The 5 Biggest Guitar Innovations For Metal
Posted by Drop-Tuning.com 5:38AM CST 7/28/17​

Numerous improvements have been made to the design of the electric guitar over the years that have helped people play heavy metal. What makes these design features beneficial, is that they not only help support the larger strings and drop tunings that typically accompany metal, but can even help add range and quality of tone!
#1 - Humbucker Pickups.

Humbuckers, or 'twin coil' pickups, can add a ton of tone and range to an electric guitar. This style of pickup features two sets of magnets designed to minimize noise and signal interference, or 'buck the hum', by mixing the two signals together. These pickups are very popular with rock and metal players.

'Active' humbuckers are fairly similar, but have fewer copper winds around the pickup magnets, and internal circuitry that incorporates a pre-amp, typically powered by a 9v battery, resulting in a hotter, denser sound. Another benefit to active pickups, is that the idle output is much lower, further reducing static and interference when not deliberately striking the strings.


While single coils can also feature active pickup technology, it is much more common on humbuckers. An active pickup will help immensely in the delivery of harmonics and pinch harmonics.  EMG and Seymour Duncan are two of the biggest names in humbucker pickups, they both make active and passive humbuckers, and both are available on SamAsh.com .

The guitar below features 1 passive humbucker near the bridge, and 2 passive single coils.
#2 - Vibrato/Tremolo

A tremolo or vibrato system gives the player the ability to apply and relieve tension on all 6 strings at once. Most of these systems are operated by an arm or lever on the bridge, sometimes called a 'whammy bar'. There are many styles of tremolo systems that all provide different benefits. A floating bridge like the one seen below, features tension springs in the back cavity of the guitar that anchor the bridge to the body. These springs keep the guitar at a set tune, but allow the player to move the bridge, changing the pitch of the strings.

People love tremolo systems because they offer a touch of variety, it's a special technique that like anything else, takes practice and time to get the most out of. Notable for his multi-octave whammy bar 'dive bombs', Eddie Van Halen was one of the most famous tremolo bridge users of the 70's and 80's rock movement, and is likely the inspiration behind the countless younger guitarists that are choosing to use a whammy bar.

Below, is a Floyd Rose style floating bridge with a whammy bar visible in the lower right. Conveniently, this image also showcases a Seymour Duncan active Humbucker from #1.
#3 - Low Action Setup

The action of a guitar refers to the level of resistance a players hand experiences when fretting notes. A low action neck will be easier to move around on than a high action neck. Action is based on a number of factors, but primarily the height of the strings off of the frets, also known as the 'setup' of the guitar. The bridge of the guitar, if not properly set up, can have serious influence over the instruments action.

The action of a guitar can be further improved by a flatter fretboard radius. Radius refers to the curvature of the fretboard and ​can vary greatly from one guitar to the next. A compound radius fretboard means the neck is smaller/rounder at the nut, and wider/flatter near the bridge to help with bending strings and soloing. While very few guitars have a truly flat fretboard radius, a flatter radius will feel smoother when playing metal and other aggressive styles. 

The Wizard III guitar neck by Ibanez features a compound radius and is featured on many of their electric guitars, including their metal lineup, the RG series, available on zZounds.com .

Below, is a very low-profile, low action Ibanez Wizard III neck.
#4 - Extended Range Guitars

Many metal musicians are choosing to use 7, 8, and even 9 string electric guitars to achieve lower tunings and heavier tones. These guitars have exploded in popularity as they allow the player to have more range on both the low and high ends depending on tuning.

Seven string guitars specifically, have been around quite a while and are only recently making an explosion. While most guitars feature the extra string on the low end, some players like Steve Vai, have used 7 strings that feature a high A string. Some say a hidden advantage of extended range guitars is that the extra bass string adds weight and power to bolster low-end riffs.

Korn is an example of a very popular 90's metal band that employed the use of extended range guitars in mainstream rock and metal music. Metal guitar giants ESP, Ibanez, and Schecter are some of the heaviest hitters in extended range guitars and have always been competitive with one another.

Seen below is a 9 string guitar made by Ibanez.​
#5 - Locking Tuner System

Locking tuner systems typically consist of a bridge with high-ratio fine tuning nobs, and a lock nut. At the nut of the guitar, there are a series of (typically) three washers, each with a machine screw that threads into the 'lock nut' and secures the strings, preventing any changes to the headstock or its nobs, from altering the tune while playing.

This design allows the user to roughly tune the guitar with the headstock tuners, lock the nut, and then perfect the tune with the fine tuning nobs on the bridge. The user can then trust that the guitar will stay locked into that tuning for a long time, and despite some hard shredding. Of course, if the strings are brand new, they may still stretch within the locks, altering the tune over time until they are fully stretched.

Below, 3 screws are seen on the far left of the image threaded into the nut, locking the strings.

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