario.
The specs for the Reverend Double Agent are all over the place:
- 12” radius
- Korina Body
- Maple neck
- Locking tuners
- Bone Nut
- Upgraded electronics
- Comes with or without tremolo
The Double Agent is truly a “jack of all trades” guitar. They are used by Metal players, Country players, and Blues guitarists. If you’re looking for something that can do Doom and everything in between, Reverend has your back.
The upgraded electronics are pretty cool. Most guitars in this price range come with standard controls and wiring. Reverend steps it up a notch using custom capacitors for the volume and tone. This is a mod that the pros use, and it is very nice to come stock on a guitar.
Lots of heavy, innovative players use Reverend these days:
- Billy Corgan
- Robin from NIN
- Shade from Code Orange
- Bob Balch from Fu Manchu
- Kyle Shult from THE SWORD
Reverend is not a company that you usually see on these kinds of lists, and I think it’s time Reverend got it’s fair shake. These guys that play Reverend had endorsements with much larger companies before, and still made the switch.
That’s a testament to their quality, and innovation. You can check out their whole roster of artists and models at Reverend Guitars Official to see why they are one the best guitars for Doom Metal.
#2 ESP/LTD Viper
Upon first look, it’s pretty easy to judge the Viper on its similarities to another popular brand’s design. But I assure you, the features and specs make the Viper a choice for those who want to avoid the big brands and carve their own path.
- Mhogany Body and Neck
- Macassar Ebony fretboard
- Locking tuners
- Seymour Duncan/ EMG pickups (depends on the model)
- Thin U neck
- Locking bridge
- Graphtech Nut
- Three way switch
The Viper often gets unfairly overlooked in ESP’s catalog. Recently, Reba Myers from Code Orange started endorsing the Viper and even has her own signature model. But she isn’t the only one chugging away on a Viper.
Pepper Keenan from Down and Corrosion of Conformity also played Vipers for quite a while.
The advantage they have over say, a Gibson SG, is all in the features. Out of the box, the Viper is ready for the stage. All of the upper-tier models come with brand-name pickups and locking tuners. These features are the reason the Viper gets the #2 spot instead of a Gibson SG.
If you want to be more traditional, there is nothing wrong with a Gibson SG, as it is widely used in Rock and Metal. The Gibson is a great guitar with a long legacy. But personally?
I prefer the Viper. It’s darker. Meaner. It deserves a spot with the best guitars for Doom Metal, even though it’s not always associated with Doom Metal.
Honorable Mentions: The Best Guitars For Doom Metal
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that just about any guitar can be used for Doom metal. That’s the absolute truth, and some professionals have some really interesting choices.
Others are flat out strange.
But that’s the coolest part about playing guitar. You can make your own choices and create your own style. These honorable mentions prove that there isn’t really a specific “box” you need to stay in just because of genre.
The best guitars for Doom Metal are ultimately… any guitar!
What we should always keep in mind when choosing a guitar, is to find the one that suits us personally. You can go by the lists, reviews and forum suggestions all day long.
At the end of the day, what guitar is perfect for you is all that matters.
Chelsea Wolfe: Gibson Semi Hollow Guitars
Like I said, some of these are flat-out weird choices for heavy music. Semi-hollow guitars are usually used in Blues and Jazz. However, Chelsea tunes hers down to C standard, and chugs hard.
Chelsea plays a wide array of Gibson semi-hollow guitars, which seems like a really odd choice for someone that plays such heavy music. Her unique blend of Electronica and Doom Metal has mostly been played with these semi-hollow “Jazz Box” guitars.
Lately she has also been seen playing a white Fender Jazzmaster. Which to be fair, is yet another odd choice. As long as she keeps making amazing albums, I don’t care what she plays!
It certainly all works for her, though. This just goes to prove that all guitars are versatile… in the right hands.
Brant Bjork: Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters
Fender is not often a name that gets used in the metal community. There is nothing wrong with the company or their guitars at all. They just do not usually get used for heavier music.
Fender generally appeals to Blues and Rock players, and rarely shows up on a list for the best guitars for Doom Metal. People like John Mayer, and Stevie Ray Vaughn used Fender guitars for years. But they don’t exactly play Metal. That’s just not what Fenders are for, right?
Tell that to Brant Bjork.
This is yet another example how you can play whatever you want, and make it your own style. If you listen to any Brant Bjork albums, you know that the guitar tone is out of this world. In the studio its not only Fenders, but Gibsons alike.
Fender guitars have an unmistakable sound that is often regarded as being too “brittle” sounding for Metal. But again, in the right hands…
With all of that said, let’s get to the #1 pick for the best guitars for doom metal. Spoiler alert: It’s exactly what you think it is.
#1 Gibson Les Paul Custom
We could spend a ton of time talking about the legendary Les Paul Custom and its relationship to Doom Metal. But it’s easier if I just list the players that use one.
- Matt Pike
- Buzz Osbourne
- THE SWORD
- Red Fang
- Sunn O)))
- Literally everyone.
The Les Paul Custom is favored by Metal guitarists all over the world. Rightfully so, since it is so versatile and easy to maintain. You can easily tune the guitar down to whichever tuning you prefer.
The Les Paul Custom has its own sound, and a long legacy of players to go with that sound.
The Les Paul Custom also comes with some of Gibson’s best pickups that are surprisingly not too hot. This is a good thing. These custom-wound PAF pups are the opposite of your usual Metal designs.
Since the pickup is not very hot, you have more headroom to add fuzz and distortion. Both of which are staples of Doom Metal, Sludge, and Stoner Rock.
It’s legendary for a good reason and is one of the best guitars for Doom Metal. But if it is too rich for your blood, check our #1 picks for the best Gibson Les Paul Alternatives you can buy right now.
The Best Guitars For Doom Metal Under $300
Guitar is… personal. As it should be. And if you need cheaper options for the guitars listed above, check out our guide to the best beginner guitars – most of them retail for under $300.
My personal fave? Simple: Epiphone’s Les Paul range.
Just because the guitars listed above are the more widely used guitars for Doom Metal/Sludge/ Stoner, doesn’t mean you have to use these specific models. This is just a guide of the tried and true guitars that artists have used for years.
Most new players will be fine by anything from Epiphone, however – Epiphone guitars come in all shapes and sizes, from Flying V to Explorer, SG, and Les Paul.
Any genre can be played on any style/brand of guitar. The tone is a big amalgamation of things, including your pedals and amps. The fun part of playing music is crafting your own unique sound.
Personally, for those on a stricter budget – meaning, you cannot afford thousands of dollars – the Epiphone SG Standard is just about as good as gets for doom metal (or any style of metal, for that matter). It looks great, it plays amazingly well, the neck is fast, it has killer pickups, and it holds its tune brilliantly.
For me, it is the perfect guitar for 99.9% of non-professional guitarists.
Do you need a certain scale length guitar to play Doom Metal?
No, you can tune down with just about any scale length guitar.
Do all Doom Metal guitarists use humbucker equipped guitars?
Not everyone, although humbuckers are popular. Single coils and P-90s are frequently used in Doom Metal.