37 Guitars With Active Pickups – Hotter The Better

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Hotter the better…right? Well, sometimes mean metal riffs need that extra punch and when this is the situation, using a guitar with active pickups is one of the best ways to do that.

I got my first guitar with active pups in 2012. It was ESP LTD MH-400 equipped with EMG 81 (bridge) & EMG 85 (neck) and this guitar chugs (I’ll show you picks later). I still own it and everything works just great. I think that active pickups have their place in the guitar scene and rightfully so.

My good experiences with active pickup guitars was one reason why I was happy to put together this article listing some of the best guitars with active pickups (many of them I have played myself). I also reveal my 3 favorite guitars with active pickups for different situations. If you have any questions, just check the FAQ section or leave a comment.

Let’s get started!

After reading this one, I recommend you check these articles about guitars with active pickups out: 33 Guitars with Fishman Fluence Pickups – Plus 3 Best Ones & 47 Guitars with EMG Pickups – Plus 3 Best Ones

photo reveals owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Author: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I also noticed that most guitar websites don’t do a really good job, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website. I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar. I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog(I guess that went the right way…).


Basics of Active Pickups

displays EMG Active pickups
EMG 81 active pickup of my ESP LTD.

Active pickups typically have a plastic cover, you can see one in the picture above(there are some exceptions).


Backside of the Guitar with active pickups
Extra backplate for the battery compartment.

Guitars with active pickups usually have an extra backplate or at least some extra compartment for the battery that powers up the signal.

9V battery of my ESP LTD.

Active pickups are usually powered by one 9V battery. The battery usually lasts for a long time, but it’s a good idea to have an extra battery available at all times so your guitar can sing high output awesomeness non-stop.


37 Guitars With Active Pickups

Harley Benton ST-20HH Active is the most affordable guitar with active pickups I found. I haven’t played it, but it has solid reviews so I included featured it. It seems like a cool cheap guitar with active pickups.

Price Range Icon Meanings:

$= $100-250

$$= $251-399

$$$= $400-850

$$$$= $851-1599

$$$$$= $1600-

*Consider all links in this post to be affiliate links. If you purchase, at no additional cost to you, we may earn a small commission. It helps us to keep the lights on, thanks! 🙂

ModelPickup ModelsPickup ConfigurationPrice RangeCheck Current Price (affiliate links)
Harley Benton ST-20HH Active2x active high gain HBZ humbuckersHH$Thomann*
Harley Benton R-457 Active (7-String)2 Active HBZ Hi-Gain humbuckersHH$Thomann
Harley Benton SC-1000 WH Progressive Line2 Active HBZ Hi-Gain humbuckersHH$$Thomann
Harley Benton SC-Custom II Active VintageActive Roswell LZ56B Ceramic (bridge) and Active Roswell LZ51N Alnico-5 (neck) humbuckersHH$$Thomann
Harley Benton SC-550 Plus EMG2 EMG Retro Active FAT 55 covered PAF-style Alnico-5 humbuckersHH$$Thomann
Cort KX 300 Etched2 EMG Retroactive Super77 humbuckersHH$$$Thomann
Squier Starcaster Active SG2 active Fender SQ SQR ceramic humbuckersHH$$$SweetwaterThomann
Squier Jazzmaster Active HH2 active Fender SQ SQR ceramic humbuckersHH$$$SweetwaterThomann
Harley Benton SC-Custom Plus EMGEMG Retro Active Hot 70 Covered Ceramic (bridge) & EMG Retro Active Hot 70 Covered Alnico-5 (neck) humbuckersHH$$$Thomann
Harley Benton Amarok-BT EGNTEMG Retro Active Hot 70 ceramic (bridge) and EMG Retro Active Hot 70 Alnico-5 (neck) humbuckersHH$$$Thomann
Schecter Demon-62 Schecter Diamond Active HB-105S humbuckersHH$$$Guitar CenterThomann
Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder2 EMG Retro Active Hot 70 humbuckersHH$$$Thomann
Jackson Pro Series Signature Phil Demmel Demmelition Fury Active EMG 60 (neck) and EMG 81 (bridge) humbuckersHH$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD EX-401Active EMG 60 humbucker (neck) & Active EMG 81 (bridge)HH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder PT FR1 EMG Retro Active Hot 70 humbucker (bridge) and 1 Sustainiac (neck)H & Sustainiac$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD EC-401Active EMG 60 humbucker (neck) & Active EMG 81 (bridge)HH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 2Active Fishman Fluence Open Core PRF-COC (bridge) & Active Fishman Fluence Open Core PRF-COC (neck)HH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
Schecter C-1 HellraiserEMG 89 Humbucker
& EMG 81 Humbucker
HH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD EC-1000 Vintage BlackActive EMG 60 Humbucker (neck)& EMG 81 Humbucker (bridge)HH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD EC-1000SActive Fishman Fluence Modern AlNiCo (neck) & Fishman Fluence Modern Ceramic (bridge) humbuckersHH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD Arrow-NTEMG 81H$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD MH-1001NTActive EMG 85BBC (neck) & 81BBC (bridge) humbuckersHH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder FR-SEMG Retro Active Hot 70 humbucker (bridge) & 1 Sustainiac (neck)H & Sustainiac$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD Kirk Hammett Signature KH-6022 x Active EMG Bone Breaker humbuckerHH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte2 x Active EMG JH humbuckersHH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD Iron CrossActive EMG JH SET (bridge) & Active EMG JH SET (neck)HH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD Vulture2 x Active EMG JH active humbucker setHH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD Arrow-1000 Fishman Fluence Modern humbucker Ceramic (bridge) & Fishman Fluence Modern humbucker Alnico (neck)HH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD GH-600 Gary HoltActive EMG 81 RED (bridge)& EMG 89R RED (neck) humbuckersHH$$$$SweetwaterThomann
BC Rich Warlock Extreme1 Active Fishman Fluence Modern AlNiCo humbucker (neck) & 1 Active Fishman Fluence Modern ceramic humbucker (bridge)HH$$$$Guitar CenterThomann
Fender Jim Root JazzmasterActive EMG 81 & EMG 60 HH$$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP E-II EclipseActive EMG 60 (neck) & 81 (bridge)HH$$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD BW-1Active Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker Alnico (neck) and Active Fluence Modern Humbucker Ceramic (bridge)HH$$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP LTD Snakebyte Camo2 x active EMG JH “HET” humbuckersHH$$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP E-II Horizon NT-IIActive EMG 57-TW (bridge) & Active EMG 66-TW (neck) humbuckerHH$$$$$SweetwaterThomann
Jackson Dinky DK1Active EMG 81 (bridge) & EMG 85 (neck) humbuckersHH$$$$$SweetwaterThomann
ESP James Hetfield Signature VultureActive EMG JH Humbucker & EMG JH HumbuckerHH$$$$$SweetwaterThomann

3 Best Guitars With Active Pickups – My Favorites

Best Budget – Squier Contemporary Active Jazzmaster HH

What I like

  • Nice sounding Squier SQR Ceramic Humbucker active pickups
  • C- shape neck and 12″ ensure familiar and easy playability for the most of us
  • Comfortable to play
  • Stays in tune well
  • Great all-around quality

What I don’t like

  • Doesn’t have any cool premium features, everything is mostly Squier stock-material
  • Can sometimes have small finish issues (as any guitar)

Who is it for?

This Jazzmaster offers good-sounding active pickups, comfortable playability, and classy looks. It doesn’t have any “premium” features, but it’s high-value for the money and nice quality makes it my favorite cheap guitar with active pickups with flying grades.

Check Price on:


Best Overall – ESP LTD EC-1000

What I like

  • Great metal tones
  • Stunning looks
  • Spot on the action and smooth neck make this axe comfortable to play
  • Works well with small hands too (mine are tiny)
  • Versatile
  • Tons of different versions with different features and colors are available

What I don’t like

  • Upper fret access is not great
  • The use of plastic nut feels a bit cheap for this price

Who is it for?

I have played this axe soo many times. It always jumps into my hands when I visit a music store and my good friend owned one too. And I must say, I love this guitar. It’s good as a metal axe gets for around $1k. The version of it I’m highlighting here is the one with the EMG 60 (neck) and EMG 81 (bridge) pickups, those chug wonderfully, but the version with Fishman Fluence active pups is a great one too. This guitar is impossible to ignore for me and that’s why it’s the best overall.

You can read my full review of this guitar here: ESP LTD EC-1000 (Deluxe) Review 2022.

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Best Premium – Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster

What I like

  • 12″-16″ compound radius makes riffing near the nut and shredding near the body smooth
  • EMG 60 & EMG 81 ensure mean tones
  • Comfortable & easy to play
  • Locking tuners, stays in tune like a beast
  • Great all-around quality
  • Usually comes with a hardshell case
  • Premium feel

What I don’t like

  • Synthetic Bone in a $2k guitar? I would replace that ASAP.
  • Expensive
  • Same pickups can be found from a lot cheaper guitars

Who is it for?

This Fender has a premium feel to it. Its pickups do sound hot and heavy. It has a really smooth playability with a modern C neck and a compound radius. It’s a premium instrument for sure. But… it has a synthetic bone nut. I even prefer a plastic one over those. This doesn’t ruin the guitar, and it still sounds and feels good. But I would change that nut ASAP for a Bone or Tusq one. This improves the tone and sustain. Still, this guitar has that spark for me, it’s so smooth playing and mean sounding. That’s why it’s my best premium pick.

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FAQ

Active vs. Passive Pickups

Check this video I made:

YouTube video


Who Should Get A Guitar With Active Pickups?

Active pickups are mostly used with metal. Active pickups provide higher output and that makes sound distort more easily. Sou you can get really aggressive, mean, and easily distorting tone with active pickups. If that sounds good and you are into metal, guitar with active pickups might be a great choice.

Also, investigate your favorite bands and guitarists a little, the ones whose music you want to play or who have a sound you’d like to have. Try to find out if those guitarists use active or passive pickups. One way to get started with the investigation is to watch which guitars and models they use in their live performances.

Are Guitars With Active Pickups More Expensive?

Usually a little bit. There are some extra things that go with the active pickups, such as a battery compartment which can ramp up the price a little bit. And we usually don’t find active pickups from cheap & budget guitars. You usually have to go over the $400 mark to get a new guitar with active pickups for yourself.

But it should be noted that many guitars that have both versions, 1 with active and 1 with passive pickups available cost the same. ESP LTD EC-1000 is one such example. The Seymor Ducan version with passive pickups usually costs the same as the version with EMG active pickups.

So, technically active pickups and guitars equipped with them are a bit more expensive to manufacture, you need to secure the place for the battery, use extra electronics, get some extra wires etc. And this shows as a lack of cheap guitars with active pickups.

What Are Active Pickups Good For?

Active pickups are good for metal. Especially if your favorite metal band whose music you want to play use active pups on their guitars, at least test the active pickups out.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t play anything else than metal with active pickups. I have played anything from Fur Elise to Under The Bridge to Metallica with mine, and tonally results have been really good. So if you get a guitar with active pickups, it doesn’t mean it’s “only a metal guitar”.

Are Active Pickups Noisy?

Active pickups are usually less noisy than passive pickups. Most of the time they have less wiring around the coils and even weaker magnets. The battery strengthens the signal and makes the output higher, not the pickups themselves. Note that the higher output can sometimes cause feedback, especially when played with high volumes. This can be mistaken for pickup noise, but it’s usually electronic feedback.


Conclusion

I like active pups a lot and as I already mentioned, in some situations they are the absolute best option. Active pups chug. And while I still prefer passive pickups most of the time, my guitar collection will hopefully always include 1 (or 2, well maybe 3) guitars with active pickups.

I hope that this article helped you out, and maybe you even decided to get one of the guitars featured. If you have any questions, leave a comment, I and the GND team are here for you.

I wish you all the best and keep rocking!

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