Metal tones may seem static sometimes, but listen closer and you’ll realize it’s not all the same old distortion. Revered metal bands and their guitar players have specific ways to get their specific sounds. Be it a certain type of pickup, an important pedal in their chain, or the right amplifier, each of these guitarists has a method to achieve their sonic character. If you want to emulate some of their greatness, check out these explanations of each band’s guitar rig(s).

Nu-metal and Alternative metal are vague terms. In the mid-to-late ’90s, some heavy bands started to move in a “new” direction. The music became more variable, diverse in its sonic nature, and atmospheric, often using significantly down-tuned 7-string guitars. The unique vocal style oscillates between beautiful droning cleans, rough growls, and cathartic screams.

While alternative or nu-metal bands don’t all fit into the same box neatly, there are some common themes in their sounds.

Deftones

The Deftones have an incredible vibe—meticulous, pulsating, and bottom-heavy. The ethereal vocal stylings of Chino Moreno float perfectly over the deviously down-tuned, excessively-stringed guitar musings of Stephen Carpenter.

Stephen defines the Deftones sound with 7 and 8-string guitars. He plays exclusively ESPs and has multiple signature models with the company, including double cutaways like the ESP LTD SC-608B and the T-style ESP LTD SCT-607B. He prefers his guitars with just a bridge and middle pickup, though his ESP LTD SC-20 has a neck pickup as well. His signature guitars were once outfitted with EMG pickups, but now feature Fishman Fluence SRC signatures.

Stephen started out with a pretty well-stocked analog pedalboard for his live rig, built by Bob Bradshaw. He had a good spread of MXR effects on there, which added some extra dimensions live. The rig was run through dual EL34 100 Marshall power amps and went parallel into a laptop with Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3. He used a Marshall 4 x 12 speaker cab and a subwoofer.

In recent times, Stephen’s live rig moved to using just a MIDI controller and expression pedals, rigged with Axe Effects. Everything he does live now comes from that.

Bottom Line: It’s not going to be easy to replicate Stephen Carpenter’s tone precisely since he varies string amounts, tunings, and effects a lot on different albums and tracks. You’ll want to pick up one of his many signature models and then find a powerful digital amp/modeler like a Line 6 Helix pedal/rackmount, or Hotone Ampero, which can come up with Deftone-ish sounds.

 

Korn

Between Brian “Head” Welch and James “Munky” Shaffer, Korn have a style that has always stuck out.

Munky’s been playing 7-string guitars for his whole career. Often he plays tuned down a step, with the 7th string going to A and the 6th going down to D, etc. He began with an Ibanez Universe in 1990, which he used on the first two Korn records. Though repaired numerous times, he was still bringing that guitar on tour over 20 years later. At present, Munky tours with a number of his signature and custom Ibanez models, including the Ibanez Apex200.

On stage, Munky uses tube amps and plenty of analog pedals. His signal chain starts with an XP100 Whammy and then goes to a Dunlop Bass Wah pedal. After that there’s an MXR Phase 90, an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone which creates the tone for “Freak on a Leash,” and a Boss Metal Zone for a lo-fi sound. He also uses a Soul Vibe, Boss Delay and Reverb pedals, and bi-mode chorus in his chain, as well as a DD-3 and MXR Talk Box. During the early 2010s, when the band worked with Skrillex, he incorporated an EHX Micro Synth and whammy pedal to fit in with that style.

More recently, Munky’s pedalboard has included an H9 Eventide, as well as a Bit Mangler with built-in gate. He’s also added an MXR Carbon Copy and Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy analog tape echo. Munky’s signal is split into clean and dirty, and run into dual 150-Watt Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifiers. As of late, he’s added a Kemper to his live rig, but said he only likes to use it live for clean sounds.

Head started playing Ibanez around age 12. He used Ibanez exclusively until very recently. Now, he has a signature model with ESP – the ESP LTD Brian “Head” Welch SH-7 Evertune 7-String.

Head’s pedalboard is quite a bit simpler than Munky’s. He also includes an XP100 Whammy, then a Uni-vibe, Boss CE-5 Chorus, Noise Suppressor, and Digital Reverb pedals. His signal splits to dirty and clean Mesa Triple Rectifier heads, just like Munky’s. He also sometimes plays through an Orange MKIII for his clean sound when overseas.

When tracking in the studio, the two Korn guitar players try a bunch of guitars, find the one that sounds the best and use that to track the whole album. Munky has said that in the studio he’ll try a number of different amplifiers, Bogner and Marshall amongst them.

Bottom Line: To sound like either of the guys in Korn, you should probably go with an Ibanez 7-string. You could also opt for one of Head’s newer ESP signature models. While it would be pretty tough to replicate the signal chain that Munky has, the one Head uses is pretty straight-forward. More importantly, they both play through Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier amps, so you’ll definitely want one of those.

 

Slipknot

With 9 members, Slipknot has so much going on, you don’t always know what sounds are coming from a guitar. But like most metal bands, the underpinning of these incredible avant-garde maestros is the dual guitar work of Mick Thomson and Jim Root, who often tune down to A, B, or C#.

On the first record, Mick played a custom Jackson V with EMGs. He used a Rocktron Piranha into a Mesa Boogie 295 power amp, with Carbon cabinets. He also had a graphic EQ in the loop. By the second record, he got his hands on a VHT PittBull Ultra Lead and a Marshall JMP1.

Sometime during the albums which followed Iowa, Mick got his Ibanez MTM signature, featuring Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups. He also got his first Rivera KR7 signature head. Most recently, Mick has become a Jackson artist. He has a Jackson Pro Series Signature Mick Thomson Soloist SL2 loaded with his signature Seymour Duncan Blackouts.  He continues to use the Rivera KR7 amp with a Rivera RockCrusher Recording 11-band EQ. Mick also uses a Rivera 4×12, as well as a Rivera Silent Sister ISO cab. Live he incorporates a few pedals, which have changed over the years, but seems to always include an intense fuzz pedal. Mick uses D’Addario strings and Dunlop picks.

Jim Root started out with a Jackson SL2 and played through a Laney Pro Tube lead. On Iowa, he used a B.C. Rich which Mick had. Amp wise, Jim moved up to a Rivera with a Diezel Herbert and Rivera Knucklehead Reverb. He also experimented with a Bogner at some point. Jim then became a Fender artist, getting a bunch of excellent guitars like the Jim Root Telecaster, Jim Root Jazzmaster,  and a signature Stratocaster. All his signature Fender models have mahogany bodies with maple necks, ebony fretboards and dual EMG humbuckers.

Jim’s pedalboard has a Boss NS-2, MXR Carbon Copy, MXR Auto Q, Maxon Filter and Phaser, EHX Holy Grail reverb, and POG. He runs into an Orange Rockerverb. He uses Dunlop strings and a variety of Dunlop picks, including his custom design.

Bottom Line: Slipknot’s frenetic sound can’t be nailed down easily. Mick and Jim definitely diverge in what they play and how they approach their tone.

For Mick, you can use a model like his previous signature guitar—the Ibanez MTM, or try out his newer Jackson Soloist model. As long as the axe has his signature Seymour Duncan Blackouts, you should be on par. You’ll also want to use a Rivera KR7 signature amp and a very strong fuzz pedal for good measure.

To obtain Jim Root’s tone, Fender gives you a number of great signature models to choose from. While you could get any Tele or Jazzmaster and swap in some EMGs, the wood and build of Jim’s signature models does differ from their standard counterparts. Jim seems committed to Orange Rockerverbs, so one of those amps, perhaps accompanied by pedalboard standards like delay, reverb, and phaser, should get you damn close to #4’s sound.

 

It’s Not So “Nu” Anymore, but it’s Still Metal

These guys may have begun their rise to prominence in the ’90s and early ’00s, but they’re all still rocking hard today. The sounds of these bands which was once so different, has become a part of the lexicon of metal music. With the details of each of these rigs, you’ll be able to find your own sound, and maybe even create the next genre of metal— New Alternative Nu Metal.

You can check out everything else we have to offer metal heads at SamAsh.com.

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Anthony "Chio" Chiofalo has been entranced by music since the day he was born. As a young kid, he was inspired by the variety of artists he heard on the radio. In his early teens, he began delving into alternative rock and heavy metal. At age 13, he discovered an old acoustic guitar in his grandparents' basement and became enamored with emulating the music he loved. Since then, Anthony's been playing in bands, writing songs, and continuously searching for new experiences as a musician. Shortly after releasing his first solo EP Unlearned Lessons in August 2018, he joined the Sam Ash team as a copywriter, happily engaging in both his passions for music and writing, simultaneously. You can hear Anthony's music or read his personal blog posts at chiosound.com.