The debate among players as far as what kind of pickups, passive or active, are best for metal rages on. And it will continue to do so for a long time. But one thing’s for sure. When it comes to the best pickups for metal, active humbucking pickups are regularly at the top of the list.
Unlike passives, active pickups are powered by a battery (or batteries) that’s onboard your guitar. Usually a 9-volt. The battery gives the active guitar pickups all they need to deliver their hotter output levels and uniquely defined tones. They also offer a buffered output with a very low noise floor.
If you’re pushing a long line of true-bypass pedals, active pickups are a great choice. But it’s in their preamp-punishing output where actives built their legacy. And that’s why they are some of the best pickups for metal, period.
Here, we’ll take a look at Seymour Duncan’s top three active options.
The best active pickups for metal:
- Blackouts Humbucker Set
- Mick Thomson Signature Blackouts Humbucker Set
- Jeff Loomis Signature Humbucker Set
From day one, the Seymour Duncan Blackouts Humbucker Set (AHB-1) were designed for metal-minded guitarist. They pay tribute to our long legacy of high-output options while pushing traditional active pickups to a whole new level. That’s why they are the obvious choice to lead this list.
Not to mention, they are the starting point for every other pick up on it.
With a focus on retaining passive-like dynamics while extending the treble and bass response, AHB-1s are both familiar and totally new. Think of a Duncan Distortion on steroids. We’re talking powerful lows, aggressive highs, and articulation that takes no prisoners.
Right off the bat, Blackouts were embraced by metal players around the world. They’ve even built quite a roster of signature artists who rely on them for their own pulverizing tones.
And that brings us to the next active pickups on the list.
One of the first metal players to embrace Seymour Duncan Blackouts was Slipknot’s Mick Thomson. They became his active pickup of choice for years. But there were a couple of tweaks he wanted to handle Slipknot’s pulverizing, low-tuned riffs.
How do they compare to the original Blackouts? We’ll let Mr. Thomson tell you himself.
“I had them tighten up the bottom because tuning low like we are, you don’t need that lower ‘woof.’ And I had the top end adjusted a little bit for more cut without being harsh or scratchy. They’re extremely quiet, they’re extremely clean, and they have a lot more tone than the typical active pickup. They sound more real. The harmonics are richer. It’s a bigger sound across a wider range of frequencies.”
– Mick Thomson
Slipknot’s #7 remains devoted to his Mick Thomson Signature Blackouts Humbucker Set. So much so that they are the tonal cornerstone of his Jackson Signature Mick Thomson Soloist electric guitar.
And he’s not the only Jackson signature artist that relies on Seymour Duncan actives.
Jeff Loomis is the undisputed king of modern shred guitar. His work as a solo artist, with Nevermore, and with Arch Enemy is proof of that. So it’s an honor that he chose the Seymour Duncan Blackouts as the basis for his signature active pickup set.
And yes, you’ll find the Jeff Loomis Signature Humbucker Set armed and ready in his Jackson Signature Jeff Loomis Kelly electric guitar.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Loomis active pickups is their classic, exposed pole-piece look. This comes from Loomis’s insistence on maintaining a passive-like, dynamic sound while embracing the power of active electronics. What you end up with are easily some of the best active pickups for metal. They straddle the line between a tight, aggressive low-end and a fluid top-end that lets all of your picking nuances shine through. If you spend a lot of time flying around or above the 12th fret, these are the active pickups for you.
Let’s talk tone!
If you have any other questions about the passive vs. active pickups debate, finding the best pickups for metal, and the best active pickups for your rig, check out our Knowledge Base here. You can also email us here. And don’t forget to dig deeper into the Seymour Duncan blog! There’s a ton of in-depth information on all of our different designs, how-tos, tone demonstrations, and a lot more.