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10 Iconic Signature Metal Guitars

Scott Gries, Getty Images

If you’re a guitarist, your favorite artists’ signature axes are almost as identifiable as the music they create. The look, fit, finish and feel are expressly designed to make an undeniable statement to the player’s personality and attitude.

When it comes the world of metal — which is generally a very visual genre to begin with — players tend to like their guitars to have a certain level of flair and flash, along with maybe a few personal touches that affect their playability and tone. The end result is a goulash of personally selected woods, hardware, pickups, and various aesthetic style choices that when combined, give the player the ability to play and sound the best that they possibly can.

To put it bluntly, there are just too many cool and unique signature axes in metal for one top 10 list to cover. What we’ve tried to do with our 10 Iconic Signature Metal Axes list is to mention some of the top ones that combine the look, feel, tone and attitude of the particular player better than others — the guitars that you instantly think of the player wielding when you hear their songs pop up on your iPod or on the radio.


Kerry King's B.C. Rich King V

 
 

Slayer's Kerry King is one of the most recognizable guitarists in metal, and his signature B.C. Rich King V is nearly as memorable as the iconic riffs that he beats out on it night after night. The guitar features a neck-through maple neck + maple-winged body construction, ensuring high amounts of sustain and resonance. It's loaded with a pair of active EMG 81 and 85 humbuckers, which are longtime favorites of not only King, but countless metal guitarists around the globe. In one final personal touch, King's signature V's are generally painted with tribal tattoo finishes that match the guitarist's own body ink.

MORE INFO: B.C. Rich Guitars

 

Tony Iommi's Gibson Iron Cross SG

 
 

There are few guitarists as closely associated with the Gibson SG as Tony Iommi. The instrument's devilish tone has served the Black Sabbath riffmaster since the band's first recording sessions, when the pickups in the guitarist's Fender Stratocaster stopped functioning and he was forced to use his backup guitar -- an early 60's Gibson SG -- to record the album. Iommi has stuck with Gibson SG's as his main guitars ever since. In appreciation, Gibson worked with the guitarist to release his own signature model, which featured Sabbath-approved cross inlays in the neck and a pair of super-hot signature humbucking pickups. The guitar has since been discontinued, but eagle-eyed buyers can find them for sale from time to time.

 

Dave Mustaine's Jackson KV1 King V

 
 

Megadeth's founder and songwriting brainchild Dave Mustaine is currently endorsed by Dean Guitars, but his signature Jackson KV1 King V's were his tools of choice throughout the band's storied '80s and '90s eras. The guitar was originally developed for Ratt's Robbin Crosby, but it was Mustaine who popularized it with his signature KV1 model -- employing the guitar's "Double-Rhoads" Korina wood build and firebreathing EMG humbuckers to write, record and perform the majority of Megadeth's material from the mid-'80s until the early 2000s.

 

Brent Hinds' Electrical Guitar Company V

 
 

The Electrical Guitar Company aluminum/acrylic V developed for Mastodon's Brent Hinds is one of the newest guitars on this list -- and also one of the coolest. The guitar uses a clear acrylic body that's joined to an aluminum neck with an aluminum fingerboard, which gives the attack of the notes a uniquely crispy edge. It also features a classic-style Maestro vibrato, and uses two Kent Armstrong humbucking pickups.

MORE INFO: Electrical Guitar Company

 

Dave Murray's Fender HSH Stratocaster

 
 

Iron Maiden guitarist Dave Murray has been laying waste to fans since the mid-'70s -- and for the majority of that time, his main axe has been a modified 1957 Fender Stratocaster that was once owned by the late Free guitarist, Paul Kossoff. Murray's signature model was developed using the guitarist's actual guitar as a basis, and it's loaded with his favorite pickup compliment of Dimarzio Super Distortion and PAF 36th Anniversary humbuckers, along with a vintage-style Fender single coil in the middle. The guitar's simple and classic style matches Murray's playing perfectly, which is refined and straight to the point.

MORE INFO: Fender Guitars

 

Steve Vai's Ibanez JEM7V Jem RG

 
 

Steve Vai's JEM7V is so intertwined with the guitarist's legendary skill that it's strange to associate it with anyone else. The core components of the guitar -- an alder body, five-piece maple/walnut neck and double-locking vibrato -- are classic appointments for Ibanez's RG line, but the guitarist's personally chosen ornate vine neck inlay, monkey grip body handle and trio of Dimarizo Evolution pickups make the JEM7V nearly as timeless as the RG itself.

MORE INFO: Ibanez Guitars

 

Zakk Wylde's Gibson Bullseye Les Paul Custom

 
 

Zakk Wylde and Gibson have enjoyed one of the longest-running partnerships in the industry, which began with the creation of a replacement for Wylde's lost original bullseye-finished Les Paul Custom (which was eventually recovered). In addition their finishes, Wylde's signature Les Pauls also are loaded with a pair of EMG 81 and 85 pickups, and interestingly, use a raw oiled maple neck instead of a more commonly-used mahogany one. The maple gives the neck greater stability and a slightly brighter tone, and its unfinished back allows for less friction against his fretting hand when he employs lightning-quick runs along the fretboard.

MORE INFO: Gibson USA

 

Randy Rhoads' Jackson Concorde V

 
 

Like Wylde, Randy Rhoads is often associated with the Gibson Les Paul Custom (and as Wylde's primary influence, he's one of the reasons why the BLS guitarist picked one up in the first place). The late Ozzy Osbourne guitarist wasn't completely satisified with the Les Paul design, which led to him collaborating with the legendary Grover Jackson and Charvel Guitars to develop the Concorde -- a futuristic-looking V-style guitar with an extended upper wing, neck-through maple construction and Seymour Duncan TB-4 and JB pickups. The hugely-influential guitar became the basis for Jackson's aptly-named Rhoads series, but sadly, the guitarist never lived to see that come to fruition.

MORE INFO: Jackson Guitars

 

Kirk Hammett's ESP KH-2

 
 

Metallica guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett spent most of the band's early years using Gibson Flying V's and Explorers for their brand of sonic annihilation. But when Hammett was prepping for the '87 Monsters of Rock Tour, he turned to ESP for a new guitar that would give him the tone and reliability that he needed on the road. Hammett's first ESP creation -- dubbed the "Zorlac" -- became the basis for the KH series, which featured a double cut alder body, a through-body maple neck, EMG 81 and 60 pickups, and a Floyd Rose double-locking vibrato. The KH-2 has remained Hammett's main instrument of destruction for 25 years.

MORE INFO: ESP Guitars

 

Dimebag Darrell's CFH Dean From Hell ML

 
 

As the driving force of Pantera, Dimebag Darrell helped carry the torch for all things groove metal during the nu-metal years of the '90s. His main weapon of choice was his Dean ML, which he originally won in a competition and sold to buy a car. The guitar had been modified and refinished in its now-famous lightning bolt motif by his friend Buddy Blaze, and in Darrell's hands, the guitar helped form the crushing tones that put Pantera on the metal map. The guitar formed the basis for Darrell's signature line from Dean and Washburn, and Dean recently released a limited 100-piece run of the legendary metal guitarist's favorite axe.

MORE INFO: Dean Guitars

 

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