Can You Play Metal on a Stratocaster? Things to Know

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Stratocasters are some of the best-known guitars in the world. Even if someone doesn’t know the name, they’ll recognize the iconic shape. This is because many influential guitarists have used them. However, not many metal musicians use Strats compared to rock or pop musicians. This can make you think: can you play metal on a Stratocaster? This article will examine this question and study some advantages and disadvantages of using a Strat for heavier genres.

Can You Play Metal on a Stratocaster?

Yes, Stratocasters can be used for any genre, even metal. However, the build and the components aren’t the best choices for playing heavier music. They tend to have a thinner sound which doesn’t work as well for metal as for rock. You can, however, modify your Strat to make it a great metal guitar.

The most important characteristics of a guitar used for playing metal are:

  • Heavier tone (more lows and mids)
  • High-output pickups
  • Playability

Next, we’ll see which of these characteristics a Stratocaster does and doesn’t have. This way, we can have a deeper understanding of why a Strat isn’t the best choice for metal and what you can do to make it fit the genre better.

What Are Some Disadvantages of Using a Strat for Metal?

There are several disadvantages to using a Stratocaster for metal. These include susceptibility to feedback, jangly tones, low bass response, and low output. These issues are caused by the pickups and wood used in the building stage. Let’s see why each of these issues makes Strats bad for metal.

Pickups

Stratocasters are generally built with single-coil pickups. These kinds of pickups have a low output and poor bass response. They focus mostly on the high-mid frequencies, giving Strats that signature jangly tone.

Low-output pickups allow for less distortion than high-output pickups like active humbuckers. Unfortunately, this means that a Strat won’t be able to achieve the gritty tones that are generally associated with metal.

Single-coil pickups also have a poor bass response. Metal tones tend to be heavy on the bass, allowing for wall-of-sound style chords and chunky riffs. A Stratocaster’s pickups can’t live up to this bass level without modifications or extra pedals and effects.

Furthermore, the higher the gain on a Strat, the more susceptible it is to feedback. Metal guitarists usually set their amp’s gain level very high to create heavy distortion. This high gain will cause humming and feedback on a Stratocaster.

Wood

The choice of wood used for making a guitar has a big influence on the overall sound. Stratocasters tend to be built using alder and maple tone woods, which are quite dense. However, the denser the wood, the less sustain the guitar will have. The lack of sustain further contributes to this guitar’s poor bass response and thin sound. 

What Are Some Advantages of Using a Strat for Metal?

Despite some serious disadvantages to using a Stratocaster for playing metal, there are advantages that make these guitars excellent for this genre. These include great playability and an integrated tremolo arm.

Playability

There are various reasons why Stratocasters are so easy to play, making them a great choice for both beginners and advanced players. One is the double-cutaway body. This gives you access to the higher frets on the lower and higher strings. This better access is great for both solos and riffs played closer to the body.

The guitar’s contour also makes it a great choice for both practicing and playing live. It fits well to the shape of your leg when you’re sitting down, which most guitarists do when doing exercises and composing. It’s also relatively light, so you aren’t too strained when playing standing up.

Another good feature of the Stratocaster is that it has a thin neck. Thinner necks are easier to play quickly, which many metal guitarists do when playing fast riffs and solos.

Tremolo Arm

Using the tremolo arm on metal songs is very common as it adds a great effect to solos. Stratocasters are usually built with bridges that can incorporate a tremolo arm. It can give the necessary effect despite not being as flexible as a Floyd Rose bridge. And, as long as you get a well-built Strat with good strings, you won’t have any issues with detuning.

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Tips for Using a Stratocaster for Metal

Now that we’ve seen some advantages and disadvantages of using a Stratocaster to play metal, we can dive into some ways to minimize the effect of the negative characteristics. For example:

  • Pickup selection
  • Tone-shaping on your amp
  • Adding effects

Pickup Selection

Stratocasters are usually built with three pickups: one by the bridge, one by the neck, and another in the middle. You will then have a 3- or 5-way selector to choose between the three pickups or blend two together.

If you select the bridge pickup, you’ll notice that it is very bright and jangly, which can be great for rock and country. On the other hand, the neck pickup has the best bass response, which is why we recommend it for metal. The middle pickup has more treble than the neck pickup, but it can be a good choice to add some excitement to your tone.

You can use the neck pickup by moving the selector to the position closest to the neck. The middle position points straight up. If you have a 5-way selector, you blend the two tones by placing the toggle between the neck and middle positions.

Amp Tone-Shaping

Amps come with tone-shaping capabilities that allow you to get the best sound from them. We’ve seen that a Strat’s tone is focused on the higher frequencies. So removing some treble and adding some bass and mids on your amp can greatly affect your overall tone.

Some amps only have one knob that includes the entire range from bass to treble. You will need to turn it to the left to reduce the treble and increase the bass for a better metal sound.

There’s also the case where your amp has knobs for contour and presence. The contour knob is for scooping out mids, giving you more clarity on some guitars. However, it also removes a lot of the weight of the signal. Therefore, you should turn the contour down for metal with a Strat. In terms of presence, you’ll also want to turn it down, as this boosts the high-end.

No matter which knobs you have for shaping the tone of your amp, remember that you’ll want to focus on reducing the treble and increasing the bass and mids.

Adding Effects

There are various effects pedals that you can add to your rig for a heavier, metal sound. Some of the most important are:

  • EQ
  • Distortion
  • Compressor
  • Gate

An EQ pedal can be used to achieve what we studied in the last section: removing highs and adding lows and mids. If you feel that you aren’t getting a heavy enough sound from your amp or want to leave the EQ knobs at levels that work better for clean tones, an EQ pedal can do the job for your metal sound.

A good distortion pedal can add the heaviness you want to your guitar sound by adding gain and focusing on the bass and mids. You can maintain a lot of clarity despite adding lower frequencies with a distortion pedal, as it will also add harmonics to the mids and highs.

Using a compressor can also help you achieve some extra sustain. We saw that the single-coil pickups and dense woods used on Strats don’t work well for sustain, so compressing your signal before the amp can add it. Distortion pedals also do this, but if you need an extra boost, a compressor can get your tone there.

Lastly, a gate pedal can help you control the feedback and humming that Stratocasters are prone to. You can set it up so that any unwanted noise that appears when you’re not playing is reduced.

Possible Modifications

You may have seen some well-known metal guitarists using Stratocasters and wondered why your guitar doesn’t have the same sound. This is probably because those guitarists have modified their guitars to suit the genre they’re playing. So let’s look at some modifications that you can make to make your Strat the perfect ax for metal.

Change the Pickups

We’ve seen that single-coil pickups are one of the biggest problems on Stratocasters as they have a thin sound and are subject to humming. Guitars designed for metal usually have at least one humbucker to give them a fatter sound and more control over unwanted noise.

You can also opt for specialized single-coil pickups which are designed to add sustain, have a better bass response, and reduce noise. There are only a few of them, but they are becoming more common. EMG and DiMarzio are good companies to look into for these types of pickups.

Add a Floyd Rose Bridge

We mentioned before that the bridge and tremolo arm on a Strat work perfectly to add variation to your sound without causing tuning problems. However, if you want to try some old-school dive bombs with your trem, a Floyd Rose bridge is the best choice.

Summary

In this article, we’ve studied the characteristics of classic Stratocasters and seen why some of them are great for metal and others aren’t. The low bass response, regular hum and feedback, lack of sustain, and thin sound don’t suit the metal genre. However, the neck, body contour, weight, and tremolo arm can work well for heavier music.

By talking about these advantages and disadvantages, we hope that we can help you figure out if you want a Stratocaster to play metal, if you want to modify one for the best results, or if you want to avoid them altogether.

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