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.

Join the Conversation


  1. I own one of the Ibanez RGR320EX in the Limited Edition Red Arctic Frost. It came with horrible EMG/Ibanez designed H1 passive humbuckers. The pickups themselves were not good at all, too dark sounding and muddy across all channels. Plugging it into a BOSS MT2 Metal Zone was like glass shards to the ears! Not the pedal mind you , the pedal is great with every other guitar I own, just the Ibanez. So I was online and discovered a company by the name of Guitar Fetish. They offer extremely cheap pickups for about any output your looking for. So I decided that since these EMG’s sucked so bad that spending 70 bucks for a pair of these GFS brand pickups would be better than what was in the guitar. Plus I had watched quite a few reviews on the GFS line itself. They got rave reviews!
    I ordered a matched set of GFS Crunchy Rail with black and cream bobbins . They looked cool! I was looking for a high output pickup and these were in that realm. The pickups are made with stainless steel blades but does not offer any info for what magnets are used. My guess would be Alnico 5 and 3. The bridge comes in at 16.2K and the neck at a respectable 10.4K. They do scream and are 4 conductor wire and are tappable.
    Anyway they have served very well over the years but I think it’s time to give the guitar some Seymour Duncan love, as the majority of my other guitars I have installed SD pups in almost every one. I bought a white Invader and Full shred (Jackson’s combo for higher end guitars for quite a few years now) for my 2010 MIJ Charvel San Dimas which already has direct mount SD JB and ’59 installed from the factory. I want to use the JB and ’59 in the Ibanez as the pickups have to go somewhere and not out the door!! I have always liked this specific set so I figured why not throw them in my Ibby!
    I have still to get around to doing this with both guitars, I figure I may as well do both at the same time. I also have one of the Quarter Pound for Tele to install in my Fender Squier 50`s Classic Vibe Tele (great guitar!!!) . I also replaced the SHPG1 Pearly Gates Plus that was factory installed in my Fender Lonestar Strat, I replaced it with a SD SH6 Distortion and wow now that guitar is alive!!!! So I have the Pearly Gates left over with no home, I may throw it in another Fender Strat of mine.
    Seymour Duncan all the way! The moral of my story is , you can always choose a cheaper pickup, but you will never be truly happy with it! Stay with Seymour, he knows what you need!

  2. To me as much as I love Duncan pickups I just associate Ibanez with Dimarzio moreso than SD. Both my RG450 and my S470 are D-zo Evo loaded. But my Jacksons and my Charvel are all Duncan loaded.

  3. I have a rg 421 qm top with mahogany body
    dimebucker bridge and parallel axis trembucker neck
    sweet combination

    1. I have an rgr431fm and I put emg 81 85 to replace the duncan distortion set. Both sets sound shit in that guitar. I have to assume its the mahogany that ia the issue cos in a basswood body they both sounded so much better

  4. the type of wood in an electric guitar does not effect the tone.its all about the pickups,and strings. tone woods only effect acoustic guitars.

    1. You my friend are dead wrong. Sorry. But anyone can tell the difference between mahogany and alder. You’ve been watching too many Scott Grove videos. Even the difference between an ash or alder Strat is very apparent.

      1. Really? So, if you are blindfolded you’ll still be able to distinguish between woods? Pffft…

        1. Absolutely. Have you played an ash Strat? Compared it with an alder one? There is a real difference which is quickly apparent. Not only that, but the difference between mahogany and alder, or some combination is staggeringly different, Maple, versus rosewood, or ebony boards produce real differences as well. I like the Jack Nicholson thing too. At least i come by the name honestly. If you don’t believe me, and your high on the Scott Grove bs too check this out.

          1. For sure, and with woods my belief is it’s more of a density thing – pertaining to sustain.
            Pickups don’t seem to change as much, unless you’re going from something cheap to something better, or changing output.
            The part where all this makes itself silly is that we then run these things through cascading gain stages and purposely clip the signal ’til it’s unrecognizable, but still argue all this mumbo jumbo.
            “Game not in paddle. Game in you.”

          2. I currently own an alder strat and a swamp ash. both have one piece maple necks. The alder is a 3-piece body and the Swamp Ash is a one piece (yet another big tonal advantage) The swamp ash puts the alder away. Both sound great mind you, but the Swamp Ash is the best sounding strat I have ever owned.

          3. What garbage, they used two different guitars with two different players with different electronics.
            Only a fool would think that a pickup can pickup the sound that wood makes. the only thing that wood does is give the guitar resonance and sustain. Tone is from the wiring, pots, caps, PICKUPS, STRINGS, the bridge and the players playing style. wood my ass! Andertons sells guitars, they will obviously go with the lies of tone wood having an effect on your tone. its utter rubbish and they themselves know it.

      2. Pickups are electromagnetic. They pickup up the vibes of the strings. The wood has nothing to do with it. Unless u have some 1950’s pickups that are actually microphones. Point proven I built an electric out of an old vintage army oil can that sounds amazing. Believe what u will. Everybody once believed the earth was flat.

        1. You didn’t really make your case there. You could put pickups on anything you can string up, and it isn’t going to sound like a Strat, or a Les Paul. Tone wood is a real thing. It does affect the sound of an electric solidbody guitar, and yes you can tell the difference. Do you really think that if someone like Stevie Ray Vaughn for instance were to play a Les Paul instead of a Strat that you wouldn’t hear the difference? It isn’t just the pickups. It is everything about the guitar that contributes to its tone.

          1. It may not sound like a less paul or strat because it will have to have the same pickups, the same pots and caps, the same bridge, the same scale length, there are many things that make a strat or LP sound like they do that are not related to the wood they are made out off. wood effects sustain and resonance, thats about it. even more so in a strat where pups are mounted on a piece of plastic. its all in the tone wood cults members minds that wood does anything for tone.

    2. I used to believe that too. My luthier who also happens to be a master carpenter set me straight. Took him years to convince me, but I have to admit defeat – once thinking that because a vibrating string was a mere 3/8″ away from the pickup that nothing else mattered… I have a Peavey Destiny – beautiful guitar, mahogany body with a gorgeous maple top. The mahogany drags my tone down. I can’t get the pretty clean brightness I get from all my other guitars. Finally went with EMGs with a special tone enhancer – slightly noisey, but I can finally get nice strat like tones – “kinda.” Never getting another Mahogany guitar again.

    3. People forget that while common sense lets you know that electric pickups sense the strings moving above them, but also when the body vibrates, it not only makes the strings vibrate a little differently, they also make the pickups under the strings vibrate. It doesn’t matter if the strings move above the pickup, or the pickup moves beneath the strings, any vibration will cause an output.

    4. That sir is totally incorrect. Swamp Ash sounds totally different that say a Maho body with a maple cap. I have owned both the the same pickups and they sound totally different.

    5. 2 years late coming to this discussion, but you’re right David. Don’t let the fundamentalists in the comments below tell you otherwise. If wood mattered, then so would the type of inlays on the neck and more importantly if you have a pickguard or not in your guitar.

    6. I know this is a 3 year old post, but… Let me run this by the community to see if it makes sense?
      Everything has a natural frequency. This is known as the primary mode of vibration since it’s the mode with the highest energy. This natural frequency is governed by the mass and what we call the stiffness or “spring rate”. So, physics dictates that different types of materials would shift the natural frequency of the structure. In this case, the guitar. This would translate to how the strings actually vibrate. (The closer the string vibration to the natural frequency, the closer you would get to resonance.)
      Let’s put it this way. If you put the same pickup in a strat and a Les Paul, they should sound exactly the same, and they clearly do not. (I’ve tried it. A strat, a Les Paul and a 335.) This is because they have a different mass and stiffness values due to different material properties. (Not even considering damping factors due to construction joint differences, etc.)
      So this would mean that the type of wood matters. Set vs. bolt on neck matters. Finish type matters. It’s all a boundary condition for defining the natural frequency. Make sense?

  5. Ibanez already has the right pickups for them: DiMarzio. Seymour Duncan, you just sit on the bench and watch.

  6. One thing to keep in mind, check the string spacing for the bridge pickup.
    I have 3 ToM/fixed bridge Ibanezes, and the strings on them all measure F-spaced (trembucker).
    I have a Black Winter set on an AS53, and the bridge pole pieces totally miss the string on the low E. The tech who put it in says that it doesn’t affect the sound, but visually and mentally it bugs me, so I’m going to have to buy the trembucker bridge.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love the pickups, just remember:
    Measure twice, cut once.

  7. Why do Ibanez guitars pick-up harmonics so well?I have tried & owned many gibsons(Les Paul’s,Explorers,EDS 1275,even a 76 recording Les Paul.Then the cheapest Ibanez just out does them all! Harmonics without even trying.I have also used SHJB’s in all of those guitars & still the cheapest Ibanez still is so much better!

    1. Not just their guitars, their basses too. Have an sr370 and and srx430 and harmonics are just so easy!

  8. I agree with William. Ibanez’ were/are R & D with D-zo’s. As such It is what i use there. HOWEVER, Jacksons’ and Deans rule with SD’s…..

  9. Just got a Duncan Distortion for my RG570. I had an EMG 81 in the bridge position before, and I feel it sounds great. Way less smooth and more grindy.
    I might be getting a Black Winter for my RGA121 next.

  10. All I see here is the RG Series listed….what about a Peavey EXP Limited Series????
    It is basswood and I’m looking for a vintage Fender clean tone from the 60’s for my axe
    Any suggestions
    Thanks jim

    1. The article is about which SD’s are well suited TO IBANEZ GUITARS. ITS THE TITLE!! And he mentioned the S series and Destroyers multiple times.

  11. Tom
    You are so right about the woods!!!
    It’s called DENSITY of the material…..Hardwoods deaden the tone because they are compressed fibers in these woods
    Softer woods LET the tone flow through because they are not so compressed and also because their MIGHT be moisture still in these……My training in these materials gave me some knowledge…I don’t know everything…..just a little about this discussion

    1. umm, bro, all tonewoods (mahogany, maple, ash, alder, basswood) are hardwoods. Pine is a softwood, and apart from a few weird early fenders, I’ve never seen softwood guitars

  12. Just changed the pickups on my 15yr old Ibanez RGR Custom to a Screamin’ Demon bridge and a Full Shred neck. The guitar was picking up dust in storage, but let me tell you this, it has now become one of my favorite guitars. The Demon is amazing in the bridge. Really brings out the basswood and the maple neck. With a Wah Pedal is sounds stunning and the PAF growl from it, gave me shivers after playing through my Mesa Mark V. Very Van Halen-esqe I must say. The Full Shred is great too. Gives off a strat-ish tone with more balls and has great harmonics. Sounds great in the clean channel as well. All in all, after many years of storage, my nez breathes fire again.

  13. Holy cow, I received my SH2 & TB5 yesterday to replace the dimarzio/ibz, but it doesn’t fit in the holes… Someone save me from insanity!! I need a more vintage sound without drilling that goddamn wood (or as less as possible :'(.
    My guitar is a RG3520z, stock mics are directly mounted with two 2.0x16mm wood screws, and the SD pickups are too short legged (or the screws are not long enough, can’t find longer ones), and the holes are not deep enough to let those long screw pole pieces in it…
    Solution 1 : drill 6 small holes in the pickup hole to let the 6 screw pole pieces in, and find a way to direct mount the pickup.
    Solution 2 : drill 6 small holes in the pickup hole to let the 6 screw pole pieces in, and drill 4 more holes on the flamed maple top to screw the mounting ring (omg).
    Any other solution guys?

  14. JB example on Mahagony ibanez s is done by Guitar rig dont think a software can pick difference between different wood guitar

  15. Thanks for posting this, I’m part way through refurbishing my Alder ’91 Ibanez RT240 and some new p/ups is the next order. I’ve been eyeing up a Duncan Distortion for the bridge, but I’d read somewhere that the SH-6 in Alder was redculously trebly. I’m after something with a nice bite to run through a high gain setup, but with a good full tone suited for heavy riffing. Anyways I’ve been torn between the SH-5 and the SH-6, but reading this is swaying me toward the 6.

  16. I have a RG370DX modified (I have replaced the bridge with a Tune-O-Matic) but I want to change my pickups. I want the TB-4 in the Bridge position, the SSL- 4 RWRP on the middle and the Jazz on the Neck. Is that ok?? I play blues, funk, garage rock, indie, metal (like deftones, incubus), and R&B sometimes. And my amp, by now, is a Fender Mustang III v2

    1. You have a great set of pickups there. They should be able to get most sounds you are going for. What don’t you like about your current sound? What amp and effects are you using?

    2. Those pups are great. If u want more metal from the bridge try a full shred bridge, tb10. But the 4 will be slightly more versatile with better cleans and classic. I have an rg and the stock quantum neck is great, but the bridge lacks a little character for clean. He full shred bridge pup also sounds great in the neck position. One other thing, u may need to use non traditional wiring on the full shred, black hot, green and white together, and red ground, if not splitting. What u have is a very versatile set. The question is if u want more metal, either full shred or nazgul bridge.

    3. The mustang is awsome, the built in fx are ass kickin, but it not overly metal, super for everything up to metal. I mean yes it can do metal, but in a limited way. Get yourself a second amp, the new little orange micro dark, 179, vox vt20x, or a blackstar ht, and get a 112 or 212 cab with at least one celestion v-30. USE IT FOR YOU MAIN TONE. Use an aby, splitter, or pedal with stereo out, and use the mustang for your left stereo delay/mod channel. 5 seconds after hearing this rig u will thank me…

  17. I own a Ibanez Prestige RG1570z and i play from blues to metal ! Suggest me a best pickup configuration ! I love blues and i love to shred too

  18. Are you looking for true single coils or single coil sounds in a humbucker housing? Since the RG550 has an HSH setup, are you looking to replace the pickguard for 3 true single coils? My first thought is an SSL-5 set, if that is the case. However, the 24 fret neck moves the neck pickup closer to the bridge, so it will be impossible to get that bell-like Hendrix thing on any 24-fret guitar.

    1. I prefer true single coils or I could consider stack noiseless single coils, but with these last ones I feel they somehow have “less single coil character”. I’m going to replace the pickguard because could not find any original suited for 3 single coils. I’ll cut it out from maple sheet of about 3/16″ I found from a local tone woods supplier. Yes, I agree about the 24 fret re-position, but anyways what I expect is to increase resonance and sustain without the need to be high output pickups, rather more sensitivity and tone detail.
      I believe what you mean for the neck pickup may have to do with the best pickup location in regard of harmonics and string nodes. Not 100% sure but I found on string vibration: waves travel in length varying
      the vibration patterns and string nodes, therefore the neck pickup will sound with slightly different tone being closer to the bridge. I understand that a neck single coil pickup in a 24 fret guitar will work too.
      If there is further to consider that may make it sound awful please let me know.
      Wow, it can take really long to cover everything, I assume there´s not a perfect all purpose pickup.

      1. A great sounding set would be 2- SSL-2s and an SSL-6 in the bridge. This will give you the traditional bell-like tones with the extra power in the bridge.

  19. I’d like to change pickups on my Ibanez rg 2550z (basswood body), and i’m thinking:
    ’59/custom hybrid in the bridge
    Classic stack plus (STK-S4M) in the middle
    Whole Lotta Humbucker in the Neck.
    Do you think they’ll be good? Please let me know.

  20. I love the intent, but the information becomes less meaningful when virtually every SD non-vintage pickup is noted! That said, I do want to try the Perpetual Burn and Full Shred one day.

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