Best pickups for metal: our guide to upgrading for high gain heaven

Close up of a gold EMG pickup on an ESP guitar
(Image credit: Future)

Metal encompasses the most extreme techniques and playing styles, thus it requires a pickup that can match the demands of the modern player. Whether it’s complex alternate picked riffs in 5/4 or just going ham on that open low string, the best pickups for metal laugh in the face of a dimed Metal Zone pedal, eating up the low end of an extended-range instrument, delivering articulation and clarity in the most intense playing scenarios. 

Swapping pickups is probably the most cost-effective way to upgrade your guitar. As the most crucial way an electric guitar generates its sound, your pickups play a substantial role in the overall tone of your guitar, and even a beginner-level instrument can be elevated massively by getting some fresh pickups installed. It’s something that’s not too difficult to do yourself if you have the patience, and most guitar techs and luthiers will do a pickup swap for a relatively low cost, certainly cheaper than buying a new guitar.

You can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing guitar products so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

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Amit Sharma

Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences as a guitar player. He's worked for magazines like Kerrang!Metal HammerClassic RockProgRecord CollectorPlanet RockRhythm and Bass Player, as well as newspapers like Metro and The Independent, interviewing everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handled lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).

With contributions from