Emg Pickups Killer Or Filler?
Todd Simpson
Mar 17 2020, 05:10 AM
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EMG PICKUPS


Why did so many people use EMG pickups in the 80s? The answer is pretty simple. Much like the tube screamer, the active (battery powered) preamp in the original EMG pups acted as a high pass filter, E.G. It trimmed out some bass and helped the tube amps of the day sound a bit more tight at high volume/gain much the same way the tube screamer did much the same thing. Both were often used at the same time even. The classic EMG 81 has a high pass cutoff of about 250hz. This prevents the bass frequencies from bunching up inside the pickup preamp and prevents the same thing in the amp it’s connected to. Since this is an active pickup (with an internal preamp), it’s great for driving high gain amps. It’s got the high pass filter and a clean boost preamp already built in. Add a tube screamer to that and you have two boost preamps for serious boost in gain on a high gain amp. This is why the pairing was so common in the 80s. It was a time before processing with rack units was cheap. But, for a few hundred bucks, a metal player could add EMGs and a tube screamer and have wads of gain. Slayer are a good example of this approach. Classic EMG 81/85 pups and tube screamers and Marshall amps. Kerry started with passive pups then switched.

Also, one of the handy things about EMG pups is that they are not prone to hum and can be split for single coil tones. Kerry king has his own signature set which comes with an additional boost switch on a separate preamp resulting in massive gain that helps with all his dive bombs.

EMG is a company that has been around for a LONG time. The first production was back in 1976. At the time, this was a product way ahead of it’s time. Putting a preamp inside of a pickup was a pretty new thing. Preamps had been added on to guitars, like the original electronics sets in Early B.C. Rich models, but rarely inside of an actual pickup. A little company called STEINBERGER who were making very modern guitars that didn’t have headstocks and barely had bodies, were very interested in the EMG line. EMG pickups became standard on their entire line. Eventually, to add a low cost option, the EMG “HZ” was born which was an EMG without the preamp, which made the pickup much cheaper to produce. So why is the product called EMG in the first place? Well. It’s simple. It stands for “ELECTRO MAGNETIC GENERATOR” which is sorta what it is. The original pups used bar magnets which made them ideal for dive bombs (diving the whammy bar) since the pickup didn’t lose tracking when the string went slack. With pole pieces, found in standard pickups, some tracking can be lost during intense dive bombing. Yet another reason Metal Heads embraced the EMG. Throughout the Eighties, big acts like METALLICA started using EMG pups and as a result, kids learning guitar started wanting them too. This caused a HUGE surge in sales and made EMG one of the biggest pickup companies around. They started to lose ground in the early 2000’s due to the massive amount of “Boutique” shops popping up and providing massive competition. After all the original product had not changed much in several decades. To wit, EMG decided to start offering colors other than black, and started offering other magnet configurations and even started doing pretty decent passive pickups as well. They have adapted over the years, as they have had to, in order to survive and they are still with us today.

I added the Kerry king set with boost switch to a less Paul and it nearly ate my face. The gain was almost hard to control. It just begged to feedback. I rarely used the boost switch. It seemed more of a novelty than a practical solution. Don’t get me wrong, I love gain. But even I have my limits. These days I prefer lower gain alnico magnet pickups. I find they are more articulate and pick up muted pick strikes better which is the key to my playing style. Using insane amounts of gain works well for Slayer. I found it didn’t work for me.


Do you guys use EMG pickups on any of your guitars?

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This post has been edited by Todd Simpson: Mar 17 2020, 05:11 AM
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Darius Wave
Mar 18 2020, 09:48 AM
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Even if today the hype is more towards high output passive pickups (speaking of heavy playing of course) for me EMG is still a kind of reference for heavy tones. I like that kind of focused tone, more sterile I would say. With a company of an american hi-gain amp it still kicks ass smile.gif

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Mertay
Mar 18 2020, 12:44 PM
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Personally I liked EMG's with EC1000's the best. With that guitar somehow they sound more versatile while still keeping the character.

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AK Rich
Mar 19 2020, 01:56 AM
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I have an Ibanez S-470 with an EMG 81/60X set and I love both pups equaly. They both have their uses and perform well. The 81 at the bridge cuts really well and the 60X in the neck position has a nice warm fat tone.

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Todd Simpson
Mar 20 2020, 06:37 PM
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It's a classic metal tone to be sure smile.gif There are wads of folks that wont use anything else. Gary Holt from Exodus has been using them for decades including his work with slayer. Kerry king as well from Slayer, Zakk Wylde, among many others.

QUOTE (Darius Wave @ Mar 18 2020, 04:48 AM) *
Even if today the hype is more towards high output passive pickups (speaking of heavy playing of course) for me EMG is still a kind of reference for heavy tones. I like that kind of focused tone, more sterile I would say. With a company of an american hi-gain amp it still kicks ass smile.gif

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Mertay
Mar 20 2020, 10:31 PM
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QUOTE (AK Rich @ Mar 19 2020, 12:56 AM) *
I have an Ibanez S-470 with an EMG 81/60X set and I love both pups equaly. They both have their uses and perform well. The 81 at the bridge cuts really well and the 60X in the neck position has a nice warm fat tone.


Never played EMG's on an S guitar but the idea seems attractive smile.gif

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jstcrsn
Mar 20 2020, 11:25 PM
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a quick little comparison ..In order Fluence modern , balckouts , EMG , Crunch lab .. everytime there is a hick up it changes and at 52 seconds it starts over

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Todd Simpson
Mar 20 2020, 11:34 PM
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I remember that one from our Live Video Chat Lessons! Sweet axe and it did have very good tone.

QUOTE (AK Rich @ Mar 18 2020, 08:56 PM) *
I have an Ibanez S-470 with an EMG 81/60X set and I love both pups equaly. They both have their uses and perform well. The 81 at the bridge cuts really well and the 60X in the neck position has a nice warm fat tone.



Thanks for that! Here is a shootout with the 1 and HET EMG



QUOTE (jstcrsn @ Mar 20 2020, 06:25 PM) *
a quick little comparison ..In order Fluence modern , balckouts , EMG , Crunch lab .. everytime there is a hick up it changes and at 52 seconds it starts over

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jstcrsn
Mar 20 2020, 11:45 PM
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I could have any of the four on a good playing guitar and I don't think I would need to change pick ups..the crunch lab and fluence are set up with coil splitting so I do like that option

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AK Rich
Mar 22 2020, 06:14 PM
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QUOTE (Mertay @ Mar 20 2020, 01:31 PM) *
Never played EMG's on an S guitar but the idea seems attractive smile.gif

I don't know that I ever would have done that experiment on my own but I was really happy with how it sounded when I tried it out. I bought it like that used and it was drop tuned to the nether regions of sonicness. rolleyes.gif After giving it a good setup, it became my main instrument for a while until I picked up my Prestige.

QUOTE (Todd Simpson @ Mar 20 2020, 02:34 PM) *
I remember that one from our Live Video Chat Lessons! Sweet axe and it did have very good tone.

Those were the days. I remember you tried more than once to get me to sell it to you. smile.gif

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Todd Simpson
Mar 23 2020, 02:26 AM
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It did sound very spiff! The EMGs worked well in that and it's a very pretty axe. Nice Ibby!! Please do share a loving pic or two smile.gif


QUOTE (AK Rich @ Mar 22 2020, 01:14 PM) *
I don't know that I ever would have done that experiment on my own but I was really happy with how it sounded when I tried it out. I bought it like that used and it was drop tuned to the nether regions of sonicness. rolleyes.gif After giving it a good setup, it became my main instrument for a while until I picked up my Prestige.


Those were the days. I remember you tried more than once to get me to sell it to you. smile.gif

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Darius Wave
Mar 25 2020, 12:44 PM
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EMG were also great upgrade for cheap guitars. They somehow force their own character more than other, specially passive pickups. I had a guitar with poor agathis body, lacking some midrange. EMG's fixed this.

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Todd Simpson
Mar 26 2020, 02:36 AM
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Very good point. A crap guitar can be brought up to spec with a pair of EMG. They provide enough boost to push through even when the guitar is made of cheap wood etc. I had a very cheap les paul copy with crap pickups that was made a LOT better by adding the kerry king set. I knew Zakk had been using EMGs in his les pauls for years which is sorta where I got the idea. I even used it on a Ozzy Style Collab here at GMC!



QUOTE (Darius Wave @ Mar 25 2020, 07:44 AM) *
EMG were also great upgrade for cheap guitars. They somehow force their own character more than other, specially passive pickups. I had a guitar with poor agathis body, lacking some midrange. EMG's fixed this.

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