You’re into metal and want to buy a Strat, or you already have one and want to modify it to play metal. Today, we’ll answer the question, “Can You Play Metal on a Stratocaster?”
Invented in 1954 by Leo Fender and Freddie Tavares, the Fender Stratocaster is a popular type of electric guitar. The Stratocaster has been in production at Fender since 1954. To achieve a sense of equilibrium, the top of this guitar has been expanded into a horn form. As a result, it’s one of the most frequently imitated electric guitar designs with the Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG, and Fender Telecaster.
Terms like “Stratocaster” and “Strat” are registered trademarks of Fender. Stratocaster clones made by other companies are called S-Type or ST-type guitars. Because of its “dutiful” style of transferring sounds, this guitar model has made waves over time, prompting the debate of whether or not it is appropriate for the metal genre.
In what follows, we’ll take a technical look at what advantages a Strat can bring to your musical journey, how this guitar has influenced what’s on the market today, what modifications you can make to the instrument to make it suitable for metal, but most of all, why it doesn’t matter what instrument you have, and what real investment you can bring to your musical journey.
Can You Play Metal on Stratocaster?
You can rock out on a Stratocaster. Specifically, any guitar is suitable for metal music. Musicians think their instruments will improve their playing and believe the instrument adds value to their music. However, to examine the instrument’s adaptability, we must remember that tone is in the fingers.
The adage “Tone is in the fingers” suggests that no matter the gear a player uses, what ultimately defines the quality of the sound is how talented the guitarist is. A simplification of the idea is that the player’s skill has a greater impact on tone than equipment.
Certainly, Stratocasters were not designed for metal per se because at the time they were released, there was no such music being played, which means that the makers had no reason to adapt the instrument to the needs, but leaving aside the technical details that we will discuss, which distinguish the basic characteristics of a Strat from what ”metal” guitars must have, we must remember that any instrument can offer something valuable to your music.
Stratocaster’s Distinct Qualities
It’s, therefore, not surprising that the Stratocaster is one of the most frequently imitated guitars. However, you can still notice Leo Fender’s signature double-cutaway, three-pickup configuration on several contemporary guitars. Considering this, it’s clear that the Fender Stratocaster is the guitar model that has had the greatest influence on contemporary music.
- Tuning Stability
Numerous modern guitars include locking tuners and other mechanisms that are meant to keep the instrument in tune no matter what. Still, every Stratocaster does it with just the basics. The instrument’s design, materials, and hardware are the secret, rather than any gimmicky extras that would drive the price.
In this approach, you can get the same effects that we see on those high-end instruments with a piece of much simpler and cheaper equipment. So use that whammy bar to your advantage without worrying about damaging your Strat’s tuning.
It’s common knowledge that the guitar has stayed the same in form or function since the ’50s. This is very remarkable, and it stands to reason. Strat is a very playable and comfortable guitar because of its double-cutaway construction and other features.
Playing at higher frets feels almost identical to playing at lower frets because of the guitar’s ergonomic design. You may adjust the volume and tone controls without taking your hand off the strings, and the guitar’s body design makes picking comfortable.
Each model in a given series of Stratocasters will look, feel, and sound remarkably similar. And if there are any manufacturing flaws, you can exchange it for a different guitar and still end up with a decent instrument. In addition, the organization’s reliability has earned it a solid reputation.
However, to replicate the experience of playing a friend’s Strat, you must place an online order. This is still unusual, especially among large corporations, despite the availability of modern tools and techniques.
Guitarists are indeed aesthetic people. Aesthetics are important, even though tone and performance are what most guitarists care about. Also, we can acknowledge that Stratocasters are among the most aesthetically pleasing guitar models.
Because it exists in various color combinations and surface treatments, you can use it in almost any interior design scheme. Furthermore, the aesthetics are as adaptable to various musical styles as its sound.
Advantages of Stratocaster for Metal
Stratocasters have slim necks compared to a Telecaster or Les Paul. The Strat’s neck may not be as thin as that of a shred-specific Ibanez or Jackson, but it’s still quite fast. Because of this, playing fast riffs, navigating the fretboard, and shredding are all extremely simple tasks.
A lightweight body isn’t great for sustaining notes on a Strat, but it helps in other areas. Most players report feeling at ease while playing on a Strat. Their double cutaway design and ergonomically friendly body contours make it a breeze to reach the highest frets, making them a popular choice among guitarists.
Playability is crucial when playing the technically challenging riffs and solos typical of metal. The Strat’s ergonomic build is a major asset in this regard.
This guitar is one of the few to benefit from guitar-specific packages that allow you to modify it yet make a huge impact on the guitar. The developers provided pre-assembled guitar pickguards, complete with pickups and electronics. The fact that any store has custom-made replacement parts for your guitar is an added plus if something breaks.
We all know that a guitar’s midrange, especially its high-end characteristics, determines where it ends up in the final mix. Because of its lightweight and very little wood compared to other alternatives, this guitar has a limited amount of sustain, but it has some interesting, warm, and articulate cleans.
On the distortion side, we can state that the Strat succeeds without modifications if you’re a guitarist who likes solos, but if you need extra, you need to modify the instrument.
- Tremolo Bar
Since the tremolo bar allows for a particularly impressive solo effect, it is frequently used in metal music. Typically, a tremolo arm is incorporated into the bridge of a Stratocaster. Despite its lack of flexibility compared to a Floyd Rose bridge, it can still produce the desired effect. In addition, you won’t have to worry about detuning if you invest in a high-quality Strat and strings.
Disavantages of Stratocaster for Metal
- Tone Issues
When used with single coils, the distortion effect may not be as desirable as you hoped. As a result, you can expect a “thinner” sound, perhaps even a little “ruthless,” to your ears. The high-frequency enhancements found in many electric guitars explain why.
These humbuckers have a double-coil design, setting them apart from their single-coil siblings. Nonetheless, not all hope is gone. Single-coil pickups still allow you to create interesting distortions, which can be used for various musical purposes, including playing fantastic single-note solos and riffs.
Hum refers to the buzzing or humming noise that occurs when a guitar is not being played, which can be annoying to both the player and the audience. Increasing the distortion and master volume also brings out the guitar hum.
While single coils are thinner, their tone is enhanced by adding overdrive and a touch of distortion. However, the strong amplitude and distortion of typical metal tones render them ineffective in canceling the hum. Remember that a noise gate can eliminate humming at the expense of some subtle tonal aspects. It is important to note that electronic problems and unshielded electronics inside the guitar might lead to hum troubles.
Humbuckers can also experience feedback, but single coils are notorious for being the most susceptible due to a large amount of distortion they introduce to the tone when feedback. If you’re having feedback problems, try moving further away from the amp or using a noise gate pedal again.
Guitar sustain is determined by the total amount of wood used and the wood species. Due to the density of the Maple or Alder used to construct most Stratocasters, the instruments suffer greatly from a lack of sustain. Although this is seen as a disadvantage by many, it is rather easy to fix and can even benefit for who know how to use this “issue” to good use.
How to Mod a Strat for Metal
Several ready-made solutions are available on the market that is both very functional and simple to install on your guitar; however, if you want to add flair to your guitar, consider making some of the following adjustments.
Add Humbuckers Pickups
When fitted with ‘humbuckers’ in the bridge position, any guitar may be suited to perform any metal. A humbucker is a type of guitar pickup with an extra coil whose coil direction and magnet orientation are reversed to cancel out noise and improve saturation and high gain.
These pickups are perfect for metal because for a heavier sound, higher distortion handling, ‘canceling hum,’ and a better fit for a metal sound combined with highly distorted and saturated tones, humbuckers (whether active or passive) is the way to go. When compared to the “rich” and “bright” tone of a stock Stratocaster’s single coil pickups, the humbuckers will provide a “darker sound.”
- Active Humbuckers
Active pickups are typically the first choice for metal guitars, particularly EMG pickups. The 81 in the bride and the 85 in the neck are a classic pairing. The ‘active’ pickups’ high output means lots of gain for distorted overdrive. In addition to having the quietest pickup in terms of hum and feedback, they also provide the best string clarity when used in conjunction with high-gain saturated notes, eliminating a ‘muddy’ and ‘loose’ tone. This is why they are so well-liked among rock and metal guitarists. However, active pickups aren’t ideal for bright, clean tones since they lack “dynamics” and “clarity,” They need a 9V battery and a powered preamp to function. In addition, the sterile label is often applied to their tone, which is another common complaint.
- Passive Humbuckers
Since they offer a wide range of volumes, passive humbuckers are a great choice for musicians that need a flexible tone. Due to their frequency response, they excel in various musical contexts, from pristine, crunching tones to high-gain metal mayhem.
They lack the high-gain distortion clarity and definition of active pickups but more than makeup for it in a wide range of usability. Not only are they useful, but they also don’t need a 9V battery. As a result, passive pickups are the best option for various musical styles, from acoustic to electric and from classical to heavy metal.
- Hot Rails
A Hot Rail pickup is a humbucker that has been shrunk down to single-coil dimensions. Hot Rails can be either “active” or “passive,” allowing them to fit snugly into a single-coil body cavity.
Block the Tremolo Bar
You can use steel trem blocks to prevent the tremolo bar from vibrating, allowing you to play your Stratocaster in a lower tuning if you’re not a lover of the whammy effect.
Fender’s first tone boosters were 10oz cold rolled steel blocks with shallow holes for the ball ends, and these are still widely considered among the best available. However, they now offer a Pure Vintage variety of the product. If you want to know if the block you’re looking at is made of steel, all you need is a magnet. The vintage-spec blocks from Callaham are great but somewhat pricey in the UK.
Wudtone offers UK equivalents, while Kevin Hurley offers his blocks for sale with tight and broad spacing options. You should expect improved clarity, separation, and longevity with either of these. Removing the bridge plate and scraping off any paint you may have put on the top of the block is a good idea, even if you have no plans to replace the unit.
Beat The Buzz
Buzzing and humming are common on Stratocasters, as in other single-coil pickup guitars. There are, thankfully, ways to make things less noisy. Putting an RWRP pickup in the middle is the simplest option; however, it will only eliminate hum in the second and fourth settings.
Copper foil is often recommended for lining pickup and control routes. You can purchase sticky-backed copper from Allparts; however, the glue is non-conductive; therefore, soldering is required for all connections. Some Suhr guitars contain dummy coils, and many professional players utilize them; remove the bar magnet from the underside of a cheap pickup to make your dummy coil.
Change the Tuners
There is a sound difference between different tuners; heavier tuners like those made by Grover will offer you greater sustain and a louder, more powerful primary tone. On the other hand, using vintage Kluson tuners will give your Strat a more open and transparent sound with a quicker attack.
Add a Floyd Rose
A Floyd Rose system may be the way to go if you want to play Dive Boms or other unusual articulations in your song but are dissatisfied with the options your Stratocaster provides. It’s important to remember that this comprehensive technique requires extra room on your guitar, possibly necessitating you extend the bridge hole and the nut slot.
This procedure is only sometimes advised, as it is extremely intricate and can alter the quality of the guitar quite a bit, but it is certainly achievable if performed by a professional luthier.
Tips on Using a Strat for Metal
The flexibility of this instrument in the metal genre is something we discussed, and there may be some limitations. You probably already have the tools necessary to address these issues, such as adjusting the guitar’s tone with an effective equalizer to address the instrument’s bass issues. Let’s look into what adjustments can be made to address these deficiencies.
Choosing the right pickups is a crucial first step in preparing a Strat for metal. The three pickups on a Strat are located at the instrument’s bridge, neck, and midsection. The tone is drastically altered when these pickups are moved. The pickup selector allows for easy tonal adjustments with the flip of a switch. The treble frequencies, rather than the bass, are prioritized by bridge pickups, making them sound brighter and crisper.
Because of its focus on the bass frequencies rather than the treble, neck pickups produce a smoother, more relaxed tone. Remember that Strats have a bright and piercing sound, while a deeper tone is preferable for metal. The middle or neck pickup is a more straightforward alternative to the bridge pickup.
Change to the middle pickup if you think the neck is too quiet, or use both pickups together. Strats contain a 5-way pickup selector that lets you toggle between various combinations of pickups; with metal, however, positions 3, 4, and 5 are your best bet.
Shape You Amp
The Strat’s single coils produce a relatively muted low- and midrange and an enhanced high-end. Because of this, the tone is bright but lacks depth. You can adjust the amp settings to counteract this. If your amplifier has separate controls for bass, midrange, and treble, you should increase the bass and midrange and decrease the treble.
Refrain from crushing it up too much, or it’ll go boomy; experiment with several levels till you discover what works best. But some amplifiers only have a single tone or EQ knob for everything.
Turning this control counterclockwise will allow you to increase the bass and decrease the treble. Additional features, like presence and contour, can be found on some amplifiers. Turning down the presence will reduce the tone’s sharpness and brightness like turning down the treble setting would. The contour knob functions similarly to the mids but inverts the sound.
Use a Distortion Pedal
It may be time to invest in a distortion pedal if you need help getting a satisfyingly distorted sound from your Strat. Using a distortion pedal, you can improve the quality and ease of control over your gain source. In addition, using a distortion pedal will mitigate your tone’s lack of definition and thickness.
Add More Sustain
You can get more sustain by using a compressor. Since Strats’ single-coil pickups and dense woods aren’t great for sustain, reducing your signal’s volume before it reaches the amp improves the instrument’s playability. A distortion pedal can also achieve this, but a compressor is useful for achieving a more dramatic effect.
Best Stratocasters for Metal
Even if above we have shown some ideas that you can bring to your instrument, below, we will give you some previously constructed solutions that can be a source of inspiration for how you can change your current guitar and why not your new guitar.
Tom Morello Strat
This guitar was co-designed by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave with Fender. Taking inspiration from his legendary “Soul Power” guitar. Morello is well-known for his skills as a rhythm guitarist, but he is also a fantastic lead musician and master of scratch effects. His signature Stratocaster is a great representation of how well Fender guitars work in metal.
This guitar is a Stratocaster and shares the same maple neck, alder body, and rosewood fretboard as any other Stratocaster. In addition, this electric guitar has a Floyd Rose Trem, which is great because it doesn’t detune the guitar as much as other tremolos.
This electric guitar features a pickup setup that is just wild. They installed a Seymour Duncan Hot Rail pickup next to the bridge to achieve the heaviest chugging possible. Metal guitarists may also achieve high-gain lead tones this way. In addition to the HSS, you will receive two Duncan single coils.
Fender Player Series Strat
The Series HSS may not look like much, yet it can play a wide variety of metal. This instrument has been tried and tested by metal bands like Iron Maiden. It may be used in various situations and holds up reasonably well under intense volume and gain. This Fender is perfect for the metal guitarist. It looks and sounds like any other classic Fender guitar.
The guitar’s alder body is paired with a stunning maple neck. A Pau Ferro fretboard lies on top of the neck, featuring 22 frets with dots to indicate their locations.
Pickup-wise, this Strat features three single coil pickups, making it perfect for playing clean riffs. You can switch to the bridge position to eliminate the hum generated by the coils if your sound is too noisy. Moreover, the bridge is generally the finest place to chug through riffs. That’s a major factor in making it a top pick among metal guitarists.
Dave Murray Stratocaster
This Fender Stratocaster, also popularized by Iron Maiden, is a great option that shares certain characteristics with the HSS mentioned. It has a maple neck, a rosewood fretboard, 21 frets, and an alder wood body.
This electric guitar has three Seymour Duncan pickups: a Seymour Duncan JB Jr. in the body and Seymour Duncan Hot Rails in the bridge and neck positions. This Stratocaster’s tone controls include a volume knob, two tone knobs, and a five-position toggle. Also, it has a Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo.
You’ll have a flexible sound palette with a formal presentation. The guitar’s tone leans toward classic rock, but the combination of the JB Jr. and the Seymour Duncan pickups in the bridge and neck gives it plenty of metal force.
This article showed us how a tool that’s so tried and true it’s practically a classic can be updated to fit the needs of the modern world. We might examine the characteristics of a vintage Fender Stratocaster, the benefits of owning one, and why it is not best suited for metal.
While it’s true that mastering the technical parts of your instrument is essential, it’s also true that it will only magically make you a great player. Lately, with so many choices available, we tend to pursue what firms provide us, mistakenly believing that we are restricted to the capabilities of whatever tool we already possess.
Regarding this, the tone is most certainly created by the fingers. What matters is how you manipulate the instrument; you, not the tool itself, are the mechanism responsible for its quality.
Many skilled guitarists have demonstrated that low-quality instruments may produce results on par with high-end models. He didn’t need his amp, guitar, or effects pedals to make music. It’s important to remember that these are just instruments and not part of who we are.
A Fender’s versatility means you can use it to play any style of music. The conventional means they made have shattered all previous barriers in the last few decades. Musicians in the metal scene have swiftly acclimated to the instrument, which now appears to be used in virtually every genre subgenre.
Since then, guitars with this design—abbreviated “ST” and standing for a guitar with two cutaways in the body—have become ubiquitous. Because of the cutaway, you can easily play the notes beyond the 12th fret.
Especially in the realm of metal, this background is undeniably crucial. Owning a Fender Stratocaster is a sign of musical maturity, as this model has defined the look of modern metal guitars. This article has shown you how versatile and important this guitar is today.
Death metal enthusiast here. I am a Romanian musician and producer with over 13 years of experience in the music industry. I’ve experienced all types of Metal up until now, playing Melodic Death Metal, Brutal Death Metal, and Black Metal with different bands. Learning by doing is my base principle, which is why I’ve been drawn to sound design from an early age.