The Les Paul is arguably one of the most iconic guitars to ever embrace the world. It’s historic, iconic and fully deserves its legendary status. For this reason alone, it’s a popular guitar of choice for guitar players in all corners of musical genres and playing styles.
With that said, a common question I’m often asked (or I see crop up online) is…can a Les Paul play metal including its many sub-genres?
What This Post is About
In this post, I will answer the question with 7 awesome reasons why a Les Paul is a great choice for playing metal!
We will also look at some other guitar companies who have taken the ‘Les Paul blueprint’ and produced some of their own modern and metal versions.
Before We Start…
Keep in mind, no guitar is set to a specific genre. It’s just that some guitars features, Sound and specifications are more suitable for the job than others, with personal taste also being a big factor.
So with that little disclaimer out the way, let’s get into it with reason number 1…
Reason 1 – The Iconic ‘Les Paul Tone’
When it comes to tone, the Les Paul naturally produces a ‘thick’ and ‘chunky’ sound with a pronounced mid-range with articulation for note clarity and definition.
The guitar also has a nice ‘dark’ and ‘rich’ sound with all these reasons being why the guitar is so popular with players in many genres.
Its tone comes from its bulky ‘mahogany body’, double humbucker pickups, and 24.75” scale length. This construction gives this guitar its wide and mellow sound that fills a ton of sonic space.
Now the ‘Les Paul sound’ is versatile in a lot of genres and styles of guitar. But the main reasons why the Les Paul is a solid choice for playing the heavy sound of metal are…
Why A Les Paul Can Play Metal
- The guitar sounds ‘thick’ and ‘meaty’ but the notes can be clearly defined (good EQ will also help) Does not sound ‘brittle’, ‘thin’, and harsh when combined with high ultra-high distortion
- Notes can be distinguished behind a wall of saturated gain and distortion
- Produces a great ‘bottom-end’ response and frequencies for low detuned open notes
- Humbuckers are ideal for handling heavy distortion
- Humbuckers cancel hum, buzzing and act as a mini ‘noise gate’ between playing
- The guitar has a ton of articulation for shredding solos and heavy riffs that can sound defined and clear
- The guitar produces a ton of sustain perfect for lead playing
- A good option for a ‘modern twist’ on a classic tone
Other Components Contributing to Tone
Now obviously the guitar you choose is one piece of the puzzle when dialing in a good metal tone The other pieces are…
- Cabinet size
- EQ settings
- How accurate you play (tone is in the fingers)
But regardless the Les Paul can certainly lend itself to playing all types of heavy distortion such as punk, rock, hard rock and of course metal and the many sub-genres that go with it.
Reason 2 – Bags of Sustain
The Les Paul is renowned for its rich harmonic sustain that all lead players of all musical genres have gravitated to love over the years.
This trademark ability is another feature that has equipped it as such a desirable guitar. Due to its ability to sustain and hold and let notes ring out for periods of time before dying out.
Why a Les Paul Has So Much Juicy Sustain?
The answer is the Les Paul gets its long ability to sustain notes and chords because of the sheer volume of its maple-capped mahogany body. Mahogany is also a top quality wood that provides the most ‘resonance.’
The ‘set neck’ is also known for promoting more sustain, allowing the sound to resonate more effectively throughout the guitar.
Early Gibson Les Pauls were known for being sustain monsters. Because early models had bodies crafted from top quality Honduran mahogany wood (a rare, dense and expensive type of material.)
These early models were some of the best sustaining guitars that Gibson ever produced.
How well a guitar sustains is a deciding factor to how a guitar is constructed.
As other design factors do play a part such as nut, bridge, pickups, headstock angle, quality of the materials etc. And how well they all integrate together.
Why Metal Players Love Sustain
The main reason is so players have the option to hold long vocal-like notes most likely during lead focused playing such as solos and riffs.
Sustain also allows heavy chords to ring out for long intervals which is something a metal player require in a guitar.
Sustain also contributes to the screeching feedback that all high distortion players like to let ring out now and again for stage effect.
Reason 3 – Sweet Humbucker Pickups
Now it is true that most guitars with humbuckers can provide a good metal tone depending on the other overall features of the guitar.
Whether it’s modern, classic or heavily detuned Metal. 95% of metal players will have humbuckers installed which will be either ‘passive’ or ‘active.’
But what makes the Les Paul desirable is it provides a versatile amount of modern or classic metal tones to satisfy any metal player.
Hence why the Les Paul is historically favored by both classic and modern metal players (we will get to them later.)
But the reasons why the Les Paul with humbuckers gives such a solid foundation of a great metal guitar is because…
Why Les Paul Humbuckers are Ideal For Metal
- Humbuckers cancel the ‘60 cycle hum’ that occurs with a guitar drenched in distortion.
- A guitar with humbuckers provides a ‘fat’ and ‘chunky’ sound combined with heavy dirt.
- Humbuckers naturally compress the sound
- Single coils pickups with saturated distortion will sound brittle, thin and harsh
- Humbuckers have always been the staple for mid-heavy to heavily distorted tones
- Humbuckers promote a ton of sustain
- Humbuckers provide a warm tone for solos and lead playing
Now for a metal player, an important requirement for a guitar is to handle saturated distortion, cancel hum and noise and produce a dark and pronounced tone.
But also ensure the notes do not get buried and muffled behind a ton of distortion so notes and chords have definition and articulation.
What’s Best Active or Passive Humbuckers?
For this reason, many metal guitarists tend to gravitate towards the ‘active pickup.’
A ‘hotter’, ‘ballsier’ and, modern version on the classic Les Paul tone. These pickups are designed to provide ‘string definition’ at ultra-high gain and provide a hotter signal to push the tubes of a valve amp for additional sweet distortion.
Don’t get me wrong, active and passive pickups are a great option the choice comes down to personal preference and taste. Both options have their pros and cons tonally and in versatility.
There’s no right or wrong option your choice will boil down to what sounds best to your ears.
Which to Choose?
For this reason, you should read my awesome post “active or passive pickups for playing metal?” I explain in detail the pros and cons of both pickups and help decide which option will be best for you.
Reason 4 – Active and Passive Pickups Offer Sick Metal Tones
The Les Paul guitar is known to be a versatile guitar that can produce a range of tones. Here are some of the pros and cons of active and passive pickups for playing metal with a Les Paul.
- Give you a hotter input with more gain to reach saturation or break-up without less external gain
- Better string definition at ultra high gain
- Virtually noiseless, pickups
- Pushes the valve amps tubes harder than passive
- Promote good bass response
- Sterile tone (depending on who you ask)
- Clean tones do not sound as good as passive
- Rolling off the volume knob gives you the same tone just a quieter lower volume
- Richer tone across more frequencies
- Don’t offer as much gain as active pickups (use more gain from your pedal or amp)
- Sounds better over a larger spectrum of tones
- Effective at canceling hum
- Cleans tones sound warm and rich (better than active in my opinion)
- More versatile in tones
- Roll the volume knob down gives you the option of a ‘crunch’ tone or ‘cleans’
Most modern Les Pauls manufactured today by Epiphone or Gibson will come with a ‘coil split’ feature.
Coil splitting is essentially disabling one side of the humbucker pickup. Enabling the ‘split’ gives you a single coil tone with a humbucker guitar. This gives the player the best of both worlds right and lots of options for tone shaping.
The funny thing is that ‘coil splitting’ and ‘coil tapping’ can often get confused with each other.
You should read my post “Coil Splitting vs Coil Tapping the Differences” to unravel the confusion and describe the variance in function and tone.
Reason 5 – Very Affordable Guitar
Gibson is undoubtedly the high-end brand when it comes to the Les Paul. The problem is however, a new Gibson Standard or ‘Custom’ can set you back at least $1000. Ouch!
Not to mention any additional upgrades you might want to add… locking tuners, hardware upgrades, or swapping out for hotter pickups perhaps?
Luckily there are other options to save some dollar while still having the Les Paul tone, playability, and identity Just at a more affordable low-spec version. Some of these options are….
Gibson Les Paul Studio
The Gibson Les Paul Studio is a toned down version of the standard without flash additions. The Studio still produces the usual iconic Les Paul tone just in a mellow flavor compared to the expensive Les Paul standard which is a more premium guitar.
The Studio is also has a thinner body but lacks the maple top, classy binding and will have lower spec pickups depending on the model and year.
However, for an epic Gibson metal guitar, the studio produces the thick, thumpy and tones with clarity and articulation for notes that all metal players love.
Epiphone Les Paul
Epiphone offers a range of great entry level instruments at an affordable price without compromising on playability while offering a ton of value for money. Epiphone Les Pauls range in price from $200-$600. The options are…
You could also choose one of these guitars and modify it with hotter pickups saving on buying a pricey Gibson.
Metal Epiphone Guitars
There are also some Les Pauls made specific with the metal players in mind. Some special and signature series come with a ‘metal vibe’ equipped with EMG pickups for a ballsier and angrier Les Paul.
- Les Paul Prophecy series
- Matt Heafy signature
- Lee Malia Signature
Reason 6 – Popular Metal Guitarists Play Them
The Les Paul has been sported by many famous players over its many generations. For nearly half a century this guitar has been played by some of the most legendary and iconic players to have ever played the guitar.
Although most of the famous players are in the classic rock era which is to be expected. When it comes to the players in the metal scene. There are many players that choose the Les Paul as their weapon of choice in both the classical and modern era of metal.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
Classic Metal Players
- Randy Rhoads (RIP) – Ozzy Osbourne
- Zakk Wylde – Ozzy Ozbourne
- Kirk Hammet – Metallica (owns the ‘Holy grail’ a 1959 Gibson Les Paul)
- Steve Clarke – Deff Leppard
Modern Metal Players
- Matt Heafy – Trivium
- Bill Kelliher – Mastodon
- Brant Hinds – Mastodon
- Lee Malia – Bring me the Horizon
- Adam Jones – Tool
Some Downsides of the Les Paul
Although I have just discussed in great detail why the Les Paul can be a sweet metal guitar. But like any guitar, there are always pros and cons.
Secondly, this post wouldn’t be the most informative, authentic, and transparent article without discussing some of the drawbacks of this guitar. (I’m all about giving you the best content possible.)
- No contours on the body so it can feel uncomfortable to some players
- Heavy Guitar not great for standing for long gigs but you get used to it (or just man up)
- High fret access is not the best
- Some necks can feel ‘bulky’ in the hand and not as fast and comfortable as some super strat necks
- Gibsons are expensive and in uncertain financial times affecting build quality
So regardless of the cons and the Les Paul is still the guitar for you then great. However, let’s look at some other versions from other companies which brings us to the last reason.
Reason 7 – Some Companies Offer Similar Versions
I know what you are thinking! “Hang on I thought this post is about why a Les Paul can play metal?”
Well, I have discussed in great detail and proved why the Gibson and Epiphone Les Pauls are the original and fantastic choice for a metal guitar.
However, the Les Paul shape has been used by other guitar companies with a new recipe and flavor.
Metal Les Paul Alternatives
Although the name may not be similar. The shape and identity are certainly there just in hot-rodded and ‘metal-focused’ versions. Some of the other options are…
ESP (Eclipse or LTD Series)
The ESP Eclipse is one of the gems from ESP’s arsenal of guitars. The Eclipse takes the classic Les Paul shape but making it slimmer, lighter with a thinner body and modifying it as a high output beast with EMG pickups.
The Eclipse brides the gap between chunky Les Paul and Superstrat while including the classic Les Paul body shape. A perfect recipe for a Les Paul well equipped for playing any style of metal.
Schecter is a guitar company based in the US that specializes in creating high-quality guitars pleasing the army of rock and metal guitarists.
The Solo II is a modern take on the classic Les Paul shape with some additional tweaks and features being coil splitting, active pickups, contours for comfort and a string through body depending on the model.
The Solo II is a high output version of the Les Paul with comfort and additional tone modifications. This series also comes in affordable and more premium versions tailoring to a good range of most players budgets.
Chapman Guitars (ML2 Modern)
Chapman guitars are the new guys on the block founded by YouTuber Rob Chapman. Unlike other guitar companies, Chapman guitars base their core values on what the players want adopting them within their line of guitars.
The ML2 is Chapman’s version of the modernized single cut Les Paul offering a range of modern tones all metal players would love. Players have the choice of the ‘standard’ or ‘pro’ series depending on the size of budget.
Thanks for Reading. As we have discussed the Les Paul is one of the best choices you can make for playing all types of metal.
Thick-meaty tone, bags of sustain, versatile in sounds and a traditional and historic guitar at your disposal. What more can you want?
Do you think the Les Paul is a sweet choice for playing all types of metal? Answer in the comments Section!
Speaking of historic guitars, you should read my next post “Can a Stratocaster Play Metal?” Learn whether a stock or modified Stratocaster is an ideal guitar for lending itself to this type of genre.