The best passive pickups for metal are high-output models that deliver a truly aggressive tone with good definition. They have the capability to take your guitar from average to a metalhead’s dream.
Pickup replacement is a common upgrade that is not permanent. For metal, many of the models are designed for the bridge pickup position, as here is where you’d typically get the most penetrating gain tones.
However, some manufacturers produce pickup sets that give you massive gain for both the bridge and neck positions. In any case, there are plenty of options of passive pickups that deliver high gain and are specially made for metal.
With so many options, how do you know what to look for? We’re here to help you make the choice that is right for you. Keep reading.
- Best Passive Pickups for Metal: Our Top 3
- Best Passive Pickups for Metal: Individual Reviews
- How To Choose The Best Passive Pickups For Metal
- Final Thoughts on the Best Passive Pickups for Metal
Best Passive Pickups for Metal: Our Top 3
The Seymour Duncan SH-13 Dimebucker is our Top Choice. With a dual-blade design and a 4-conductor wire, this humbucker offers high output and high d.c. resistance. The result is a very aggressive sound with a nice treble bite and clarity, reminiscent of Dimegab Darrell’s tone.
The DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion is our Budget Choice. This pickup is one of the company’s earliest models and features an ultra-high output and ceramic magnets, great for metal and other aggressive types of high-gain genres.
Finally, the Seymour Duncan Mark Holcomb Alpha and Omega are our Editor’s Choice. This fantastic set of pickups comes with a high-output design with enhanced clarity and tightness. Ideal for discerning musicians who value quality, these pickups give you an aggressive yet precise tone.
Best Passive Pickups for Metal: Individual Reviews
Aggressive and defined tone from a legend.
Seymour Duncan pays special tribute to the late great Dimebag Darrell with the SH-13. It features a design and construction that delivers in-your-face aggressiveness but with great definition, much like the Pantera legend did.
The Seymour Duncan SH-13 Dimebucker is a humbucker with a dual-blade design and a 4-conductor wire. It offers the player high output and high d.c. resistance as well as a high resonance peak. This set of pickups was made to give you an aggressive sound while giving you a great treble bite and clarity, reminiscent of Dimegab’s timeless recordings with Pantera.
The Dimebucker achieves its aggressive yet clear sound by employing a powerful ceramic magnet and coupling it with stainless steel blades. On the other hand, the high d.c. resistance results in a well-defined high-output tone. Besides the bitey high end, this pickup also gives you a punchy bass response as well as fantastic dynamics.
Thanks to the blades, the Dimebucker gives balanced bends that fit nicely in metal and harder styles of music.
Installation is relatively simple. Seymour Duncan ships the SH-13 Dimebucker with a four-conductor hookup cable as well as a form-fitting mounting ring.
In our tests, we found that the Dimebucker SH-13 excels in the bridge position. This is especially true if you have a pickup like a ’59 Model in the neck in order to give you great P.A.F. tones. We tried it with our Les Paul and Tube Screamer and got killer distortion with massive output. We especially liked that although the sound was quite aggressive, it had a great definition of the entire frequency spectrum as well as a fantastic dynamic range.
In short, an ultra high output pickup for metal, with the vibe, attitude, and musical touch of Dimebag Darrell.
Verdict: The Seymour Duncan SH-13 Dimebucker is a passive humbucker that comes with a dual-blade design for an aggressive sound that is well-defined. With great treble bite and clarity, this pickup is best suited for the bridge position and for metal and hard types of music.
A tried and true pickup that is pure rock n roll.
Introduced in the early 1970s, this pickup has been used by countless guitarists. Among these are legends like Ace Frehley of KISS and Tom Scholz of Boston, giving the DP100 iconic status and a sound that is relevant to this day.
The DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion is one of the company’s earliest pickup models and has stood the test of time with flying colors. Made to send your tube amp directly into overdrive, this pickup features an ultra-high output of 425, a 4-conductor wiring design, and ceramic magnets.
We tried this pickup on the bridge position of our Les Paul. Installation was straightforward, and once done, we plugged into our Fender Twin Reverb.
With aggressive distortion dialed in via our Tube Screamer, the DP100 Super Distortion gave us powerful lows that were never flabby. We also got a lot of mids, which works great for cutting through a full band mix, especially if you play a lot of harmonic content.
The highs were big and rounded out the tone. We played through power chords with a huge and thick punch. Single lines and double stops also soared just right for rock and beyond.
The DC resistance on the DP-100 is at 13.68 K. Although we found it to be great at the bridge position, DiMarzio also recommends it as a neck pickup with lower-gain amplifiers.
The Super Distortion DP-100 is a versatile pickup within the rock genre. Naturally, you could use it in modern blues, and other styles. However, this pickup is best employed for hard rock, metal, progressive rock, classic rock, punk, and the like. In short, a fantastic pickup that has delivered rocking tones for generations, and is still very relevant today.
Verdict: The DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion is one of the company’s earliest pickup models and has been used by thousands of guitarists, including some legends. With an ultra-high output and ceramic magnets, this pickup is best at the bridge position and delivers pure rock tone and attitude.
Versatility and quality with great punch and definition.
This set of pickups delivers guitarist's Mark Holcomb signature powerful sound and more. With fantastic versatility, these Seymour Duncans are a fantastic choice for metal and can even be used for some modern or fusion jazz.
The Seymour Duncan Mark Holcomb Alpha and Omega set of pickups feature a high-output design that prioritizes clarity and tightness for an aggressive yet precise tone.
With two humbuckers labeled Omega for the bridge and Alpha for the neck, this set of pickups can deliver powerful distortion as well as a warm clean tone via the neck pickup.
The Omega bridge features focused mids and lows for delivering plenty of punch while keeping the highs balanced for the sake of clarity, especially with high-gain settings.
On the other hand, the Alpha neck pickup offers a mix of fat and glassy sounds with a good dose of pick attack. Both the Alpha and Omega pickups feature 4-conductor wiring in order to give you single-coil-type tones whenever needed.
We started our tests with the Omega bridge pickup dialed in at a high gain with our EXH Big Muff Pi into our Fender Twin Reverb. Here we got loud and aggressive distortion that was well-defined. Power chords sounded massive, and the leads were big with great note definition.
Next, we tried the Alpha neck pickup. At first, we dialed a bit of overdrive via our Tube Screamer. We got a nice and warm tone that was balanced and can work great for blues and even jazz a la John Scofield.
We then tried the Alpha with no gain, and it gave us a round tone that was also very balanced, with great mids that conveyed harmonic information well. Although not commonly associated with jazz, we could use this particular passive pickup for chord solos and for playing traditional standards convincingly and with a modern edge.
In short, a fantastic set of passive pickups that are very versatile. From Metal to classic rock and even all the way to fusion and jazz, this set of pickups is a great choice for discerning players.
Verdict: The Seymour Duncan Mark Holcomb Alpha and Omega set of pickups offer versatility for professional players that are willing to pay for quality. Featuring a high-output design that delivers great clarity and tightness, this set of pickups can handle everything from metal to jazz fusion.
Simple and effective passive design for killer tones.
EMG is one of the most renowned companies for pickups, particularly models for metal music. The H4A comes with the quality and know-how that EMG has delivered for years, and gives you a searing tone on a passive bridge position pickup.
The EMG H4A is a passive pickup built with an Alnico 5 magnet. This is the most used magnet in electric guitar pickups, as its alloys result in strong and long-lasting magnets. Because of its substantial magnetic force, Alnico 5 pickups provide powerful bass and treble, resonant mids, and great definition.
That is certainly the case with the H4A. We tried it at the bridge position and got a solid midrange punch, as well as a fat top that gave the pickup a lot of definition. With a strong output, the H4A worked nicely at different levels of saturation. From Fuzz via our Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi, to milder saturation with our Ibanez Tube Screamer, we got everything from punchy distortion to warm overdrive.
This pickup can work nicely for aggressive blues all the way to hard rock and metal. This pickup also has a tonal quality that can pair up nicely with several neck position pickups.
The H4A also features EMG’s 5-wire quick-connect output, so you can have your way with a number of wiring schemes. Because this pickup is also fully shielded, you can count on low-noise operation, which is a massive plus for any pickup, especially high-output models.
In short, a nice passive pickup from one of the biggest names in metal pickup design.
Verdict: The EMG H4A is a passive pickup designed with an Alnico 5 magnet. With emphatic bass and treble, rich mids, and great definition, this bridge position pickup can be used for killer blues solos, all the way to hard rock and metal riffs and power chords.
A classic pickup that delivers great tone.
The story of the SH-4 JB goes all the way back to 1974. Legend has it that Jeff Beck commissioned a young Seymour Duncan to recreate a PAF-style humbucking, and the rest is history. Used by other icons like Kurt Cobain, Dave Mustaine, and Jerry Cantrell, the SH-4 JB is one of the most popular pickups in history.
The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB is a passive humbucker pickup known for delivering high volume while remaining low noise. With an Alnico 5 design and 16.6 K DC resistance, this pickup is specially designed for the bridge position.
And that’s exactly where we installed it for our tests. We used our Gibson Les Paul going through our Fender Twin Reverb. The SH-4 JB gave us pronounced treble and was very forward on the mid frequencies, great for cutting through dense mixes.
It paired really well with several of our distortion and overdrive pedals, including our Boss Overdrive. When dialed in with some heavier distortion, this pickup gave us a nice bite, with fantastic note definition. Our leads were clear and crisp, while our power chords had tons of growl.
Although the clean tones had decent note definition, these pickups were made to rock. Even with just a touch of crunch, these SH-4 JB gave us a strong bite in both rhythm and lead parts.
In short, a great bridge position pickup with a fantastic sound and punch. As good as they are, modern or metal players may want to look for a different choice.
Verdict: The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB is a passive humbucker pickup with a rich history. This pickup gives you high volume and plenty of bite, especially in the mids and highs. With an Alnico 5 design and low noise performance, this pickup is great for folks that delve into classic rock, blues, and anything else with a vintage touch.
A set of pickups from a celebrated metal legend.
Marty Friedman's tone is one of the most revered in Metal, particularly for his work with Megadeth. EMG partnered with this metal legend to bring us a set of passive pickups that deliver a very hot output and convenient installation.
The EMG Marty Friedman Metalworks set of humbucker pickups features a passive design with Alnico 5 magnets for higher output and a tight sound. The EMG design team worked in tandem with Marty Friedman to produce these and together decided to include custom windings and custom bobbins.
This set of pickups looks the part and comes in stylish brushed black chrome covers. This particular look reminded us of some of Marty’s guitars back in his celebrated Megadeth years, with a slick visual to them.
Installation of the Marty Friedman Metalworks was painless thanks to the solderless install system that it features. Solderless pickups are easier to install than conventional systems, as you don’t even require a soldering gun. That said, something is always sacrificed in the name of convenience, as a solderless installation is not as reliable as its counterpart.
We started our tests by dialing in some aggressive distortion via our EHX Big Muff Pi to test them out. First, we tried the bridge position pickup which features a resistance of 2.25 K. Our power chords just soared and had nice punchy bass to them as well as forward mids. We stayed here for a while, playing some metal riffs and hearing how rich in overtones our sound was.
We the mids rolled back a bit, we tried some single lines and got a penetrating tone that was never shrill. This bridge position pickup is where we’d probably be most of the time for metal, for both lines and chords.
Moving on to the neck pickup with a 3 K DC resistance, we got a bit of a rounder tone. This can work nicely for some aggressive bluesy soloing, although we did prefer the bridge pickup for metal.
In short, an aggressive-sounding set of pickups that get the job done. At this price though, you may want to consider other options that may suit you better, or just choose to go for the bridge pickup instead.
Verdict: The EMG Marty Friedman Metalworks set of humbuckers feature a passive design on Alnico 5 magnets. With a high output and a tight sound, these pickups are a good choice for metal players.
Classic tone with a higher output.
This set of pickups are renowned for delivering a hotter version of a classic '59 Les Paul humbucker sound. They are versatile and come with the quality and durability that we've come to expect from Seymour Duncan pickups.
The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates feature Alnico 2 bars and come with a four-conductor hookup cable. The neck pickup features a D.C. resistance of 7.3 K while the bridge is at 8.35 K.
We installed these on our Gibson Les Paul using Seymour Duncan’s color-coded wire system. Installation was not complicated and there are countless guides and videos on the internet about how to do it.
We first started our tests with the bridge pickup. Here we got a nice chimey clean sound that was good for comping, as it made our open chords stick out. With a bit of overdrive, we got a nice bitey tone for leads, which can work well in any type of blues context.
Moving on to the neck bridge, we dialed back the tone in order to get a darker jazz tone. Naturally, we’re talking about a Les Paul type of jazz tone. It sounded good both clean and with a bit of saturation for a more modern or even fusion type of sound.
We then dialed in more aggressive distortion and got a punchy sound on both the neck and bridge pickups. There are tons of possibilities here, from classic rock and blues all the way to pop and even jazz. Both pickups gave us great sustain when distorted, with the bridge pickup having more of a rounder character that sounded good for bluesy lines.
In short, a versatile and great-sounding set of pickups. However, they may fall short for folks that want to play mostly metal, as they are not nearly as aggressive as some other models on the market.
Verdict: The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates feature Alnico 2 bars and offer you versatility and great tone. Their sound can be described as a ’59 Les Paul humbucker but with higher output, making them appropriate for a variety of situations from blues to rock and beyond.
How To Choose The Best Passive Pickups For Metal
It is important to start with understanding what a passive pickup is, and one of the best ways to explain them is by comparing them with active pickups, which are also popular for metal.
Active vs passive
Pickups for electric guitars are typically either active or passive. Passive pickups are the best-known type and are more popular. They have been around for a really long time and are used for a variety of styles, including metal.
Passive pickups are fitted and usually soldered to the other components in your guitar. On the other hand, active pickups need their own preamp to boost your output and give you more sculpting on your tone.
Having their own preamp means that active pickups need to be powered by a 9-volt battery which is housed in your guitar. Many players prefer active pickups as they provide consistent output and tone, and minimize variables from different guitar bodies.
However, active pickups also tend to give you a more compressed sound that many players do not like, while a passive model is more organic and natural in tone and feel. It is important to note that most active pickups tend to be humbuckers, although there are some active single-coils models as well. As with most things guitar related, this is a matter of taste and personal preference.
The magnet type used in your pickup will also have an impact on your tone. Two of the most common materials are Alnico and ceramic. Alnico pickups are made using an alloy of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt. In general, they tend to offer a smoother and more natural tone.
The most popular are Alnico 5 and Alnico 2. The first features a stronger magnet that produces a brighter tone. The second is a bit weaker, and produces a warmer tone.
On the other hand, ceramic magnets are sought after for their high output and in-your-face aggression. They tend to be favored by folks that play metal. On the flip side, they are considered to be inferior for clean tones, given their pronounced harmonic saturation and compression.
Humbucker vs single coils
Humbucker pickups feature two coils and produce a thicker and deeper tone, a sound that is often preferred by metal players.
Single Coils, on the other hand, produce a brighter tone with tons of snap and crispiness. As to which is better, there is no hard and fast answer. This is a debate that has raged for decades and there is no end in sight.
As always, try guitars with different pickups in order to hear for yourself what they sound like. Getting information online is helpful, but nothing replaces the act of spending time playing with different pickups and putting them through different effects, amps, etc.
Final Thoughts on the Best Passive Pickups for Metal
There are plenty of passive pickups for metal in the market. The best ones give you plenty of output in order to produce scorchingly hot tones. However, a key factor on these pickups is their clarity and definition. After all, what’s the point of having massive distortion if you can’t even tell what is being played?
Most passive pickups for metal allow for relatively simple installation. This is especially true for models that feature solderless installation. In other words, this is a guitar modification that many guitarists can carry out by themselves, but it’s perfectly fine to ask someone that has the experience to install them.
To recap our choice, the Seymour Duncan SH-13 Dimebucker is our Top Choice. This pickup comes with a dual-blade design as well as a 4-conductor wire. It offers high output and high d.c. resistance and produce a very aggressive sound with a nice treble edge and clarity, in the vein of Dimegab Darrell’s tone.
The DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion is our Budget Choice. This is one of the company’s earliest models and features an ultra-high output and was built using ceramic magnets. Used for generations, it is a great pickup for aggressive types of high-gain genres.
Finally, the Seymour Duncan Mark Holcomb Alpha and Omega are our Editor’s Choice. With a high-output design and enhanced clarity and tightness, they are ideal for dedicated professionals. These pickups give you a great response and an aggressive yet precise tone.