QUICK HIT: A highlight of the four best DiMarzio humbucker pickups, chosen based on first-hand testing, real world experience, and customer feedback.
DiMarzio makes some of some of the most popular pickups in the world and boasts a remarkable artists list that includes Steve Vai, John Petrucci, and Joe Satriani, among many other highly technical guitar and bass players.
In this article we're going to highlight a few of our favorite DiMarzio pickups, focusing on humbuckers.
We did a similar roundup for Seymour Duncan pickups.
To compile this list we're drawing on personal experience, testing, popularity of the pickup, notoriety with high-profile artists, sound quality, and a number of other features that we typically watch out for when rating and recommending guitar pickups.
The primary criteria will be the brand name, because most of what DiMarzio produces is quite good, so we'd have a hard time not recommending any of their humbucker sets.
These are just our favorites.
Best DiMarzio Humbuckers (our 4 top picks)
DiMarzio Tone Zone Bridge Humbucker
DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion
DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary
1. DiMarzio Tone Zone Humbucker (bridge pickup)
The Tone Zone is primarily used at the bridge position, though it has a lot of body and low-end "fatness" to it.
You'll get bigger chords and deeper single notes, even on higher EQ settings.
It's certainly not what I would call harsh or bright, especially not for a bridge pickup, but I love the thicker sound, particularly for more modern-voiced playing styles and high gain settings (heavy distortion).
Tube amps, fans of warm tone, and rhythm guitarists will be well served by the Tone Zone.
Manufacturer Page: The Tone Zone
IDEAL FOR: Heavy distortion, rhythm players, and modern rock
2. DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion (bridge or neck humbucker)
The Super Distortion is voiced for the neck or bridge, though we'd recommend it just for the bridge as the response is a little too aggressive for it to be a good neck fit.
At the same time it has a lot of heaviness and you get a smoother response from the ceramic magnets, making it another "fat-sounding" bridge pickup, like the Tone Zone. You'll probably notice some more breakup in your amp, especially if you're running an older tube preamp, just because of the pickup's high output.
Those in the market for a more aggressive and thicker bridge tone will do fine with the Super Distortion.
Another fun feature we noticed - which is fairly common with DiMarzio pickups, is the ridiculously wide range of colors and pole pieces you can choose from.
Here's just one example:
Manufacturer Page: Super Distortion (DP100)
IDEAL FOR: Heavier bridge tones, distortion, subtle breakup on your clean channel, and heavy rock
3. DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary Humbucker
The PAF humbucker is really sensitive to your pick attack, which we like a little more for vintage playing styles, and less in a modern context. This also makes it a better fit for lead guitar players and gives you some really satisfying responses when you have a compressor on.
It comes in a neck and bridge version, where the bridge version is a little hotter with some added output.
While it's most at home in a blues or classic rock context, DiMarzio's PAF series can handle a lot of different sounds and rigs without feeling totally out of place.
You'll get some versatility and a break from DiMarzio's traditionally modern design.
Manufacturer Page: PAF 36th Anniversary
IDEAL FOR: Versatile playing styles, blues, and classic rock
Medium to High
4. DiMarzio Evolution Neck and Bridge Humbucker
The DiMarzio Evolution humbucker was originally a Steve Vai signature design, developed with a version for the neck and bridge. We like it a little more at the bridge since it's a ceramic magnet, which produces a warm and smooth tone.
At the same time, it's a rich and responsive pickup that really pushes out harmonics and emphasizes the movement and pick scrapes from your right hand.
It can handle a wide range of styles, but we'd still call it a more modern pickup design, as it tests particularly well with high gain levels and heavy distortion.
Manufacturer Page: DiMarzio Evolution Neck
IDEAL FOR: Smooth rhythm and modern playing styles
Smooth & Heavy
Medium to High
There are a ton of DiMarzio humbuckers that we didn't highlight (only four in the above sections) for various reasons. Here are a few that we think are worthy of mention, even without making our top four.
Reason it Missed
Didn't test, little secondhand information
Expensive, gimmicky aesthetics
Less relevance, 7-string only
Didn't beat out the Evolution
Didn't test, little secondhand information
The DiMarzio Tone Profile
DiMarzio pickups tend to lean modern in their tone and are particularly well-liked by technical players, as you can already tell if you looked at the artist list we linked to earlier. However, humbuckers like the PAF and Evolution models can do a good job of keeping a foot in both modern and vintage tone camps, thus giving you some added flexibility.
Handling Clean Tones
In DiMarzio humbuckers, clean tones are richer with more harmonic emphasis which seems to give things like pick scrapes some added aggression. Output is higher, which means we had an easier time getting tube amps to "break up" simply by turning up gain, preamp volume, or even just picking harder.
You can tell that DiMarzio is thinking about distortion when designing their humbucker sets. Almost all of them (at least the ones we've used) seem to have a really good relationship with high gain and saturated distortion levels. This is what makes them a better fit for modern playing styles.
We especially like them with fuzz pedals, and modern distortion pedals like the Empress Heavy.
Even with really high gain, notes sound clear and distinct, with plenty of sustain and the continued prevalence of rich harmonics.
With Tube Amps
We like to think of DiMarzio as a helpful link between tube amps and more modern, aggressive guitar playing styles.
While you get the grit and high output of modern rock, the warmth and smoothness of vintage tube amplification is still there and easy to identify. To the limited extent a pickup can "work with" a type of amplification, DiMarzio humbuckers - like many others - are best served by tube-driven circuits.
Notable Artists that Use DiMarzio Humbuckers
While I linked to the artists page earlier, I'll list a few more names that I think most embody the style and tone of DiMarzio pickups:
- Steve Vai
- Joe Satriani
- John Petrucci
- Nita Strauss
- John 5
- Andy Timmons
- Paul Gilbert
- Herman Li
- Alex Wade
DiMarzio's artist list is far bigger, spanning a wide range of styles. Yet, their most notable advocates are often speedsters and highly technical players. I think this is because of how well DiMarzio pickups handle single notes and distortion, giving you a lot of richness and note definition, even in the midst of high gain levels and faster playing.
What about single coils?
The DiMarzio Twang King, is a well-known and liked option for Telecaster pickup mods, which we often recommend. For Stratocasters, the Chopper and Fast Track are good options, though we have less experience (both first and second hand) with those particular sets.
In this article, we've chosen to focus primarily on humbuckers since they're more common in the DiMarzio lineup.
How to Choose your DiMarzio Humbuckers
How would one go about the process of choosing which DiMarzio humbucker set is best for them? Here are a few things you should keep in mind:
Modern or Vintage Tone
If you've decided you want to stay within the DiMarzio brand, one of the simplest ways to narrow down your choice further is to split between modern and vintage-voiced humbuckers. For example, the Tone Zone and Super Distortion both have more of a modern voicing while the PAF and Evolution are a little more vintage and bluesy.
While the audible distinctions are subtle and depend a lot on your rig, it's one of the ways you can differentiate between your options.
Ceramic or Alnico Magnets
Another simple, yet important, distinction you can make when buying humbuckers is the type of magnet. Typically, DiMarzio uses either alnico 5 or ceramic magnets in their pickups. While this might not mean much to you, we've found ceramic magnets to be a lot smoother and warmer in pickups, especially when compared to alnico 5, which tend to be brighter and more "chime-like."
Again, this is going to be a subtle difference, but one that should inform your purchase, especially if you're shopping within a single brand.
Price Point and Your Budget
Most of the DiMarzio humbuckers are sold in the $70 to $100 range, putting sets (one for the neck and one for the bridge) in the $140 to $200 range. Most companies - including Sweetwater which we regularly link to - let you refine searches by price, providing another easy way to narrow your choices.
How We Rate and Test DiMarzio Humbuckers
For those curious, I'll cover some of the policies and processes we have in place for making recommendations about guitar gear, namely the DiMarzio pickups in this list. First, it should be clear that we've given priority to humbuckers that we've either used and tested ourselves or that we've been able to get a secondhand opinion on (someone we know has used or owns a particular DiMarzio humbucker).
This does not mean that we don't also rely on research or that we only recommend pickups we've held in our hand.
For example, we might know that a particular pickup is well-liked and high quality, but don't necessarily have the opportunity to test it. When possible we buy them or test them at local music shops, but if that isn't possible we do our best to research as much as possible and give you a thoroughly educated recommendation.
Though I (Bobby) write most of these pieces, there are several consultants and musicians I work with that give me feedback on what to include in each roundup.
With DiMarzio pickups, the pool to pick from was a bit smaller since we simply have more experience with Seymour Duncan and Lindy Fralin pickups (Lindy Fralin's base of operation is in Richmond Virginia, just a few hours from where I live.
However, to test the pickups in this list we simply borrow a guitar or use a guitar that we own with the humbucker in question installed.
Using this method, we were able to test DiMarzio pickups in the following scenarios:
- Tube amp with distortion pedal
- Clean tube amp
- Tube amp's dirty channel
- Solid state amplifier clean channel
- Solid state amplifier distortion (digital)
- Solid state amplifier with distortion pedals
The following amplifiers were used in varying capacities for testing:
- Fender Blues Junior
- Fender Mustang Modeling amp
- Marshall Code
- Mesa Boogie Rectoverb
- Garageband digital amp models
Pedals and Effects Used
Likewise, the following effects - primarily distortion pedals - were used to test the DiMarzio pickups listed:
- Amptweaker TightMetal JR distortion pedal
- Boss DS-1 distortion pedal
- Empress Heavy distortion pedal
- TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb
- Morley Bad Horsie Wah pedal
- Line 6 DL4 delay pedal
- Walrus Audio Fathom reverb pedal
What We Look For
While testing these humbuckers - or any guitar pickups - we're typically looking for prominent characteristics that can help you determine which set would be most ideal for your situation and the type of music you prefer to play.
Here are some of the questions we're asking:
Does it sound modern or vintage?
Does the pickup seem voiced for a modern playing style, with lots of ambient effects and heavy distortion? Or is it better suited for blues and overdrive, like you hear in classic rock? While this distinction can be subtle, depending heavily on the gear around a given humbucker, you can usually hear a lean in either a modern or classic style.
How does it handle heavy distortion (high gain settings)?
Cheaper pickups are notorious for doing a poor job of handling heavy distortion. You end up losing the pitch and tune of the note - or notes - you're playing, which makes your playing sound less defined and muddy.
Good pickups, DiMarzio or otherwise, should be able to handle fairly high amounts of gain without losing the definition of each note or chord.
DiMarzio pickups, in particular, tend to do a really good job when played through heavy distortion, which is why they're appealing to a lot of technical players in the heavy rock space.
DiMarzio doesn't make a bad pickup.
Being one of the top pickup brands in the world, it's not a matter of recommending what's good over the "bad" options.
But these are just some of the DiMarzio humbuckers we've used, heard, and have a lot of reliable information on. We'd recommend them for most electric guitar mods, especially if you're looking to get into a more modern, perhaps technical playing style with some heavy distortion.
If you have questions about these pickups or about the modification process, feel free to leave a note in the comments section below.
The Chopper is a humbucker, albeit one that fits in a single-coil slot.
Good call. Certainly worth a mention.
This is almost exactly what I would’ve chosen, barring the Tone Zone. Its too middy. In place of it, I’d have picked the X2N
Thanks for sharing, Michael. The X2n is a good option as well.
Kevin Gaskell says
Excellent information, mate! As a builder of (left handed only) electric guitars I have always liked Dimarzios personally and have built many a guitar with them for others. I agree with your top choices although I would have added D Activator X (which you missed out on testing.) Great pickup for the HM boys and girls! Thanks for this review. DiMarzios are one of my recommendations for left handed Gaskell guitar builds.
Thanks again for chiming in Kevin. I’ve got buds that like the D Activator X.