Guitars that are suited to shredding are often very comfortable to play. However, with attention being paid to the playability of the guitar, it is common for the tone of the guitar to be an afterthought. Choosing pickups for shredding is never easy, so I’ve compiled a list of some pickups suited for shred, as well as some info concerning each pickup’s tonal characteristics:
Seymour Duncan Custom – Perhaps the starting point for shred pickups. If you are upgrading form stock pickups for the first time, start here and decide what you do and don’t like for there. A good overall pickup.
Seymour Duncan JB – Great lead pickup. Perfect for the bridge position paired with a Jazz or 59 in the neck, or mix brands like Jason Becker and pair it with a Dimarzio PafPro in the neck. Some people say the JB is not suited to rhythm playing, though it has been used for that exact purpose on many records.
Seymour Duncan Full Shred - Unbelievable harmonics. Very distorted but stays clear, tight and focused.
Seymour Duncan Distortion – Lots of bite, lots of scream. The “Old Faithfull” of pickups in heavy music.
Seymour Duncan Blackouts – The latest in Seymour Duncan’s active range, these pickups are getting great reviews all over the place. They are hot and extremely quiet. Not really suited for blues playing as dynamics are lacking a bit, but they are very tight.
Dimarzio Evolutions - Amazingly articulate, quite fat, and they cut through the mix well. Great for single string playing as the sustain is insane. Chords stay clear, even with lots of distortion and it isn’t only for the Vai sound.
Dimarzio Super Distortion – Synonymous with the 80's metal sound, this pickup (like the Seymour Duncan Distortion) has a place in Hard Rock history. It is still a great pickup, and also a great place to start if you are upgrading for the first time.
Dimarzio D Sonic – Made with drop tunings in mind, the D Sonic is great for chugging away in C. However, it has a very balanced response for a high output pickup, and switching it around so that the bar is on the neck side makes the D sonic great for leads as well.
Dimarzio Tone Zone – This pickup is great for beefing up the tone in the bridge position. Shred orientated guitars are often cursed with a shrill sounding bridge pickup sound due to the thinner necks and bodies used, as well as the Floyd Rose (style) bridge units. The Tone Zone is “the” pickup to fatten up your bridge sound.
Dimarzio Paf Pro – This pickup burst onto the scene just as shredding started to take off. It compliments almost all of the pickups mentioned above in the neck position and is well suited to the bridge position if you aren’t looking for a high gain sound.
Bill Lawrence XL500 – This pickup has huge output, but retains dynamics, and has a massive amount of harmonics. It is used in many different scenarios, though it is best suited to shed styles.
EMG 81 – Made famous by pinch-harmonic-obsessed metalheads, this is the daddy of all active pick-ups. The EMG 81 has loads of sustain and top end sizzle. Although it is often slated for lacking dynamics, there is something indescribable that this pick-up has.
EMG 85 - The Alnico V magnets in the EMG 85 give it a warmer and slightly mellower tone than the 81 model. It works great in the neck position for blazing picking and sweeping runs.
This is by no means the list of all list for pickups, just some of the more popular choices for shredding.