Indeed, distorted guitars and cracking snare drums are two of the most prominent aspects of metal. When the classic metal bass tone is added into the mix, that’s when the magic starts to happen.
The best bass pickups for metal stay true to the powerful, rumbling low-end that has defined the genre. In this detailed guide, you’ll be presented with the best-suited pickups to install on your bass to enhance your metal tone.
The Best Bass Pickups for Metal
Seymour Duncan is highly respected by musicians all around the globe. Their years of experience in the field of pickup production have made them the go-to manufacturer for some of the most iconic guitarists and bassists in popular music history.
Unsurprisingly, they produce several bass pickups that are specifically designed for metal. One of their finest offerings is the SPB-3 set. High-output single-coil pickups, it is ideally suited to the P-bass, enhancing the classic punchy tone.
Sonically, you can expect plenty of low-end clarity from the SPB-3 pickup set. The mid-range frequencies are tight and contained, while the mid-highs offer those classic metal-bass melodic overtones.
Although these pickups are designed for a P-bass, they are also compatible with any other bass guitar. If your regular pickups are sounding a little flat and lifeless, the SPB-3s will revitalize your bass and give it a new lease of life.
Due to the true single-coil nature of these Seymour Duncan pickups, they sound wonderful when combined with a gain-based effects pedal, like fuzz or overdrive. Even when played clean, you get slight breakups caused by increased playing velocity.
Seymour Duncan advises that these pickups be used with bass guitars that are made from alder, basswood, or warmer-toned ash. Rosewood fingerboards are also highly compatible with the high-octane style of the SPB-3 pickups.
2. EMG GZR-PJ
When it comes to metal bassists, Geezer Butler is amongst the most prolific and well-respected of the past half-century. His revered bass tone has been a huge factor in Black Sabbath’s success, and now it is available for you to experience.
The signature pickups by Butler and EMG sound rightfully huge. With vintage P and J style pickups, you get access to the tight, deep low-end power that is synonymous with Sabbath’s full-bodied sound.
The GZR-PJs use alnico 5 magnets, which enhance the fat bass tone whilst reducing the presence of hum or noise. They produce a well-balanced tone, that has power and punch in abundance.
For convenience's sake, the GZR-PJ pickups come with EMG’s 5-wire quick-connect output. This facilitates various wiring schemes to suit both your preferences and your bass’ configuration.
The pickups are also fully shielded. This allows them to perform optimally across the frequency range, without falling victim to unwanted electronic noise marring the signal. They are passive pickups, and therefore don’t require a battery to operate.
Also included in this EMG pickup set are a pair of volume pots, a tone pot, and an output jack. They’re very easy to install so that you can start enjoying the immersive Geezer Butler bass tone instantly.
The AG 4P/J-HC pickup set is compatible with the vast majority of 4-string bass guitars. Designed by pickup experts Aguilar, this set uses Alnico 5 magnets to produce substantial lows and hum-free performance.
In the neck pickup, the low-end power is evident. It’s ideally suited to rhythmic bass sections that complement thunderous metal drumming. In the bridge pickup, the tone is slightly scooped to create clean mids.
The real standout quality that first becomes noticeable when you play with these metal bass pickups, is the lack of unwanted noise in the output. The sound is surprisingly clean, despite the velocity of the low end.
There’s a reason that many of the best bass players around choose to use Aguilar pickups to enhance their tone. As is evident with the AG 4P/J-HC pickups, every component and mechanism has been chosen to specifically shape their sound.
The discreet, understated aesthetics of these Aguilar pickups means that they will slot onto most bass guitars without detracting attention from your performance. All black with a small white logo, they are likely to go unnoticed onstage.
Regardless of whether your bass sways closely to the P-bass or Jazz-bass design, the AG 4P/J-HC pickups are compatible with both blueprints. They're the perfect solution to a metal bass tone that needs additional power without compromising on clarity.
Since he joined Metallica in 2003, Robert Trujilo has coined his unique metal tone that sounds huge and full of attitude. Renowned for his unique finger-style bass playing, he requires pickups that promote articulation and low-end tightness.
The EMG signature pickups don’t disappoint. They manage to capture the essence of Trujillo’s highly-sought tone while leaving plenty of room for you to put your original stamp on it.
These pickups boast a broad and expansive tonal range. They also have a low resistance to inductance ratio, which improves the clarity of their tone, and the inclusion of ceramic bar magnets keeps unwanted noise at arm’s length.
The midrange produced by the EMG Riptide pickups is full of character. It is this frequency range that helps these pickups to propel your bass above the rest of a metal band, when necessary.
EMG’s patented solderless wiring harness facilitates a standard setup for your volume and tone pots. This technology makes the installation of the pickups very straightforward, and prior experience is not required.
Although these pickups are designed for traditional J bass spacing, they are also compatible with some narrow 5-string metal basses.
Seymour Duncan’s collaborative pickups with highly respected Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris are an exciting prospect. When you combine one of the best metal bassists of all time with arguably the best pickup manufacturer, great things are bound to happen!
Thankfully, these pickups live up to the hype. The SBP-4 Steve Harris set is designed to enhance the tone of your bass guitar, injecting it with energy, high-octane power, and responsiveness across the frequency range.
The key to creating the ultimate bass tone is versatility. The genre requires moments of melodic warmth, but you must be able to switch to aggressive and powerful when the opportunity presents itself.
The SPB-4 pickups cater to both of these extremes. They are highly dynamic and allow you to dig into the strings with immense power without causing saturation or clipping.
They employ Alnico 5 magnets and a unique method of coil winding to deliver tight lows, crisp highs, and mids that are filled with pent-up aggression. For those reasons, the SPB-4s are a great tool for invigorating your metal bass tone.
The Must-Have Qualities of Metal Bass Pickups
Although metal bass has undeniable qualities and attributes, there are many slight variations within the style. That’s why the pickups designed for metal bass differ from model to model.
Indeed, the consistent capabilities of metal bass pickups include staple qualities such as tight low-end, aggressive mids, warm highs, and plenty of room for increased playing velocity.
There are, however, some aspects that are likely to be less consistent. The pickups you choose should be based on which of these aspects you need for your metal bass tone. These include:
- Type of magnets
- Single coil/humbucking
- Volume & tone pots
I’d highly recommend considering bass pickups that use Alnico 5 magnets. Although other magnet types are great for other genres, metal requires the tightness in the low end that Alnico 5’s are capable of nurturing.
Humbucker pickups have been used in the past by metal bassists, but the predominant variety for this style is single-coils. This is because they produce a higher output, and with improved noise-minimizing abilities, they are ideal for metal.
The difference between passive and active metal bass pickups is simple: passive pickups do not require any external power, whereas active pickups require a battery to operate.
Finally, you need to decide whether volume pots and tone pots are important for your playing style. If you use lots of pedals, you might not require additional onboard controls, but in my opinion, it would be foolish not to have that option available.
Once you’ve acquired a good set of pickups, you’ll be able to blast out metal basslines in no time. They will have a transformative effect not only on your live performances but also on your recordings!