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).

Prog metal is not a new idea, but it seems to have gained a lot of traction in recent years. The defining aspect of prog revolves around how technical and abstract the music can get, without completely losing us.

Today’s prog metal heroes rely on incredible musical prowess to form long, winding, intricate compositions, which marry creativity and spontaneity with technical, heavy riffs. These bands and their savage guitarists are usually on the cutting edge of playing ability and gear technology, ready to embrace whatever helps them reach the next level of shred.

Dream Theater

Dream Theater’s revered guitar master, John Petrucci, is about as advanced a player as there is—so you know his rig is just as advanced. Beginning in the early ’90s, John’s progressive playing expanded what we know about metal music. His equipment and setup has continuously evolved to keep up with his musical proficiency.

John has had signature guitars for a quite a while, the majority of them made by Ernie Ball Music Man. Currently, he plays his EBMM Majesty guitars live, both six and seven strings. Formerly, he incorporated his JP-15 models into the live set. All of the Majesty’s are now neck-through, though they come with different tone woods and finish styles. These signature guitars are outfitted John’s DiMarzio signature pickups, as well as a piezo pickup, for highly advanced tonal capabilities.

As for amps, John has his own Mesa/Boogie. The MESA/Boogie JP-2C is a reissue MK IIC+ customized by John. His amp has three channels, two graphic EQs, and is completely MIDI switchable. There’s a “Shred” feature which shifts the mid-range and gain, tightening up the bottom end. On-stage he uses dual Mesa Recto 4 x 12 cabinets.

As of 2019, John has switched back to a wireless system. The wireless pack goes to an A/B box, which splits the signal and runs to two outputs, separating the piezo and magnetic pickups signals. His magnetic signal runs first to a rack-mounted Jim Dunlop JP95 Cry Baby Wah, which is connected to an onstage controller pedal. The signal then runs to a “pedal drawer” on the rack, which holds 6 pedals and 5 loops. The pedals include his signature TC Electronic Dreamscape modulation pedal, TC Electronic Hyper Gravity compressor, TC Electronic Helix Phaser, Keeley Red Dirt, a Boss-AW3 Wah and a Boss Super Octave OC-3.

John has a lot of pedals and some get swapped out for others from time to time. Not too long ago, John also included a Strymon Sunset, a TC Electronic Corona Chorus+, and a TC Electronic Viscous Vibe on his pedalboard. He’s also used a Tubescreamer.

He controls all of this with an on-stage MIDI pedalboard. John also makes use of Fractal Audio Axe-FX as a multi-effects processor. He runs time-based effects, such as chorus, delay, pitch-shifting, and reverb, through the Axe-FX.

As for picks, John has his own signature John Petrucci Dunlop pick which measures 2 mil thick, as well as a slightly thinner 1.5 mil John Petrucci Jazz III signature pick.

Bottom Line: Sounding like John Petrucci is far easier than playing like John Petrucci. The former is actually possible. His signature Ernie Ball Majesty would be the top choice, but if that’s not within your budget, Sterling Ball makes much more affordable signature model options like the Sterling by Music Man MAJ100 6-string and the 7-string MAJ170X.

Mesa/Boogie is John’s amp of choice. If you want to sound exactly like him, you can pick up his signature Mesa/Boogie amp. You can also rely on the staples of his pedalboard to give you Dream Theater-esque tone. Particularly, you’ll want his signature wah, his signature TC Electronic Dreamscape modulation pedal, and a solid overdrive like the Keely Red Dirt or an Ibanez Tubescreamer.


Periphery has done a lot for prog metal. Conceived of and driven by the inventive mind of Misha Mansoor, Periphery topped out at three stellar guitar players. Never afraid to step into the digital realm, these dudes have continued to push their playing the same way they’ve pushed their gear tech.

Misha Mansoor has used Jackson for a good few years now. He started early on with Jackson Custom 6 and 7-string models. They were stocked with his Bare Knuckle Juggernaut pickups or Bare Knuckle signature Ragnarok pickups. He later had some Jackson signature models made for production, including the Jackson Pro Series Signature Misha Mansoor Juggernaut HT6QM and Jackson Pro Series Signature Misha Mansoor Juggernaut HT7 7-String. On all his guitar’s, Misha is a fan of D’Addario NYXL strings.

Misha has his own signature amp, the Peavey Misha Mansoor Invective .120, created to his exacting specifications. It’s a highly advanced, very powerful metal machine. It also comes in a compact model 20-watt model, the Peavey invective MH Misha Mansoor Signature Mini. While Misha started out with just a power amp through some 2 x 12’s for his stage sound, he switched over to using his Peavey as a power amp, running Axe Effects, for his stage sound. Either of these amps pair well with his signature Peavey Misha Mansoor Invective .212 speaker cab.

Jake Bowen is an Ibanez endorsed artist, and as such, tours with a few Ibanez guitars in his rack. He has a signature Ibanez JBM10FX Jake Bowen, which like many of his signatures, is without a tone knob. He also has an Ibanez JBM27 Jake Bowen Signature 7-String, and a JBM 100. All of Jake’s guitars have his signature DiMarzio Titan pickups. Jake’s also a fan of NYXL’s from D’Addario. He uses Tortex .88 Mil Jazz III style. Jake’s on-stage setup is the same as Misha’s.

Diverging from his guitar-mates, Mark Holcomb has been a PRS player for a number of years. He began with a special Private Stock Custom 24, with a longer scale length and flatter fretboard radius. It was stocked with custom DiMarzios. PRS also made him an SE Custom 7-string. On that guitar, he uses heavy string gauges so he can tune down to any number of very low tunings Periphery uses.

PRS has created a few iterations of signature models for Mark. He has said he’s amazed by how good the PRS SE Mark Holcomb sounds, very similar to the Core model. His guitars are stocked with signature Seymour Duncan Alpha and Omega pickups. He’s also had an Aristides 7-string on tour with him, used for a specific song. Mark too likes D’Addario NYXL strings.

All the guitarists in Periphery use essentially the same live rig, which is quite streamlined. They run their instruments direct into Fractal Axe-FX units, which go to front of house and out through the PA. They all use wireless packs. They make use of in-ear monitors for monitoring and click tracks, and Pro Tools switches effects patches at the correct time. The have a variety of power amps through stage cabs for themselves and people up front to have sound. Misha and Jake use the Peavey Invective, while Mark uses the Power Stage 700. The cabs have Cream Back H and Vintage 30 speakers in them.

Bottom Line: To sound like the guitarists in Periphery, you have a number of signature models to choose from. Misha has his signature Jackson models, Jake has his Ibanez guitars, and Mark has signature PRS guitars. The guys all use Axe-FX. You can use that digital preamp rig or a similar unit, like the Line 6 Helix or Hotone Ampero. You can also grab Misha’s Peavey Invective to get his and Jake’s on-stage power. Since all the guys use D’Addario NYXL strings, they’re definitely the way to go.

Animals as Leaders

Animals as Leaders occupy a unique space in the metal world. Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes have blazed their own path in creating an inimitable guitar style—and it’s paid off. The band has become revered for their incredible playing ability and flowing compositions. They’re also very gear savvy.

A staple of the band’s sound is the 8-string guitar. In earlier years, Both Javier and Tosin played Ibanez 8-string guitars. Tosin had a signature 8-string Ibanez model, first stocked with signature EMG 808X pickups. He later switched to DiMarzio and came out with his signature Ionizer pickups. At the time, Tosin used DR strings and Planet Waves Black Ice picks.

During that time period, Javier used an RG custom Ibanez with DiMarzio Ionizers. He also played with Planet Waves Black Ice picks.

Both of the guys used Fractal Axe-FX through a Port City Pearl head and Port City cab in live settings.

Tosin later switched up his Ibanez signature to the wildly interesting, ergonomically designed 8-string we now know him for. That model had Fishman Fluence pickups. He brought a number of other guitars on tour with him, like the Ibanez Premier 9-String with Bare Knuckle pickups, a very interesting 8-string Strandberg model, and a Kiesel nylon-string guitar.

More recently, Tosin moved away from complete Fractal Axe-FX usage and added a Morgan SW50R head to his live rig for clean tones. He runs a good number of pedals into it including a Bogner Ecstasy Red, KHDK Clean Boost, Friedman BE-OD, and Carl Martin Plexitone. His board also had a Horizon Devices Precision Drive, Empress Parametric EQ, ISP Decimator noise suppressor, and Strymon Timeline, as well as a Strymon Big Sky. He still has a Fractal unit, but only uses it for certain effects, like delay. He uses a Bogner 4 x 12 for his on-stage sound. Tosin moved over to Dunlop picks and came up with a signature line – the Dunlop Primetone.

Javier went on to work with ESP. They made the signature ESP LTD JR-608 8-string. It’s stocked with DiMarzio Eclipse 8’s, which are his signature pickups. Javier also added a custom 8-String ESP Vintage Plus to his lineup, featuring some of his signature specs, a Floyd Rose, and DiMarzio Strat-style single-coil pickups. He still incorporated a Strandberg into his line up, although a different model — #63.

Javier has continued to use Axe FX in the studio and live. He uses an MXR Sub Machine Octave Fuzz and Bogner Harlow pedal, in addition to a MIDI controller pedalboard. He also has a Bogner 4 x 12 cabinet on stage for his live sound.

As of 2019, Tosin Abasi has his own company, Abasi Concepts. Though he appreciated Ibanez, he wanted some additional freedom and capability in designing his instruments. Now, essentially all Abasi Concept guitars will be his signature models. There’s one model out so far, the Abasi Larada, which comes in 6 and 8-string versions. They’re stocked with Tosin Abasi Signature Fishman Fluence pickups. Tosin has spoken very highly of D’Addario NYXL strings and of course still uses his signature Dunlop Primetone picks.

Tosin also has a signature pedal now, the Abasi Pathos Distortion. He has added that onto his large pedalboard, which has remained largely the same and still runs through the Morgan amp. He still uses the Axe-FX for specific effects. He also has a Fishman pedal and Fishman Loudbox for his on-stage acoustic guitar sound. He now runs his on-stage sound through a Friedman 4 x 12 and Morgan open-back 2 x 12.

Currently, Javier Reyes continues to uses his ESP LTD JR 608, as well as his ESP Custom Vintage Plus 8-string Strat, and his Strandberg Custom #63. He’s added a 7-string LTD Slimline acoustic to his lineup. For his live rig, he still uses Axe-FX going into a Synergy 50/50 power amp. He has a Line 6 G70 Relay for his wireless guitar unit, and Sennhesier G4 with Shure 215‘s for in-ear monitoring. His on-stage cabs are a Synergy 4 x 12 with V30’s and Greenbacks, and a 2 x 12 with Greenbacks. To control it all, Javier still uses his MIDI controller and two additional pedals.

Bottom Line: If you want to play like Animals as Leaders, good luck. Besides insane playing ability, you’ll need great attention to sonic detail.

If you’re looking to emulate Tosin, you’ll of course want a model from Abasi concepts. You can also opt for an Ibanez 8-string instead. Any of his pedals should help get you closer to his incredible tone. Tosin seems to really like his Morgan 50-watt amp to power whatever cabinet he uses live—most recently a Friedman and a Morgan. All that’s well and good, but with the cost and effort required, it may be more manageable to get a digital modeler like the Axe-FX or Line 6 Helix and model all the sounds Tosin uses.

For Javier you can grab his signature LTD or go with the more affordable ESP LTD JR-208 Javier Reyes Signature 8-String. Almost all his effects are from the Axe-FX unit, so you’ll definitely want a comparable digital modeler. He also has Synergy cabs on-stage.

Progress is a Process

Prog metal does what its name suggests — moves the genre into new and interesting places. What these bands bring to the table proves there’s a lot more out there than what we hear in mainstream music culture, and even what we traditionally think of as metal. If we take a cue from these guys, metal music still has a lot of potential to surprise us in the future. Maybe you’ll even be part of it. If you’re lucky, Part V could be about you.

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