The 9 Best Passive Guitar Pickups for Metal

passive for metal | Mod Cheap Guitars |


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!

The 9 Best Passive Guitar Pickups for Metal

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
  • This set of passive humbucker pickups that sound clear and full with a big booty (plenty of bass.)
  • They can handle crunchy rhythm but are best at metal distortion and metal clean.
  • The tone in the neck position gives you an articulate, warm, hard rock sound while the bridge pickup provides cutting power to give your metal solos some added push. 
  • The Darkmoon Nemesis has a moderate output, but it feels more like a vintage sound because of its organic tone.
  • This pickup provides a warm and heavy distortion that works for many different styles of music from blues to metal.
Dimarzio Super Distortion
  • The Dimarzio Super Distortion is the perfect pickup for aggressive metal tones.
  • A high-output humbucking pickup that can handle distortion at all levels and has plenty of tight low end.
  • The sound is full but not muddy, balancing clarity with punch to give you an awesome range of rich harmonics without getting too gritty or noisy (as long as you’re using it for metal.)
  • The articulation allows everyone to hear every dynamic of your genius.
Bare Knuckle Warpig
  • The Bare Knuckle Warpig Pickup is a high-output pickup that is designed to handle distortion without unwanted noise.
  • Has the power for intense, heavy rock and metal tones but also remains clear. 
  • Designed as a high-output option with plenty of head room. It’s aggressive and will cut through the mix without getting too crispy, making it perfect for intense rock and metal tones.
  • Well-known for its tonal versatility, so you can even use it for clean and jazz if that’s your thing. Provides a lot of power without sacrificing clarity.
  • It’s hard to find pickups that balance the two like this, but Warpig is perfect for aggressive rock and metal tones as well as clean styles because of its tonal versatility.

Seymour Duncan Black Winter
  • The Seymour Duncan Black Winter is a passive pickup that is designed to work well with distortion.
  • This unit is said to be as dark as a Scandinavian winter! Sounds terrifying. No wonder so much black metal comes out of that region. 
  • If you see the term ‘trembucker’, note that this refers to string spacing set for Floyd Rose-style bridges.  
  • High gain can produce shrill high-end, but this pickup is excellent and smoothing out these tones while maintaining pronounced mids. 
  • Full tones with plenty of power. Create pinch harmonics that can (literally?) wake the dead. 
  • Roll back the volume a bit for great chord articulation. 
Black Diamond EMA
  • The Black Diamond EMA is a passive humbucking pickup that has plenty of power while still retaining its clear high-end frequencies.
  • Designed with intensity in mind and is perfect for rock and metal.
  • Tight low end, scooped mids. Play this one through your overpowered tube amp and make grandpa soil himself. 
  • The tone is full but not muddy which allows the natural harmonics come through loud and clear with this pickup.
  • Handles more crunch than a granola addict. 
Dimarzio John Petrucci Dreamcatcher Bridge
  • A high-output humbucking pickup that is great for aggressive metal styles.
  • Coil split this beast if you want to “be like John”. 
  • Greater touch sensitivity than a sunburned cat. 
  • Plenty of tight low end and can handle distortion at all levels. 
  • The Dreamcatcher really cuts through the mix, so get up on stage. 
  • The most impressive dreamcatcher remains the human mind, but this is a close second. 
Seymour Duncan Jason Becker Perpetual Burn
  • Another high-output humbucking pickup that can handle distortion without losing its clear highs.
  • This clarity means you can go “buck wild” with sweep picking, insane arpeggios, and tapping.
  • This is a good choice if you’re an extremely technical, virtuosic player.  
  • Wax potted to cut down on the feedback that could normally be a result of unleashing this monster with high gain. 
Nordstrand Audio Bonecrusher
  • The oversized AlNiCo V is blowing my mind. Even more output was needed?
  • Wind optimized for focused power and drive. 
  • Designed for intense, modern metal sounds. 
  • Chugs more than your sister-in-law at a Sex And The City party. 
Suhr DSH+
  • Hot and clear. Pronounced mids and softer highs. 
  • Smooth sounds considering the high output. 
  • You can get a nice 80s metal tone from this one. Dokken? Ratt? Accept? 
  • Nice and punchy, like your step dad after a long island iced tea. 
  • Reputation for excellent coil split tones. 


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!