A Simple Path To Dialing In a Good, or At Least Usable Metal Guitar Tone
If there’s one thing that we metal guitarists obsess over it’s our tone.
It seems that one day you finally dial in the perfect metal tone only to be searching for the perfect tone a week later. It’s as if the gnomes of the underworld gather inside of your amp (or amp sim) and change everything once you dial in a tone that you like.
Nonetheless, even though it’s neverending, it is indeed an adventurous quest. Of course, it can also be a frustrating one.
In this post, I’m giving you my own personal metal tone settings using both a real amp and virtual amps (amps sims/plug-ins). And though my settings may shift from amp to amp, these are my basic go-to settings for practically everything.
My goal is to help simplify the process so that you can quickly dial in a usable tone that you’re at least semi-happy with for any given situation. On that note (no pun intended), my tone may not be exactly what you’re looking for. But it will at least serve as a guide and starting point for you.
***At the end of this post, I’ll share the process of how I recorded everything.
Metal Tone Settings Using Amp Sims/Plugins
First, let’s go over the perspective of using virtual amp sims. If safe to say that amp sims have become the most common way to record ideas and practice. It’s easy, convenient, and technology has come a long way.
For this example, I’m using a combination of BIAS Amp 2 and BIAS FX 2 from Positive Grid. Basically, you load BIAS FX and pull the amp into that plugin from BIAS Amp.
If you have both plugins, you should automatically have access to the amps in BIAS Amp when you have BIAS FX pulled up. I have a post that explains how to do this here: How to Use BIAS Amp with BIAS FX
The BIAS Amp 2 amp sim I’m using is their Triple Treadplate, This appears to be based on the Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier (I believe I said ‘Dual Recitfier’ in the video).
Though I’m using a specific amp sim here, the settings below are what I use for almost every amp sim that I play through, give or take a little. Below are my BIAS Amp Triple Treadplate settings for metal.
Virtual Amp Settings for Metal
- Amp Sim: Triple Treadplate (Positive Grid’s BIAS Amp 2)
- Bass: 5
- Mid: 4
- Treble: 7
- Presence: 4
- Gain: 6.5
Notes: You may find that you need to cut your bass a little when recording for a full mix. The beauty of using amp sims is that you can change your settings at any time.
My settings for presence depend on the amp (or amp sim) that I’m using. It’s typically between 4 and 6. And the gain for high gain amps typically does not need to be cranked as amp sims, in general, seem to provide more saturation with lower gain settings than real amps.
For my lead tone, the settings are similar other than I give a slight boost to the gain, mids, and sometimes bass.
Virtual Cab/Speaker/Mic Settings
- Cab/Speaker: Celestion V30 (I use the Greenbacks for the 2nd guitar track in the full mix)
- Mic: Shure SM57 mic sim
Notes: I mentioned recording two rhythm guitar tracks in the video. I like to use a slightly different tone for that 2nd guitar track. All I did here is use a different cabinet for my 2nd guitar track, which is listed above.
For microphone placement, I had the mic close to the grill (for both) and placed it just outside the edge of the cone.
Virtual Amp Effects
- Noise Gate Sim
- Screamer Sim
Notes: As amp sims are designed to function like real amplifiers, you will more than likely need a noise gate with high gain amp sims (most plugin suites come with one). And you may also need an overdrive sim to ‘clean up’ your metal tone.
I don’t use a lot of post effects, or effects going through the effects loop, for my rhythm tones. If any, I’ll add a touch of reverb. For leads, I’ll use some delay and other effects if the solo calls for it. But for rhythms, less or more when it comes to effects if you want that tight sound and tone.
Remember, with amp sims, you can always change the effects and settings.
Metal Tone Settings Using a Real Tube Amp (with a Mic)
Now let’s talk about dialing in metal tones using a real amp. No matter how far technology has come (or how far it goes) there will always be guitar players who would rather use a real tube amp for their tones.
For this example, I’m using my EVH 5150 III 50 watt head with EL34 tubes. I also have the matching 2×12 cabinet and a good ole trusted Shure SM57 mic.
Although my settings may shift a little from amp to amp, the ones you’ll see below for the EVH 5150 III amp are pretty standard. For example, I used similar settings when recently playing through the Orange Rockerverb amp.
Real (Tube) Amp Settings for Metal
- Amp Sim: EVH 5150 III EL34 50 watt head
- Channel: Red channel
- Bass: 5.5
- Mid: 3.7
- Treble: 6.5
- Presence: 5.5
- Gain: 7
Notes: As I’m recording at a lower volume (around 1.5), I have my bass slightly boosted and my gain is a little higher than it would be if I were recording at a higher volume.
Remember my note on my presence setting for the amp sim? I had the presence cut to 4 but here with my real amp, it’s boosted. This goes back to my preferred presence setting being dependent on the amp that I’m playing through. For this particular amp, I get a better sound and tone with a slight boost in presence.
Just like with amp sims, I tend to give my lead tones a boost in gain, bass, and mids. That mid-boost can help your guitar solos naturally sit above the mix.
Cabinet and Mic Placement
- Cab/Speaker: EVH (EL34-matching) 2×12 cabinet
- Mic: Shure SM57
Notes: As I mentioned earlier, I prefer having a slight difference in tone for my 2nd guitar track. So in this case, I just adjusted the mic placement for that 2nd guitar track. Just that little difference gives you a different tone that will blend well with the 1st guitar, and bring more ‘life’ to your overall mix.
Both mic placements were close to the grill. For the 1st track, the mic was just outside of the edge of the cone. For the 2nd track, I moved the mic further from the cone (centered between the cone and the edge of the speaker, as you can see in the images above).
- Noise Gate
Notes: The only effect I used, in this case, was a noise gate, the MXR Smartgate. Many classic high gain amps require an overdrive pedal for a cleaner and tighter sound. But I find that the EVH 5150 III red channel does not need any help (I do use an extra boost for the EVH blue channel, which is why you see that MXR Classic Distortion pedal in the image above).
I also did not use any effects in the effects loop. When recording a real amp, I try to limit the number of effects used because once you record that track, you can’t modify those effects like you can with plugins. So it’s best to record as dry as possible and you can rely on plugins for effects such as reverbs and delays.
This is not to say that you can’t use hardware effects (oftentimes I find that real pedals sound better than plugins). But again, you’re taking that risk of not being able to make those last-minute changes and having to re-record the track over again if you’re not happy with the outcome.
This can be an issue if you have limited studio time. If you’re recording at home and have the time, I’d recommend experimenting with real pedals and effects with your amp.
I also used the compressor and EQ stock plugins as post-effects for these guitar tracks recorded with a real amp. This helps smooth out those tracks.
As promised earlier, I’m going to share my recording process with you below. We’ll start with the recording gear that I used both hardware and software:
- iMac (late-2013, recorded this in 2021 so it’s soon time for an upgrade)
- Presonus Quantum 2 audio interface
- Presonus Studio One Pro DAW
- Toontrack Superior Drummer (I believe in the video I stated EZ Drummer; both would work for what I did here)
- Toontrack Metal Machine and Death Metal add-ons/packs
- Studio Devil Bass Amp Pro plugin
- Positive Grid BIAS Amp 2 and FX 2 for the guitars recorded with amp sims
- EVH 5150 III EL34 50 watt head with matching 2×12 cabinet for guitars recorded with a real amp
- Shure SM57 mic
- MXR Smartgate
- Studio One Pro compressor and EQ stock plugins for real amp tracks
- LTD M-1000 Deluxe guitar
- LTD D5 bass
***If you’d like a deeper dive into my personal home studio setup, check out this post: Home Recording Studio Setup for Metal Guitarists
Recording Metal Guitars
I personally record two rhythm guitar tracks for metal, or really any genre. And I typically hard-pan each of those tracks. This gives you that full, stereo effect in the mix. And it just sounds better, overall.
It’s also a good idea to have a slight variance in the tone of your 2nd guitar track. In my opinion, this gives your mix more of an organic and lively sound.
You could try using a different mic or cabinet for that 2nd guitar. Or something as simple as changing the mic placement will do the trick.
You may not want a completely different tone (although that’s something that you can test).
It goes without saying that recording guitars with a real amp are more challenging. If you’d like to learn more about that, check out this post: Complete Guide to Recording Metal Guitars with a Real Amp
Recording Basics for Beginners
This section is mainly for beginners who are just starting to record guitars. First, let’s go over the basic recording setup that you need:
- Computer: Make sure that your computer has the minimal (preferably more) requirements to run your recording software.
- DAW (digital audio workstation, aka recording software): This will allow you to record, mix, and render your music.
- Audio interface: This is the device that you’ll plug your guitar or mic into and this will connect to your computer, allowing you to record.
- Output source: Studio monitors are ideal, and it’s also good to have studio-quality headphones (you’ll need headphones for recording a real amp).
***If you’re new to recording and/or on a budget, check out my post on the Metal Mastermind blog: Beginner’s Home Recording Studio Setup for Musicians on a Budget
Final Notes About My Metal Amp Tones
If there’s one thing that stands out with my metal tone settings is that there’s nothing special or crazy going on with the EQ or anything. This is the case for both amp sims and using a real amp.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about this but if you find yourself struggling to get a good metal tone, I recommend starting with your EQ settings (including your gain and presence) up the middle. This will give you the true sound and nature of that amp. From there, you can make small adjustments to each setting one at a time.
Or start with my settings as that may get you closer to a metal tone that you like. But remember to make small adjustments to one thing at a time.
This takes a little extra patience but can save you a lot of frustration in the long run as opposed to changing all of your EQ settings each time.
I hope this helps you and happy metal tone hunting!
Keep it Metal,
NEXT: Be sure to check out my online guitar courses: