Have you ever wondered what the differences between pickup magnets are and how they affect your tone?

Well good, because we decided to go ahead and write a short comparison guide on Alnico vs. Ceramic pickup magnets for you!

There are a lot of different components and modifications that go into shaping the sound of a pickup. These include the type and gauge of wiring, how many times it’s turned, the material the magnet is made of and its size, electronics layouts, and more!

(Check out our articles on Active vs. Passive and Splitting vs. Tapping for some more insight on the electronics!)

Today we’re just going to focus on the magnet materials and how they  affect your tone!

Alnico Magnets

The most common type of magnet found in a pickup is most definitely Alnico. They are created with an alloy (mixture of metals) of Aluminum, Nickel, and Cobalt (Al-Ni-Co…fancy right?). This mixture makes for a very strong and durable compound. The fact that manufacturers use these magnets in motors, generators, and MRI machines speaks for itself.

Generally, Alnico magnets are known for being smooth and melodic, but there are differences between the different alloy compounds…

I won’t cover all the different kinds, but the most common types are Alnico II and V. The Alnico II’s are characterized by being quite smooth in the lows and highs, offering a warm, vintage sound. These are often praised for being some of the most organic and dynamic pickup magnets on the market. Alnico IIs are a go-to option for jazz players who are looking for a wonderfully smooth clean tone. A popular pickup containing these magnets is the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates.

In fact, the Pearly Gates (and other pickups mentioned in this article) can be found in our article listing our favorite Seymour Duncan humbuckers, as well as some more info about non-traditional uses for pickups you’d expect to only be good at one thing.

Probably the most popular magnet for metal music is the Alnico V. This magnet is much stronger, offering a tight bass response. The much hotter Alnico V is similar to the Alnico II, although it produces a larger range between the highs and lows with a bit of a mid scoop. Alnico V pickups are usually good all-around magnets and these magnets are perfect for the players looking for a little extra clarity while using high gain without sacrificing an organic clean sound. A popular example of this would be the Seymour Duncan Custom 5 or the BKP Holy Diver.

If you’re looking for an over the top and totally unrestrained sound check out the Alnico VIII, which can be described as a less controlled, Alnico V. There is a lot of everything with Alnico VIII pickups and they are not for the feint of heart. Due to the strong magnetic pull, the Alnico VIII is a nice middle ground between the punch and clarity from a Ceramic pickup and the sweet organic sound of an Alnico… which brings us to Ceramic..

Ceramic Magnets

Ceramic magnets are made of ceramic…surprise! By some players, the Ceramic magnets are given a bad reputation when compared to Alnico which is probably due to their association with cheaper instruments.

You see, Ceramic is easier to come by than Alnico, making it a cheaper magnet to make. However, this is simply a misconception: they provide a different flavor from Alnico. There are fantastic pickups on the market which utilize Ceramic magnets, such as the DiMarzio Titan and the Seymour Duncan Black Winter.

Recall our article “Basswood – Does it suck?” because the concept is similar: bad ceramic pickups are bad, whereas many players actually prefer high end Ceramic pickups to their Alnico counterparts.

Ceramic magnets are quite strong and as such are normally hotter. They produce pronounced mids and a quick bass response. The strong magnets allows the pickup to retain articulation and clarity, even when introduced to extreme gain, which makes for a great choice for fast-paced metal.

The consensus is that Ceramic falls short of the sweeter Alnico when it comes to clean tones. Although not impossible to produce a great clean tone with Ceramic, sometimes the harmonic saturation and natural compression of the magnet can cause ice-picking and a less organic sound.

Which Is Best For You?

Hopefully you’ve learned a little bit about the differences between Alnico and Ceramic magnets! It’s always important to note that most gear can be well-used for most things! You will find many extreme metal players using low output Alnico pickups, as well as blues guys using Ceramic!

If you forced me to really break it down for you: look at Alnico pickups if you want the most organic tone possible, and consider Ceramic pickups if you want a very straight-laced and precise tone.

Just remember that this is only one factor that goes into designing the tonal characteristics of a pickup. Pickups with Alnico V magnets that are voiced more aggressively than pickups with Ceramic magnets, and Alnico II pickups that sound totally different from other Alnico II pickups definitely exist. 

Don’t forget that we are a Seymour Duncan authorized dealer! If you still need help picking out the pickup that is right for you, keep in mind that Seymour Duncan has a very prestigious custom shop that we’ve written about previously, who can help you nail the exact tone you want.

More importantly, we hope you enjoyed this article! If you did, make sure to check out more, because we upload new reviews, technical articles, lessons, and more daily!

This article was written by Zac Buras, our editor located in Louisiana.

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