For a good metal bass tone, you want pickups that are going to give you punchy lows, cutting mids, and clear highs. Your choice of pickup is going to have a huge effect on your metal bass tone.
That is where this comes in. This is a selection of some of the best pickups to give you the best metal tone for both P and Jazz basses.
6 Best Bass Pickups for Metal & Hard Rock
Table of Contents
- 6 Best Bass Pickups for Metal & Hard Rock
- P Style Pickups vs J Style Pickups
- Single Coil vs Humbuckers
- Active vs Passive
- Covered vs Exposed
- Other Pickup Types
1. Seymour Duncan SPB-3 Quarter Pound
Seymour Duncan’s SPB-3 is one of the best bass pickups for metal bassists. It has grown a bit of a cult following among metal bassists.
When I first played with SPB-3’s, I immediately understood why it has a following. This is one of the best P bass style pickups out there.
The tone of the SPB-3 stood out to me immediately. It has a very strong, punchy tone. That strength is especially noticeable in the low end.
But even with that powerful low end, the SPB-3 still manages to have a lot of clarity in the mids and the highs. I never felt like the mids and highs were lacking, or that the lows were overpowering.
The second thing I noticed was the output. These pickups definitely have a higher output than a lot of other single coils I have played. But that is thanks to the pickups being overwound to give it a higher output while still being passive.
The SPB-3 has a very warm and well-rounded tone. It is actual quite modern, even though it is modeled after ‘50s and ‘60s P bass pickups.
That does feel a little confusing to me. Since the SPB-3 is modeled after vintage pickups, you expect a vintage tone, but you are getting a modern one. I can see that being an issue.
But if you are looking for a powerful, punchy bass pickup for a modern metal tone, then the SPB-3 is a fantastic choice.
2. EMG Geezer Butler Signature
When it comes to metal tone, two names that stand out are EMG and Geezer Butler. SO, when these two names team up to make a bass pickup, you know something great is coming out of it.
The EMG Geezer Butler Signature pickups were designed in collaboration with the legendary Black Sabbath bassist. That means that you have a pretty good idea of what type of sound you are getting.
And I think EMG has done a fantastic job capturing Geezer’s tone. This is a vintage pickup through and through.
The pickups have a great amount of warmth, while still being punchy and clear. They definitely have a ‘60s or ‘70s sound, but with the advantages of modern technology.
Technology like Alnico V magnets, giving the pickups a very smooth tone and a higher output. They also use EMGs proprietary preamp. This gives the pickups a lively, responsive sound, and helps subtle details like harmonics stand out.
While these are pickups that are aimed at a vintage metal tone, I was surprised by how versatile they still are. Even genres like jazz and funk sound fantastic through these pickups.
But that focused vintage tone is going to make these pickups unsuitable for bassists looking for a more modern tone. I did get a decent modern tone out of them, but a vintage tone is certainly where they shine.
As far as a metal bass tone goes, though, few people are going to do it better than EMG and one of the founding fathers of metal.
3. Aguilar AG 4P/J-HC
Aguilar might not have the same name recognition as Seymour Duncan or EMG, but their pickups are just as high quality. Their AG 4P/J-HC pickups are one of the best jazz bass pickups I have played in quite some time.
Designed specifically for 4-string jazz basses, the AG 4P/J-HC is meant to capture the essence of jazz bass. I think it succeeds at that job quite well, while also offering a modern twist.
These pickups use Alnico V magnets, giving them a smooth, well balanced tone. They are also wound with heavy formvar wire, adding to their vintage tone.
You are getting a nice and warm, smooth tone with these pickups. But it is a tone that I feel is still quite versatile. You can easily play a wide range of genres with these pickups, and they have just as great a modern tone as they do a vintage one.
They can easily go from warm and sweet for jazz, to punchy and aggressive for metal. Their full, rich low end and clear, articulate highs also help make your bass stand out in a band setting.
One big thing that also really stood out to me was the string-to-string balance of these pickups. There is a clear consistency between each string. This means you don’t have to play certain strings harder or softer to keep your sound consistent.
The only real downside of these pickups is the price. You could get pickups of a similar quality for less, but there is just something special about these pickups that makes them worth every penny.
4. Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound P-J
The Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound P-J set combines the SPB-3 and SJB-3 for a more rounded and versatile sound. This gives you the advantages of both without having to choose between the two.
The two pickups can be considered opposites of each other. The SPB-3, the P pickup, has a bright and punchy tone. The SJB-3, the J pickup, has a warm and rounded tone.
This means that you can choose which sound you want. If you want a more modern sound, you can use the P pickup. For a more vintage sound, you can use the J pickup.
But the biggest advantage, of course, is the fact that you can combine the tones of both pickups. This gives you the ability to create a tone that is more unique than just a simple modern or vintage tone.
I feel like being able to mix a vintage tone with a modern one often produces the most interesting results. Just adding a touch of warmth to a bright and punchy tone can create something unique. Or adding brightness to a warm vintage tone.
In terms of construction, the two pickups are also quite similar. The biggest difference is that the P is a single coil and the J a humbucker. The J also has an extra ceramic magnet to add some power and punch.
I think if you are like me and can’t really decide between the SPB-3 and the SJB-3, this set makes a lot of sense. You are getting the best of both without having to sacrifice one for the other.
5. DiMarzio Model J
Another big name when it comes to metal pickups. The DiMarzio Model J is a pickup designed to replicate classic Fender J pickups from the ‘60s.
I think DiMarzio has actually done quite an outstanding job at recreating that vintage Fender jazz bass tone. The ability of these pickups to capture that original jazz bass tone is quite amazing.
It has that same warm, rounded tone. But I also feel like DiMarzio has added some extra attack and sustain to the pickups.
This added attack and sustain makes it a great choice for metal bassists. Your sound is going to stand out among the loud distortion and pounding drums in a metal band.
Frequency response is also very accurate. Small details are easily picked up and there is also great consistency moving from string to string.
I do feel like the output could have been better. The out put is fairly moderate and not quite as high as the other pickups on this list. You are going to need to push the volume on your amp a little to give these pickups enough of a boost to compete with the rest of the band.
But other then a small issue with the output, the Model J is nothing but a fantastic pickup. From the great vintage tone, to the excellent build quality, to the super easy installation.
If you are looking for a pickup that recreates the tone of a vintage Fender jazz bass, then the Model J is an easy recommend.
6. EMG P BK
The second EMG pickups on this list, the P BK is a fairly affordable upgrade or replacement for the stock pickups in your bass.
These pickups offer a very punchy, deep tone. And since they are active pickups, they also give you more than enough output.
These pickups are going to add some serious power and a fat bottom end to your sound. I do think that the low end is going to be a bit too much for some.
But if you are playing alongside 7 and 8-string guitarists, or guitarists that play in very low tunings, that extra low end is going to be very beneficial. The tone still has a lot of clarity with all the low end. I never felt like it was just bassy and muddy.
Of course, as is the draw back with any active pickups, these do require batteries to work. This does give the pickup a generous amount of output. You aren’t going to struggle to get your bass to be clearly audible in the mix.
And if you want some brightness in your tone, then the P BK might also be a bit disappointing. I did find that it was easy enough to add some brightness with EQ, but it is something to keep in mind.
The P BKs aren’t as good as the Geezer Butler signatures, but they are still a great option. Especially if you don’t have the budget for the signature pickups.
P Style Pickups vs J Style Pickups
I have touched on the two pickup styles a little, but they are generally classified as either P, precision, or J, jazz, pickups.
Precision pickups are the ones in the middle and close to the neck of the bass. These pickups have a punchy tone and add depth to the bass sound. They are usually associated with a more modern sound.
Jazz pickups are located at the bridge of the bass. These add brightness to the bass sound, but are overall warmer and have more of a vintage sound.
If you are looking to have a more modern tone, then a P style pickup will be the best choice. If you want a vintage tone, then you will want to go with a J style pickup.
You can also get sets that use both P and J pickups. These are great if you want both tones to switch between or to use in combination.
Single Coil vs Humbuckers
When it comes to pickups that are suited for metal, guitarists tend to pick humbuckers over single coils. They are better suited to the high volumes and distortion involved in metal.
With that in mind, you might think that bassists would follow the same logic. But in reality it is quite the opposite.
Most metal bassists prefer high output, noiseless single coil pickups or P pickups. Metal bassists don’t often use a lot of gain, so humbuckers aren’t really required.
If you are using a lot of gain or other effects, a humbucker might be useful. Otherwise, you can just use a quality single coil.
Active vs Passive
Another thing to consider is whether or not the pickups are active or passive. This is also somewhat similar to choosing between single coils and humbuckers. Neither one is really necessary for playing metal. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Active pickups use a preamp powered by a 9 volt battery to increase the output of the pickups. Passive pickups don’t have this preamp.
Passive bass pickups have ways of increasing their output without needing a preamp. Many of them use Alnico V magnets that have a higher output. Some pickups are also overwound or wound with heavy formvar wire to increase their output.
Active pickups are a bit more sensitive and able to pick up subtle details while you are playing. The big disadvantage of active pickups is that they tend to have a less natural tone.
Passive pickups have a more natural tone. The downside is that that can’t pick up all the subtle details that active pickups can.
Active pickups are also a bit better at handling a lot of effects and high amounts of gain. But since bassists, even metal bassists don’t tend to use gain or a lot of effects, passive pickups are normally just as good.
When it comes to bass, there isn’t really a better choice between active and passive pickups. While the higher output can help your bass stand out in the mix, there isn’t much more of an advantage unless you are also using a lot of effects.
Covered vs Exposed
You might have noticed that some pickups have their magnets visible, while others don’t. This is what we refer to as covered or exposed.
Honestly, there isn’t really any difference in terms of sound between covered and exposed pickups. This is mainly a cosmetic difference and is going to be up to your own preference.
Covered pickups look a bit cleaner and more modern. For a metal bassist, that might be a good choice to make your bass look a bit more badass and metal.
Other Pickup Types
While single coil and humbuckers are the two main types of pickups for bass, there are a few less common types.
Split coil pickups are essentially a humbucker split in two. If you have ever played a guitar with a coil tap function, a split coil works much the same.
It allows you to switch between a single coil and a humbucker. This gives you the option to use the pickup as either, opening up the versatility of the pickup.
These pickups aren’t very common on basses, but some models can be found that use piezoelectric pickups.
These pickups work by picking up the string vibration through physical contact with the bass’ body. The pickup is usually placed close to or under the bridge of the bass.
These pickups have a more natural, acoustic sound compared to standard magnet pickups. The problem with piezo pickups is that they can sound thin if you don’t use the right preamp settings.
These are the newest type of pickup. Instead of picking up the string vibrations through magnetic fields or physical contact, these pickups use light. You can think of it like the pickup ‘sees’ the vibrations instead of ‘sensing’ them.
These aren’t popular or common at all. In fact, they are still very much a work in progress. They have quite a lot of hum, but have a lot of sustain and a broader frequency range.
There are a lot of options available to metal bassists when it comes to bass pickups. EMG basses are a staple in the metal world. And when two of the biggest names in metal join up to make a pickup, you know it is going to be great.
But no matter your choice, any of the pickups on this list are going to give you a fantastic metal bass tone.