We checked out five of the most punishing, aggressive, and sonically sexy pickups for metal and found that the Bare Knuckle Pickups Juggernaut set is the best guitar pickup for metal.
Every metal guitarist is always looking for an edge and trying to refine their sound as much as possible. Excellent pickups are probably the easiest way to improve your tone, and they’ll make even a mediocre axe sound like it came from a custom shop.
That’s why pickups like the Bareknuckle Juggernaut are so amazing. These pickups allow you to coax nuance from every note while delivering a punishing tightness that’s ideal for modern metal.
Keep reading as we take a closer look at five of the best guitar pickups for metal, and share some important advice on choosing the perfect pickups for the way you play.
Top Five Best Guitar Pickups For Metal
From active to passive and alnico to ceramic, we’ve checked out all the leading metal guitar pickups on the market. Here are our top five.
- Fishman Fluence Killswitch Engage Signature Humbucker Set
- Seymour Duncan Pegasus/Sentient Humbucker Set
- Bare Knuckle Pickups The Juggernaut Humbucker Set
- EMG ZW Zakk Wylde 81/85 Humbucker Set
- DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion Humbucker
- Ceramic VIII magnet for bridge, Alnico V for neck position
- Includes all wiring components (except a selector switch)
- Innovative 3-way push-pull pot voicing selector
- Output: 2K bridge, 2K neck
Fishman has long been the go-to provider of piezo pickups and electronics for acoustic guitars. Recently, they’ve set their sights on electric pickups, and they’re aiming to conquer the world with their new Fluence pickups.
This set is made to the exacting specifications of Adam and Joel from Killswitch Engage, and they’re loaded with innovative features. Each pickup offers three different voicings that you can access with the included push-pull pot.
The first voicing is fire and brimstone incarnate, while the second voicing provides a more vintage, passive quality. The third voicing provides a classic single-coil tone that’s glassy and bell-like, which lends itself perfectly to clean tones.
Each voicing can be incredibly useful, but the first voicings are so tightly defined, responsive, and aggressive that you have to actively remind yourself that there’s more to these pickups than what you’re getting from the first voicing.
If you’re looking for an aggressive active pickup set for modern metal, the Fluence Killswitch Engage signature set is one of the best available.
- Includes all wiring components (besides pickup selector)
- Three voicings make for an incredibly versatile pickup
- Tight, punchy, and perfect for modern metal
- May require modifications if installing in place of passive pickups
- First voicing is a bit too shrill and aggressive for clean tones
- Alnico V magnet
- Medium output is ideal for progressive metal styles
- Output: 12.5K bridge, 7.75K neck
Seymour Duncan is arguably the most respected pickup manufacturer in the game. They’re best known for their faithfully vintage pickups. Recently, they’ve been expanding into new sonic territory, and their Pegasus and Sentient humbuckers are perfectly voiced for the demands of modern metal.
The Pegasus features Alnico V bar magnets that are custom wound to deliver exceptional warmth, balance, and responsiveness. The harmonics are especially rich, and the pickup is perfectly voiced for progressive metal. The low end is exceptionally focused and responsive with a top-end that’s so glassy and bell-like that it’s reminiscent of a single coil.
The Sentient is quite reminiscent of two of Duncan’s famed vintage-style pickups: the ‘59 and the Jazz. This pickup provides moderate output and a balanced, articulate tone. For lead playing, the neck delivers a richness and vocal quality that few other pickups can mimic.
This set may leave you slightly disappointed if all you’re looking for in a pickup is something with enough output to strip the paint off the walls. But, if you’re interested in a more nuanced pickup that expertly captures the sound of today’s progressive metal, this is a set you must try.
- Tons of warmth and character
- Exceptional balance between the two pickups
- Ideal for djent and progressive styles
- Lower output won’t appeal to high-gain fanatics
- Custom alnico/ceramic blend for bridge, Alnico V for neck position
- Designed for extended range and drop-tuned instruments
- Output: 13.3K bridge, 8.9K neck
If you’re a fan of progressive metal, you’re probably already well acquainted with Bare Knuckle Pickups. But, even the uninitiated will quickly appreciate the attention to detail and incredible tones that these pickups can conjure up.
The Juggernaut is the signature set for Periphery’s Misha Mansoor, who has spent the last two decades conducting a master class in modern metal guitar tones. These pickups are hand-wound with dual screw coils. Both Alnico V and ceramic Viii magnets are used to create a pickup with incredible bass response and a full and nuanced middle and high end.
The combination of magnets allows players to channel all the responsiveness of ceramic with the nuance and dynamic attack of alnico. Some shredders will find themselves searching for a bit more output from this set. But, fans of progressive metal are sure to quickly fall in love with this balanced and musical offering from Bare Knuckle.
- Hand-wound in England
- Incredibly rich and layered tonal character
- Affordable by Bare Knuckle’s standards
- Might not have enough output for some people
- Ceramic/steel magnets for bridge, alnico for neck position
- Includes all wiring components (except selector switch)
- Output: 10K bridge, 10K neck
For over two decades, the EMG 81/85 set has been the industry standard for aggressive metal pickups. This particular set is custom-voiced to the exacting specifications of Zakk Wylde. If you’re familiar with Zakk’s playing, you know exactly what to expect from this face-melting set already.
Both pickups deliver exceptionally high output. The bridge offers a consistent distortion level with sustain for days and a musical breakup. The attack is exceptionally quick, but the pickup never comes off as shrill or thin.
The neck pickup offers even more output than the bridge but with a well-rounded frequency response that lends itself perfectly to the neck position. You’ll enjoy smooth and creamy leads with sustain that seems as if it will go on forever.
In the past, retrofitting EMGs into your guitar was a bit of a pain. Today’s Quik-Connect cables eliminate all of the headaches and make this set one of the easiest in the world to drop into any guitar. If you’re swapping pickups yourself without much experience, this is the perfect set for you.
- Incredibly high output that’s ideal for metal
- Custom voiced to the specifications of Zakk Wylde
- Quik-Connect cables for a frustration-free installation
- Included long-shaft pots are too long for guitars without a carved top
- Requires batteries
- Ceramic magnet
- Mid boost for unparalleled cutting ability in the mix
- Output: 13.68K
The Super Distortion is revered as one of the finest pickups in metal, and it’s maintained its position for nearly 50 years. If you’re looking for a classically metal bridge pickup that’s ideal for both classic and modern tones, you’ll want to check out the DP100.
The Super Distortion offers a classic tone with a well-defined low end, boosted middle, and bell-like high end that’s perfect for virtually every style. Players from Ace Frehley to Paul Gilbert have made the DP100 their signature pickup, which is a testament to its versatility.
While the originals were a single conductor pickup, the newer models have four-conductor wiring, which allows for a multitude of splitting options to achieve different tones. When split, the Super Distortion delivers an excellent hot Strat sound.
These pickups are affordable, they’re available as sets or individual pickups, and they can help provide a massive improvement in tone over virtually any stock pickup. Plus, they’re available in all sorts of crazy colors if you want to escape from the usual options.
- Available in a ton of different colors
- Sounds great when coils are split
- Not as nuanced as some of the other pickups on the list
- Can be a bit shrill in high gain applications
Metal Pickup Buying Guide
Whether you opt for one of the excellent options on our list or choose another pickup altogether, there are a few critical considerations you’ll need to make to ensure you’re selecting the best pickups for you. Here’s what you’ll want to look for.
Active vs. Passive
When it comes to guitar pickups for metal, you’ll come across both active and passive models. This distinction refers to whether or not the pickups require an external power source to generate sound.
Passive pickups rely on magnets and tightly wound coils of copper wire to generate the electrical signal necessary to produce sound when plugged into an amp. Active pickups work in the same manner but with far fewer windings of copper wire. The resulting signal is exceptionally faint compared to what a passive pickup generates, which is why a battery is required.
Active pickups generate a very low impedance signal, which is boosted by the battery’s current and shaped by an internal preamp. These pickups are exceptionally quiet while producing a hotter signal than even the most overwound passive pickups.
Active pickups lend themselves particularly well to metal, and the preamp tends to gloss over all the shortcomings of cheaper guitars. But, these pickups do strip your instrument of most of its tonal character. In other words, you’d be hard-pressed to hear the difference between a $300 guitar with active pickups and a $3000 guitar with the same pickups.
If you’re looking for the hottest, most aggressive metal tone, you may want to consider active pickups for your guitar.
Individual Pickups or a Matched Set?
Another question you’ll need to ask yourself is whether you’d like to purchase pickups individually or as a set. Most manufacturers offer a few different pickup sets that either include two of the same pickups voiced for neck and bridge position or different neck and bridge pickups that are paired together because they complement each other well.
On the one hand, pickup sets allow you to save a couple of bucks, and they often represent the best sonic combination of pickups from a particular manufacturer. But, with a matched set, you lose the ability to choose the exact pickups you want for each position.
Unless you prefer a specific combination, it’s often best to opt for a matched pair from the manufacturer.
How versatile you need your guitar to be will play a major role in the pickups that are best for your axe. If your primary goal is pure, unbridled aggression, then you’ll want to select a set of pickups that speak to those needs. Meanwhile, if you need your guitar to venture into sonic territory that’s decidedly non-metal, you’ll want more versatile pickups.
Many of the best metal pickups, such as the Bareknuckle Juggernaut on our list, provide medium output and a nuanced sonic profile that lends itself very well to other styles of music. Meanwhile, a pickup like the EMG 81 delivers all metal all the time.
Your budget is another major consideration when shopping for new pickups, especially with boutique pickup manufacturers commanding higher and higher prices for their gear.
Pickups influence your guitar tone more than any other component of your instrument, so you should always select the best quality pickups you can afford. Fortunately, even shredders on a budget will find excellent options from top brands like Dimarzio or Seymour Duncan that deliver a tonal upgrade at an affordable price.
Alnico vs. Ceramic
All humbuckers rely on magnets to generate a signal from your guitar. The two most common types are alnico and ceramic.
Alnico magnets are made from a blend of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt. These magnets are softer and generate a weaker magnetic field, which contributes to a warm and well-rounded tone.
Ceramic magnets are made from ceramic materials, like ferrite. These magnets are stronger and generate a strong magnetic field with a tighter frequency response. The extra output these pickups provide is often preferred for metal. But, ceramic pickups lack the warmth and musicality of alnico magnets.
Many metal guitarists swear by ceramic pickups, whereas others opt for a blend of the two. Ceramic and alnico pickups offer the high output and punchiness of a ceramic pickup with the warmth and body of alnico pickups.
Fans of progressive metal and lots of open, suspended chords are sure to gravitate towards a guitar with alnico and ceramic magnets.
While each of the pickups on our list is an awesome choice for metal, one, in particular, is our choice as the best guitar pickups for metal. The Bareknuckle Pickups Juggernaut set delivers the clarity and tightness that modern metal demands, with a balanced EQ profile that helps any guitar sound its best.
While the other pickups we’ve covered are excellent, they all fall short of these Bareknuckles. The brand has quickly become the go-to pickups for some of metal’s biggest shredders, including Misha Mansoor, who helped design these punishing pickups. If you’re ready to take your sound to the next level today, this guide will help you greatly.