Best Seymour Duncan Pickups For Metal: My Top 5 Picks…

Today we check out the best Seymour Duncan pickups for metal. Pickups can literally change the entire sound of your rig and guitar. But which ones are right for your style?


The Best Seymour Duncan Pickups For Metal: A Long Legacy Of Quality

Seymour Duncan was a guy that was always interested in guitars. Not only did he like to play them, but he was also very much into the physics of them. When he had a guitar that developed a pickup problem, he took the pickup apart and rewound it using a record player to rewind the wires. What he noticed, was the pickup sounded better afterward! This was when he was a teenager in the 1960s, and this experiment made Seymour Duncan very curious.

Seymour Duncan went on to start a pickup rewinding shop with his wife, Cathy Carter. Once his business took off, he sought out all kinds of people, looking for the answer to his question: What makes a pickup sound better?

He got to meet tons of famous people like Les Paul and later found a mentor in the inventor of the humbucker: Seth Lover. After learning all he could from a multitude of sources, Duncan started his own pickup business in 1976. He was no longer just fixing broken gear, he was designing it from the ground up.

Seymour Duncan had a lot of competition in those early days. Gibson USA made pickups, as well as Fender Custom Shop, and the legendary Larry Dimarzio. But Duncan pickups offered something more than these other companies. Seymour Duncan is a known fan of Rock and Metal and has tons of picks geared specifically towards these genres. This set him apart in the industry. If you played heavy music, you probably wanted to talk to Seymour Duncan.

If you have a starter guitar, then the weak point is probably not the guitar itself. It is probably the components. You can easily change the whole sound of your cheaper starter guitar, by swapping out the pickups! In fact, many people buy cheaper guitars all the time and mod them to their liking. You can take a basic Squire guitar, and make it a Metal machine!

Pickups are often overlooked when it comes to tailoring your tone. But in reality, pickups are the first line of defense in your rig. The pickups literally produce the sound from your guitar. I would say that is pretty important! This is especially true when it comes to Metal since you are usually using high gain tones.

Today, we take a look at the best Seymour Duncan pickups for Metal and go over what advantages and disadvantages these pickups may have on your overall tone. We will also provide the genres that these pickups work best with! Without further ado…

Best Seymour Duncan Pickups For Metal

  • Seymour Duncan Invader™ Pickup
  • Seymour Duncan Invader™ Pickup
    $89.00

    These pickups look badass, and they are uncompromising in their tone. The Invader set is one of the highest output pickup sets that Duncan has ever made, and lots of artists use them. Most famously, Avenged Seven Fold.

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  • Seymour Duncan Alpha & Omega Pickup
  • Seymour Duncan Alpha & Omega Pickup
    $129.00

    I find that the Alpha and Omega set are not just some of the best Seymour Duncan pickups for metal...but for all kinds of genres. This is due to the boost in the midrange, while still retaining a lot of bass frequencies.

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  • Seymour Duncan BLACKOUTS Pickups
  • Seymour Duncan BLACKOUTS Pickups

    Much like an EMG, it can be hard to get crystal clean tones from Blackouts. But that is because these are designed for handling a lot of gain and distortion and boosting the distortion way past what your amp is capable of. Ideal for Metalcore, Nu-Metal, Extreme Metal, and Classic Metal

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  • Duncan JB/Jazz Combo
  • Duncan JB/Jazz Combo
    $79

    Most Metal pickups use a ceramic magnet, while the JB uses an alnico. This gives the pickup a wider band of frequency response. You can throw a ton of distortion at the JB humbucker and still have clarity. The JB can do just about anything. There is a reason it's still one of the best-selling pickups in the world!

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That’s a quick overview of our favorite Seymour Duncan pickups for metal. Read on for more detail on each setup below…


#5 The Duncan Invader Set (SH-8)

Best Seymour Duncan Pickups For Metal: My Top 5 Picks...
Seymour Duncan Invader Set

When it comes to the best Seymour Duncan pickups for Metal, The Invader Set is probably the first that comes to mind. These high-output humbuckers even look intimidating! These pickups look badass, and they are uncompromising in their tone. The Invader set is one of the highest output pickup sets that Duncan has ever made, and lots of artists use them. Most famously, Avenged Seven Fold.

Installing an Invader changes your guitar’s DNA. No matter how dangerous your stock pickup claims to sound, the Invader will transform your guitar into the mean, heavy-sounding beast you always knew it could be. The Invader’s power comes from the combination of specially overwound coils, three large ceramic magnets, and its striking, oversized metal oxide pole pieces.

These unique pole pieces expand the overall magnetic field and widen the frequency spectrum, which is why every note played through an Invader sounds so rich and massive. The ceramic magnets add depth and clarity while the large hex caps deliver smooth string-to-string balance.

Seymour Duncan

Duncan Invader pickups are no joke. Because of the ceramic magnets, and over-wound coils…these things can get beastly. But while the Invader is definitely meant to be used with copious amounts of gain, they also retain some clarity. The Invader Set is perfect for guitarists that like to tune low, since they remain clear sounding under pressure.

This makes the 7 string and 8 string Invader sets really stand out as well. A 7 string pickup can be hard to design, since the frequencies you are dealing with can be so low, sometimes into bass territory. But no matter how low you go, or how much gain you add to the Invader, the sound still remains clear and powerful.

The string separation on the Invader is also very good. It allows each string to ring out and not get lost in the mix. The pole pieces are also adjustable, just in case you find that one string isn’t as loud as it needs to be.

These pickups are perfect for: Extreme Metal, Thrash, Death Metal, and Hard Rock.


#4 Alpha And Omega Set

best seymour duncan pickups for metal
Duncan Alpha Pickup

The Seymour Duncan Alpha and Omega Set were designed specifically for Mark Holcomb from the band Periphery. Mark had always been a fan of Duncan pickups and jumped at the chance to work with Seymour Duncan himself when offered the opportunity. The pickup set they created had to cover a lot of different sounds, as well as be offered in a 6, 7, and 8 string variant.

The Alpha and Omega set might be some of the most versatile pickups Seymour Duncan makes. These had to sound good with low tunings, regular tunings, and different string gauges. Periphery is known to use several different tunings from standard, to Drop A. They also use a combination of 6, 7, and 8 string guitars…depending on the song. So Mark had a lot of demands for his tone, and Duncan nailed it.

Working with guitarist Mark Holcomb, the Omega bridge pickup was created to provide destructive percussion and growl in the mids and low end. It’s aggressive but it also has lots of clarity and brightness, which cuts through whether you’re playing sophisticated chords, complex single-note lines or intense solos.

The Alpha neck pickup is unlike most traditional neck models. It was voiced to combine the best qualities of a neck and a bridge pickup, with some of that fat glassy sound but also plenty of your pick attack and fretting-hand phrasing.

Seymour Duncan

I find that the Alpha and Omega set are not just some of the best Seymour Duncan pickups for metal…but for all kinds of genres. This is due to the boost in the midrange, while still retaining a lot of bass frequencies. Mark often uses his clean tone as often as his distortion. So unlike the Invader set, these are geared towards just about any kind of tone you are looking for.

The man feature of the Alpha and Omega set lies in the clarity of the pickups. This means under tons of gain, you still get a good balance string-to-string. But since there is also a boost in mids and bass, clean tones can still be achieved without having any grit added. You can just as easily play Blues with this set, as you could Extreme Metal.

These pickups are perfect for: Metal, Progressive, or Rock.


#3 Black Winter Set

Best Seymour Duncan Pickups For Metal: My Top 5 Picks...
The Duncan Black Winter Set

The Black Winter set is exactly what it sounds like! These pickups were specifically voiced for an onslaught of Black Metal. Inspired by early Scandinavian Black Metal, these are seriously high-output passive humbuckers that are ready for any amount of gain that you throw at them.

The Black Winter pickup is a savagely high-output passive humbucker built for extreme metal, with no less than three large ceramic magnets to ensure maximum output and sustain in all high-gain situations. The custom overwound coil design delivers incredible clarity in the mids and highs, while the low end stays controlled and focused. The Black Winter is designed to handle any tuning, no matter how low you go, and its voicing facilitates aggressive palm mutes, fluid sweep picking, and punishing lead tones.

Crushing distortion, vicious mids, and aggressive saturation are at your fingertips, without sacrificing string-to-string separation or sensitivity. The 7- and 8-string versions are built to handle even more extended-range low notes with ease. Pair the bridge Black Winter with the Black Winter neck model for maximum metal onslaught.

Seymour Duncan

There is not much to add when it comes to the Black Winter set. These are exactly what they are described as! The Black Winter set was built for Extreme Metal, and that’s exactly where they excel! because of the voicing, these are not as versatile to me, but sometimes you are looking for a specific sound and versatility is not so important. Sometimes, a tool is used for one specific purpose, and the Black Winter set is very specific.

Fredrik from Opeth has used these pickups on a few albums, if that paints a picture of the tone you get out of these pickups. Wes from The Faceless has also used them before in the past.

These pickups are perfect for: Black Metal, Extreme Metal, Metalcore


#2 Blackouts (AHB-1)

Best Seymour Duncan Pickups For Metal: My Top 5 Picks...
Duncan Blackouts in Nickle Finish

Since we are talking about the best Seymour Duncan pickups for Metal, it would be impossible not to mention the Blackout Set. Blackouts were Duncan’s answer to EMG active pickups, and this set still rivals most other active pickup options. Active pickups definitely aren’t for everyone, but for people that do like actives…Blackouts are a dream!

This pickup excels at screaming pinched harmonics and is articulate enough for hyper-speed riffage, with responsive dynamics across the entire fretboard. Pair it with the Blackouts neck humbucker for a perfectly matched set. If your metal goes into extended-range depths, Blackouts are also available in 7- and 8-string versions.

With clear highs and crushingly tight lows, these pickups will make your riffs speak all the way down to low B or dropped A (for 7-strings) and low F# or dropped E (for 8-strings). No matter how much gain you run, these pickups can handle it, with a dead-quiet, muscular performance.

Seymour Duncan

Blackouts really stand out as being one of the brighter active pickups on the market. This works great for most Metal guitarists since you can always turn the treble down with your EQ, but it is hard to add treble if your pickup is dark sounding. Blackouts particularly excel when it comes to drop tunings.

This is probably why Mick Thompson from Slipknot has used them for almost 20 years, and even has his own custom set of Blackouts. Mick tunes to Drop B, and Drop A…so he needs a brighter pickup to make those low frequencies really stand out.

Much like an EMG, it can be hard to get crystal clean tones from Blackouts… or any active pickup set for that matter. But that is because these are designed for handling a lot of gain and distortion and boosting the distortion way past what your amp is capable of.

These pickups are perfect for Metalcore, Nu-Metal, Extreme Metal, and Classic Metal


#1 Duncan JB/Jazz Combo

Best Seymour Duncan Pickups For Metal: My Top 5 Picks...
Duncan JB Pickups

While technically these are two totally different pickups, this is one of the ultimate pickup sets for Metal. It has been used for all types of genres of Metal and is versatile enough to cover just about anything you throw at it. There is a reason this has been the choice of Metal and Hard Rock guitarists for so long.

The Jazz Humbucker in the neck may sound tame due to its namesake, but it is anything but, It has a creamy-smooth distortion tone that is perfect for leads and articulate enough for vicious shredding. But it can also clean up really well and have a glassy clean tone that works well with any effects you throw at it. Don’t let the “Jazz” name fool you!

The JB Humbucker in the bridge has become a classic for Metal guitarists. The JB is the perfect humbucker for any guitarist looking for a versatile tone. In my eyes, this is truly one of the best Seymour Duncan pickups for Metal.

The JB Model humbucker is our most popular pickup of all time. Blues, country, fusion, punk, hard rock, grunge, thrash; the JB has always sounded just right, even as new genres emerged around it. The low end is full and powerful, the highs are crisp and detailed and there’s an upper-midrange bump that adds crunch and chunk to heavy chords but translates to a singing, vocal-like quality when you play single notes or solos. Meanwhile the hot output pushes your amp just that little bit harder for more sustain and harmonics.

Use it with a 500k volume pot for great high-end cut, or try a 250k pot to sweeten and soften the tone for smoother styles. It pairs particularly well with the Jazz or ’59 neck pickups, and some players even like to use a JB in the neck position for an extra-fat solo tone.

Seymour Duncan

The JB is at the top of this list because of its versatility. Most Metal pickups use a ceramic magnet, while the JB uses an alnico. This gives the pickup a wider band of frequency response. You can throw a ton of distortion at the JB humbucker and still have clarity. So while most pickups on this list are very specific in what they do, the JB can do just about anything. There is a reason it’s still one of the best-selling pickups in the world!

You will mostly see the Jazz/JB combo installed in a Les Paul guitar. But this combo also works well in shredder guitars and “Super Strats”. I have seen Blues guys use this combo just as often as I have seen Doom Metal bands! If you are looking for a pickup upgrade from Seymour Duncan, I think the Jazz/JB set is the perfect starting place.

These pickups are perfect for Everything!


The Best Seymour Duncan Pickups For Metal: Wrapping Up…

Seymour Duncan makes a ton of different pickup sets these days, but I limited myself to my five favorites. For Metal, there are just too many Duncan pickups to choose from.

Lately, Seymour Duncan has been on a roll, especially with the Prog-Metal guitarists, making sets especially for 7 and 8 string guitars. If you go to the Duncan website, you will see what I mean. The options are crazy!

Seymour Duncan pickups have been around for over 40 years for a reason. Whether you are a pro guitarist on tour or a bedroom guitarist that just plays at home… sometimes you need a change in your setup.

Lots of guitarists will tell you that aftermarket pickups make only a negligible difference in your overall tone. They will tell you that your amp is more important. To an extent, this is true. But your pickups are the “microphone” for your guitar, and I like to treat them as the first priority in my tone setup. Seymour Duncan makes such specific pickups for a reason; to help you get to your desired tone easier.

The best way to tell if a pickup is right for you is to try it out! Every pickup will sound different when installed in different guitars. They will also sound different through a tube amp vs. an amp sim. But it’s up to you to try out different tools to find your perfect tone.

If you want my advice about Seymour Duncan pickups for metal, just get the Duncan JB/Jazz Combo. They are UNREAL (and also one of the cheapest from Duncan). And that’s the reason they’re one of the best-selling pickups on the planet.

The #1 Best Pickup For Metal, Rock & Everything In Between...
Duncan JB/Jazz Combo
$79

Most Metal pickups use a ceramic magnet, while the JB uses an alnico. This gives the pickup a wider band of frequency response. You can throw a ton of distortion at the JB humbucker and still have clarity. The JB can do just about anything. There is a reason it's still one of the best-selling pickups in the world!

Christoper Horton

Christopher started playing guitar in 1994 at 14 years old. He has been a part of the Metal community for the last 25 years and has 11 solo albums under his belt. Christopher started his career in Atlanta, Georgia in the late 90's, later securing a major label record deal in the early 2000s under the name IAMSOUND. He worked briefly as a hired gun in Los Angeles before he opened his own studio in 2010 in Savannah, Georgia. Chris has worked with some big names over the years like Tripping Daisy, Kylesa, Baroness, and the legendary Reflux.

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