As a metal guitarist, your choice of pickups can make all the difference in achieving the perfect tone. Whether you're recording in the studio or playing live, the right pickups can help you achieve the high gain and heavy sound that metal is known for.
In this article, we'll explore the differences between passive and active pickups, as well as the three biggest pickup brands in the market: Fishman, Seymour Duncan, and Bare Knuckle Pickups. We'll also discuss why humbuckers are commonly used for metal, and answer some common questions about pickups for metal guitarists.
Pickups aren't EVERYTHING in your tone, but making the right choice here will help you craft tones for your music much easier!
If you're looking for mix-ready rock and metal guitar sounds at home, be sure to check out Clairvoyant | Amp Suite, our brand new plugin that helps you get album ready guitars at home.
Passive vs. Active Pickups
When it comes to guitar pickups, there are two main types: passive and active. Passive pickups are the more traditional type, and they work by using magnets to create a signal. Active pickups, on the other hand, require an external power source to boost the signal.
So, which type of pickup is better for metal? The answer is that it depends on your personal preference, the genre you play and playing style. Active pickups tend to have a higher output, which means they can deliver more gain and distortion, but this also means you may struggle getting super "glassy" clean tones due to the fact your pickups are higher output. The high output is what can make them such a popular choice for metal guitarists who want a really heavy guitar sound. However, some guitarists prefer the more organic, dynamic sound of passive pickups.
The Top Pickup Brands for Metal Guitar
When it comes to guitar pickups, there are a lot of brands out there to choose from. However, there are three that stand out as some of the most popular and widely used by metal guitarists: Fishman, Seymour Duncan, and Bare Knuckle Pickups.
Everyone here at MMS can say that we highly recommend Fishman pickups for recording metal guitars. Fishman has been making pickups since the early 1980s, and they're known for their high-quality, innovative designs. One of their most popular pickups for metal is the Fluence Modern Humbucker, which you have probably heard on a ton of your favorite records. This pickup delivers a massive sound with tight bass, clear mids, and plenty of harmonics. It's also incredibly versatile, with multiple voicings that allow you to dial in the perfect tone for your playing style.
Another well-known pickup brand in the metal community is Seymour Duncan. They offer a range of pickups that are popular with metal guitarists, including the Black Winter, which is known for its aggressive, high-output sound. The Seymour Duncan JB and Invader pickups are also popular choices for metal players who want a classic, crunchy tone.
Bare Knuckle Pickups
Last but not least, Bare Knuckle Pickups has gained a loyal following among metal guitarists in recent years. Their pickups are handmade in the UK and are known for their high output and clarity, as well as their amazing custom graphics on the pickups themselves. The Aftermath and Warpig models are particularly popular with metal players, as they deliver a tight, articulate sound that cuts through even the heaviest and low-tuned mixes.
Of course, these are just a few of the many pickup brands available on the market. The best way to find the right pickups for your playing style is to try out a few different options and see what sounds best to you.
Popular Metal Guitarists and Their Pickup Choices
To give you an idea of the different pickups that metal guitarists use, let's take a look at some well-known players and the pickups they prefer.
James Hetfield (Metallica)
James Hetfield is known for his massive, crushing tone, and he achieves that sound with a combination of EMG pickups. He typically uses an 81 in the bridge position and a 60 in the neck position.
Mark Morton (Lamb of God)
Mark Morton of Lamb of God uses Seymour Duncan pickups, specifically the SH-4 JB in the bridge position and the SH-2 Jazz in the neck position.
Mick Thomson (Slipknot)
Mick Thomson's signature guitar features Seymour Duncan EMTY Blackouts pickups, which are known for their high-output, low-noise performance.
Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders)
Tosin Abasi is known for his incredibly intricate playing style, and he achieves his unique sound with his signature Fishman Fluence pickups.
Ola Englund (The Haunted, Feared)
Ola Englund is a well-known metal guitarist and YouTuber, and he uses a combination of Seymour Duncan pickups in his various guitars. He prefers the Black Winter model in the bridge position and the '59 model in the neck position.
Matt Heafy (Trivium)
Matt Heafy of Trivium uses a combination of Seymour Duncan pickups, including the SH-6 Distortion in the bridge position and the SH-2 Jazz in the neck position.
Adam Jones (Tool)
Adam Jones of Tool uses a combination of different pickups in his various guitars, but one of his go-to options is the Bare Knuckle Nailbomb in the bridge position.
As you can see, there's no one "right" pickup for metal guitar. It really comes down to personal preference and finding the sound that works best for your playing style.
When it comes to choosing the right pickups for recording metal guitars, there are a lot of factors to consider. Passive vs. active, high-output vs. moderate-output, and humbuckers vs. single-coils are all important considerations. Ultimately, the best way to find the right pickups for your playing style is to try out a few different options and see what works best for you. Don't be afraid to experiment and try new things - that's how some of the most iconic tones in metal history were created.
At Modern Metal Songwriter, we're dedicated to helping rock and metal musicians and songwriters achieve their best possible sound at home. That's why we created our Clairvoyant | Amp Suite plugin, which allows you to get a wide range of guitar amp tones right from your computer, that are album ready. With our amp sim Clairvoyant, and the right pickups for your style, you'll be able to achieve the massive, crushing tone that's essential for any metal recording.
Whether you prefer Fishman, Seymour Duncan, Bare Knuckle Pickups, or any other brand, just remember that the right pickups are out there waiting for you. Keep shredding, and keep pushing the limits of what's possible with your sound!