Winners were chosen based on metal tones only, not versatility, cost, etc.
Best Overall: Seymour Duncan Black Winter
Runner-Up: Nordstrand Audio Bonecrusher
Third Place: Dimarzio John Petrucci Dreamcatcher
Before we get started, I also wrote articles on the best active pickups, and the difference between active and passive pickups. There’s some solid information in these articles about why some metal guitarists prefer active pickups.
Most players still use passive pickups, of course. They’re better at capturing subtleties and are more expressive as a result. They’re more versatile, come in many different varieties, and there are some insane high-output options that can satisfy most metal guitarists.
We’re going to be discussing humbuckers in this article. I’m sure some single coils are great for metal, but I am close-minded and won’t be entertaining this possibility at this time.
Pickup output has evolved over the decades. Back in ’55, Seth Lover created the PAF pickup – the original humbucker. You know people go apeshit for that little sticker on the back of the pickup.
Like Leo Fender, Seth started out in radio repair. People began coming to his shop to inquire about instrument amplification. The realities of big band music necessitated amplifying guitars to be heard over the goddamn horns.
The PAF prevented the hum often heard with single coils by using two coils wound in opposite directions so the signal from one coil would cancel out that of the other. The coils were connected out-of-phase with one magnet inverted to put the signal back in phase.
Seth’s shop was in Kalamazoo Michigan, where Gibson was located. You see where this is going. Pickup development just continued on from there.
The PAF was really popular upon release. I mean, there weren’t a ton of options, it sounded great, and it cut the noise. Makes sense to me.
Gibson also went buck wild with the marketing, placing ads featuring celebrities of the day. Who knows who they were. Miss Idaho Potato Girl 1958.
Original PAF sets now sell for $4,000 -$10,000. I need a pickup – these prices made me fall over!
Excuse me, we’re not discussing this passive metal
What is a Passive Pickup?
A passive electric guitar pickup is an electromagnetic device which converts the mechanical vibrations of one or more strings into electrical signals. The signal can then be electronically amplified, and processed by effects units.
Passive pickups are typically made up of magnets (mainly AlNiCo and ceramic) wrapped in coils of copper wire, with the string vibrations being sensed in their magnetic field.
This design differs from active pickups where electronic circuitry (onboard preamp) generates the signal to drive the speaker with no need for string vibration as it has been pre-generated.
Benefits of Passive Pickups
The design is durable, simple, reliable and inexpensive as there isn’t circuitry involved in construction.
The sound of a guitar is often described as organic. The strings vibrate, the wood resonates, and it sometimes creates an almost human-like sound. Passive pickups work to maximize the same kind of tone that an electric guitar can produce.
Passive pickups do not require any power source beyond what the guitar provides, so they’re more versatile than active pickups.
There are many options available for passive pickups so if you get tired of playing one style of music or want to try something new there’s always another type of pickup that will suit you.
For a little pre-Seth Lover history, electric guitar pickups were developed as early as the 1930s by George Beauchamp, a chemist from Los Angeles.
He invented what he called an “electric rifle.” It was actually a tube with wires that delivered vibrations to a light bulb. It’s not clear if this experiment ever worked or not. I would play an electric rifle onstage. Women would go bananas.
Rickenbacker had some success with their electric guitar models in the 1940s and 1950s. They used steel blades instead of magnets which generated a more powerful signal.
|Pickup (Click for Details)||Matt’s Comments|
|Darkmoon Nemesis|| |
|Dimarzio Super Distortion|| |
|Bare Knuckle Warpig|| |
Seymour Duncan Black Winter
|Black Diamond EMA|| |
|Dimarzio John Petrucci Dreamcatcher Bridge|| |
|Seymour Duncan Jason Becker Perpetual Burn|| |
|Nordstrand Audio Bonecrusher|| |
|Suhr DSH+|| |
Pickup technology continues to evolve, ushering in new genres of guitar music representing something experimental and exciting.
If you want to play metal, then it’s important that your guitar has a pickup with enough power without sacrificing its clarity.
Honestly, even some medium output passive pickups should be great for metal, since there are other options for adding gain. It’s just more fun to play around with the insane options.
The 9 pickups I’ve discussed in this article are great options for any style of metal and come highly recommended by experts who know how to make them work on stage and in the studio.
If you’ve maxed out your credit card, apply for Amazon credit. Buy the pickups now!