Best Guitar Pickups for Metal – 2021 Ultimate Review

| Last Updated: December 27, 2021

Are you looking for an aggressive, hot metal tone? All you need is a high-quality guitar pickup to provide you with all the punch and crunch.

Buying a new pickup for your instrument should not be a complicated task.

Mainly because we put together all the information you need to know, and we’ve also selected the best guitar pickups for metal of this year. 

What Are The Benefits of Investing in a Guitar Pickup?

Many guitarists accept their instruments as they are – and that’s totally normal. Others, on the other hand, prefer to invest in a guitar pickup and here’s why:

Improve the Sounds

Many guitarists prefer to upgrade their guitar pickup. The main reason is that most manufacturers go for lower-quality stock pickups, especially the budget models. They will do the job, but they will not be impressive; thus, many guitarists choose to upgrade their pickup and to make their guitar more suitable for gigs. 

Metalheads and Heavy Rock

An aggressive tone is required for metal and heavy rock. Thus, many guitarists want lots of heat and aggression, which can be achieved with a high-output active humbucker. 

Vintage Sounds

Other guitarists might not be focused so much on metal, so do they still upgrade their pickups? The answer is that there are many humbuckers on the market that are vintage-inspired. They often come with lower output, but the tone abilities are truly impressive. 

Improve Your Instrument

At the end of the day, a new pickup for your guitar means that you improve your instrument. Not all guitars come with good-quality electronics, and some of them do not have electronics at all. Thus, some people choose pickups in order to improve their guitar to make it worthy of studio recording or live performances. 

What Makes a Guitar Pickup Great For Metal?

Here are some characteristics that make pickups ideal for metal:

The Response

If you play metal or heavy rock, you will certainly need an outstanding low and mid-range response. Most of the metal music is in lower tunings, so the pickup needs to have a pronounced bass response. 

Mids should also be pronounced because a noticeable gap in quality will be dissonant. Most metal players choose humbuckers, or dual-coil pickups because they have better responses at low frequencies. 

The Output

High output pickups are preferred for metal because they produce higher volumes, saturate and distort quicker, which results in the ‘crunch’ specific to metal songs. Because of these, most of the metal pickups will use alnico and ceramic magnets. 

Technological Advancements

Although pickups appeared in the 1970s, they only gained their popularity in the 1980s. It is worthwhile to point out that pickups back in the day were certainly not as advanced as they are today. 

Many manufacturers use the latest technologies and advancements in electronics and integrated circuits to improve their active pickups. This means that modern metal guitarists benefit from more flexibility than ever before. 

Comparison of the Best Guitar Pickups For Metal

  • Best guitar pickups for metal overall
  • Quick-Connect system for easy installation
  • Two active humbuckers with solderless design
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  • Best single-coil pickups for a strat
  • Hot wound rails combined with a powerful ceramic magnet
  • Incredible crunch and sustain, perfect for hard rock and metal
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  • Best for the money
  • A great investment for all well-balanced instruments
  • Single-coil-sized humbucker highly versatile, ideal for heavy rock, metal, blues, funk, country, and others
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  • EMG 81 and 85 active pickups
  • Includes long shaft volume and tone controls
  • Aggressive crunch and solderless installation
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  • Easy to control
  • Hum canceling properties
  • Vintage touch with warm and smooth tones
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Review of the Best Guitar Pickups For Metal

Now that you know what to keep an eye out for, take a look at our top models to get your head banging on!

Best Overall:
EMG 57/66 Set Brushed Chrome


  • Flawless note separation
  • Superb definition and presence
  • 2 tone and 2 volume pots included
  • A beautiful pairing of vintage 57 with 66 neck humbucker
  • Very easy to install due to solderless design and Quick-Connect system


  • Quite pricey
  • Slight loss of fidelity when played under medium- to heavy-gain

What Recent Buyers Report 

EMG 57/66 is the pair of humbuckers generations of guitarists have been searching for. The definition, presence of sound, and the flawless note separation make this pricey set of humbuckers worth every cent. They pack additional punch and headroom, and they are absolutely a must-have!

Why it Stands Out to Us

The sleek modern look of the EMG set of humbuckers complements the design of any instrument. The 57 has a touch of a vintage feel to it, a true original that is designed to fulfill any guitarist’s needs regardless of the genre they play. The unique combination of EMG’s pickups makes them stand out from the crowd.

Who Will Use This Most

If your budget matches this set of humbuckers, you must try them out. Our top recommendation for pickups for metal can hardly be compared to any other product on the market. They simply sparkle with cleaner tones than anything you’ve heard before. They are great for metal, but also classic hard rock.

Bottom Line

All in all, the vintage-inspired EMG humbuckers combine the knowledge of modern active pickups with a truly original feel. Despite the slight loss of fidelity and dynamics when played under heavy gain, this combo brings unmatched detail and clarity to any performance.

Seymour Duncan Hot Rails Strat Pickup Set


  • High output
  • Easy to install
  • Full, powerful chords
  • Great mid-range harmonics
  • Aggressive punch, ideal for metal and hard rock


  • High price range

What Recent Buyers Report

This combo delivers everything you could ever wish for: harmonics, gain, mid-range punch, you name it. If you want clean sounds with high output, this pair of single-coil pickups are what you need. They are silent on high distortion channels and don’t give feedback unless you want them to.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Hot Rails Strat Pickup set is well-recommended for the incredible sustain with fat, full sounds – all you need for metal and hard rock. They are highly sensitive to even the most subtle finger movements. They can truly transport a mild Strat into a metal beast.

Who Will Use This Most

These single-coils are best to bring your Strat back to life. They are perfect for metal and hard rock, and they can be installed with ease. Even though you might have never installed a pair of pickups, the instructions are clear and straightforward. They are incredible!

Bottom Line

Overall, the Seymour Duncan Hot Rails Strat Pickup set is ideal if you need some major gain and full frequency response. If you have a Strat and you need just a bit more drive for your guitar, buy this set of pickups, and you will certainly not be disappointed. They are the best investment if you have a Strat!

Best for the Money:
Seymour Duncan Little 59er Pickup


  • Even, dynamic responses
  • Louder, punchier and fatter single-coil sound
  • Ideal for both maple and rosewood fingerboards
  • Allows the guitarist to dial in the right amount of punch
  • Can be used with both maple and rosewood fingerboards
  • Extremely versatile, suitable for blues, jazz, metal, or heavy rock


  • Not as warm as a standard humbucker

What Recent Buyers Report

This pickup offers the right amount of upper and lower bite. What truly stands out is how each note rings out without slurring together when you play a chord. Overall, it can offer very full, strong, and throaty bridge sounds that are simply amazing and very versatile.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Seymour Duncan Little 59er Pickup offers an even, dynamic response. It has pole pieces that can be adjusted so that the guitarist fine-tunes the string balance, obtaining just the right amount of punch. It is a combination of both worlds, offering louder, fatter, and punchier single-coil sounds.

Who Will Use This Most

This pickup is a great choice for anyone who wants to make the lead tone sing, with outstanding performance for overdriven rhythm tones as well. You can fatten the lead tones, without losing all the nice chime. It is not as warm as a standard humbucker, but it offers just the right amount of warmth.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, Seymour Duncan Little 59er Pickup is extremely easy to install, and it offers the best of both worlds. You can fatten up the tones and still retain some of the chime. It is affordable and one of the best options if you want a versatile pickup.

4. EMG ZW Zakk Wylde 81/85 Humbucker Set


  • Easy to install
  • Ideal for fast play styles
  • Great sustain and punch
  • Versatile and flexible tones
  • 81 and 85 EMG active pickups


  • Not so versatile, they are great only for metal

What Recent Buyers Report

You can rely on EMG ZW set for endless sustain and aggressive tones. It is a classic set that includes a long shaft volume and tone controls, and the installation is extremely easy. Every pickup has pre-wired volume/tone controls, diagrams, battery clip, and an output jack.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The pickups are one alnico and one ceramic, solid plastic bars sealed. The installation is solderless and beginner-friendly. The kit includes four potentiometers (Les Paul and similar) and all the wire/connectors required for installation. Instructions are very easy to follow.

Who Will Use This Most

If you have a Les Paul, this would be the best pickup for metal. They are not as versatile as others, but they are top in line in this category. They offer face-melting power and tone – if you want an epic performance, these pickups are surely for you.

Bottom Line

Overall, EMG ZW Zakk Wylde 81/85 Humbucker Set is a signature product. They are easy to install, and they are perhaps the most popular EMG pickups for most guitars with passive pickups. They are visually impressive, and they come with a fair price tag.

5. Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbucker Pickup


  • Controllable distortion sound
  • Impressive complexity of overtones
  • Bridge pickup offers clean and distorted good sounds
  • The neck pickup is bassy, PAF type with sweet touches


  • Microphonic when very close to the amp (less than 6-7 ft)

What Recent Buyers Report

This set of pickups is able to improve an impressive shimmer and complexity of overtones that most pickups are unable to. They are quite microphonic, but this is not an issue as long as you maintain a distance of a minimum of 6-7 feet from your amp. They have vintage tones, with a softer bass and pronounced mids.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbucker Pickup Set has the ability to transform your guitar totally. They are hot, more responsive, and they are well worth the money. Their unpotted cover makes them slightly microphonic, although this makes them loyal to the original.

Who Will Use This Most

If you want a milder set of pickups, this is for you. They are more towards the classic rock spectrum rather than hard rock, but they sound great, and many guitarists prefer them. They are easy to install and affordable – definitely a great choice for any guitarist.

Bottom Line

The Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbucker Pickup Set is a great option for any guitarist. They are somewhere in the middle ground in terms of tonality, with an impressive complexity of overtones and a distortion sound that is easy to control.

What Do I Need To Know Before Buying?

Here are some of the most important considerations you need to keep in mind before buying:


It is important to stress that the amplifier is essential. The pickups will help you achieve the metal tones, but the quality of your amp will determine the overall quality of the tones. You do not need to spend a fortune on an amp, but make sure it is high-quality. 

The money you spend on the pickup should be proportional to the money you spent on your amp. For instance, it is pointless to spend more than $300 on your pickup system if your amp cannot deliver the power and natural sound the pickup can produce. 


This is another critical point, although our products often come with straightforward installation procedures. If you are unsure, you could simply go for a solderless installation. Both beginners and guitarists with more experience can install our recommended products with relative ease. 

Active vs. Passive

If possible, you should go for an active pickup. For metal, the output level is very important. Passive pickups work great, but they will not reach the volume of active ones. Another word of caution is that the main difference between active and passive is that active pickups require a battery, while passive does not. 


We believe that you now have all the knowledge to choose the best guitar pickup for metal. We included top products on the market that have unbeatable performances – of course, there are many more, but these ones are aimed at enhancing the performance of your instrument. 

People Also Ask

If you still can’t work out which guitar pickups are right for you, take a look at these commonly asked questions below.

Are Active Pickups Better For Metal?

Most metal guitarists prefer active pickups because they have a higher output. However, passive pickups are much more versatile in tones because they have an increased frequency range. This matter is quite subjective, so it might be a good idea to try both and see which ones fit you best. 

What is Passive Pickup?

A passive pickup does not require a battery, and it is the most common of the two types of pickups. They allow more room for the traditional guitar tones with the enhanced frequency range and extra versatility in the tonal palette. On the other hand, they do not have a high output as the active pickups do. 

Can You Turn Passive Pickups Active?

Passive pickups cannot be turned into active pickups. It is a bit of a grey area because an active pickup is essentially a passive one with an internal buffer/amplifier. So, it is down to coil construction between the two types. Unless you intend to tear yours apart, we recommend to leave them as they are. 

What is a High Output Pickup?

A pickup with a high-output means that it sends a stronger signal to the amplifier, compared to what we’d consider a ‘lower-output pickup’. Stating that the pickup has a high output is quite relative, depending on people’s perceptions and what they compare it to. There is no standard that defines what a high output pickup actually is.

Hi there, my name is Craig. I took over Gear Savvy in mid-2019 and have had a blast writing content about music ever since. My role here is to steer the ship and ensure readers have the best information available for learning a thing or two. When I’m not working on content, I’m a husband and a dad. I enjoy spending time with my family, playing guitar, or messing around in my woodshop.