A Short Guide to Classic Metal Guitar Bargains

Since Tony Iommi first picked up a Gibson SG, heavy metal guitarists have been on a quest for high-quality, radical-looking guitars with both luxurious appointments and maximum performance.

Today, brands such as Ormsby, Kiesel, Strandberg, and Caparison represent the market as well as anyone. But as awe-inducing as these guitars are, they are often accompanied by a high-end price tag to match their quality.

Budget-conscious players need not fear, however. A simple glance back to metal's first heyday—the late '70s through the early '90s—uncovers a trove of equally high-end shred-machines you don't have to make a deal with the devil to afford. We've created this list of some of our favorite places to look for these money-saving deals.

The OGs of Metal Guitars: Ibanez, Jackson, Charvel, Kramer

With so many guitars from these brands currently lining guitar store walls, it's sometimes hard to remember that these were the brands that started it all. Grover Jackson and Wayne Charvel pioneered the art of hand-crafted and aggressive-looking instruments. And Ibanez changed the rock world with its RGs and Wizard necks. But the best thing about many of these US- and Japanese-made guitars is that you'll find them on Reverb for great prices all day long.

Ibanez Roadstar Series

Photos by Waddell's Music

RGs have long been a favorite for fleet-fingered guitarists everywhere. But did you know that these guitars were first released under the Roadstar line? So if you're looking for a great deal on an original, Japanese-made RG, check out the Roadstar RGs from the late 1980s.

Charvel Model Series

Charvel Models 1 through 6 from the '80s are a killer way to save a buck on some of hard rock's first superstrats. Each of the six designs offers a unique take on the platform. These Japanese-made instruments blend unique and cutting-edge (for the time) electronics with solid hardware and shred-approved playability, and remain highly sought-after for incredible quality. That said, they're still highly affordable.

Jackson Dinky and Soloists

When a company's first-ever guitar is a custom order for Randy Rhoads, you can imagine the premium quality and craft that went into its eventual production-run models. More than others on this list, Jacksons have often retained their premium value, but you may be surprised by just how little you can spend on such a great guitar—if you know how to look.

Original, made-in-the-USA Jackson Soloists are higher-end neck-through shredders. While it's not uncommon to find them for $3,000, $4,000, or more, you can find Soloists on Reverb for half of that price or less if you're quick on the draw. Add 1980s Jackson Soloists to your Feed by clicking here so that you'll see new listings as soon as they go live.

1980s Jackson Dinkys, meanwhile, were bolt-on neck superstrats sold that, while a little more affordable back then, still have premium features, fast necks, and (often) custom paint jobs. Like the Soloists, they've continued to retain their value, and are often posted in the $2,000 to $3,000. However, you can find them on Reverb for less than $1,000, again, if you're quick. Add '80s Jackson Dinkys to your Feed by clicking here.

Kramer Stagemaster

While five years ago mentioning Kramer may have earned a smirk at best, players are starting to come around to what made them so popular back in their prime. They're also realizing the long-term impact it made on the evolution of the instrument. Kramer was consistently offering legendary S-style axes that even made a believer out of the notoriously picky Eddie Van Halen.

A great way to get a fantastic '80s Kramer for not a lot of dough is to grab one of their lesser-known models. The Pacer and Baretta are flagships. But your fingers will fly just as fast on a Stagemaster or Glide.

Custom Creations: Carvin, Boogie Bodies (Warmoth)

Two companies that led the custom build explosion from the '70s through '90s were Carvin and Boogie Bodies (now Warmoth). As is still the case today, players could design and/or build their guitars to their preferred specs. What arrived was a dream-machine, unlike any other guitar out there. Fortunately and unfortunately, one-off custom guitars often don't hold their resale value well over time. While this isn't ideal for the original owner, it usually means a steal of a deal for you.

Photos by HP's

Some of the best deals you'll find on electric guitars are on parts guitars. And no one owns that market quite like Warmoth. While the guitars may not have been customized for you, they're still custom-quality for rock-bottom prices. So if you don't care what your headstock says (or doesn't), these are the way to go.

Full Boogie Bodies guitar builds are relatively rare on the used market. Click here to add Boogie Bodies guitars to your Reverb Feed.

The Old Guard: Fender, Gibson

While not the shred-ready designs that metal guitars began to embrace, it's important to remember that the first metal was played on SGs, Flying Vs, and Explorers. And every single double-cutaway, whammy-equipped electric guitar is a direct descendant of Leo Fender's Stratocaster. It's also good to remember that the '80s weren't great to these brands. So their American-made and metal-approved designs from that era are often up for grabs for incredibly accessible prices.

Gibson WRC, US-1, MIII

If you want to get a bit off the beaten path, Gibson offered their own take on designs geared toward gain, including a Wayne Charvel signature guitar, the WRC. While they didn't stand the test of time, they're great guitars at even better prices. Similar Gibson shredders include the US-1 and MIII.

Imitators and Innovators: Greco, Tokai, Aria

Bring up any of these Japanese brands and players often think about their Gibson and Fender copies. And for good reason. They're known for having built better versions of these guitars than the powerhouse American brands were at the time. Not only does this mean you can save on a dead knock-off of a killer-sounding V, but these companies also offered their own more extreme designs. So whether you bow to Michael Schenker or think that Obscura isn't intense enough, these brands' boundary-pushing guitars are sure to fit your needs.

Honorable Mentions: B.C. Rich, ESP, Dean

There were so many incredible guitars built when metal ruled the world. It would be a shame not to mention some of the genre's most celebrated builders just because their top-tier instruments command a bit more. From Bernie Rico's famed Mockingbirds to the way Dean Zelinsky gave classic designs a dose of aggression, you'll find these guitars are worth every penny.

What's the best deal on classic metal guitars we've missed? Let us know your own faves and deal-sleuthing tips in the comments.

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