10 Searing Replacement Pickups for Hard Rock + Metal
Sonically speaking, the pickups in your guitar are at the forefront of your tone. Everything within your pickups — such as their number of windings, the material and thickness of their wire, and their magnet type — can have drastic effects on your tone’s feel, sustain, punchiness and response. As such, many metal players oftentimes replace their stock pickups with hotter ones for more gain and aggression. It’s a cheap mod that’s relatively painless to perform and a hell of a lot cheaper than trying to fix the issues with a new guitar, amp or pedal.
Our 10 Searing Replacement Pickups for Hard Rock and Metal is meant to give players a good starting point in sifting through the massive selection of replacement pickups that are currently on the market. So before you dive headfirst into the hot ‘n’ heavy world of hard rock and metal pickups, take a look at this list for suggestions on where to begin your journey.
EMG 81 & 85
EMG’s 81 and 85 humbuckers are amongst the most popular choices for modern and classic thrash tones. Thrashers such as Metallica‘s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett and Black Label Society‘s Zakk Wylde (who has his own signature 81 and 85 set) have long relied on their focused highs, drum-tight lows and scooped midrange for pummeling riffs and sharp leads. Plus, their active low-impedance design helps them transfer signal over long cable lengths with minimal signal loss.
Seymour Duncan JB
For well-rounded versatility and that extra bit of punch to push your tone over the edge, it’s hard to beat the Seymour Duncan JB. The 35-year-old humbucker is arguably the most popular aftermarket pickup in the world, and it’s heralded for its near-perfect blend of raw aggression and natural clarity. It’s got a stronger midrange focus that most metal-oriented pickups, which has made it a favorite of guitarists who prefer beefier tones — such as Tool‘s Adam Jones and Kings X‘s Ty Tabor.
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Bare Knuckle Nailbomb
The Nailbomb is one of UK-based Bare Knuckle’s tightest and fiercest pickups, and word of its incredible clarity and unbridled aggression has quickly made it one of the most celebrated modern humbuckers on the market. The Alnico V magnet model offers a robust and woody tone, while the ceramic option features more output and tighter lows.
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Dimarzio Super Distortion
Dimarzio’s Super Distortion ruled both the eras of 70’s arena rock and the Aquanet-drenched hard rock landscape of the 80’s. Its become a go-to classic for capturing the fat and punchy guitar tones of those eras. Original KISS Spaceman Ace Frehley was an early adopter of the Super Distortion, and utilized its authoritative mids, smooth highs and velvety lows for much of the band’s material during his tenure.
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Bill Lawrence L500XL
A personal favorite of the late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, the Bill Lawrence L500XL is a dual-rail humbucker designed specifically for full-on metal Armageddon. It has a very distinct, razor-like high end that’s coupled with a quick attack, making it a superb choice for speedy and precise riffs, as well as fluid legado-based lead work.
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Lace Drop ‘N Gain
Lace’s pickup line has been on a metallic terror lately, having shifted much of their focus from traditional blues and classic rock tones to heavier and more doom-friendly sounds. The Drop ‘N Gains are no exception, packing mismatched internal coils for extreme output while maintaining an impressive level of clarity under gobs of distortion. Ben Ash of Carcass, Andrew Filder of Black Tusk and doom legend Wino are recent converts.
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Seymour Duncan Blackouts
The majority of Seymour Duncan’s pickups have used passive designs, but the company decided to tackle high-output active pickups with their Blackout models. These 9V-powered pickups use a preamp with balanced inputs to cut over 12db’s of background hum from the signal, giving a clear and clean backdrop for their raging, high-octane output. The lower noise also allows the extended highs and lows to come through in the mix with ease. Slipknot‘s Mick Thomson loved them so much that he worked with Duncan to produce a signature set with even tighter lows.
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The X2N humbucker is one of Dimarzio’s most brutal-sounding pickups. Its dual-blade, ceramic magnet-powered design gives it a very focused and tight response all the way across the board, in addition to a swift pick response. Its ability to cut through is aided by its balanced presence of midrange and treble, which is ideal for players who want to slice through with a raw tone — such as Death‘s Chuck Schuldiner.
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Bare Knuckle Warpig
Bare Knuckle offers some seriously powerful and vicious-sounding pickups, but none have the mammoth-sized levels of intense output as their Warpig humbucker. Its namesake is rather appropriate when considering how utterly huge its low end and midrange presences are, as well as the distinct fuzzy edge that it has when used under heavy distortion. For the stoner rock and doom metal player, it’s a dream pickup that could only be crafted within the depths of Hades.
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Seymour Duncan Invader
The Invader is one of Seymour Duncan’s most ambitious excursions into the realm of metal, using two overwound bobbins, three ceramic magnets and twelve capped pole pieces for its blistering tonal assault. Its combination of high-powered magnets and dual-lined pole pieces the pickup a very wide magnetic field, which in turn allow it to generate more lows and mids from picking up more string vibration. Longtime Invader user Synyster Gates of Avenged Sevenfold worked with the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop to produce his own signature set.
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