Best Pickups For Ibanez Guitars
Seymour Duncan makes a lot of pickups that are great in vintage designs like Strats, Teles and Les Pauls, but there are plenty of more modern-voiced pickups in the line-up too. Personally I’m a huge Ibanez geek (seriously, I think I have a problem – that problem is not enough space for all my Ibanezezes!), and although I consider it my duty as a guitarist to own a Strat, Tele and Les Paul (and some day an ES-335 please, Santa), I have plenty of experience with all sorts of Ibanez guitars and all sorts of Seymour Duncan pickups. So I thought it might be fun to share some of what I’ve found.
Now, a lot of Ibanez guitars are made of Basswood, a generally growly-yet-even-toned wood which is generally felt to be not as warm as Mahogany and not as lively as Alder. There are also some models which feature Basswood bodies with Maple tops, or even Mahogany bodies with Maple tops. And there are plenty of S Series models with thin Mahogany bodies too, Let’s look at some recommendations for each, with particular focus on Basswood since that’s such a common Ibanez tone wood.
If you have a Basswood Ibanez RG, the Distortion bridge and neck models are going to give you an aggressive, slightly raw tone which is great through a cranked Marshall or Mesa. The Jazz model is also great in the neck position of an RG, where it’ll give you a sort of ‘noodly’ quality: a somewhat rounded treble and yet a clear pick attack. The Full Shred is another pickup that works really well in Basswood, and you can pair the bridge version with the Full Shred neck model or the Jazz with equally great results. The Full Shred has a clear high end that cuts through without sounding shrill, and it offers a chunky, thick metal rhythm tone.
I’ve also found that the ’59 works well with the Full Shred, in a weird ‘doesn’t actually match, but sounds really cool way.’ It’s almost like a Joe Satriani kind of tone, where the bridge pickup has a particularly powerful harmonic kick while the neck pickup has a smoother, more velvety vibe when you pick soft, and a more punchy, detailed attack when you pick hard. And the Jason Becker Perpetual Burn is a monster pickup no matter what you put it in, with plenty of detail and crunch, and just enough output for hard-hitting rock tones but not so much that your sound will get too saturated. It also cleans up beautifully when you roll back the volume knob (and it matches really well with the Jazz).
Other pickups that are particularly suited to Basswood include the Black Winter set, the Gus G Fire Blackouts and, if you’re into Texas blues tones, the Pearly Gates. Or consider the Parallel Axis Trembucker line of pickups, which are designed for locking tremolo guitars and which seem to really come to life in Basswood. And the Pegasus, Nazgul and Sentient are great in Basswood whether you’re rocking 6, 7 or 8 strings. Here’s the Nazgul and Sentient in a Basswood RG 7-string, where you can really hear the power and thickness of the Nazgul, and the smooth-yet-vocal articulation of the Sentient.
I’ve put active-mount 8-string Pegasus and Sentient humbuckers in my Iron Label 8-string and it sounds great for a wide range of tones. What I really like about this set is that whatever gain level I use it at, it feels like it’s designed to be used with that tone. The clean tones have great punch and clarity, the overdrives are crunchy and detailed, and the high-gain stuff is oozing rich harmonics and great articulation no matter how distorted they get. And the Sentient sounds great when split too, which is especially handy for those times when I want to tune the low string down to E to play fake bass lines. Here’s a song where the entire thing is played on the Sentient; rhythm guitar, lead guitar, even ‘bass.’
You may also want to check out the Mark Holcomb Alpha and Omega pickups, especially if you play an RGD. These pickups are great no matter what kind of guitar you put them in (we hear almost every day from PRS players who love them, naturally), but they’re very much at ease with an extended-range instrument like the baritone-scale RGD.
If you’re a metal player, your first choice for a Mahogany Ibanez should be the EMTY Mick Thomson Blackouts. Mick is with Jackson these days but when he designed the EMTY he had an Ibanez signature line, and these pickups are ideally voiced for power, crunch, attack, detail and great harmonics. Their voicing is as great for lead work as it is for riffage.
If you’re playing an all-Mahogany model such as the S Series or the RG421 or Destroyer DT420, check out PAF-inspired models such as the ’59, JB/Jazz, Pearly Gates, Whole Lotta Humbucker, Alnico II Pro and Alnico II Pro Slash. If you’re after heavier, more aggressive tones, the Full Shred set is great in an all-Mahogany guitar, as are the Invader or Black Winter. Here’s the Black Winter.
And here’s the JB and Jazz, with a Custom Stack Plus (STK-S6) in the middle.
Fun fact: one of the guitars we used during development of the Duality active pickups was the RG652AHMFX Prestige pictured below, an ash-bodied beauty with a great Nebula Green Burst finish. It goes without saying that the Duality sounds great in these guitars. It’s a more organic approach to what you might expect of actives: the Duality architecture gives more emphasis to the coil itself than most actives which lean more heavily on the preamp. You’ll hear more of your guitar’s natural voice and your phrasing. We’ve tried Duality in a lot of different guitars and it’s perfect for any instrument where you really want to show off the sound of its tonewoods. If you want a more powerful active sound, check out regular Blackouts.
The combination of a Basswood body with a Maple top is showing up on more and more high-end guitars, and Ibanez has nailed this combo with their Premium line. A Basswood/Maple guitar will give you a little extra high-end snap and a little more dynamic range than you might otherwise expect from a Basswood guitar. Check out pickups with a nice clear high end such as the ’59/Custom Hybrid, the Pearly Gates (bridge and neck models), the JB and Jazz, the Distortion set or the Black Winter set. And the Custom will emphasise the woodiness of your guitar, especially for mid-gain crunch tone.
There are plenty of pickups which will work great in a Mahogany/Maple combination; pretty much anything that rocks in a Les Paul will rock in a guitar like the Destroyer DT520FM or Artist series. Check out the classic JB/Jazz combination for a versatile range of tones from blues to classic rock to metal. For something more vintage try a pair of ’59 Models, or a ’59 in the neck with a Custom in the bridge position for something a little hotter and bolder. Other options include the Pearly Gates set for rude overdriven Texas tone and sweet ringing cleans as well, the Alnico II Pro Slash set for something a little hotter and more ‘hard rock,’ or the Whole Lotta Humbucker set for classic 70s rock tone. The Jason Becker Perpetual Burn will also work nicely in Mahogany/Maple guitars – in fact, it was inspired by a JB in a Les Paul belonging to producer Bob Rock which Jason used on David Lee Roth’s A Little Ain’t Enough album, and although they’re quite different pickups there’s still a little bit of shared tonality there, so if you like the overall JB tone but find it too hot or too trebly, the Perpetual Burn might be for you.
Another great option is the Saturday Night Special. This Alnico 4-loaded humbucker set is great for classic rock, southern rock and indie styles, and it has a great blend of fatness and detail. It basically gives the impression that your guitar sound has been through the studio mastering process before hitting your amp: the frequencies sit perfectly in a full band mix.
Alder guitars tend to have an even but dynamic tone, and if my 90s all-alder Talman is anything to go by, you’ll get great mileage out of more transparently-voiced pickups such as the ’59, Seth Lover and Antiquity. If you’re rocking an alder-body Jem, check out the Distortion set for aggressive, edgy tones or, if you’d like something a little more ‘vintage hot-rod,’ check out the TB-11 Custom Custom with a ’59 in the neck position.
But What About Single Coils?
A great all-rounder single coil for Ibanez guitars – particularly in the middle position – is the SSL-5, which you can get in 6 and 7-string versions. It has the power to sit nicely with humbuckers, and will give you lots of detail and sustain. Or if you’d like something a bit more powerful and hum-canceling, check out the Cool Rails. If you’re a fan of the RC330T, any of Strat pickups will sound great, whether you’re after vintage-correct tones from the SSL-1, hotter sounds like the SSL-5, the shred power of the YJM Fury set, or the versatility of the Everything Axe set in combination with a push-pull coil split for giving you full suites of single coil and humbucker sounds from the one guitar. There’s also a range of noiseless Stack Plus single coils: Classic Stack Plus, Custom Stack Plus, Hot Stack Plus and Vintage Hot Stack Plus.