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5 Best Guitar Pickups for 80s Metal


Most recommended
EMG JH James Hetfield Signature
  • Bridge System – Adjustable
  • Active Tone With The Clarity And Punch Of A Passive Pickup
  • For Rock, Hard Rock, Metal
A good choice too
Seymour Dauncan S/D SH-8 Invader
  • 3 Ceramic Magnets
  • Hot Coils And Twelve Black Oxide Cap Screws
  • The Wide Magnetic Field
A good choice too
Seymour Duncan AHB-2b Blackouts HB Micro
  • Alnico V Magnets
  • For Old School Metal, Garage, Punk, Thrash, Drop Tunings
  • 3 Shielded Conductors
Seymour Duncan AHB-1 Blackouts
  • More Lows And More Highs
  • Blackouts Have More Tone Than Other Active Pickups
  • 9-Volt Active Humbucker
EMG TA Tom Araya Signature Active
  • 35DC Paired With The 35J
  • Includes EMG Exclusive Solderless Install System
  • Active 4-String Pickup Set

Choose the Best Guitar Pickup for 80s Metal

Customer’s Choice: the Best Rated Guitar Pickups for 80s Metal

18 users answered this survey. Please help us improve this review!

50% of users selected EMG JH James Hetfield Signature, 22.22% selected Seymour Dauncan S/D SH-8 Invader, 11.11% selected Seymour Duncan AHB-2b Blackouts HB Micro, 11.11% selected Seymour Duncan AHB-1 Blackouts and 5.56% selected EMG TA Tom Araya Signature Active. Every month we analyze your answers and change our rating.

A guitar pickup is a magnet wrapped in wire. The vibrations of the strings cause changes in a magnetic field, which are then translated into an electric signal by the pickup and sent to an amplifier.The pickup is the first step of sound creation in the electric guitar. The pickups are powered by an electrical system connected to a power supply, most often using batteries or with AC/DC adapters.

Pickups have two main functions: they generate magnetic fields that transmit string vibrations to the guitar`s body and pick up vibration signals from metal parts on your “axe” (the name for an electric guitar).

A good analogy would be that of a microphone that could both receive audio input and emit sound.

Whether you’re a die-hard 80s metal fan or just want to infuse some of that style into your music, it’s important to know the best guitar pickups for 80s metal. While there are many different types of guitar pickups on the market today (single coil, humbucker, P90), this article will focus on those made specifically for playing 80s metal.

EMG JH James Hetfield Signature Guitar Pickup Set – the Editor’s choice!

The James Hetfield signature pickup set is a real thrill for guitarists who want to feel the power and passion of Metallica. Stealth-looking with a modern, clean tone that bridges the gap between preamp distortion and passive pickups, you can finally have it all.

Powerful, dynamic, and stealth-looking with a touch of raw emotion. In this set, you will find the most popular pickup models as well as 2 innovative guitar pickup creations for those who want to stretch their sonic horizons even more. The EMG JH set is an active tone with clarity and punch that is comparable to a passive pickup but has less inductance that will obtain a cleaner low end.

  • James Hetfield uses this pickup;
  • Stealth looking set;
  • Active tone;
  • Solderless installation;
  • Less inductance on a cleaner low end;

  • Poorly written instructions;
  • The screws that adjust the pickups are hard to screw in;
  • Not a very clean sound;

The James Hetfield Signature Pickup Set is a set of EMG JH pickups that visually fit the aesthetic and tonal profile of Metallica’s most iconic guitarist. Plug it in, dial-up some crunch, and feel what has rocked stadiums for decades.

Seymour Duncan S/D SH-8 Invader Pickup – the best for the powerful sound!

Seymour Duncan’s SH8 Invader pickup will give your guitar everything it needs to pulse with raging voltage and power through the room.

With a long history of change-ups in sound, Seymour Duncan is so confident about their latest edition Invader SH8 pickup they even went as far as calling it the “most powerful single-coil ever”.

Catering to a niche market of guitarists, the Invader SH8 Pickup will take your sound to the next level. The wide magnetic field pumps power into your amp with unique brightness and a totally new sound! The combination of three large ceramic magnets, hot coils, and twelve black oxide cap screws give the awesome pickup bolts of volts for an electrifying force of energy. If you’re looking for a cutting-edge tone that sets you apart from the pack – this is it!

  • Powerful sound;
  • Combines large ceramic magnets and hot coils;
  • Pump power into your amp;
  • Unique bright for a new sound;

  • It is scuffed easily;
  • The material tape on the coils was partially wrapped;

The Invader SH8 pickup is designed for high-performance and maximum output. The pickup is capable of producing piles of exotic voltage pumped through your amp, which you’ll notice through the invigorating brightness and totally new sound.

Seymour Duncan AHB-2b Blackouts HB Micro Humbucker Pickup – the best among active pickups!

Seymour Duncan’s pitch-black pickups will leave you wanting more. Powered by Alnico-V magnets, this pickup will have a heavy metal sound to it. It has no split and is active for the setup customization. This pickup can be put anywhere on your guitar from the bridge or neck, but Seymour Duncan recommends putting it in the bridge for best results.

The anti-interference design prevents any other noises making it great for the avid metal player. These quality pickups offer an aggressive, high-gain tone that is popular with old-school metal, garage punk, or other styles of rock frustrated by impediments to volume output usually caused by drop tunings and extended range guitars.

  • Great active pickup;
  • Anti-interference;
  • 3 shielded conductors;
  • Powerful tone;

  • Not everyone likes the pure sterile crunch it produces;
  • A bit challenging to set up;

Get Seymour Duncan’s AHB-2b Blackouts HB Micro Humbucker Pickups if you’re looking to get that signature sound of metal, garage punk, or thrash. It’ll come out strong and solid with no interference due to the anti-interference quality. With them, your tone will be rich and full, giving you what you need for “the roar of death”.

Seymour Duncan AHB-1 Blackouts Active Humbucker Pickup – the best for the extended frequency response!

The Seymour Duncan AHB-1 Blackouts are the active pickup for people who love the tone. These pickups have more lows, highs, and output than other active pickups on the market. They’re also quiet while still delivering a less compressed sound that can be heard through distortion pedals or amps with circuitry built to serve it best.

A 9-volt active humbucker pickup delivers a less compressed tone, with more output that is just plain unmatched. You will get unprecedented performance from these pickups that boast rich harmonic content and ample presence.

  • Extended frequency response;
  • Less hum than other pickups;
  • More lows, more highs, and more output;
  • More tone than active pickups;

  • A tiny bit dark sound;
  • Aren’t capable of splitting coils;

Seymour Duncan Blackouts are a must-have for any musician who strives to produce the most true-to-life sound, with all the highs and lows your ears can handle.

EMG TA Tom Araya Signature Active 4-String Bass Guitar Pickup Set – the best for easy installation!

EMG has engineered a guitar pickup set for Tom Araya’s signature bass that can cut through the noise of other instruments. The 35DC paired with the 35J model delivers a tone that is spicy, hot, and brutally aggressive yet articulate enough to be clearly heard above all else.

As a bass player for Slayer, Tom Araya needs amplification and articulation to cut through the wall of guitars he’s surrounded by at shows. Now the experts have paired these two amazing pickups together in the EMG TA set, made them easy to install with the exclusive solderless install system, and taken care of all this for you!

This tough guitar rig is perfect for an aggressive rock sound that cuts through anything standing in your way.

This is now an exclusive 4-string TA-only pickup combo including EMG’s solderless installation system making it easy to assemble and install your pickups without fuss or muss.

  • Easy to install;
  • Signature pickup by Tom Araya;
  • Not hard to assemble;
  • Versatile pickup with an adequate articulation;

  • Sometimes it still requires some soldering;

Aside from being easy to install, these professional pickups also come from EMG’s exclusive solderless system.

The Buyer’s Guide

Types of guitar pickups for 80s metal

Pickup types vary widely, depending on market trends and personal preferences, but, generally, there are 4 classes used today: 

  • traditional single-coil;
  • split-coil humbucker with individual coils wired out of phase relative to each other;
  • dual-coil humbucker with two coils wired in phase relative to each other;
  • active pickups;

If you are looking for classic, completely uncolored sound with a traditional look and feel, but still want to harness the power of modern technology in your guitar’s pickups then active humbuckers could be what you’re looking for. These allow changing amplifier channels simply by plugging into a different input without having to re-adjust volume controls each time.

Active pickups have another advantage over their passive counterparts: they eliminate noise problems that can occur when long cables run from an instrument to its amplifier or effects units, which is why many professional musicians prefer them.  But there are also certain disadvantages associated with this type of pickup such as a higher price tag and a limited number of tone settings due to lack of adjustability – both major factors would make it difficult for beginners to find their perfect sound.

If you are looking for something that sounds good but doesn’t cost a fortune, then passive pickups are the right choice because they come in every price range imaginable. This type of pickup is best suited for those who want an easily replaceable part with decent performance at low costs and don’t mind sacrificing some tone controls along the way – modern passive humbuckers can provide great value while still being reasonably priced parts if your guitar requires them.

Choosing between all available options isn’t difficult once you’ve established what exactly do you expect from it. If you’re not sure, try choosing one of our top-rated picks or check out several reviews before making up your mind about which set would fit your guitar best.

Main Features:

  1. Tone

Guitar pickups are essential for shaping your tone. The electrical current produced by guitars goes through all parts of the signal chain – from your hands to the amplifier. 

The resulting sound is shaped by every component in this path before it reaches its final destination: our ears! In order to reproduce sounds as accurately as possible, experts need high-quality equipment throughout our entire setup with nothing compromising on quality at any stage along the way. If there’s anything wrong with one part of this system, then it will have negative consequences on how the guitar sounds.

The tone of any given pickup is determined by a combination of three factors: the type, number, and winding direction of the coil wire. 

While all pickups are made up of one or more coils, single-coil pickups have become the most popular choice for rock musicians over recent decades due to their characteristic bright sparkly sound. 

Unlike humbuckers that deliver twice as much resistance against electrical interference thanks to both being wired in opposite directions through each individual coil (reversed polarity), single-coil pickups produce an irregular pattern with fluctuating levels of resistance when under electromagnetic pressure – this causes them to generate constant background noise that can be difficult to control in high volume settings. 

This issue wasn’t present in earlier days when loud amps were less common but have become an issue that is now being addressed by the many guitar pickup manufacturers who are producing high-quality pickups for metal guitars.

  1. Reliability

Guitar pickups are generally very reliable, but there is the occasional guitar pickup that will fail to work. This isn’t something to worry about too much because they are relatively cheap and easy enough for you to replace.

The main reason why a beginner should not try to install their guitar pickups is that it can lead to serious injury as well as damage to your equipment if done incorrectly. It’s also worth mentioning that these aren’t necessarily tasks for beginners in general – only those with experience installing electronics may be qualified for this task.

The most important factor in selecting the right pickups is to find a set that provides you with reliable tones each time. If your guitar has any kind of problem, it may be due to faulty wiring or even a broken component – but not necessarily someone else’s fault. 

That being said, if you have an unreliable instrument and decide to change out its pickups, as a result, try looking for units that are built well enough so they can stand up against lots of use!

  1. Brand

One of the most important factors when choosing a new guitar is whether it has good pickups that suit your style or not. The best metal guitars have great-sounding pickups, but there are some great brands out there besides EMGs and DiMarzios to consider as well. 

If you’re looking for 80s heavy metal sound, then these 4 companies below will give you everything you could possibly want in an electric guitar pickup: 

  • DiMarzio;
  • Seymour Duncan;
  • EMG;
  • Lace;

Guitar Pickup Care and Maintenance

Guitar pickups require care and maintenance to ensure they deliver optimal performance. 

Follow these tips for the best guitar pickup experience:

  • Keep it clean! Clean your guitar’s strings with a cloth or pick up an electronic tuner, which is also great at removing dust particles from the surface of your instrument. In addition, don’t forget about your hands! Wash them before each practice session (or every time you play);
  • Use soap that moisturizes – this will help prevent calluses. Don’t be afraid to pull out any small debris that might get caught in crevices like between frets—it doesn’t take much elbow grease as long as you keep things dry and light enough not to damage anything;
  • If you’ve ever wondered why guitar strings are wrapped in silk, the answer is that it helps reduce finger squeak. If you don’t have any extra cloth around or if your strings are already starting to fray, smooth things over by wiping them down with a little bit of saliva before playing;
  • For some added protection while out on tour, keep a small bottle of rubbing alcohol nearby. Once you take off for an extended period of time (or once you get home), remove all dust and gunk from the pickup cavities using cotton swabs dipped in alcohol until they come up clean. This keeps rust away so your metal machine stays nice and shiny even after months on the road;


Do older pickups sound better?

The main difference between older and newer pickups can be heard in the clarity of notes. 80s metal requires a clear sound with a distinct separation between each note so that they do not blend together. Older guitar pickups have been known to produce this result, while many new pickup designs tend to focus on “overall power” rather than individual string accuracy. 

This means that there is some sacrifice when choosing an old-school pick-up set over modern alternatives, but it may still be worth considering for your style if you are willing to make sacrifices elsewhere within your rig setup (such as amps).

How can you make my old pickups sound better?

The pickups may also be given additional windings to make them sound better. Another technique to improve the sound is to tune the pole pieces for a brighter tone. It is determined by the further parts of the pickup. The pole-pieces and magnets have a significant impact on the character of a pickup.

Do pickups get old?

While there is no such thing as a pickup “going bad” or getting old, the sound of your pickups will diminish over time. This can be attributed to two main factors: corrosion and wire fatigue

As you clean your strings with every use, debris strips away conductive metal from them creating an environment where oxidation (rust/corrosion) occurs faster than usual. 

Wire fatigue refers to the gradual degradation of how long it takes for electrical signals sent by guitar players down their instrument’s signal path through the various components until they reach their amplifiers’ input jacks that then convert those back into audio frequencies that we hear coming out of our speakers when playing music. These are both natural effects on any stringed musical instrument that uses passive pickups.

You can combat this by using fresh new strings and making sure to clean them properly after every use with a dedicated guitar string cleaner.

Are vintage pickups good?

Vintage-style pickups are often used for adding warmth, thickness, and brightness to a guitar tone. They work great on 80s metal rhythm play as well as leads. 

If you are looking for raw guitar tone, vintage pickups give it to you. They do not deliver the clear-cut sound that modern pickups offer so they might be a bad choice if your music requires distinct notes and chords.

How long do passive pickups last?

Passive pickups last for a really long time. As long as you don’t have any problems with them, they can easily outlive an active pickup system or even the guitar itself.  Sadly, they can’t be repaired if anything goes wrong. Because of that, you should always have a backup guitar just in case your primary doesn’t work anymore. The best thing to do is try out as many different pickups as possible until you find the perfect tone for yourself!

How long do active pickups last?

Active pickups can die out after anywhere from a year to several years. If you play your guitar every day, the pickups will need to be replaced more frequently than if they are rarely played. Your gear has a lot of wear and tear on it with each use, so generally speaking the higher quality active pickup models tend to last longer because they’re engineered for durability and fast performance time after time.

How do you know if your guitar pickups are bad?

If you are unsure if your pickups or guitar might need to be replaced, there are a number of tell-tale signs that can help guide you in the right direction. Most commonly it is referred to as “tone” but this doesn’t necessarily mean your sound quality will suffer, only that the tone of your instrument isn’t what it used to be. 

The first thing you’ll notice with beginning changes of bad equipment is how much more difficult chord formations become on some guitars due to faulty wiring and design flaws. 

Another common issue new players have when they start out is not being able to achieve proper pitch from their strings for certain notes because the magnets inside their pickups aren’t strong enough or properly aligned which will cause them problems with both clean and distorted tones.

If you are experiencing any of the following issues with your guitar, it is most likely time to replace at least some components: 

  • Your tone has suffered (your sound quality);
  • You’re finding chords difficult to form or play on certain strings;
  • Proper pitch can’t be achieved for specific notes when trying to use a clean or distortion setting;

Do active pickups drain the battery when not in use?

Active pickups rely on a battery to operate. When the guitar is not being played, it will drain power from the battery. The amount of time needed for this may vary depending on how often you use your guitar and whether or not you have active electronics turned off when not in use. If you always use active pickups, consider getting an external power supply for your guitar.

Do active pickups need grounding?

Active pickups do not need grounding to work, but they can use it if you want. If your guitar has a metal bridge plate or the control cavity cover is grounded then no problem! You should be able to just clip on and go without any other modifications. However, if there are plastic parts in between or your guitar has a wooden bridge you will need to ground the system. This is really simple and only requires one wire, so you won’t have any problems setting it up.

The best way to do this is with green/yellow tape or paint on the back of the volume pot being grounded by being taped in line right before it goes into the control cavity which should be covered up when there are no wires attached but exposed when they are plugged in! 

The other alternative is to drill a hole in the volume pot-mounting ring and run your ground wire through it. This way you have an extra plastic cover between its connection point so no grounding issues can happen but allows for easy access if anything needs changing or fixing!

Are Seymour Duncan Invaders good for metal?

They are one of the most popular and widely used pickups for metal guitars. For example, The Invader Guitar Pickup is a high-output humbucker, designed to give you massive output with an aggressive attack and quick response time – perfect for 80s metal! You can use it as either a neck or bridge pickup on your guitar. And if you don’t need such a heavy tone, just reduce the volume control at least two notches from its maximum setting (by pulling up gently).

Useful Video: Duncan Blackouts vs EMG HET Set

Final thoughts 

There are many different guitar pickups on the market today, but not all of them are right for what you’re looking to do. If your goal is to play 80s metal, then it’s important that you research which type of pickup will give you the sound and tone you want. Some people may be able to get away with using a single-coil or P90 if they have an amp set up specifically for those types of pickups. 

But others might need something more powerful – like a humbucker or even two stacked humbuckers like Seymour Duncan’s Blackouts (which has been used by Metallica). It’s worth experimenting until you find the perfect fit for your playing style!