7 Best Active Pickups For Metal (& Killer High Gain Tones)

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  • In the market for a pair of active pickups for metal and high gain?
  • We’ve narrowed down 7 of the best of the best.
  • Also, consider checking out our post on Active vs Passive Pickups if you need a refresher.

Active pickups are preferred by metal guitarists everywhere. Their circuitry incorporates an active preamp to boost the signal, typically powered by a 9 V battery. The extra boost and higher output are great for the heavily distorted sounds needed for metal. Active pickups also use fewer coils of wire, therefore reducing noise to a minimum, another important consideration for metal guitar.

What Are The Best Active Pickups For Metal?

I recommend the Fishman Fluence Modern Active Humbuckers as the best all-around active pickup for metal. Punchy bass, pristine highs and loads of bite — you can’t fault it. For those on a budget, the EMG 81 Active Ceramic Bridges are a great option. For those that want the cream of the crop with no budget constraints, look to the EMG JH HET.

In this article, we’ll go over the candidates for the 7 best active pickups for metal.

  1. Fishman Fluence Modern Active Humbucker (Our Pick)
  2. EMG 81 Active Ceramic Bridge Humbucker (Budget Option)
  3. EMG JH HET (Premium Option)
  4. EMG 85 (Most Versatile)
  5. Fishman Fluence Classic Humbucker
  6. Seymour Duncan Mick Thomson Blackouts
  7. EMG 66 MetalWorks Active Alnico V Humbucker

1. Fishman Fluence Modern Active Humbucker (Our Pick)

OUR PICK
Fishman Fluence Modern Active Humbucker

All the musicality, power and explosiveness of alnico. Full chords and fluid solos, plus a voice you’ve never heard in a humbucker.

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Fishman has emerged as one of the best options for active electric guitar pickups today. The Fishman Fluence Modern Active Humbucker is a fantastic set of pickups that are further proof of this company’s high quality of products and expertise. This is our pick for best active guitar pickups for metal.

Features

  • Active electronics for modern, noiseless tone
  • Multi-voice Fluence Core provides two selectable voices
  • Power supply delivers 200+ hours of use and recharges in a few hours
  • Direct replacement design requires no permanent guitar modification
  • Alnico V magnets

Review

The Fishman Fluence Modern Active Humbucker set of pickups offers high output tone without the pitfall of buzz and inductance issues that come with many active pickups. This set of pickups allows you to operate your volume with smoothness, and get the most useful sounds out of your guitar, even at low settings. 

Each pickup in this humbucker set provides a choice of two unique, selectable voices. The Modern Alnico pickup gives you a modern active humbucker and a unique wide-range humbucking tone at the flip of a switch. On the other hand, the Modern Ceramic pickup features a modern active pickup tone with punchy bass, pristine highs, and a touch of bite.

It also features a high-output humbucker tone made for distortion. The voices can be accessed by any number of standard switches or push/pull controls and can be added as a completely reversible modification to most guitars.

Fishman designed its Fluence Series of pickups as a novel way to approach pickup building. To deliver their wide range of tones, noise-free performance, and low-impedance signal, these pickups require a power source and specially designed pots.

Inside the package, you’ll find the pickups, wiring, push-pull and standard 25k potentiometers that are ideal for the active circuitry, and more.

2. EMG 81 Active Ceramic Bridge Humbucker (Budget Option)

BEST VALUE
EMG 81 Active Guitar Humbuckers
$99.00

A high-output pickup designed for lead guitarists. Whether you're playing power rock 'n' roll, or overdriving your amp, there's a razor-sharp attack, and incredible sustain for soloing.

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When it comes to active guitar pickups, few companies have the respect and reputation of EMG. They offer a vast array of active pickup models, and the EMG 81 Active Ceramic Bridge Humbucker is a great choice for those short on cash. If you want to have true passive pickup tone but cannot splurge, try the EMG 81 on the bridge position.

Features

  • High-output active ceramic humbucker
  • Versatile 
  • With beefy ceramic magnets and close aperture coils 
  • EMG’s solderless installation makes swapping your guitar pickups a breeze
  • Short shaft for Fender-style guitars

Review

The EMG 81 Active Ceramic Bridge Humbucker is a great choice for guitarists that want the magic of an active pickup but that are also short on cash. 

This pickup features ceramic magnet material and is capable of producing great detail, fantastic high end cut and solid sustain. These are the exact traits that great passive pickups exhibit, all of this for a fraction of the cost. 

The EMG 81 is a passive pickup for the bridge and features a shaft design for Fender style guitars. A great choice for those on a budget.

2. DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion (Best Value)

DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion
$79.99

Many of the classic rock sounds of the '70s and '80s came from this pickup. It's been integral to the sound of DiMeola, Gambale, Vinnie Moore, and Frehley.

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Larry DiMarzio started a revolution with the Super Distortion pickups. It became the best choice for heavy metal and one of the first replacement pickups ever. The original version came out in the early seventies and featured three conductors. It still is a fantastic choice for humbucker pickup for those on a budget.

Features

  • Best budget option
  • Ceramic magnet
  • The original high output pickup
  • Thick bass, boosted mids
  • Variety of color options

Review

This DiMarzio set has been used by the likes of Ace Frehley, Al Di Meola, and Paul Gilbert. It was released to the public in a time where there were only your typical stock pickups, whether single-coil or humbuckers. It was the first pickup specifically designed to drive a tube amp into total overdrive. A high-output pickup that became the paradigm.

This pickup has a great blend of power and tone with balance. The mids are thick and boosted, the lows are big and the high end feels fat. The Super Distortion delivers solid results, both as a neck and bridge pickup.

It features a 4 conductor wiring that allows access to split and series-parallel modes. This is one of the best guitar pickups available for players on a budget that still need high gain to achieve their desired tone. It comes in a wide range of colors to choose from: black, white, purple, blue, cream, and camouflage.

3. EMG JH HET (Best Premium)

BEST PREMIUM
EMG JH James Hetfield Pickup Set
$595.00

After exhaustive live-show testing through twenty prototypes, the result is the EMG JH Set: an active two-humbucker rig that will give your axe the new signature sound of Metallica's iconic rhythm guitarist

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In 2009 Metallica frontman and guitarist James Hetfield asked EMG to crate a low-key pickup set that captures the clarity and punch of a passive pickup but still retains a classic tone. And the EMG JH HET was born. This is one of the best pickups for metal and our premium options for players that want the best.

Features

  • James Hetfield signature pickups
  • Huge attack, tone, and sustain
  • Cleaner bass sound
  • Variety of steel cap options
  • Enhanced legendary guitar tone

Review

The James Hetfield signature set features the JH-N for the neck position and the JH-B for the bridge position. The JH-N has individual ceramic poles and bobbins that offer a larger core. This achieves more attack, higher output, and a fuller low end for the neck position, ideal for that chunky and powerful palm-muted chords associated with metal.

On the other hand, the JH-B uses the same type of core but with steel pole pieces. This results in a familiar tight attack but with less inductance for a clear low end. This humbucker set is one of the best metal pickups in the market. It offers punch and clarity, providing you with legendary guitar sounds.

The JH Signature Set comes in six stainless steel cap options to choose from. These are gold, chrome, brushed gold, brushed chrome, and brushed back chrome. These in turn offer a great variety to players and instrument builders. A premium pickup set that features the sound that defined a generation.

4. EMG 85 (Most Versatile)

EMG 85
$119.00

Perfect for rhythm guitar but equally well suited for lead work, the EMG 85 's sound can be characterized as beefy, and it's the perfect companion to the EMG 81.

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A fantastic option for active pickups, these EMGs are a sophisticated alternative to the legendary EMG 81. This company is the clear leader in the field of active humbuckers, and quite popular with metal players. This pickup offers exceptional tone and versatility and is one of the best humbuckers available for metal.

Features

  • Alnico V magnets
  • A sophisticated version of the EMG 81
  • Very versatile
  • Active humbucker
  • Huge output

Review

The EMG 85 features close aperture coils loaded with Alnico V magnets to provide a muscular growl and smooth lead tones for guitar players. It is a high output pickup with a killer tone, and offers you a wide range from Thrash Metal all the way to blues, making it the most versatile pickup on this list.

This pickup is often used in the neck position, but it also offers great results in the bridge position. A very popular pairing is using the EMG 85 on the neck and the EMG 81 on the bridge. It also pairs well with other active pickups, especially with other models from EMG. This is one of the most beloved guitar pickups for metal and has been a staple of heavy metal guitar for years.

Despite being an active humbucker just like the EMG 81, this pickup offers a very warm tone with a hefty low end. This makes it a great choice for pickups and not only for metal guitarists. It is also great when it comes to excess noise and keeps clear and focused at increased volumes.

5. Fishman Fluence Classic Humbucker

Fishman Fluence Classic Humbucker
$133.47

Unlike most wire-wound models, Fluence pickups manage to deliver the classic humbucker sound without noise or inductance issues.

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Fluence pickups were designed to be free from hum, noise, and frustrating inductance issues that plague most wire-wound pickups. It seeks to reveal a pure musical tone. In order words, they deliver that classic humbucker sound but without the noise.

Features

  • Hum and inductance issue free
  • 3 selectable voices per pickup
  • Pickups include single-coil voice
  • Classic tone for metal
  • Direct replacement design

Review

The Fishman Fluence Classic Humbucker pickups are passive and feature Alnico V for the neck and bridge positions. This set provides three different voices per pickup. The Fluence Classic Humbucker Bridge’s first voice is reminiscent of a vintage pickup, providing luxurious warm tone with clear and tight articulation. The second voice is a hot-rodded humbucker, with a beefy and overwound tone. And the third is a single coil sound with a vintage vibe.

The neck pickup allows you to choose between a vintage PAF, a versatile humbucker, and a warm single coil. And best of all. with these pickups, you can use long guitar cables without any quality loss. This pickup will also let you operate your volume control with smoothness, even at low settings.

These pickups require a power source and specially designed pots to deliver their noise-free performance and low impedance signal. The power supply delivers over 200 hours of use and recharges in a few hours. All of this is included on the page with every pickup. It comes with wiring, push-pull and standard 25 k potentiometers, and more. It is a great guitar pickup for metal, especially for those that want very quiet pickups.

6. Seymour Duncan Mick Thomson Blackouts

Seymour Duncan Mick Thomson Blackouts
$214.49

Seymour Duncan’s EMTY Blackouts were tailor-made for Slipknot’s Mick Thomson, injecting harmonic-laden brutality into his crushing down-tuned riffs.

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These pickups offer crushing sound to take your metal playing to new levels. Make your guitar wail whether you play death metal or trash metal. Designed by Seymour Duncan with guitarist Mick Thomson from Slipknot.

Features

  • Extremely quiet
  • Tight low-end
  • Made in California
  • Great and improved sustain
  • Output from original Blackouts

Review

These signature humbuckers pickups have the power of the original Blackouts but with Thomson’s unique sound in mind. They come with ceramic magnets and active electronics for massive power and reduced excess noise. They feature a very tight and clean low-end which sounds fantastic with heavily distorted palm muting, among other techniques.

These pickups will do a fantastic job for many metal players as they come in 6 and 7-string configurations. They sound fantastic with the guitar tuned on drop-D and normal tuning as well. Besides having a tight low end, they also feature a top end with more cut without being harsh or scratchy. The harmonics sound rich and they have more articulation than a typical active pickup.

These Blackouts feature an Alnico V magnet for the neck position and a Ceramic magnet for the bridge position. If you crank up the gain you’ll get more aggressive mids and greater sustain for your metal solo. They come with all the hardware needed for installation, including pots, hardware, output jack, and more.

7. EMG 66 MetalWorks Active Alnico V Humbucker

EMG 66 MetalWorks Active Alnico V Humbucker

Using Alnico V magnets and ceramic poles, the EMG 66 gives you the classic PAF-like tones that generations of guitar players have sought out.

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The EMG 66 MetalWorks Active Alnico V Humbucker pickup is for those that want all the benefits of an active pickup but with a PAF flair. If you are looking for a killer set of pickups to play metal, but also want a bit of a “classic” feel and response, then the EMG 66 MetalWorks Active Alnico V Humbucker is for you.

Features

  • An active neck pickup built with Alnico V magnets
  • Big PAF-like tone
  • Warm, smooth mid-range and expansive lows
  • Defined sound with headroom and punch
  • Solderless installation system 

Review

The EMG 66 MetalWorks Active Alnico V Humbucker pickup is sort of its own man in the world of active pickups. This pickup features Alnico V magnets and ceramic poles and can give you that classic PAF-like sound that generations of guitar players have sought out while keeping all the active pickup benefits.

The EMG 66 features great definition and presence of sound, with a punch and headroom that will make your guitar sing. Additionally, the EMG 66 features a warm, smooth mid-range, and expansive low range. 

In the looks department, EMG’s brushed steel cap provides the classic look of a humbucker while housing an active powerhouse. You’ll get the best of both worlds with the EM 66: Alnico tone and feel on an active humbucking pickup.

Are Active Humbuckers Better For Metal?

Most metal guitarists opt to use humbucker pickups, due to the higher output and decreased noise compared to single-coils. Metal guitarists also tend to favor active humbuckers as they are less prone to hum and background noise. They are constructed to run hot while retaining clarity and detail at the same time.