Guitarists, right after they start playing always try to recreate and find new sounds that will satisfy that curiosity in their minds. As a guitarist, I have to admit it myself that a lot of sleepless nights await you if you are passionate about music and the instrument, and of course angry neighbors. But then again there is nothing better than finding that sound or tone that you were searching for, for weeks even at times. In the earlier days of like 60 or 50 years ago, guitarists didn’t have the modern tools that we have today in our disposition, however, their trials at recreating new tones and playing styles have been revolutionary, at the very least.
I should also mention that after the 80s we have seen millions of variations of guitar genres that have adopted distinct styles and unique guitar tones. Guitarists have taken the aid of different tonewoods, effects pedals, amplification, strings, playing styles and different pickups, so they would achieve their dream sound.
One of those genres has been Metal, which now has a wide variety of sub-genres, like nu-metal, Djent, alt-metal, death metal, thrash metal, glam, industrial and many more. The metal sound has some very interesting characteristics that have made it a very distinct musical genre liked by many. Those characteristics consist of aggressive, large and powerful guitar sounds. The one thing that all metal guitarists have in common is the choice in pickups. While there are some guitarists that have adopted single-coil pickups for their styles, humbuckers have been more prominent for their powerful sounds.
Today we are going to particularly talk about passive pickups for metal. I will reveal the best passive pickups for metal in the market, selected by me based on my personal experience with metal, expert consultation, performance, value for the price, market research and buyer feedback. In addition to that I will try to include a bit more information about passive humbuckers and metal pickups so you can have a good idea about what you need to get. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Which Are The Best Passive Pickups For Metal?
5. DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion
I am going to start this list with a great humbucker pickup that comes to form Dimarzio, the DP100 Super Distortion. This pickup just like its name implies delivers exceptional distortion without muffling or ruining the sound, definitely an exceptional piece of electronics.
One of the biggest selling points and most important things that the DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion does is that it makes a tube amplifier to go into complete overdrive and it is the first one to do so. It has a super high output as well, the biggest in a passive one.
This pickup is definitely exceptional for every scenario, but works perfectly in the bridge position, delivering great balance. Superb lows boosted mids, and sharp highs, this one does it all, face-melting riffs at their best.
4. DiMarzio John Petrucci Pickup Set
Moving on we have a set of guitar pickups, delivering exceptional performance and immense value for the price, the DiMarzio John Petrucci Pickup Set. These are both humbucker passive pickups that have been designed for 43mm nut sized guitars.
Just like the name implies these pickups are destined for great metal performance and superb hard rock sound that Petrucci himself prefers. The output is excellent and it is all distortion-free when you need it, allowing you to perform marvelous solos, with tons of naturality and smoothness.
The trebles are pretty warm and smooth, while the bass is pretty punchy and tight overall. I should mention that you should be careful about the bridge pickup which may not fit in all the guitars but other than that you are all set.
3. EMG H4
EMG has been one of the most prominent players in the pickup industry and especially for heavy metal guitarists, and the EMG H4 is definitely one fo the best, delivering amazing value for the price, and great performance overall.
If you like the sound of the EMG 81 Active pickup but in the passive format, this is your best bet, as it uses two bar-loaded coil sets that have 5 wire quick-connect setup that is clearly stated in the owners manual.
It is also shielded and looks good overall for every metal setup. The performance of this beast is exceptional delivering a great dynamic range, responsiveness, tons of gain and overall large output.
2. Seymour Duncan SH8 Invader
The runner up in this list is the Seymour Duncan SH8 Invader which is also one of the most popular humbucking pickups in the market. This beast as its name implies is absolute royalty when it comes to delivering amazing performance and high invading output.
This humbucking pickup is ready to get its hands dirty and deliver thick and meaty metal sounds that will melt your audience’s face. I should note that if you are looking for clean tones, you should probably look elsewhere, but for dirty channels this is marvelous.
The low ends on the Seymour Duncan SH8 Invader were definitely the best I have ever heard, delivering high-gain performance. They are made in California with three ceramic magnets with overwound coils that are exceptional overall.
1. Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker
The best passive pickup for metal comes from Seymour Duncan today, with the special edition humbucker pickup based on the sounds fo the late legendary Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darel, the SH13 Dimebucker. This is a great high-end focused pickup that is perfect for metal and it will deliver great tones overall..
This pickup delivers a great performance that is based on the powerful ceramic magnets that are used on the two stainless steel blades in the body. Its main selling point is also the small metal mass that is located in its core that is responsible for delivering a better resistance and high resonant peak.
Thanks to this, the Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker is responsible for sending stronger signals, so you get the thicker and punchier sounds. The biting aggressive tones that are a result of the aggressive highs are excellent as well, definitely my favorite.
The Importance of Passive Pickups For Metal
Now guitarists can underestimate the importance of the pickups in the signal chain, after all, it is the device that first-hand captures the vibrations of the strings and makes them electric signals so you can amplify them, basically there is no electric guitar without pickups.
Before everything that you plan to affect and shape your sound and tone, it first off goes through your pickup and will lay the foundation of your sound. It is the most vital part of your guitar in my opinion, it doesn’t matter if you have the best amplifier, tonewood combos, effects pedals, and whatnot, if your pickup isn’t good it is not important, your sound will be off.
The founder of Dimarzio, Larry DiMarzio a brand that has been a synonym for replacement pickups has said that “Pickups are the most flexible tone-modifying element in an electric guitar. A pickup isn’t designed to have a flat response — it’s designed to add color and excitement to what’s already there. I mean, you can’t double a guitar’s output or put a peak in its sound at say 650Hz by changing the bridge, but you can do both with a pickup.”
I couldn’t agree more with the statement. For that reason, I always recommend guitarists to opt for guitars with quality pickups that will provide the qualities that they are looking for. Regardless if you want to play metal, country, funk, rock, and roll, or any other genre, choose the right pickup for your need, your audience and ears will thank you.
Single-coil vs Humbucker for Metal
If you know a thing or two about guitars and pickups you definitely know that pickups generally fall into two categories, single-coil, and humbucking pickups. Each of these delivers some distinct qualities and soundscapes that make it more attractive for your needs. I will go short on the qualities of both of them so you can determine which is the best for you.
Single-coil pickups are the original pickups and deliver some nice qualities that make them attractive for a wide variety of guitarists for different genres including funk, surf, country, and many more. These pickups have one input and for that reason, they deliver a clear signal with a crisper tone.
They are described as having more bite and being brighter than the others which I agree and I have a lot of fun while playing them, but if you are looking for something that will deliver metal tones these are not it. On top of that these pickups have some background interference in the form of a hum.
On the other hand, humbucking pickups are essentially two single-coil pickups stacked so each cancels the background interference of the other effects to result in no humming sound at all. These pickups are preferred with many genres, including metal and grunge. They got a bit warmer and fuzzier tone, that delivers a crunchier and more aggressive sound.
I should also mention that the construction of these pickups allows for wider dynamic range, more contrast, saturation, gain, volume and higher output overall, which makes it perfect for face-melting riffs that are perfect for metal. So the obvious choice is humbucker pickups in 98 percent of the cases.
Active vs Passive Pickups
Some time ago there were just passive pickups in the market, however, with the advancements in technology and electronics manufacturers have delivered active pickups as well, but what is the difference between active and passive ones.
Let’s talk about the original ones first, passive pickups. These were the essential simple transducers that are constructed by wrapping coils of wire around a magnet made out of Alnico or Ceramic in most of the cases, but there are also exceptions. These pickups are placed near the strings of the guitar so a magnetic field is created essentially so when you strum or pluck the string, the vibration produced by the action disturbs the aforementioned field to deliver an electrical current that goes through the wire.
This is the basic technology that hasn’t changed since the invention of them. The biggest advantage of these pickups is that they don’t require external power to work, so they are more reliable compared to active pickups. Apart from the obvious, they deliver different tonal qualities and ranges.
They are extremely with guitarists that seek a more natural and organic sound in their guitars. These deliver a mostly organic and open sound than their active counterparts, and in my opinion, they are musically better, delivering a vintage sound. When it comes to disadvantages, these don’t deliver as much output or gain as the active counterparts, but that is pretty much it.
Active pickups, on the other hand, were produced firstly by EMG in the 80s and are essentially the same as their passive brethren however, they have a different construction that makes them different. The biggest difference in the construction of these two types is that active pickups have less wire in their coils, delivering a lower natural output, which results in a quieter and noiseless sound.
Then again these employ a built-in preamp to boost their signal, mostly in the form of a 9V battery to deliver the power needed to operate it. Also, most of these pickups are extremely innovative and have delivered some interesting qualities that modern guitarists have fallen in love with.
The biggest advantage of these pickups is that they deliver sustain and accurate intonation. On top of that most guitarists employ these since they have higher output thanks to their in-built preamp that provides high-gain with no noise at all. When it comes to the disadvantages these are not as reliable as their passive counterparts since they rely on batteries, which might pose a problem after a while. Also if you want to swap from passive to active pickups you will need to change all your electronics of your guitar.
Then again the choice is subjective, but in my opinion, passive pickups are better.
Other Pickups To Look At
- Jazz Bass Pickups
- P Bass Pickups
- Single Coil Pickups
- Acoustic Guitar Pickups
- Humbucker Pickups
- Telecaster Pickups
I think that after reading this guide and checking our top picks, you have developed an idea about which passive pickup for metal you should buy. All these pickups in the list above are the best in the market and are fail-safe options overall delivering all the desirable qualities that a passive pickup should have, especially for metal. Don’t forget to check how they sound, before buying, but then again note that the sound may be different when applied with different tonewoods, amps, effects, and playing styles. Have fun shredding!