Guitars: How Low Can You Go?
If you are a capable guitarist, you can coax almost any guitar into sounding right for any style. Although humbuckers aren’t your only option when it comes to deep, heavy tone, most players agree they do it the best, especially in the bridge position. That’s why you will most often see Les Pauls, SGs, and other humbucker-loaded guitars in the hands of doom artists.
While you’ll see people in the doom scene with black denim vests festooned with countless patches and pins, when it comes to their guitars, they usually go for a simple, no-frills model. Despite bearing the moniker of “CUSTOM” on the headstock, the Gibson Les Paul Custom is a simple but meaty guitar that countless guitarists playing heavy music as the battle axe to swing riffs with.
For something a little more affordable, try the Epiphone Les Paul Custom PRO. It may not come with the Gibson name, but the quality-to-price ratio is in your favor.
Another Gibson original, the SG is known for its devilish-looking horns, and that rolls in perfectly with the doom metal aesthetic.
Gibson isn’t the only name in town though. Aaron Turner, whose credits include Isis, Old Man Gloom, Sumac and may more, has played a ’70s era Telecaster Custom and Telecaster Deluxe for years. While those models
are no longer in production, the American Performer series has some telecasters with similar pickup configurations. A baritone guitar, like the baritone version of the ESP LTD Viper can drop into some super-low tones.
On the custom-built side of things is Electrical Guitar Company, whose artist roster is chock-full of heavy metal icons. Realizing that the Travis Bean guitars that he loved had been nearly hunted to extinction, owner Kevin Burkett started making his own guitars utilizing the same aluminum neck concept. Over the years, they have expanded into a number of models and configurations. More and more you can catch the aluminum necks of the guitars glinting in stage lights of dingy dive bars and even in amphitheaters with bands like Mastodon and The Melvins.
Adding Some Doom to Your Axe
What if you have a guitar you already love and aren’t in the market for a whole new axe? Maybe what you need is just an upgrade in pickups. The Seymour Duncan SH4 JB pickup has carved out a place in rock history, and its enhanced mid response and higher output make it perfect for running into a slew of fuzz pedals and cranked amps.
The gold standard in heavy metal is arguably the EMG 81 active bridge pickup. The dark black brick sits inside innumerable thrash metal, modern metal and even doom metal players. While their entire catalog may spark ire, Metallica’s first four albums are indisputable for metalheads and James and Kirk even have their own iterations of the classic EMG 81/85 combo.
Down tuning is a common theme in doom metal, with some bands going nearly an octave below standard turning. Doom heavyweights Conan go as low as Drop F!
While there are a few exceptions, you would be hard pressed to find many bands in this genre that stick to standard tuning. To accommodate these lower, heavier tonal registers, doom artists rely on heavy gauge strings. Ernie Ball Skinny Top, Heavy Bottom strings give you some low end girth, but enough room to pull off bends on your top strings. Their line of Paradigm strings have been popular around the office for their durability and long-lasting freshness, and they come in sets that get down to a .56 sixth string.
Some players even choose to use strings designed for baritone guitars, like the D’Addario EXL157 strings that range from 14-68 gauge.