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Not happy with your guitar’s current sound? Trying to achieve that perfect metal tone?
It might be time for new pickups, as your pickups tend to make the biggest difference to your guitar’s sound of any other component.
Good news – we’re confident you’re going to find exactly what you’re looking for below. Here are the best pickups for metal. It’s time to get that perfect tone.
Fishman Fluence Signature Series Killswitch Engage Modern Humbucker Pickup Set
Quick side note before we start, I’ve had some readers ask about the easiest way to learn guitar. I’ve shared that here for those that are interested.
Ok, back to the article.
Fishman is perhaps best known for their acoustic guitar pickups and amps. But since they have a long history of making excellent products, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that they have pickups suited to electric guitars as well.
The Fishman Fluence Signature Series Killswitch Engage Modern humbucker pickup set was obviously crafted with Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz in mind. And we all know how they can rip it up on the guitar (if you don’t, go and watch some Killswitch Engage on YouTube).
This set comes with one ceramic bridge pickup and one alnico pickup, suited to the middle or neck positions. Also included are volume and tone pots, as well as push-pull voice selector pot for use in volume or tone positions.
Buyers said they loved these pickups, and thought they were perfect for metal. Some even said they were able to achieve unmatched clarity and definition with these tone makers.
Others said they much preferred the non-signature series Fluence Modern pickups. Well, don’t fret, because up next on our list is…
Item weight: 1.18 lbs.
Package dimensions: 7 x 2 x 6 inches
Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker Alnico & Ceramic Pickups Set
The Fishman Fluence Modern pickup set are favored among metal heads everywhere. They deliver incredible metal tones using cutting edge-technology and combine the best aspects of active and passive voicings.
Unlike most traditional pickups, which use wound coper wire coils, the Fluence series of pickups are made by stacking multiple layers of printed coils and interconnecting them.
This results in a consistent pickup, dynamically and tonally, across the entire fretboard.
I’m honestly impressed with these pickups, not because they sound ultra-heavy (which they do), but more so because they offer warmth, roundness, and clarity in just one pickup. This can be hard to find, which is why, in the studio, guitarists generally overdub multiple guitars, sometimes with different amps and settings.
Well, I’m pleased to say that you can get a bit of everything with the Fluence set.
The Fluence Modern humbucker comes in a variety of configurations – white, black nickel, brushed stainless, gold, nickel, black plastic, and white plastic. There are also six-, seven-, and even eight-string versions.
Users said they were able to get amazing clarity with high gain. They also thought these pickups offered the perfect sound.
Others thought the EMGs were better. Interesting, because next on the list is…
Item weight: 1.25 lbs.
Package dimensions: 8 x 2 x 6 inches
EMG 57/66 Bridge And Neck Humbucker Guitar Pickups Set
Zakk Wylde. James Hetfield. Kirk Hammet. What do these guitarists have in common? They all rely on EMG pickups for their monsterous tones.
Here we have the EMG 57/66 bridge and neck humbucker pickup set, which offer greater tonal versatility than you might expect.
As with the Fluence Modern pickups, this set was designed to give you the consistent fast response of active pickups and the warmth of passive ones. If you liked the 81/85 set but thought they were lacking in the clean department and weren’t as flexible as you wanted them to be, you’ll love the 57/66 set.
True to form, these pickups are mean and thrashy, while being highly flexible for all those times you need cleaner, single coil-oriented tones.
In EMG’s own words, these pickups are suited to “today’s guitar player regardless of style or genre.” These pickups are available in black, brushed chrome, chrome (pictured), gold, black chrome, brushed black chrome, and brushed gold.
Most reviewers thought these pickups sounded amazing. Some even thought they were revolutionary.
Negative reviews were few and far between and were usually indicative of a mix-up with the order more than a defect with the product.
Item weight: 1 lbs.
Package dimensions: 7 x 3 x 5 inches
Seymour Duncan Mark Holcomb Alpha & Omega Humbucker Set
The legendary Seymour Duncan has made amazing pickups for over 45 years. And some of the most recognizable artists have used them – Slash, Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, and many others.
If you’re into signature series pickups, you certainly can’t ignore the Seymour Duncan Mark Holcomb Alpha & Omega humbucker set.
Mark Holcomb, of course, is the guitarist behind Periphery. And his tones are aggressive and clear while being warm and full-bodied. Again, a complex and difficult balance to achieve with just one guitar and set of pickups.
But the Alpha and Omega set are high output passive pickups and are ideally suited to down-tuning while delivering clarity, precision, and versatility.
The good – these pickups offer an incredibly powerful sound. Some even say they are the best noisemakers Seymour Duncan offers.
The bad? Nothing to speak of!
Item weight: 11.2 ounces
Package dimensions: 6.25 x 4.5 x 1.5 inches
Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates SH-PG1n/1b Pickup Set
The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickups are often favored by jazz players as opposed to metal heads. So, why are they on this list? Well, they are better suited to metal than you might think!
The Pearly Gates offer chilling highs, full and warm lows, and incredible sustain. They are also extremely sensitive, and therefore dynamic. All this comes with minimal noise and feedback.
Despite their vintage vibe and midrange punch, these pickups do respond well to a variety of playing styles and genres, including metal. They may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for something different, these are worth a try.
Customers described the pickups as “perfect.”
Item weight: 14.2 ounces
Package dimensions: 6 x 2 x 8 inches
Seymour Duncan Invader Humbucker Set
Looking to achieve the heaviest metal tones possible? Then the Seymour Duncan Invader set might be exactly what you’ve been hunting for.
These pickups will deliver chunky, fat, thick, and heavy distortion. If you’re expecting crisp, clear, articulate highs, you might want to look elsewhere. That said, the warmth that these noisemakers offer has its own appeal.
Enthusiastic buyers preferred these pickups over active pickups, and some even called them aggressive tone monsters.
Negative reviews were few and far between, though there was one buyer who said they thought these pickups were just okay.
Item weight: 1 ounce
Package dimensions: 6.25 x 4.5 x 1.5 inches
Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker Dimebag Darrell Pickup
There are few guitarists that have been as imitated as the legendary Dimebag Darrell. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that there would be a signature series Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker pickup ideally suited to heavy rock and metal.
Unsurprisingly, its clean sounds are crisp and dirty. But where it starts to come alive is with some serious crunch. That will instantly turn it into a galloping, thrashing, metal machine. And if you need to turn up the aggression even more, just switch on that hi gain lead channel on your amp, and what awaits you is a thunderous roar.
The pickups still offer plenty of sharp clarity at the high end, though, so you can solo to your heart’s content.
This bundle includes mounting hardware (custom mounting ring and detailed schematic).
Most reviewers loved this pickup, and apparently liked it more than the Invader set.
Others felt it was a little limited in its use, and some even said it was just okay.
Item weight: 4.8 ounces
Package dimensions: 7.09 x 3.54 x 1.57 inches
EMG 81 Active Guitar Humbucker Bridge/Neck Pickup
The 57 might be the far superior 81, but that doesn’t mean the EMG 81 active guitar humbucker still can’t do some serious damage.
So, like I said, the 81 still has lots to offer. Its low-end thump and intensity are perfect for metal, and where it lacks in clarity and articulation, it makes up for in a pleasing warmth.
The 81 uses ceramic magnets and close aperture coils. It’s available in black, chrome, gold, red, black chrome, brushed black chrome, and white.
The good – enthusiastic reviewers said this was the best pickup they’d ever owned. They also said it was the best investment they’d ever made and called it a brutal beast.
The bad – not much! One user had issues with their order rather than the product itself.
Item weight: 7.5 ounces
Package dimensions: 2.63 x 2.38 x 6 inches
Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Model Electric Guitar Pickup
The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB was invented all the way back in 1974. And while it may not be an obvious metal go-to, plenty of heavy players have endorsed it through the years – Adam Jones (Tool), Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains), Megadeth, and others.
What makes the SH-4 JB especially attractive is its versatility. It has highly usable clean and crunch tones.
Overall, it’s more like a rock pickup than a metal one, but it can certainly cut through a mix, which makes it perfect for soaring leads.
Crank up the gain, and you’ll get a tight, powerful tone from the SH-4 JB. It might not be as aggressive or thrashy as other metal pickups, but it can still djent.
The good – users though it was an outstanding, perfect pickup. The most enthused even said they thought it was the best pickup out there.
The bad? None to speak of!
Item weight: 0.16 ounces
Package dimensions: 2.76 x 0.59 x 1.57 inches
DiMarzio DP102 X2N Pickup
It’s a little surprising that we’ve made it this far into the guide without a single mention of one of my favorite pickup makers – DiMarzio.
DiMarzios are a favorite among a host of shredders and virtuoso, like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Phil Collen, Steve Lukather, and others. And how can we forget Eddie Van Halen?
The DiMarzio DP102 X2N pickup delivers a blistering overdriven sound with an ominous look. This is DiMarzio’s highest gain pickup, and it’s perfect for amplifying the natural character of your guitar’s sound (especially if you like the natural character of your guitar!).
Not surprisingly, this pickup will give you devastating thump and midrange attitude. I just wish it gave you a little more higher end clarity.
Some customers found this to be the best sounding pickup of any they’d tried. Others even said it was the best metal pickup available.
More critical reviewers thought this pickup did not give them enough gain.
Item weight: 0.352 ounces
Package dimensions: 2.3 x 4.2 x 2.3 inches
DiMarzio DP155 Tone Zone Humbucker Pickup
The DiMarzio DP155 Tone Zone might not look like much, but it combines the sound of a PAF Pro with extra mid-range and bass. In fact, it would be fair to say that this dynamic pickup gives all frequencies a serious boost.
These pickups offer sparkling cleans and extra bite. You might not be able to get colossal thump out of this pickup, but if you’re looking for a thunderous, aggressive tone, you can achieve it quickly and easily with the Tone Zone.
What users liked most about this pickup is its versatility, as well as its punch and twang.
Item weight: 6.3 ounces
Package dimensions: 2.3 x 4.2 x 2.3 inches
What Should I Look For In Metal Pickups?
Here are the main criteria considered here:
- Pickup or pickup set
Let’s get into it.
Does the pickup sound right to you? That matters more than my opinion, another guitarist’s opinion, or anyone else’s opinion. So, it would be best to focus on finding a pickup that gives you what you need. Watching demos and reviews can be a huge help.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s common for guitarists to use multiple guitars, amps, effects, and chains to achieve their ideal tones. So, trying to do everything with one pickup or even a set of pickups can be a fool’s errand.
That said, the pursuit of tone is a common one among guitarists, and a journey worth going on.
Your pickups impact the sound of your guitar more than just about anything else, so you’ve set your sights on the right thing if you’re looking for that elusive “brown sound.”
Pickup or Pickup Set
Pickup sets are obviously more convenient if you’re looking to replace your current pickups wholesale. Further, pickup sets have usually been matched up for a reason – they complement each other nicely.
Of course, standalone pickups are more affordable, and if you want to match it up with something other than what might be included in a set, a single pickup might be a better way to go.
There isn’t a right or wrong here, just a right or wrong based on what you’re looking to do with your guitar setup right now.
As well, some guitars only come with one pickup, so be sure to confirm your guitar’s setup before purchasing new pickups.
Some pickups only do one thing well. And as a metalhead, you might not need a pickup that does anything besides djent.
But as you’ve already seen, there are some pickups that can pull off a variety of tones.
If you know you’re going to be playing clean, overdriven, distorted, as well as with a variety of effects, then it can be nice to use pickups that can tap into the nuances and dynamics of your playing as well as individual effects.
Meanwhile, if you’re just going for that classic metal sound, an EMG 81 will do nicely.
So, take some time to think about the kind of player you are and the various styles you play. Do you need more of a one trick pony, or do you need a toolbox to express your creativity and make your music come alive?
The pickups on this list range from about $80 to $250. Of course, some of this discrepancy is because we’ve featured both standalone options as well as pickup sets.
Pickups are less expensive than you might think, but a couple hundred dollars still isn’t anything to sneeze at.
So, make sure to consider your budget before purchase. Don’t spend money you don’t have, and don’t go into debt. Spend responsibly.
What Are The Best Metal Pickup Brands?
We’ve already looked at some of the best metal pickup brands, but there are a few additions towards the end of this list that you might not know about.
Unmistakably, these are the best metal pickup brands in existence:
Count on Fishman to do something innovative with their electric guitar pickups.
Known mostly as an acoustic brand, it seems they weren’t content releasing any ordinary electric pickups into the market, and thus Fluence.
Their pickups are favored by modern artists and bands like Killswitch Engage, Tosin Abasi, Greg Koch, and others.
What they’ve been able to create is impressive to say the least.
EMG has long been a go-to for electric guitar pickups, especially pickups suited to heavier genres. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that the sound of metal was borne out of their noisemakers.
Yet, they also have some of the most versatile pickups on the market, which is saying something.
From classic to modern, you can unlock plenty of tonal possibilities with EMG pickups.
Founded in 1976 in Goleta, CA, the name Seymour Duncan has become virtually synonymous with electric guitar pickups.
They have a wide selection of aftermarket pickups ideally suited to Strats, Teles, and a variety of other guitars. They even have humbuckers, seven- or eight-string pickups, P90 style pickups, and offset pickups.
Seymour Duncan is always a good place to look for a pickup upgrade, with their wide selection of products suited to a variety of needs.
DiMarzio pickups are shredder approved and might even be the ideal choice for speedy, technical players.
If you love blistering leads where every note counts, DiMarzio might be the ideal choice for you.
Their pickups aren’t strictly metal and are highly effective for a variety of genres – blues, rock, hard rock, instrumental, and more.
If you’re looking for pickups with some serious thump, you might favor Fishman, EMG, or Seymour Duncan.
Bare Knuckle Pickups
Bare Knuckle Pickups was founded in 2003 by Tim Mills, who used to play guitar with Elkie Brooks and Iced Earth. They specialize in hand-wound electric guitar pickups, and they do have product suited to metalheads too.
But like Seymour Duncan, they have a variety of humbuckers, Strat pickups, Tele pickups, P90 style pickups, and more.
Check out their Aftermath pickup set if you’re looking for a solid modern metal set.
When people think Lace, they usually think Strat replacement pickups. And yes, their Lace Sensors are legendary, and can take your Strat to new tonal plateaus.
That said, their Drop & Gain humbucker was designed for use with heavy, high gain music utilizing drop tunings (sound familiar?). If you’re looking for insane distortion and long sustain, you should give these a try.
Top Pickups For Metal, Final Thoughts
If you need help installing your pickups, either search for online tutorials, or take your guitar to a qualified tech. Hiring a tech might cost you a bit of money, but it’s often worth it unless you have a lot of time and patience on your hands.
With that, may the best galloper win!
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Last Updated on June 23, 2021.