Cheap Guitars with Active Pickups (Insider Buyers Guide)


If you want to play metal or hard rock but don’t want to break the bank then you’re probably trying to find a way to get a guitar with active pickups on the cheap.

Unfortunately, the companies that specialize in making guitars with active pickups know that people are willing to pay the premium to get their new guitar set up with the latest active pickups on the market. 

This pushes companies to only include active pickups on guitars priced way out of the price range for beginners or even intermediate guitarists. 

There are some ways around this problem though if you’re willing to stretch your budget a bit, or get familiar with a screwdriver and install some new pickups yourself.

Electric guitar siting on floor

Can Cheap Guitars Have Good Active Pickups?

Cheap guitars can absolutely have good active pickups. One of the great things about owning a guitar is that you can customize it however you want. 

Most cheap guitars won’t come equipped with good active pickups or have active pickups in the first place. Active pickups are typically reserved for higher range guitars but this doesn’t mean only high range guitars can make use of these super hot input metal makers! 

Upgrading the pickups on your cheap guitar is the number one way to turn an otherwise unimpressive guitar into a shredding weapon. 

The main reason guitars with active pickups tend to be so expensive is because they are usually aimed at higher-level players who want a guitar that is high quality all around. This can price a lot of people out of the active pickup market. 

With a little DIY, you skip all the other upgrades like expensive tonewoods, top-end tuners and a well know name on the headstock, and skip straight to the fun part without having to pay for all of the above. 

The main thing that affects the sound is the pickups, so don’t think you have to have all the rest to make active pickups worth it!

Are Cheaper Active Pickups Worth Having?

If you want to get a feel for active pickups but don’t want to break the bank then you might look to buy a cheap guitar with active pickups or install some cheap active pickups on a guitar you already have.

Either way, you’re probably after the cheaper active pickups that are on the market. 

The issue with active pickups is they aren’t as common as the passive pickups found on a majority of guitars, this keeps their prices pretty high. You can buy very cheap active pickups but the quality leaves a lot to be desired. 

Their a few online stores that sell pickups below $100 but they won’t give you the true experience of active pickups so I’ve chosen not to list them here.

The cheapest active pickup you can buy from a reputable company is the EMG 81 Active Guitar Humbucker Bridge/Neck Pickup. These pickups will set you back $99 a pop but will give you the full active pickup tone.

EMG Emg-81 Active Pickup

While still not cheap it is cheaper to buy the pickups and guitar separately and install them yourself. This process has become really easy with EMG’s new clip-in connectivity that requires no soldering to install the pickups!

Best 3 Cheapest Guitars with Active Pickups

1. Squier Contemporary Active Jazzmaster HH ST

By far the cheapest guitar with active pickups is this Jazzmaster from Squire. It comes with Squire’s own SQR active humbucker pickups that deliver a great active pickup tone for a beginner at around $450.

Squier Contemporary Active Jazzmaster Hh Electric Guitar

This guitar is perfect if you’re looking for an active pickup guitar to mess around with without paying the usually high price for a guitar of this spec

The pickups aren’t EMG which might put some people off as EMG is the go-to brand for active pickups but unless you’re a seasoned player of active pickups these will more than satisfy your craving for the heavy tones they deliver. 

2. ESP LTD MH-400B Baritone Electric Guitar

ESP are well known for equipping their guitars with active pickups due to the popularity of their guitars in the hard rock and metal genres. While this guitar isn’t “cheap” it is their cheapest guitar with active pickups, normally priced around $950.

Esp Ltd Mh-400B Baritone Electric Guitar

This guitar features the very popular EMG 81/85 combo active pickups that deliver fat and heavy tones perfect for any aspiring metalhead. 

This is a Baritone electric guitar which means it is designed to let you play lower notes than a standard electric guitar. This is made possible by its long-scale neck that is usually tuned B to B and can support heavier gauge strings. 

If you looking for a heavy guitar that can take on deep fuzzy low-ends this is a great pick.

3. Ibanez ARZ800 Electric Guitar

You can’t talk about active pickups without mentioning Ibanez. Their pedigree has made it so they too don’t offer any of their active pickup guitars at a beginners pricepoint.

The closest you can get is the Ibanez ARZ800 electric guitar that comes stock with active EMG 60 and 81 humbuckers, priced at around $800.

Ibanez ARZ800 Electric Guitar

What you get on top of the active pickups with this model is the classic slim Ibanez metal neck that makes shredding a breeze. Paired with the active pickups and you get a guitar that is sure to shake some walls. 

The tuning bridge and tailpiece also provide an extra level of tuning security and sustain that aids this guitar in making the most out of its EMG pickups. 

What’s The Cheapest Guitar with EMG Pickups?

Schecter Guitar Research C-1 Platinum Electric Guitar

Schecter is a brand that strives to make guitars in the vein of Ibanez and ESP without the price tag often associated with those brands. With the Research C-1 Platinum, they prove that they’re capable of just that. 

Schecter Guitar Research C-1 Platinum Electric Guitar

Usually, the words active pickups = expensive guitar especially EMG active pickups but this guitar manages to give you a great level of build quality and include active pickups.

This is the cheapest quality guitar you can buy that comes stock with active pickups and good ones at that. Featuring a set of EMG pick-ups namely the EMG 66 on the neck and the EMG 57.

The C-1 Platinum normally sells for around $750, however they are occasionally on sale for up to $200 off, making this guitar an absolute steal if you can get one on sale.

Is It Easy to Install my Own Active Pickups?

Installing your own active pickups onto a cheaper guitar is a great way to save your money while chasing that hot and heavy tone active pickups are known for. 

Luckily it can be a straightforward process as well (depending on the pickups you buy). 

These days modern active pickups from companies such as EMG make it really easy to modify your existing guitar with active pickups. The new EMG pickups feature a solderless setup that nearly anyone can do. 

Instead of having to solder the pickups onto the existing wires. These new EMG pickups come with cables that simply clip onto the old wires and lock them into place. 

With this leap in accessibility now is the best time to give active pickups a try without having to go out and buy a whole new guitar. 

Each set of EMG pickups comes with a guide on how to do this, making guitar modification more in line with setting up Ikea furniture than working with loose wires in a guitar workshop.