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Seymour Duncan Pickups

Through watching countless local and major acts, I’ve come to notice that many players don’t realize the importance a guitars pickup arsenal can make in the over all tone. As the first line of tone shaping, they ultimately control the frequencies and levels your amp has to work with. Many are quick to blame an amp or a speaker cabinet for muddy lows or shrieking highs in their sound. But it’s important to remember that it is only amplifying (hence the name amplifier) or cutting the frequencies provided to it.

For a long time, I never understood the need for aftermarket pickups, or paying extra for a guitar with pickup upgrades until meeting Tim Mahoney of 311. As a big fan of the band in my teenage years, I always wondered how he had such a variety of tones from a single rig and guitar each night. Upon asking, I expected to hear about various pedals, boutique heads or a monster rack setup. Surprisingly, he said it was the Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz pickup combo he was using in his Paul Reed Smith Custom 24. The clear string definition, carefully planned EQ, and generally fuller sound were essential to each of the sounds. Thus allowing his Budda combo amp to sparkle with cleans, and the Mesa Dual Rectifier to really attack at high gain settings while retaining clarity the entire time. At the time, it was truly the Guitar Hero tone to me.

Through personal experimentation and the advice of the great members of the Seymour Duncan User Group, I’ve tried many of the aftermarket humbucker pickups they offer. As an avid hard rock guitarist, I’ve also learned how no pickup sounds the same in 2 different guitars (as I’ll discuss later in the ‘Woods’ section) because of the characteristics of the wood. However, most of what makes them great will be consistent.

As the standard hard rock humbucker guitar pickups for my rig go, the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB, SH-8 Invader and SH-5 Custom models fit my taste the best, and I’ve recommended them on countless occasions.

Seymour Duncan JB SH-4The JB works best in denser, brighter sounding guitars (Fender Stratocasters, Older Paul Reed Smith CE’s and most alder/basswood bodies) with rosewood fret boards because of the tighter bass response, strong mids, and medium to high output around 16.4k ohms DC resistance (how guitar pickup gain is usually measured). I tend to use these in guitars that didn’t have much of a clean presence right off the showroom floor. For the same types of guitars that naturally have a good resonance and clean tone, I’ll use the Invader to really bring out the dirtier side of the instrument. This guitar pickup comes paired with the Seymour Duncan SH-2 Jazz neck pickup in countless mid-priced and high end guitars, and the Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded pickup set.

Seymour Duncan Invader SH-8The Seymour Duncan SH-8 Invader is quite the unique looking pickup. With large black-oxide caps, it’s appearance is different from the usual slug & screws we have become used to. Because of this setup, the Invader only comes in one size (no need for trembucker spacing), as the poles are wide enough to cover the tremolo or wider guitar pickup applications. The Seymour Duncan Invader is very bass heavy to make up for the lost low end in dense woods or to bring out the boom in darker sounding guitars, while still being manageable. But the mids from this pickup are the highlight in my opinion. They tend to be on the lower-midrange side and roll off the high-midrange area a bit. This keeps me from having to scoop the mids as drastically on the amp when songs call for it, but it will still cut through the mix with a strong presence. Having almost 17k ohms of DC resistance in the bridge model, this Seymour Duncan pickup really rocks any preamp stage, and brings out the full potential of any modern distortion channeled amp. All metal guitarists should have at least one Invader equipped guitar at their disposal, and many guitars aimed at the genre now come with them standard like the new Synyster Gates Custom Schecter.

For most of my general use and live guitars, I’ll use the Seymour Duncan SH-5 Custom because it’s a great mix of the 2 listed above, and it’s got the best response from the 3 Seymour Duncan guitar pickups in my opinion. Although it doesn’t have quite the gain the Invader or JB can produce (only 14.1k ohms) the distortion from power amp tubes in my Mesa Boogie Single Rectifier or Marshall JCM2000 DSL100 usually compensate nicely in a live situation where I can turn the master up past 6 (good luck pulling that off on your hourly-paid recording engineer unless you’re Lemmy). But the lack of gain works to your advantage when going for a clean tone without having your roadie or working-for-beer friend run you out a different guitar for the songs calling for that sound. The bass tones are well controlled, the mids are strong and somewhat violin like, and the high end shimmers without getting brittle. In a thinner-bodied guitar like my Gibson SG Standard, it can really make the guitar sound much larger.

All the ideas I’ve expressed here are from personal trials, and the opinions I’ve formed as a result. I hope this can act like a guide for anyone new to the aftermarket guitar pickup world. But I also encourage you to try many others in hopes of finding the sound you’re really after. There are also many brands of pickups available to players today such as Dimarzio, Bill Lawrence, EMG, and Lace-Sensor. For more information, check out their web sites. But as always, the best way to begin your pickup journey is to find out what your favorite player is using, and go from there.

*Note: Not all pickups are the correct size to fit your guitar and/or string spacing. Guitars equipped with tremolos or metric sized bridges tend to need a “Trembucker” or “F-Spaced” size. If you’re unsure which size to get, the general rule is any string spacing (from the middle of the low E to the middle of the high E) is less than 2 inches, humbucker or standard spacing is fine. 2 inches or more will require the larger “Trembucker” size so your strings line up evenly with the screws and metal poles of the pickup. This will keep notes from fading in volume when bending, and provide the best string volume balance.

30 Responses

  1. Antimatter Says:

    I have an RG350ex with a basswood body and a rosewood fingerboard. My amp is a 15w Peavey blazer158 and I use a Korg AX5G modelling processor. I am planning on getting a seymour duncan invader. I like death metal and metalcore. Would my rig be just fine with an invader? THanks alot. I would really appreciate your reply.

  2. buddyhawke Says:

    The Seymour Duncan Invader would actually be ideal for your situation. It works best in basswood or alder bodies that naturally have a treble-y tone to them. Just be sure to adjust the input volume on the processor to avoid clipping on the unit which will lead to fuzzy distortions and lots of feedback. The Invader pickup has a ton of output, twice that of stock pickups in some cases. You shouldn’t be disappointed in it.

  3. Antimatter Says:

    How about the Seymour Duncan Distortion pickup? I am really confused on what pickup to get. I am torn between the Invader and the Distortion. Please enlighten me on what pickup to get. Thank you buddy.

  4. buddyhawke Says:

    My experience with the Duncan Distortion pickup lead me to believe they will only work in bass-heavy guitars, mainly Les Paul models. In a basswood body, you’ll hear an unbalanced tone unless you’re running an EQ on your processor or using 250k volume pots to bleed off some of the treble. The Seymour Duncan tone comparison chart is a good resource to see the strong points of each pickup.

  5. Antimatter Says:

    Thank you so much mate. This site is truly amazing and helpful. Good luck!

  6. Schecterman Says:

    I have a Schecter Gryphon (mahogany body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard) and I’m trying to decide between the JB and the Custom. What I need is a lot of bass, a decent amount of mid, and very little treble. Also, I need a VERY high gain but fairly smooth distortion.

  7. buddyhawke Says:

    From the sounds of it, you’re best bet would be the Duncan Invader pickup. Both the JB and Custom pickups have fairly strong treble output but can smoothed out in a naturally bass heavy guitar (like a mahogany only body). I know Schecter loads the JB pickup as a factory installed option in a lot of their guitars, so it’s a fairly safe bet. It’s got a little more output than the Custom and the distortion may be a little smoother because the JB uses an Alnico magnet rather than a slightly harsher ceramic magnet. Good luck!

  8. Mythras Says:

    I recently bought a new 7 string Schecter Damien and was not impressed by the stock EMG-HZ pickups. They were too compressed and nasty to listen to. What do you you think of the Duncan Blackouts? Looking for an active, high-gain kind of sound, lots of low end crunch (will be playing a lot of thrash/death metal with it)and a slight scoop in the mids, and a biting treble. The guitar is basswood with a maple neck and rosewood fretboard. Thanks!

  9. Muggs Says:

    I have a Dean Evo 2000 and i’m considering buying new pickups. I play a lot of punk and classic rock. What pickups would you suggest?

  10. Chris Says:

    I have a jackson slsmg, it’s a very thin mahagony body with thru neck and an ebony fingerboard. i play very alt. metal, hard rock stuff. i’m currently using emg 81 and 85 hz’s and through my line6 m13 and bugera 1990 head i feel like i’m not getting enough low end and/or note definition between the strings. i play a lot of clean stuff in throughout my music as well with effects from the m13, what pups would u suggest to get a better sound in general?

  11. Ronnie Says:

    I own a 2007 Gibson Les Paul Classic (chambered body). I didn’t like the sound of the stock pups, so i upgraded them with the Seymour Duncan JB/Jazz set. The neck pickup sounds great but the JB in the bridge sounds a little thin .. i’m thinking this is due to the chambered body. Now i’m thinking of going with the Duncan Custom SH-5 in the bridge to give me a more ‘full’ sound.
    Any suggestions? Thanks.

  12. Bill Says:

    My 15-year old son just bought a used Kramer Focus 3000 (1985-86 based on logo), that has a SH-8 in the bridge. He loves Panterra, so he’s thinking of replacing it with an SH-13. Any thoughts?

  13. Khriss Bliss Says:

    Bravo Mr Hawke, I second the motion. I so wish in my early gigging days someone had grabbed me by the lapels and said, “your LesPaul sucks, you need a better pickup. I spent 2 years trying to get the LA 80s metal sound, and finally I tried the JB. Woulda saved 2 years if someone had said,”dude, get a JB!”. It grabs the high end with natural warmth and compression so your solos cut thru, while giving a nice menace to the distortion although now I use the ceramic JB, aka the Duncan Distortion cuz a stronger magnetic means tighter low end punch and less mids, although now my leads aren’t as warm. Maybe I should try alnico8, but the point is, I needed more bass from my crappy ax, so I brought it to the store to exchange for new one. No guitar under $300 sounded better than my pig w/lipstick bcuz pickups MATTER the most to sound. Now, I love my sound! Tell yr friends.

  14. Khriss Bliss Says:

    Muggs- p90s, dude!! Bill sh13= bingo. Mythras-blackouts=also bingo, you’ll need new pots to go active cuz yr emgs are passive. Ronnie- lower output might be the fuller lespaul sound you want like Slash- so for Alnico5- custom5, 59 but the the a2 alnicoII pro or Seth lover might be yr idea of fuller. Depends. Chris- theme EMGs may not be yr issue. Try an overdrive for your head or for a guaranteed pro sound with lots of control at low price, get an ibanez tubeking, swap 12ax7 for a JJ brand. Then see if the emgs need to go. Line6 are ok but the pros don’t use them. You have a great head waiting for the right overdrive, like a blues driver…

  15. Chris Says:

    hi, okay.
    i have an ibanez rgt42dxfx
    in the bridge i have an dimarzio x2n
    and neck is an dactivator.

    but i want something that will make it scream, like the old eighties solos.

    what do i need?

  16. josh's dog Says:

    I am definately considering invaders for the bridge. But I want a lot of tonal range for the neck pickup and one that is excellent for soloing. What would go well with the SH-8 Invaders while still having good range for all genres?

  17. Chris Says:

    hi i also have an ibanez rg350ex and i play alot of punk rock/hard rock(sum 41, blink, aerosmith,u2). would the invader be good for me . i so what else should be my neck pickup

  18. Robert Says:

    Just bought a Cort Z42 FT TAB, mahogany body, maple neck. ?? Line 6 spider 75 amp

  19. Cal Says:

    Hi, i am currently using an epiphone les paul special II model, but rather than the classic rock sound, id like to know what kind of pickup would make a really good metal sound. Im not into the sorta death metal genre, but my main inspirations are Korn, Metallica, Tool and Slipknot. The more nu metal genre. Im tossing up between whether to get an EMG, a Dimarzio, or a Seymour Duncan humbucker pickup. Im into doing both lead and rhythm styles, and id like a humbucker with high output, and perhaps a little distortion like James Hetfield’s and Kirk Hammett’s guitars. With all that in mind, can you help?

  20. zico Says:

    hey , i have an esp ltd ec-50 its got a basswood body a maple neck and rosewood freat board. what im experiencing with the stock pups of esp-150 are that there is good tonal variety but a sound which isnt that warm and is sort of trebl-y, not that warm sound which most les paul makes have.im thinking of going in for seymour duncans.what would you suggest?. i thought of a sh-1 59 for the neck and a jb for the bridge. your ideas?

  21. Christopher Says:

    My guitar has a les paul shaped body made from alder and the neck is rosewood. I usually play metal and hard rock but when im on the clean channel of my amp i hate any harsh sounds. what would you recommend me i like a fat warm neck tone and a clean bright tone on the bridge with lots of harmonics

  22. Will Says:

    HELP! just picked up a 2010 Gibson SG Standard, burstbucker in the neck position is full, and warm for my cleans, however bbucker in the bridge is weak, low output, no bottom end, or suitable sustain, however the weight and upper fret access of the guitar are excellent, do plan to upgrade imm., so what do ya think, some friends say invader, some say forget that, JB is my only choice, ebony fretboard. Currently gigging 80′s, to current hard rock, and metal cover band. Thanks

  23. Rob Says:

    I’m looking for the pickups Billy Duffy used on the Cult cd “Beyond good and evil”. Are those stock Gibsons (490/498) or did he used seymour duncans?
    Please help me out…
    Thanks a lot

  24. Artem Says:

    Hi. I have an Ibanez GRG121EX, a budget guitar with basswood body and a rosewood fingerboard. I want to change my pickups for AHB-1 Blackouts, I wanted to ask whether it is a good choice or maybe it’s downright insane/expensive to install such pickups in a low-end guitar ?) I play through Orange Crush 20LDX

  25. Chris Says:

    Hey, I’ve got a guitar that I built from parts. Basswood Superstrat-type body, Maple Warmoth neck with Rosewood fretboard, a licensed Floyd Rose, bolt-on construction… And yeah. It has a Seymour Duncan SH-8 Invader in it, and I’m currently having problems with lots of treble from it. I’ve got it running through a Fender Princeton Chorus combo amp (125w, 2 12″ spkr., solid-state, stock) with a Tech21 “US Steel” SansAmp providing some brutal tone. However, it’s a bit too bitey, trebly, and a bit hissy for me, even with the bass on the amp maxed out and the treble on the amp rolled down nearly all the way. I’m trying to get something quite dark, and I thought at first the Invader could give me that… But then I realized that it was quite bright, especially in my guitar (I had heard it in my guitar teacher’s Les Paul Special II, and he says it’s really bright as well). I have it wired up with a single 250k volume, and that doesn’t take care of the brightness. However I’ve tried both the US Steel and the guitar through my guitar teacher’s Kustom bass amp with a 15″ Celestion and it sounded amazing. Is it the guitar, or is it the amp? If it’s the amp, should I modify the wood frame (with help from my father) to take a 15″ speaker? I don’t want to drop four to six Benjamins on a single 15″ cab to stick under my combo. If it’s the guitar, suggestions for dark, evil-sounding pickups?

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  27. Rickmatick Says:

    I have a Fender Jazzmaster and i’m trying to find a really good heavy distortion pick up to fit to it. Is it possible to fit Seymour Duncan ”Blackouts” to my Jazzmaster? cheers.

  28. cheanjas Says:

    im building custom 8 string mahogany body, maple neck, rosewood finger
    with blackout ahb-1 8
    any suggestion for the best installation?? (bridge – neck space etc)
    i want fat sound, and mainly just use 4,5,6,7,8th string..

  29. cheanjas Says:

    im building custom 8 string mahogany body, maple neck, rosewood finger
    with blackout ahb-1 8
    any suggestion for the best installation?? (bridge – neck space etc)
    i want fat sound, and mainly just use 4,5,6,7,8th string..

  30. Keon Says:

    I was interested in upgrading the pickups on my guitar and wanted some guidance. I currently have a Jackson DX10D with duncan design pickups. I wanted to achieve a heavy metal crunch but still have bright cleans(Metallica-esque). I’ve heard of the EMGs but I hear they give a lot of noise and complication to install. Is there a Seymour Duncan set or combination you can recommend?

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