best guitar pickups for metal

10 Best Guitar Pickups For Metal – Thrash, Black, Death, Etc

Equipping your guitar with the right pickups has a HUGE impact on your sound.  That’s why if you are a metal guitarist, you need these pickups. 

Check out these best pickups for metal.

Quick Links To Our Best Metal Guitar Pickups Recommendations

Why get pickups? Pickups were made for players to bring us an over the top performance with the added vibrations to the strings of their guitars that changes into an amplified electric signal. Are you one of those metal players that are in need of a good pickup? I’ve got here the best pickups for metal you can get today!  Since these are for metal music, note that we are not going to look at single coils for this article since metal guitarists mainly use humbuckers.

Our Top Metal Guitar Pickups Reviews

1.  Seymour Duncan Distortion Mayhem

Seymour’s Duncan Distortion Mayhem is an original humbucker. They have put together a massive ceramic magnet and hot coil windings for you to get that well-balanced rock and metal tones while also rolling off that rich upper midrange harmonious content. These are great for those who perform hard hits, Rockin rhythms, and fierce lead tones. Your riffs will also be tight and percussive, along with the lead work being on the spot and fast with your Ultra-clear pick dynamics.

This device was originally designed to make use of matching with high output bridge versions. Since it is also apt to bring out smooth and fluid solo tones under high gains while still producing swift and clean tones, this then had a different purpose. Seymour’s Duncan Distortion Mayhem was supposedly named as SH-7 Seymourizer.

These are hand-built in their factory based in Santa Barbara, CA. They’ve applied the Seymour Duncan Distortion Mayhem with a large ceramic bar magnet, a nickel silver bottom plate, and a 4-conductor lead wire for more options to your wiring. They made sure this product is well made and of high quality. Not to mention, they have also made it vacuum wax potted to bring you a sequel-free performance.

Pros:

  • Provides a thick distortion sound
  • Fits well on guitars with thinner necks
  • Less hiss than some other pickups in this range

Cons:

  • Not great for cleans or post rock, but more designed for metal
Our Rating -
4.5/5

2.  EMG JH James Hetfield Signature

EMG challenged themselves and went all out with this pickup. The EMG JH James Hetfield Signature will surely not disappoint you. For thirty years, the EMG brand still continues to improve its pickups after Hetfield’s use. After the long process of testing out twenty prototypes, they have come up with this excellent result; the EMG JH Set, which is an active two humbucker rig that can bring out a new impression to your axe’s sound. Shaping up your tones is a great start for your improvement!

What you can achieve from buying the EMG JH James Hetfield Signature:

  • Set out a killer wall of a sound from your guitar with clear articulation and great charisma.
  • For the set-ups and modifications, EMG has provided a Solderless Installation System for plain sailing changes with your electronics.
  • It is designed with a sleek black nickel-plated cap to show your audiences a bold aura of yourself and your guitar.
  • The JH-N can give you a more attacking and higher output, and a full low end in the neck position of your guitar;
  • While the JH-B can produce a tight close attack at the bridge of your guitar, you can even have cleaner lows when performing with this pickup’s lesser inductance.

Show off a punching sound and clarity straight off with these active pickups!

Pros:

  • Very distinguished pickups for metal
  • Its hot output is a great choice for players who are going to use high-gain distortion effects.
  • Great sustain due to the metal coating over the coils.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
Our Rating -
4.5/5

3.  Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates

The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates is an excellent pickup that can carry out a “sweet but slightly rude” tone. A pickup with overflowing tones, I can say. This can make your amp turn out to be alive and go well with your perfect blends of sustain and harmony. With its many features to mention, this came out as a very versatile pickup that you can even match it with any humbucker for more styles with your tonal options.

Seymour Duncan put to use versatility with their every product; this was the reason for the brand’s success. They’ve started everything from blues and then to the classic genre and then also tried out southern rock and then modern rock. Fun fact! The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates was supposed to be a pickup that can produce tones similar to the ones from the respected 1959 Les Paul Standard that sought out the standard for those blues guitar’s tone. However, the Pearly Gates was characterized to have that warm tone added with a slight hot vintage humbucker output. It resulted in this product, and another added feature is how it can also jump out amazing harmonious tones from your guitar. This also came with a 4-conductor hookup cable for you to have different options on your pickup switch.

Pros:

  • Very heavy distortion.
  • Balanced mids and highs with a lot of bite and crunch.
  • Perfect for classic metal, especially Pantera, Slayer.

Cons:

  • Slight feedback at high volumes.
Our Rating -
4/5

4.  EMG ZQ Zakk Wylde Signature Humbucker Guitar Pickup Set

EMG is already a brand that is known all around the world, thanks to Zakk Wylde. This renowned guitarist relies on the EMG 81/85 signature humbucker set for his amazing performances that played aggressive tones and clear sustains. Zakk wasn’t the only one to trust this, but other great artists as well. Another reason for you to like this product is its installation. Installing this would only take less of your time by using the provided Quick-connect cables.

EMG-81

If you’re the lead guitarist of a band, then the EMG-81 pickup can be the one for you. Made especially for those roles, it works best for high volume overdrives and master volume amps. You can have that incredible sustain for your solos, whether you’re executing a powerful rock or overdriving your amp. When performing lead passages, you can still have stable distortions, long sustains, and a breakup that that fades swiftly.

EMG-85

The EMG-85 pickup, when compared to the EMG-81, has greater measurable output. However, they differ in their response with frequency and string interfaces. To achieve that ripped low end and a heavier top end, this pickup was created using two Alnico magnet loaded coils with a wide aperture. This can be your perfect choice if you’d want a rhythm pickup combined with and EMG-81 pickup in the bridge. If you’re the type that likes the natural distortion from overdriving the front end of your amp, this pickup can be a big help in bringing out your amazing talents.

Pros:

  • High-output pickups
  • Great for lead guitar

Cons:

  • Slightly noisy hum and noise on heavily distorted channels.
Our Rating -
4/5

5.  Seymour Duncan Invader Humbucker Set

Want that tight and heavy tones with your plays? Seymour Duncan’s Invader can surely provide that to you.

For you to create that power you’ve been longing for, Invader has accustomed this pickup with joined together overwound coils, three large ceramic magnets, and oversized metal oxide pole pieces. Those unique pole pieces help to widen your all-in-all magnetic field and frequency spectrum. Once you’ve tried it out, your plays will sound richer and more massive than ever compared before. And with the added ceramic magnets this will add more depth and clarity to your tones while the large hex caps can bring you a smooth and stable change when you’re playing and trying to move from string to string.

Out of all Seymour Duncan’s passive pickups, they have created the Invader to bring out the thickest and deepest low-end sounds. Surprisingly though, the Invader neck humbucker can also produce a warm and smooth tone despite its fierce looks and yielding weighty sustains.

Precisely handmade in their CA based factory, Seymour Duncan used three large ceramic bar magnets, oversized metal oxide poles, and is potted with vacuum wax to avoid a squealing performance to your pickup. There is also a provided 4-conductor lead wire to give you multiple options on the wiring.

Pros:

  • The set is perfect for metal
  • The pickups are dynamic, which means they have a wide range of sound and tonal response

Cons:

  • A bit pricey
Our Rating -
4/5

6.  Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker

Another great pickup from the brand Seymour Duncan joins the list. Their product truly does not disappoint. The Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker can provide that crunchy pick attack, scooped mids, and just the right saturation that you’ll be looking for a bridge pickup. They wanted a humbucker that can boast a hard tone that slightly sags when you really lay into your guitar. By combining a full and tight low-end response with a ceramic magnet that has dual stainless-steel blades, they’ve created an amazing pickup, the SH13 Dimebucker.

In a 2004 interview, Dimebag Darell had described the Dimebucker as a pickup that can be very saturated but still have that smooth and crunchy distortion tone without the sounds getting all fuzzy. You can even get extra gains without worrying about the sounds breaking up or acting out. It has that warm tone with a mix of distortion and a heavy low end and a crashing top end. If you tried listening to a Pantera record, you’d surely get familiar with it as it has the same styles with this pickup.

This was hand-built in their CA based factory. This was potted in vacuum wax for a squeal-free performance. And for more options with your wiring, they’ve also provided a 4-conductor lead wire.

Pros:

  • Excellent for low tuning
  • Builds a good balance of high and lows frequencies
  • Has a nice mid range clarity to it
  • It has a lot of attack and clarity to it

Cons:

  • There were not really any major cons for this pickup. Very high quality pickups. A little pricey though.
Our Rating -
4/5

7.  DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion

The DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion is known to have started a sound revolution. Replacement pickups were in low business after its first invention around the early seventies. It got its reputation to be the first-ever pickup that was designed to whip up a tube amp into a full blast overdrive. This is still the current standard measurement on every high quality pickups.

This pickup both has single notes and chords jumping out of the amp that can fill out one room with looming sounds while still having the perfect blend of power and tone.  For balancing the tones, they still have the classics — first-rate thick, boosted mids, huge lows, and heavy highs. These are the ones that you’ve probably heard already as it has been used by great players over the past three decades on platinum records. Ace Frehley? Al Di Meola? Paul Gilbert? Have you ever heard of them? They are the great players that I’ve mentioned.

For your strat-like split and series-parallel modes, DiMarzio has provided this pickup with a versatile 4-conductor wiring.

Know more about the DP100 Super Distortion’s features:

  • This is best for solid body guitars
  • Has an output of 425
  • Its DC resistance is 13.68
  • They are usually used in the bridge position and
  • It is a great neck pickup for those with lower-gain amplifiers

Pros:

  • This pickup solves the fundamentals of metal.
  • It is very thick and heavy sounding.
  • It’s great for the bridge position if you need to cut through a lot of guitars.
  • There is a lot of distortion in the sound in both distortion levels and overdrive levels.

Cons:

  • It is not quiet.
  • It is not very versatile.
  • It does have some hum, but I don’t think that’s a major problem.
Our Rating -
4/5

8.  Fishman Fluence Modern Ceramic

An innovative pickup is coming straight to your way! The Fishman Fluence Modern Ceramic Humbucker pickup set can set out those humbucking tones that everyone would love. From modern active pickups sounds to high-performance humbucking tones, they’ve got it here for you. Unlike those wire-wound models that you’d usually found in the mall or online market, this Fluence Modern Ceramic pickup can deliver you a modern humbucker sound without the struggles of facing those noise and inductance issues. Moreover, these pickups were provided with magnets (one with alnico magnets, and the other with ceramic magnets) to let you choose from those two distinctly different voices.

What you can get when buying the Fishman Fluence Modern Ceramic pickup:

  • It has active electronics that can deliver a modern tone without the noise.
  • It has a multi-voice Fluence Modern that sets out two distinct voices.
  • You’ll already have complete information about its installation when you’ve purchased it.
  • Features include both a modern active humbucker and a unique wide-range humbucking tone. You can get both with the accustomed Alnico pickup voicing of this product.
  • You can also produce a modern active pickup sound that has a tight bass with a touch of crunchy highs and growls and a high producing humbucker tone, especially for your distortions. This is available because of the provided ceramic pickup voicing.

Pros:

  • Best at higher frequencies.
  • Great live sound.
  • Excellent balance of treble and bass.
  • Wide range of usable tones.

Cons:

  • More expensive than other options on this list.
Our Rating -
4/5

9.  EVH Frankenstein

You can go and feel that Eddie Van Halen tones when playing with this amazing EVH Frankenstein pickup. If you haven’t known, Eddie Van Halen is a well-known guitarist all around the world. He polished his skills up until he got onto the brightest stage. Fun fact! He kept on tinkering his guitar to experiment with music that his main guitar became a mix of various parts, and later was known worldwide as “Frankenstein.”

The EVH Frankenstein humbucker pickup can let you experience a play just like the renowned Eddie. Stinging singing highs? Snarling mids? Any kind of Eddie-like tones, name it, and this has it.

What this EVH Frankenstein humbucker pickup can offer:

  • EVH provides a direct replacement for any of their standard humbucking pickups.
  • This can be another alternative to the “usual suspect” replacement for humbucker products.
  • The DC resistance is 14.4k.

Play like Eddie Van Halen, as you’ve never done before!

EVH Frankenstein humbucker pickup specs:

  • It is a humbucker pickup type.
  • A passive pickup.
  • It can be positioned in either the bridge or the neck part of your guitar; it depends on your choice.
  • It is provided with 6 strings and;
  • 1 wire plus shield for the conductors.

Pros:

  • Very hot output.
  • High distortion characteristics; easy to overdrive the amp into a sweet sustain.
  • Legendary EVH sound, an industry standard for metal guitarists.

Cons:

  • High output can cause feedback and noise.
Our Rating -
4/5

10.  DiMarzio DP152 Super 3

If you’re searching for a pickup that can give you an amazing tone, then the DiMarzio DP152 Super 3 can surely be your greatest pick. This Super 3 pickup made its name on the list because of its great providing tones.  Not to mention, you can even achieve great thick sounding when using this. If you know about its previous model, the DiMarzio Super 2, then this is the improved model with it having a less high end and a bit more in the mids.

What’s also best with the DiMarzio DP152 Super 3 is its low tight end; it gives you a more focused punch on the low strings. If you are into those 80s tunes in the middle of your power chords, then you can surely grasp that stable bottom end with the Super 3.

The DiMarzio DP152 Super 3 also performs well with tapped and pinched harmonies, so this can allow you to have a lot more space for a singing sustain. This pickup does not really have a dull or a soft high end. What I can say is that it can surely bring out a good tone for your guitar without the sound being too extreme or vice versa.

Pros:

  • Powerful and responsive.
  • Produces a very natural sound.
  • One of the best for those who are looking for something that’s versatile.
  • Comes at a decent price.

Cons:

  • Not too much sustain.
  • Not for those who want a very “hot” pickup.
Our Rating -
4/5

Choosing The Right Guitar Pickups For Metal

There are different factors to think about when choosing guitar pickups for metal music. The sound you want to achieve will depend on the guitar, your playing style, and the amp. There are plenty of factors to consider when choosing guitar pickups for metal music.

Always Humbuckers!

For metal music, humbucker pickups are the first choice by most guitarists. A humbucker will give you an aggressive metal sound that will be able to handle riffing and soloing at the same time.

Humbuckers have two large magnets, which give it a more aggressive tone than single coils, which have only one magnet.

Metal Tone Is More Than Picking The Right Pickups

You also have to remember that pickups are just part of the equation. You’ll want the right guitar, amp, effects pedals, etc to pair with it.

A good amp is critical as well. Metal requires a lot of gain for lead and rhythm parts, which can make your amp scream if you don’t have it dialed in just right.

There’s So Many Good Guitar Pickups For Metal Today

If you’re looking to buy new pickups for metal music, then there are many options out there. There are metal, humbuckers, single-coil, mini humbuckers, single-coil with a coil tap (reverse), and more.

Some of the metal pickups that you’ll find are hotter than others. You can go with hotter pickups that don’t necessarily have the best distortion sound. But they’re usually louder and more aggressive sounding than any of the others.

Top Metal Pickups Conclusion

A lot of musicians purchase high-end guitar pickups for them to bring out their best performance. But the price doesn’t really matter if it can bring you outstanding qualities. Some people buying their stuff would check at how it’s priced, but some genuinely check at its qualities. I say we do both.

The items I’ve mentioned above will surely provide you with what you are looking for. Most of them were made for versatility and had unique designs and features with them, guaranteed that the product will not be of disappointment to you. Sooner or later, after purchasing your favored guitar pickup, you’ll be able to perform a rocking gig with your awesome pickup.

I also recommend checking out our amp for metal music recommendation article as well – 10 Best Metal Amps Options For 2021 and 10 Best Guitar Strings For Metal For Superior Shredding Tone!

About The Author - Dan Harper
About The Author - Dan Harper

My name is Dan and I have been playing guitar for about 35 years. Over the years, I have taught guitar, played in a number of bands and owned and played a ton of gear.
When not playing guitar, I like to travel with my family, grill good food and go to concerts!

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