The 4 Best Passive Pickups for Metal – Reviews 2017

best passive pickups for metal

Photo by Jarod Carruthers / CC BY

So can you play metal with passive pickups? Well of course you can! Who gave you the idea that you can’t? We used that intro to make a bit of a point and address the somewhat frequent question asked around the web, and now let us proceed to the meaty bit. We decided to take a journey into the world of electronics in an attempt to find the top passive pickups for metal.

The main criteria we took into consideration is that these pickups are loud enough for metal, and that they are capable of delivering the sonic bit the genre’s built upon. More on that later on, the goods await below. These are, in our humble opinion, the best passive pickups for metal on the market.

EMG H4 Passive Electric Guitar Humbucker Pickup

When it comes to metal pickups in general, EMG is one of the absolute leaders in the field, and this includes passive models as well.

The H4 model comes at a fair and affordable price, operating as a classic humbucker pickup. It is presented as the equivalent of the company’s 81 Active Pickup, only in the passive department, of course. It utilizes a set of two bar-loaded coils and the manufacturer’s 5-wire quick-connect output that allows any number of wiring combinations.

The item is fully shielded, securing minimum noise and reduced physical damage. Also included in the mix is a QuikConnect cable, a set of screws and springs.

What makes this fella ideal for metal is the strong output, raw gain power, a wide range and top responsiveness. In simpler terms, it’s chunky and it’s beefy. If you are after a massive hard rock or modern heavy metal sound, this is the one for you. It’s without a doubt among the top passive pickups for metal period.

DiMarzio DP222 D Activator X Humbucker

Representing the folks from DiMarzio is the DP222 D Activator X Humbucker pickup. This guy boasts a very precise, articulated, and super focused sonic attack based around the upper midrange sonic frequencies. Lower and higher frequencies are still present to secure a well rounded output, but it’s the middles where the Activator really shines through.

Essentially, if you are looking for the best passive magnet for classic heavy of thrash metal, this is your winning ticket. It sounds great in the roaring gain-packed regime, but it also offers crisp and clear clean notes whenever they are needed.

As for the remaining technical details, it is worth noting that The D Activator X (see full specs) utilizes the same bar pole pieces and overall magnet structure as the X2N model, but it’s still an entirely different pickup.

To compare these two, we will note that the output voltage on this model is a tad lower than on the X2N, while the tuning of the two coils lets those higher frequencies to open up and still maintain strong lows and mids in the overall output.

Seymour Duncan Invader

Another company that absolutely deserves a mention is Seymour Duncan. These guys have been associated with some of the all-time titans of metal over the years, and they keep their line of products fresh with constant innovations and a unique approach.

The model we opted for here as a fine representative of the metal department is the Invader series. We are looking at a passive mount pickup with black metal covers, a set of three ceramic magnets, overwound coils, and some extra-large pole pieces.

The item offers an extra strong output packed with gain to saturate your tone with a fresh dose of thump and aggression. The listed features allow the product to extend the magnetic boundaries and give you the feel of genuine low notes. Essentially, if you play a 7- or 8-string guitar, these are possibly the best passive pickups for metal on the entire list.

Apart from a fair price tag, which typically goes under $100, the item is surprisingly versatile and not at all just about the chug. The clean notes provided through this product are crisp and free of unwanted crackle, which is perfect for more progressive players.

Seymour Duncan Black Winter


Speaking of Seymour Duncan, their entry in the high-end price range is designed for extreme metal guitarists. It gives you a dark tone with aggressive distortion and a lot of grit and grime across the entire range.

In terms of specs, this pickup uses three ceramic bar magnets with wax-potted poles to reduce feedback at high gain. While it’s known for its massive overdrive, it doesn’t sacrifice the clarity of the articulation for the sake of power. This means it can handle fast lead work, and also makes it more versatile than you might expect from a pickup designed for metal. It gives you the grind and overtones for a fantastic punk tone, and rock players of all stripes who prefer depth in their tone will love the unique tone they get from this pup.

The Black Winter pickups are (of course) all black, giving them a sharp visual appeal to go with their incredible sound. The bridge and neck pickups work great in tandem but can also be used independently for more tonal variety. The bridge pickup alone cleans up nicely. The tone cuts through the mix but without getting thin or tinny, no matter how big and loud your band is, or how much crunch you like on your tone.

What’s the Difference Between Active and Passive Pickups?

We figured that as a conclusion we address this frequently asked question: the difference between passive and active guitar pickups.

So, both types of pickups utilize coils of wire, but the difference is that active pickups have much less of them. Instead, they use an active preamp that is incorporated into the instrument.

This boosts the signal level, filters and EQ, and typically offers the player full control of a three-band equalizer. Additionally, active pickups require separate power and incorporate a 9V battery that you have to regularly replace.

As for specific audio differences, active pickups have much higher output and are less susceptible to background noise. Passive models on the other hand, have a much stronger dynamic range. So it’s all a matter of taste, as it often is in the world of music . . .

So What Makes the Best Passive Pickups for Metal?

While some criteria is ubiquitous for a variety of styles, what passive pickups require more in the world of metal is loudness and additional sonic bite. These will allow your instrument to cut through the mix and deliver the boom of metal. When it comes to other criteria, you should look for a strong mid-range punch and a rich bass section. Metal is about chunky guitar chops, and thin sound is a big no-no.

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