The Complete Guide to Gold Detecting Machines
Editor’s note: One of the most common requests we get from the metal detecting community is for tips on the best way to detect for gold, information on the different types of gold detecting technologies and our recommended gold detectors. To get answers to these questions, we turned to our resident gold expert, Don Newell.
Don, who lives in Arizona, has been gold detecting for more than 12 years. The purpose of this guide is to help you figure out which gold detector you should buy based on your prospecting area, the type of gold you want to find and your budget.
The most important question you need to ask when deciding on a metal detector for gold nuggets is what type of gold you have in your prospecting area. Everyone wants to find large gold and strike it rich, but in reality, about 95 percent of gold fields have small nuggets.
Choosing the right gold detector will help you find these smaller nuggets, which all add up in the end. We’ll let Don take it from here.
One Gold Detector Won’t Get It All
When I first started detecting early in my mining career, I had the opportunity to detect a 100-year-old underground gold mine that had never been detected.
Those old-timers that built the mine tunnels didn’t have metal detectors!
I started out with a Minelab GPX series detector and found clusters of gold nuggets scattered all over the mine. There was one area in particular that had bedrock loaded with gold nuggets. I cleaned this area out… or so I thought.
Minelab GPX 4500
This detector features SETA technology and is immune to interference. SETA stands for “Smart Electronic Timing Alignment.” Noises that are caused by magnetic interference are minimized in each of the six timing options, and each timing option can be independently adjusted and operated for greater efficiency.
This detector has many special features. It has a backlight on the screen so you can detect at night or in dark areas. The stabilizer provides you with a smoother threshold to pick up the faintest of signals, and the “iron reject” option lets you filter out junk metal.
- Weight: 5.3 pounds
- Frequency: Bi-Level, Advanced Pulse Induction
- Waterproof: No
- Warranty: Three-year limited
- Workhorse: Best general-purpose gold & relic machine
- Excels in highly mineralized ground (pulse induction)
- Full range of coils for finds buried deep
- Heavy weight
- It is not waterproof
- Battery life tends to decline over time
About five years later, I acquired a Minelab SDC-2300 detector and found a few more ounces of gold that the GPX detector had missed in the same exact spot. This was a wakeup call for me as I thought the GPX was getting 98% of the gold and only leaving a few crumbs of gold too small to be worth recovering. I never expected there to be so much chunky gold left behind by my main detector.
Minelab SDC 2300
The Minelab SDC 2300 gold metal detector is built to perform in the toughest conditions. Features easy-to-use controls and no assembly is required. Includes headphones and an 8″ round mono search coil.
Weight: 5.3 lbs
Frequency: Pulse Induction
Waterproof: Yes, fully submersible up to 10 feet of water
Warranty: Three year limited
- Picks up on gold left behind by previous models
- No junk discrimination
- The more I use this detector the happier I am with it and its finding good gold for me. I took my brother in law out with me and with the external speaker gave him a few lessons in nugget detecting. There were a bunch of old 22 caliper brass shells at this one place, and I told him we needed to get these out of the way because they would shield us from hearing any smaller targets. Sure enough, we got them out of the way, and right in the middle of where they were was a fainter target. I told him that while larger nuggets would sound like those brass shells near the surface, most gold would sound like this fainter target. We found three small nuggets.
About a year later, I detected the same area with a high-end VLF gold detector and found a little over an ounce the SDC detector had missed. Currently, there isn’t one detector that detects every size and type of gold.
There is always some gold left behind when metal detecting. This gives the electronic prospector armed with new technology hope to find more gold in areas already detected by others. There are many different types of gold out there: from large to small hammered solid nuggets, wire gold, prickly & porous gold pieces, foil gold, specimen quartz float with fine gold inside, and more.
There is always more to be found and new technologies will light up these different types of gold.
The Basics of Gold Detector Technology
There are two main types of gold detector technologies: Very Low Frequency (VLF) and Pulse Induction (PI).
The VLF machines are usually focused on finding small shallow nuggets. For VLF, your coil needs to be within a few inches of a tiny nugget to hear a signal. They do not handle hot rocks or highly mineralized ground very well.
You need to work slowly to hear the whisper-small nugget signals among all the ground noise of the gold field. Occasionally, you will find a medium or larger nugget in addition to all the small stuff. These detectors work best when scanning bedrock with the overburden (ground) removed or only a few inches deep. VLF will usually miss deeply buried, larger gold.
On the other hand, a PI machine will go deep on both medium and large gold. But, if that size of gold is not there, you won’t find it.
They handle highly mineralized ground very well. With a pulse induction machine, you can cruise through a mineralized area quickly to find the deeper medium and large “sitting duck” nuggets and move on.
Remember, about 95-percent of gold is small. Spend your time chasing the gold that exists where you detect. The bigger stuff might be long gone or may never even have existed in your location. This is why many people opt for a VLF gold detector. In addition, a VLF detector is a much smaller financial investment, especially when first starting out gold prospecting.
New Technology: Minelab GPZ 7000
Minelab’s latest flagship detector is based on new Zero Voltage Transmission (ZVT) technology, which is a hybrid between VLF and PI. The 14” coil uses 3-winding (1 transmit, 2 receive) and is called a Super-D coil. While I won’t go into details about the technology inside, the end result is a machine that will see a variety of gold types at great depth. I mention this machine separately because it’s the first of its kind and does not fit into the VLF or PI category. The GPZ 7000 is incredible for both large and small gold. If Minelab comes out with a smaller coil, it will really be a vacuum cleaner on the gold fields, getting most of the gold!
Minelab GPZ 7000
With the Minelab GPZ 7000, you’ll find even the smallest gold nuggets you might miss with other detectors. The Super-D Smart Coil consists of a central transmit winding and two outer receive windings, which greatly decreases interference from magnetic and/or mineralized soils. This detector finds nuggets that are up to 40 percent deeper than previous Minelab GPZ models.
This is the most expensive metal detector in our guide, but we think that the payoff is worth it for this pulse induction machine.
- Weight: 7.32 pounds
- Frequency: PI
- Waterproof: No. Certain coils are waterproof.
- Warranty: Three-year limited
- Deepest detection depth on all types gold
- Electronically updateable via Minelab’s website
- Full range of gold timing for all situations
- Very heavy
- Only 2 coils offered, incompatible with 3rd party coil manufacturers
- Not waterproof
VLF vs. PI on High Mineralization
Most gold is formed in highly mineralized, iron-stained ground. Detector engineers designed the VLF and PI gold machines to handle noisy mineralized ground so that you can hear the faint nugget signals in the mix. On a PI detector, most hot rock signals are either ignored or minimized so that you can work quickly, not wasting time chasing “ghost signals” from ground noise.
This is where PI detectors shine and VLF detectors struggle. A VLF detector is best on bedrock or in mild to medium ground. If using a VLF in high mineralization, work slowly to minimize the ground noise and hot rocks.
Unfortunately, some gold prospecting areas are loaded with trash. If your area has this common problem, use a VLF detector to try and weed out some of the iron junk targets like nails, rusty tin cans, and old wire. But be careful, as mineralized ground wreaks havoc on target IDs, and some deep gold nuggets can read as iron. When in doubt, dig it out!
Unlike VLF, most pulse induction units do not discriminate trash well, even though some manufacturers make claims about it. Treat your PI detector as a “beep & dig” detector. And use some time-saving strategies — for trashy areas, if the target is in the top 2 inches of dirt, it’s probably junk. Don’t waste your time!
Most serious prospectors/miners own both a PI and VLF detector. Just like tools in a toolbox, there are detecting tools to match each situation. If you want to get all the gold, you need several detectors. If you are hitting a mining claim known for large whopper nuggets, use a PI detector. If you are on bedrock with tiny cracks known to hold little gold “pickers” or tiny nuggets, use a VLF detector. Take the detector to match your spot or bring both!
Remember: If you’re looking for small, shallow gold, use VLF. If you’re looking for large gold in medium deep locations, use pulse induction. PI detectors will usually signal well on any nugget more than .3 grams. VLF detectors will find that size and smaller.
All About Detector Coils
Selecting the right collection of coils will improve your chances of success. Match your coil to the terrain and remember, low & slow is the best way to detect for gold. Keep your coil scrubbing on the ground (low) or slightly above it to maximize detection depth. Detect slowly or at a moderate coil sweep speed. Rushing through an area will miss faint signals that just might have been that big nugget!
Round vs. Elliptical Coils
Round coils usually go deeper than the equivalent elliptical-shaped coils. Use round coils whenever possible. However, elliptical coils can get down in between rocks and scrubby terrain better, or cover more ground per coil sweep. Use the coil size that makes sense for your area that will get the coil as close to the ground as possible.
DD vs. Mono Coils
DD coils have two D-shaped windings inside the coil. One is a transmit coil and one is a receiver. The mono coils have one winding inside that acts as both transmit and receive.
Most VLF detectors for gold will use DD coils to deal with the mineralization. Mono is described as a concentric coil in the VLF world.
On the PI side, DD coils are known to handle mineralization a little better than mono coils, but the cost is about 20-percent less in detection depth compared to a similar size mono coil. When possible, use mono coils to maximize your detection depth. The mono coil also has edge sensitivity all around the coil’s edge, while the DD only detects down the center strip of the coil. This edge sensitivity will score nuggets in tight spots like mine tunnels or under rocks.
Large vs. Small Coils
The larger the coil, the deeper it will detect, but at a cost. The large coils will lose sensitivity to small gold. Use large round coils for maximum depth when hunting medium and large nuggets. Use the small coils for maximum depth on small nuggets or in rough terrain.
It’s very difficult to use a big round coil on rocky or brushy ground, while the small coil will get in between rocks and brush. Match the coil to your terrain. Also, larger coils pick up more electromagnetic interference. This EMI will cause noise and cost detection depth.
Don’s Gold Detector Picks
If you are on a budget, just starting out, or an experienced prospecting/miner wanting a VLF gold detector in your toolbox, I recommend the Minelab Gold Monster 1000 as the top choice.
Minelab Gold Monster 1000
Minelab’s Gold Monster 1000 has a gold chance indicator, so you can know the likelihood of whether there is gold before you start digging.
The controls are easy to use, the coil is waterproof up to 3-feet, and the control box is rain proof. It also comes with your choice of coils, battery options, and shaft configurations.
The intermediate 45 kHz frequency and high-speed signal processor boosts sensitivity to gold, no matter the size of the nugget.
- Weight: 2.94 pounds
- Frequency: 45 kHz
- Waterproof: No. Coils are waterproof.
- Warranty: Two years for control box and coil
- Great at picking up fine gold
- Light weight
- Not waterproof
- Does not handle mineralization well
- Not as deep as pulse induction machines
I would also recommend the Whites Goldmaster 24k as a good second choice for nugget detecting. And lastly, the Minelab Equinox 800 wins as a great multi-purpose (coin, jewelry, relic, gold nugget) machine. It will hunt gold nuggets and you can use it at the park and beach, as well.
Serious Prospectors & Miners
If you aren’t limited by budget and want a serious detector for deep gold. I recommend the Minelab GPZ 7000 as the best choice and the Minelab GPX-5000 as a less expensive alternative to the 7000. Both of these machines are incredible gold detectors that will find a pile of gold nuggets.
For a middle of the road detector, I also recommend the Minelab SDC-2300 for small gold only. It’s a super-fast PI machine, so it will ignore all those pesky hot rocks. It will also hit some types of gold that no other PI detectors will find. This makes it a special-purpose machine and a joy to use. But for deep large gold, go with the 5000 or 7000 mentioned above. The SDC was designed to be hot on small gold that’s not too deep. Plus, the SDC is waterproof up to 10 feet!
Here are some other great gold detectors that are worth considering.
Nokta AU Gold Finder: A great sleeper machine, works very well on nuggets. Uses VLF technology.
Nokta Makro AU Gold Finder
The Gold Finder is designed to find gold nuggets in any terrain, at multiple depths.
Users can set the detector to “fast” mode for gold hunting in fields with high mineralization or significant quantities of conductive rocks. This mode improves target detection and recovery speeds in areas where there is a lot of trash.
“Deep” mode gives the user a two-tone discrimination setting designed for gold fields with less mineralization or magnetic rocks. It provides an increase in depth performance while still able to pinpoint large and small gold nuggets.
- Weight: 3.1 pounds
- Frequency: 56 kHz
- Waterproof: Search coils are waterproof
- Warranty: 2 year limited
- Super hot on tiny gold nuggets!
- Best of class mineralization handling for VLF.
- Iron discrimination & deep all metal mode for maximum depth.
- Ground balance always in tracking, no fixed setting.
- No target ID numbers, only iron reject and “gold chance” meter.
- Dedicated gold detector, not multi-purpose.
- Nokta did it right, they listened to the detectorist and built into one detector what we have been looking for. High frequency response with the ability for hitting small (sub-gram) gold nuggets, auto and manual ground balance, precise sensitivity adjustment capabilities, reliable and clear threshold and the sheer ability to handle iron ground minerals were the requirement. The fact that the Gold Finder is lightweight, hip-mountable, has long battery life and a decent price tag, well that’s just more gold in the poke.
Whites TDI SL: Excellent inexpensive alternative to the PI machines mentioned above. Uses PI technology.
Whites TDI SL
White’s TDI SL metal detector meets the demands of gold prospectors looking for both extremely small and extremely deep nuggets. It’s simple to operate. Includes 12″ dual field search coil, one Lithium Ion rechargeable battery pack and a two-year warranty. A 7.5 ” dual scan coil is also available.
Weight: 3.5 lbs.
- Very stable in salt water
- Simple rejection switch for metal conductivity
- Low discrimination ability
- Not waterproof
- I bought my TDI in September of 2014. I use this machine to hunt wet sand on beaches for coins and jewelry and it is awesome for deep finds and mineralized wet sand. WARNING!!! It finds everything made of metal!! It's not uncommon to fine a bobby pin at 18 inches. But... that could have been a gold ring too! I use the "HIGH" setting in parks to look for coins and it finds silver very well. Many quarters and dimes and some medium sized rings but not many pennies at that setting and very little iron or pull tabs. It is a high producer in heavily trashed ground. Where it really shines is when I prospect for gold nuggets. I've found several here in Oregon and it has no problem in tailings and mineralized ground. It's light weight and extreme sensitivity make this a real go-getter of a metal detector.
Garrett ATX: Use the solid coils for best performance. Uses PI technology.
Garrett ATX Pro for Gold
The Garrett ATX is a ground-balancing PI system that emits 730 pulses per second using a non-adjustable multi-frequency technology that operates between 0-73khz. The detector uses multiple internal coils working together simultaneously as both transmitter and receiver. Each of the 730 millisecond-long pulses create a magnetic field within the object being detected, which then immediately collapses and sends a response pulse back to the coil.
Weight: 6.9 lbs.
Frequency: Emits a maximum frequency of 730 pulses per second
Waterproof: Submersible in up to 10 feet of water
Warranty: Two-year warranty
- The ATX has notch discrimination capability
- Features both a manual and automatic ground balance/tracking capability
- The extremely rapid pulse lengths allow the ATX to penetrate highly mineralized ground that traditional VLF can not
- Rapid pulse lengths can't be easily separated and measured
Pro Tip: Gold Detecting On a Budget —the “Scrape and Detect” Method
Are you stuck with a VLF detector due to budget constraints? Then use the “scrape and detect” method. Use this method when you are on a nugget patch. This is either an old nugget patch or a new patch you have stumbled upon while out prospecting a new area. Choose an area maybe 20’x20′ or smaller to focus your detecting efforts.
- Detect the top layer of ground, remove all target signals with your VLF detector and put them into a 5 gallon bucket.
- Remove and discard 3-4 inches of the ground in the same area.
- Re-detect the freshly uncovered ground and remove all new target signals into the bucket.
- Repeat steps 1 through 3 until you reach bedrock or go past the gold bearing layers.
- Make sure to thoroughly detect the bedrock. This is where most of the best gold will be hiding.
- Gold pan out your bucket of dirt containing all the targets; some will be gold nuggets and some will be trash.
This method will allow you to get all the gold without using multiple expensive detectors. You can always buy a more expensive PI detector later with all the gold you will find using this method!
In some locations, 99 percent of the gold will be on bedrock. In these cases, remove the top overburden completely and just focus on detecting the bedrock targets.
Work smarter, not harder!
Have a gold detecting question for Don? You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Kellyco Metal Detectors at (855) 216-3771 and ask for Don.