If you are a fan of metal music, you know how important it is to maintain that thick, chunky guitar tone, as well as a well-defined and loud sonic output with powerful bass.
Metal electric guitars rely heavily on high amounts of gain distortion, and this is precisely the reason why the best guitar manufacturers, as well as the veteran players often opt for humbuckers when it comes to selecting the right guitar passive pickup for playing metal music.
In order to help you with making the right choice, we have included 7 of the best passive guitar pickups for metal music in the list below.
Recommended Passive Pickups for Metal
Seymour Duncan Nazgûl Trembucker
What’s good: Oversized ceramic bar magnet delivers powerful attack with lots of bass
Not so good: The tone can be a little hard to control
If you like to play a deep, heavy style of metal, with tons of aggression and lots of hardcore guitar solos, then the Nazgul Trembucker might be perfect for you.
It is equipped with one of the largest ceramic bar magnets that we have ever seen in a passive pickup, and its winding is specially tweaked to deliver extra definition on the B and F# strings. The best part is that, no matter how many attacks you use, the tones will stay very crisp and clear without showing any noticeable loss in treble or midrange frequencies.
The super large bar magnet makes the tones on the Nazgul slightly difficult to control, but once you get the hang of it, playing your guitar will feel like a whole new experience. Surely one of our top picks for passive pickups for metal.
Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker Dimebag Darrell Pickup
What’s good: Can be easily mounted on any guitar, powerful ceramic magnet
Not so good: Tone can get too distorted at high volumes
If you are a fan of Pantera, then you must be well acquainted with the classic Dimebag Darrell guitar tone. The Seymour Duncan SH13 “Dimebucker” is basically a humbucker that has been tweaked to produce authentic Dimebag Darrell style sound, which means that you will get searing, high-pitched upper midranges, along with crushing, deep bass on the lower end.
Unlike ordinary passive pickups that just use ceramic bar magnets, the SH13 utilizes stainless steel blades alongside the regular bar magnets in order to deliver extra power and higher gain distortion. This little circuit tweak translates to soul-piercingly powerful heavy metal sound.
EMG H4 Passive Electric Guitar Pickup
What’s good: Dual bar-loaded coils, fully shielded
Not so good: Simplistic design leaves little room for customization
The EMG H4 is one of the most popular budget passive pickups in the world, and for good reason. It delivers clean and powerful midrange sound, without compromising too much on low-end bass.
The sound is actually quite similar in terms of attack and bass to an EMG 81, which is an active pickup. But the H4 also packs all the tonal diversity and clarity that is expected from a true passive humbucker pickup.
The interior of the H4 contains dual over-wound coils that are paired with a couple of large ceramic bar magnets to deliver extra powerful sound, perfect for those screaming guitar solos that metal is known for. All the coils and magnets are fully shielded in order to minimize electromagnetic noise, resulting in non-distorted audio which sounds as clear as a pickup that costs twice as much.
DiMarzio DP222 D Activator X Humbucker Bridge Pickup
What’s good: Very well balanced midrange, with high amount of attack
Not so good: Lacks chunky bass on the lower end
The DiMarzio DP222 D is equipped with large ceramic bar magnets and specially tuned coils that are designed to deliver tons of attack in the upper midrange, along with perfectly balanced treble.
The universal spacing makes it good for both standard as well as F- spaced applications, although this particular model is meant for bridge mounting only. The output voltage on this model is slightly higher than the famous X2N humbucker pickup from DiMarzio, and as a result, the audio is much more powerful, which is always a good thing for hardcore metal.
It does tradeoff a little bit of low-end bass, but the overall audio quality does not suffer that much and this defect is only noticed while playing certain sections of super heavy metal tunes.
DiMarzio John Petrucci Pickup Set Black, for 43mm Nut
What’s good: Warm and smooth treble, with tight and punchy bass
Not so good: Bridge pickup may not fit in with certain guitars
First of all, this is a set of two pickups and contains a neck as well as a bridge pickup. These two humbuckers are designed to be used on 43 mm nuts (1-11/ 16”) and are optimized to deliver great metal and rock sound.
Complete shielding on the circuits ensures a distortion-free audio output, and the solos on this pickup will sound extremely natural and smooth. Treble sounds warm and smooth, while the bass is tight and punchy, i.e. the bass does not drown the rest of the sound which is quite good for any type of music.
Bill Lawrence L-500XLB Hot Humbucker – Blade style
What’s good: distinctive screaming sound, perfect for high-pitched guitar solos
Not so good: Needs proper tuning, otherwise the bass may get too distorted at times
This is a remake of the original Bill Lawrence L-500XL hot humbucker and is quite similar to the very same pickups that were used in the old Washburn “Dimebag Darell” guitars.
The stainless steel blade design and the large ceramic bar magnet with dual wound coils deliver a unique blend of deep, hellish bass, alongside pristine midranges that allow you to focus on the vocals without drowning out much of the lower frequencies in your performance.
These pickups are great for punk rock and classic metal, and in terms of sound quality, these are among the cleanest sounding passive pickups for metal that are available on the market right now.
Bare Knuckle Nailbomb Humbucker Alnico V
What’s good: Explosive sound with very strong attack and deep bass
Not so good: May not fit in on some older guitar models
The Nailbomb Alnico V delivers strong, explosive sound across the low-high midrange, as well as chest-thumping bass. It will perform great for all styles of rock and metal music and allows contemporary players to get a full bore reaction on full tilt.
This pickup allows you to choose from either the Alnico V or ceramic bar-style magnets, the default Alnico V magnets will deliver a deep and bass-filled bottom end with tons of chunky mid-range highs, and plenty of warmth.
When used clean, the Nailbomb shows a woody and slightly bright character in its tone, however, if you add a bit of overdrive, the tone will tighten up and feel a lot more responsive and punchy. Without a doubt, we can put this one on top of passive pickups for metal music.
How to choose the best passive pickup for metal?
However, not all humbuckers are the same, and they can vary a lot in terms of the sound they deliver. Passive pickups are the ones with passive electric circuits, i.e. they don’t need an active power source such as a battery in order to function. On the other hand, you have active humbuckers.
The active types are louder and have a chunkier bass, but lack the amount of clarity and expression that is offered by passive humbucker pickups.
Also, passive pickups barely require any maintenance and provide a very old school sound output, reminiscent of the early days of rock and heavy metal. If you are a fan of ’60s/ 70’s rock and heavy metal, then a good passive humbucker pickup is what you are going to need.
The quality of a passive pickup is determined by the type of magnet it uses, the number of coil windings, and the overall noise isolation qualities of the pickup circuits.