Saturday, January 28, 2017

GNB top 10 humbucking pickups for rock/metal

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today I would like to share with you my top 10 humbucking pickups for guitar, among all the pickups I have ever tried.
The characteristics I take in consideration are several: the pickup needs to have a good signal to noise ratio, which means that the sound must be clear and with as little hum as possible also at high gain, it must have a good mid range capable of cut through a mix without needing to intervene excessively with post-eq, and it must have enough gain to let us obtain a sound distorted enough also with the most common amplifiers that can be found in a rehearsal room, without forcing us to bring a booster.
In this top 10 I list, without any particular order, neck and bridge pickups, active and passive ones, and I suggest you to take this as a starting point to check out if you decide to improve the sound of your guitar.

Seymour Duncan Distortion: This passive bridge pickup sets itself in the middle, among the range of the high gain Seymour Duncan passive pickups, and in my experience is the passive pickup that comes closer to the response of an active one like an Emg 81. The characteristics are a very musical mid range, a good amount of gain, and a very tight bass response. The only downside of this pickup is that it requires a bassy guitar wood, like mahogany, otherwise it risks to sound a bit "ice-picky". It is very easy to find a good tone with this pickup, and to mix it in a band context. It is a pickup that can be heard in many videos of Ola Englund.

DiMarzio Crunch lab: A very well balanced passive bridge pickup, designed by Dream Theater's guitartis John Petrucci. This pickup has the characteristic of having a powerful, tight and mid rangey tone, with strong low-mids and that sounds very mix-ready. It is the passive pickup that comes closer to an Emg 85 on the bridge position, or an Emg 707. Recently John Petrucci has also created a new signature model, called Illuminator, that seems to be even better than the Crunch Lab, but I haven't had yet the chance to test it.

Gibson 498T: also called "Hot alnico", this bridge pickup is a Gibson Les Paul trademark. It is a high gain pickup, with a squeaky high-mid range that marries perfectly with the bassy heavy mahogany body of a Les Paul, giving as a result an incredibly full and warm sound, with a beautiful bluesy-classic rock mid range that allows us to play succesfully almost any kind of music, from blues/jazz to Guns n'Roses to punk, from rockabilly to thrash metal. With high gain levels tends to be a bit noisy, but its tone is legendary.

Emg 85 / 707: This pickup is born as a neck companion (in the Emg Zakk Wylde set) of the Emg 81, but I actually prefer it in the bridge position (and the 707 is basically a 7 strings version of the 85): it has less bass frequencies of the 81, a little less output and less highs, the tone is more mid range oriented and probably it is the active pickup with the most "mix ready" tone, in my opinion. The sound is clear, the mids are very pleasant and it is very aggressive when needed, but without providing useless highs and lows. An example of this pickup can be heard in many Fear Factory songs.

Emg 57: this active bridge pickup is part (together with the 66) of a new set with alnico magnets (instead of ceramic ones), and it basically takes the old Emg81 and gives it a more vintage twist, resulting in a much more "usable" tone, with a little less output and a much more prominent and euphonic mid range. The result is a pickup that beats the predecessor in every possible way, and that is a good candidate as the best active pickup in the market today.

Emg Het Set: the new, improved version of the classic Emg 81-60 Het set, it's an active, ceramic set of 2 pickups that improves the original combination by making it more open, less dark and bassy, and giving to the high mids a beautiful definition. Probably this is the best Emg set in the market right now, unfortunately it is only for 6 strings at the moment.

Seymour Duncan '59: quite possibly the best passive neck pickup I have ever tried, practically a must have. The sound is very dynamic, it responds beautifully to the touch, and it is amazing also when using a high gain amp and lowering the guitar volume until it gets clean: you obtain a warm, slighly overdriven tone that is creamy and a real delight to play. Great when used in conjuction with its bridge best counterpart, the Seymour Duncan JB, an amazing hard rock pickup, this pickup is great also for playing solos.

Seymour Duncan Blackout: An evolution of the already cited Emg 707 created by Dino Cazares of Fear Factory, but this time with Ceramic magnet and produced by Seymour Duncan. There are several versions of this active bridge pickup: the original one is designed by Dino Cazares, another one is tweaked by the guitarist of Slipknot and it is called Blackout Metal, and a third one is signed by Jeff Loomis. The version that I suggest is the original one, AHB1, which is a little less extreme than the other two. The sound is similar to the Emg 707, but with more gritty, defined highs and slighly more output. This is the pickup that I am using in the bridge of my main guitar from several years now.

DiMarzio D-Sonic: A passive bridge pickup with a very strong low mid range and a lot of bite, used often in hard rock and nu-metal. It has the particolarity that one of the two coils is not divided in poles, it is one single magnetic strip that gives the pickup specific tonal qualities (the producer claims that this way the sound is brighter and more defined). It can be heard for example in the song Don't Stay by Linkin Park.

Bare knuckle Painkiller: Bare knuckle is an english producer that offers high level passive pickups, and they are considered to be extremely good, especially in the metal guitar community. Among the various models, I have chosen this ceramic bridge one because of the clarity that it retains also in extreme environments, such as a Fleshgod Apocalypse song.

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