Best Passive Guitar Pickups for Playing Metal

Guitar Pickups

Metal. An overloaded onslaught of head banging, stage diving, adrenalizing and an overall empowering genre that takes no prisoners, makes no excuses, and isn’t the place for a thin and twangy guitar sound. Long gone are the days of picking up any old guitar and running it through a distortion pedal. It has to be louder, faster, and harder. Right? But what good is all of the intricate playing going to do when all that you and your audience can hear is a wall of noise?

If you want to customize your sound in a way that will give it a more distinct character, shake the earth with brute force yet provide crystal clarity, it’s time to change your pickups. Scrolling through an endless array of brands, models, and options can make the task seem as if a time vampire has begun leaching. Even after hours of searching, you may find yourself frustrated and empty handed.

We’ve eliminated the weak and narrowed the search. What arose from the ashes are the best passive pickups to have in your guitar for playing metal.

Passive Vs. Active Pickups

There are 2 types of pickups. Passive and Active. Active pickups tend to run hotter. Meaning higher output, less dynamics, and duller tones. Even though they run hotter, the benefit is that there will be no compromise in clarity. This is due to a battery operated pre-amp within the pickup. Passive pickups offer a warmer tone and untouched dynamics. No batteries required.

Seymour Duncan – Screamin Demon

If your focus is primarily playing brilliant leads, the screamin demon offers the most accurate articulation. Most notable about the Screamin’ Demon is its emphasis on the high end. You’ll capture every harmonic overtone and the end result is a larger than life sound. If you are looking for clear distinction between notes this medium output passive pickup will empower your leads without the added noise typically found in high output pickups.

Fast Facts

– Position: Neck or Bridge
– Artist Signature: George Lynch
– Bands: Lynch Mob, Dokken
– Perfect for: Hard Rock, Glam Rock/Metal, Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal


– Clean high and low end.
– Screamin’ leads.
– Great sustain.


– Bottom end not ideal for heavy chugging.
– Mistakes and sloppy playing will stand out.
– Not compatible with all wood types.

DiMarzio Crunch Lab 7

If you want to stop playing in the mud and clean up the midsection the DiMarzio Crunch Lab 7 will do just that. Chords will sound full and bright. Even though this is a high output pickup, the low end has no restriction and sounds pretty spacious. The Crunch Lab 7 maintains a well kept balance between all frequencies and consistently delivers without favouring or sacrificing one frequency over the other.

Fast Facts

– Position: Bridge
– Used By Artists: John Petrcucci (Dream Theater), Ben Savage (White Chapel), Art Rodriguez (Delyrium)
– Perfect For: Progressive Metal, Deathcore, Hardcore, Djent


– Full frequency spectrum clarity.
– Massive crunch.
– Style versatility.


– High output/Runs hot.

Seymour Duncan Distortion Mayhem SH-6

To breathe life into an old guitar or just make a cheap one ooze blood thirsty metal the Distortion Mayhem set from Seymour Duncan is battle ready. As a set, and also offered individually, these skull crushing monsters offer serious distortion. For those that are ever feeling soft or that may want to compose a love ballad, go ahead and pass these by. Due to being equipped with a noise cancelling feature you can unleash at full volume without any hesitation. Distortion Mayhem offers a pounding low end, searing highs, crunch with clarity and a powerful bite.

Fast Facts

– Position: Neck and Bridge
– Used by Artists: Adam Jones(Tool), Max Cavalera (Sepultura, Soulfly), Ola Englund (six feet under, The Haunted), Wayne Static (Static-X)
– Perfect For: Groove Metal, Death Metal, Industrial Metal


– Pristine distortion.
– No resonance loss.
– Handles drop tuning.


– Be sure to get the wiring diagram from Seymour Duncan there have been reports of incorrect installation due to a change in the wiring harness.


This is as close to an active sound without being active that you can get. A high output pickup, the H4 offers tight lows and smooth crunch. While it is somewhat of a contradiction to say, “a clean tone for death metal”, I am sure some of you may understand. When surrounded by blazing blast beats, guttural vocals, fast and intricate guitar riffs, while you want that nasty and dirty sound you want it to shine rather than get buried in the mix, or when playing live sounding like a wall of noise. EMG,although better known for their active pickups, did a superb job at capturing that highly sought after distinct tone that ensures every note you play is every note you will hear.

Fast Facts

– Position: Bridge
– Used By Artists: Mylena Monaco (Sinaya), Stuart Dixon (Venom)
– Perfect For: Death Metal


– Highly responsive.
– Delivers mid range frequencies without the muddy sound.


– Lower in volume.
– Price point is a little high.

Seymour Duncan – Black Winter

Time to get seriously brutal. Considering the name comes from the Amorphis album “Black Winter Day”, you really can’t go wrong here. Delivering insanely screeching highs, low end for chugging, and a clean tone that defines doom. Warmth crunch and clarity.

Fast Facts

– Position: Neck and Bridge
– Used By Artists: Andreas Kisser (Sepultura), Aaron Homma (Annihilator)
– Perfect For: Melodic Death Metal, Black Metal, Speed/Thrash Metal


– Crisp clean tones.
– Versatile for more than metal.
– Improves volume.


– High notes may sound thin.

For blistering leads, brilliant chords, deep chugging, or racing up and down the fretboard these are the pickups that will prevail no matter what breed of metal you play.

John C

is the editor of CompressorHead. In this blog, you will find the latest reviews, guides, and tips related to playing rock music, as well as news on the latest rock bands.

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