Buzzsaw Guitar Tone Guide with Amp Settings & Gear List

Author: Liam Whelan | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

One of the most infamous guitar sounds in heavy metal history is the notorious Swedish death metal “Buzzsaw” sound. The name of this tone is full onomatopoeic; these guitars are capable of unleashing brutal riffage at any moment.

The Buzzsaw tone is raw, aggressive, and uncompromising, just like the music made with it. Nailing this tone is an absolute must for players of Swedish-style death metal.

The Buzzsaw sound, for me, is epitomized by the stellar guitar work of Entombed, particularly on their first two albums. It’s gritty, aggressive, and borderline unpleasant to ears unaccustomed to the brutal sounds of European death metal. In this article, I’ll go through the basic gear requirements for achieving the Buzzsaw tone.

Buzzsaw Guitars

First things first: what guitar do you need for the Buzzsaw tone?

As you’d expect from a sound with this much distortion, you need a guitar with humbuckers. A single-coil Stratocaster simply won’t sound good with this amount of gain.

Likewise, you might be tempted by the high-end metal shred machines on today’s market. The superstrat-style guitars popular among modern shredders might be able to get close to the Buzzsaw sound thanks to their high-output humbuckers. However, an authentic ’90s-style Buzzsaw tone demands a simpler setup.

Most of the bands in the early Swedish death metal movement played Gibson guitars. In fact, author and Swedish death metal expert Daniel Ekeroth believes that all other guitars are inferior for this tone.

Fortunately for guitar players and fans of the Swedish scene, there’s no shortage of Gibson-style guitars on the market. Most metal guitar players on the scene preferred the more extreme shapes of the Gibson Flying V and Explorer.

You could always go for the classic Gibson Flying V, but there’s a recent lower-budget Kirk Hammett V from Epiphone that will do a great job, too.

If you go for the Hammett V, I recommend it in death-metal-appropriate black, rather than the lurid purple.

Another great option for this sound would be the Epiphone Explorer, also in black. Otherwise, you could look towards the shred-ready Rhoads V from Jackson, which features a supermodel-slim neck begging for lightning-fast arpeggios.

The key element here is a guitar that can facilitate the demanding techniques used in Swedish death metal while delivering the thick, distorted tone of a humbucker.

Buzzsaw Amps

The good news about this tone is that you can use pretty much any amplifier, as long as it has a decent clean sound and plenty of volume.

Why does the amp need a clean tone for a sound this distorted? Back in the ‘90s, most of the Swedish death metal bands who used the Buzzsaw tone were playing through solid-state amplifiers, and using distortion pedals for virtually all their gain.

You don’t need a tremendously powerful high-gain amp for this sound, so you can use pretty much any amp with a decent clean tone. While I wouldn’t recommend showing up to a metal show with a Roland Jazz Chorus, if you’re mostly playing at home, you can get away with a pretty small amp.

Although the German origins of this pedal-sized amp might be anathema to hardcore Swedish metal fans, the Hughes & Kettner AmpMan boasts the ability to switch between solid-state-like cleans and tube-like saturation.

Alternatively, Entombed toured with Marshall stacks in the ‘90s, and you could probably run a Marshall combo like the DSL40C relatively clean, or with early breakup, and let your distortion pedal provide most of your gain.

My final recommendation would be the Peavey 6505, which was a popular amplifier among metal players at the time. Technically, they used what was then called the Peavey 5150, but the 6505 is effectively the same amplifier.

Buzzsaw Amp Settings

Your amplifier settings need to be fairly neutral for this sound to work. Most of the Buzzsaw tone comes from using a distortion pedal, for all intents and purposes, as a preamp.

Depending on your amplifier, you may need to tweak certain elements of your EQ to suit this sound. I’ve based the below settings on the tone from Entombed’s “Left Hand Path.”

Volume: 8

Crank the volume. This music is supposed to be loud. If you’re running an amp with master volume, you can taper it off to taste.

Bass: 5

Let your bass sit about halfway up to prevent it from obscuring any other frequencies.

Mids: 3-5

You should set your midrange at about 5, but be wary that on some amps you’ll need to “scoop” the mids out by turning the dial slightly to the left.

Treble: 5

Your pick attack and distortion pedal will be fairly treble-heavy, so you don’t need much treble for this tone.

Buzzsaw Tone Pedals

There’s only one pedal you need to achieve the Buzzsaw tone: the Boss HM-2.

This is the precise pedal that all the classic Swedish death metal bands used to achieve their iconic tones. It’s absolutely key to nailing the Buzzsaw sound.

Simply plug your guitar into the pedal, plug the pedal into your amp, turn all the dials on your HM-2 up as far as they go, and let rip.

Some aficionados of Boss pedals insist that you can use Boss’ other metal-designated distortion pedals for this sound. Virtually every Swedish death metal guitarist would disagree: the Metal Zone, in particular, does not work for this sound.

There’s a very particular character to the HM-2 when used to push a clean amp that other distortion pedals simply do not have.

Normally, I’d recommend a noise suppressor for such high-gain tones, but controlling and taming feedback is an expected feature of this genre, so I don’t advise using a noise suppressor here.

Final Word

This is a harsh sound, and it responds well to your choice of techniques. Icy tremolo picking and brutal chugging work well with this tone, particularly if you’re a strong rhythm player.

Arm yourself with a humbucker-equipped guitar, an HM-2, and an amplifier you like, and let Buzzsaw away to your heart’s content.

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About Liam Whelan

Liam Whelan was raised in Sydney, Australia, where he went to university for long enough to realize he strongly prefers playing guitar in a rock band to writing essays. Liam spends most of his life sipping strong coffee, playing guitar, and driving from one gig to the next. He still nurses a deep conviction that Eddie Van Halen is the greatest of all time, and that Liverpool FC will reclaim the English Premier League title.

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