81 Review

manufacturer: EMG date: 06/17/2013 category: Pickups
EMG: 81
This is one of the most famous pickups around, and coming from EMG, you couldn't expect anything better. Kinda tricky to wire it though, but once you have wired two or three, it's like the alphabet.
 Sound: 9
 Overall Impression: 9.2
 Reliability & Durability: 9
 Overall rating:
 8.9 
 Reviewer rating:
 9.1 
 Users rating:
 8.6 
 Votes:
 70 
reviews (6) 34 comments vote for this gear:
overall: 9
81 Reviewed by: EpiExplorer, on june 22, 2009
10 of 11 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 100

Purchased from: GuitarWorld

Sound: Well, tonal wise, its great. I've muddled it around at both pickup points on my axe (Explorer), sounds better in the bridge, has a very Adrian Smith Fender sound which is perfect for clean tones and soloing but its also great for 70's/80's heavy metal as a rythm pickup. I use it primarilly through an 80's Marshall with a Boss Metalcore ML-2 distortion pedal (say what you will, it sounds amazing anyway) and I can create a very similar Dance of Death (Iron Maiden) soloing tone. Theres a strong bass 'presence' (theres a bass sound, but not much real bass..if you get what I mean) that is more predominant than in any other guitar I've tried. It also doesn't respond well to having much distortion, it sounds horribly muddy like a badly made grindcore song. EMGs are known for having a 'Live' feeling to their tones and a thick sound which is great for the D - High E strings, but feels gravelly on the other two. I'd say keep it in the bridge slot, it gives a lovely soloing/clean tone and sounds out of place in the neck slot, as the sound is a tad thin. I'd definately recommend getting this with an EMG 85, the pair make a good novelty couple and are both great to use. // 9

Reliability & Durability: I can't see myself replacing it. If I'd ever buy a new guitar, I'd buy another set of EMGs to make up for the lost tone. Its also aesthetically pleasing you could say, looks good in a lot of guitars I've seen. I'm sure this thing will last a very long time, and the battery has only needed to be replaced once since I had them installed over a year ago. // 9

Overall Impression: Its very good as a pickup, has nice clean tones for those tricky thrash metal interludes or intense intros (like Lamb of Gods Grace) and its unmatched as a soloing pickup. I don't particularly hate it as such, its near faultless, but there are a few things I don't like (from my point of view of course, its a great thing but I have a few issues with it). I use it in an Epiphone Explorer and I'm getting another installed into an Ibanez XPT300. I put both into the bridge position, I feel it makes no sense to put it into the neck position when it sounds much better in the bridge. If you can help it, get a guitar with pre-installed EMGs, it just saves so much time in getting someone to do it for you (its not amazingly expensive though). But if you can wait for that, then your patience is rewarded. With enough good fables and tales of yore sorrounding it, I'd say get one whenever ya can. Good thing I got it in the US though, its about 33% cheaper there than it is in the UK where I am. // 9

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overall: 9.3
81 Reviewed by: sea`, on october 24, 2012
2 of 3 people found this review helpful

Sound: The EMG 81s are a classic pickup. Though a lot of people seem to think they were made for high gain, in actuality their dry, balanced tone was originally geared for jazz players who wanted to have supreme articulation and let the tone come from their fingers. Upon playing the EMG 81, it's very obvious this is the case. The flat response of the pickup compared to the warmer sound of more traditional passive pickups means that every detail of your playing will come through - and for some players, this is not ideal, as any sloppiness in your playing will become much more obvious playing with this pickup. Generally speaking, the EMG 81 has a balanced, slightly nasal sound with a smooth midrange, tight low-end and crystally highs. This response makes it ideal for finger-picking, where the nasal sound is diminished slightly, as well as for playing in higher-gain settings where clarity and articulation are key. The tightness of the pickup translates into extremely clear, precise distorted tones where other pickups would get muddy. This also makes it ideal for recording and live use, as it requires less EQ tweaking to get sounding right in a band/mix, but at the same time this can make it sound slightly unappealing played on its own. Additionally, if you play with effects, such as chorus, the flat response of the EMG 81 is actually a big benefit, as, like with distortion, it won't get muddy. Unlike most pickups, due to its weak magnetic coils and active preamp, the EMG 81 is almost free of any hum whatsoever - any you hear likely comes from your pedals, cables and amp, not the pickup. The bar magnet design also means you won't get volume fluctuations when doing bends, adding to the overall consistency. Some people tend to claim the EMG 81 is an extremely high-output pickup with an overly compressed and sterile, almost "digital" tone. While it does not sound like a traditional Vintage pickup, most people who make these claims likely have not taken the time to use their volume or tone knob. A lot of the "sterility" can be knocked down to provide a warmer sound, and turning the volume down also gives the pickup a more traditional, open tone with less compression. As mentioned above, it is also less for giving of mistakes which means that you may have to adjust your playing style to get along with it. // 9

Reliability & Durability: EMG pickups, regardless of sound quality, are world-class pickups and some of the most solidly constructed ever. Housed in epoxy for protection, they are virtually indestructible in any standard playing situations, and aren't prone to bits of hair, dust, etc. That some more traditional open-coil pickups are. Sure, an EMG 81 wouldn't survive a nuclear bomb, but due to the casing I trust its durability more than just about any other pickup. It is worth noting that, as active pickups, EMG 81s require a 9V battery to use. Reasonably speaking, you can get about 6 months of daily playing out of a single battery provided that you do not leave the cable plugged in when the guitar isn't in use. The active system also might require more extensive re-wiring or even cutting new chambers into your guitar for installation. This can make them inconvenient for amateurs to install on guitars not outfitted for active pickups. // 10

Overall Impression: I have an EMG 81 in the bridge position of my LTD MH-1000FR, which came installed with the guitar. I play primarily rock and metal, and the EMG 81 is precise and articulate for those purposes, providing crunchy rhythms, as well as screaming leads and vibrant pinch harmonics. Turn down the tone and volume down slightly for more Vintage hard and classic rock tones. However, it also delivers sparkly cleans, which are greatly enhanced by reverb, delay or chorus. For jazz, rolling the tone back a little also gives you a great, precise, neutral tone. While I would not use the EMG 81 to play blues, funk, or most pop, it can get the job done with these styles as well, with a bit of tweaking. If you are dead set on a Strat or Les Paul tone, the EMG 81 simply does not offer that, but if you are comfortable with something a bit different it is more than capable.

// 9

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overall: 10
81 Reviewed by: ew94, on march 17, 2009
1 of 2 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 100

Purchased from: Local store

Sound: This is one of the most famous pickups around, and coming from EMG, you couldn't expect anything better. Kinda tricky to wire it though, but once you have wired two or three, it's like the alphabet. The main use for this pickup is for lead tones, solos and lead guitarrists. It has a rich warm tone, a crunchy high and a FAT low bottom end. I wired mine for the bridge, but it will work fine on either position. I seriously recommend pairing this one with the EMG 60 or 89. // 10

Reliability & Durability: The last EMG I had was an EMG 58 in the bridge, that last one lasted me about 5 years. Then got the 81 2 years ago, what can I say, it still sounds like new. I'll definately get another one if this one breaks or just blows out. You just have to be carefull to not let t hit anything as this is very fragile. // 10

Overall Impression: The sound and endurance you get from this pickup is just amazing, but the high cost and wiring dufficulties can really make you crazy. I installed this in an RG321EX, on the bridge position, I replaced the original pickup with a set of 58 on the bridge and the 60 in the neck. So I got a very versatile combo. // 10

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overall: 7.3
81 Reviewed by: HelpComputah, on august 02, 2012
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Sound: The sound of the EMG 81 is surprisingly clean for a pickup considered to be the holy grail by many extreme metal types. It doesn't bowl you over with output by any means, even compared to many passive pickups. It's certainly enough for high gain applications, though be sure to set it close to the strings (which is encouraged, as active EMGs exhibit minimal string-pull). If you back off the height with an EMG 81 like you might with a passive pickup, be prepared for disappointment, as the output drops off quickly. The tone is very tight in the low end. There's punch there, to be sure, but no flab at all. The mids seem fairly flat, while the highs are very present and can be borderline excessive on some amps. If you want ultra-tight, crunchy, & clear metal rhythms and piercing lead tones, the 81 is the name of the game. It is extremely clear & articulate under high-gain. It's actually not awful clean thanks to the enhanced treble. However, it's a very hi-fi sound, when can definitely be a turn-off for some. The most common knock against EMGs is the sterility of the sound. The 81 is simply not good for Vintage tones. It is far too clinical and controlled to be a great choice for blues or classic rock. Forget about warmth here. Interestingly enough, the 81 does make a serviceable neck pickup, though its limitations above still apply. My guitar came stock with the 81 in the bridge and the 85 in the neck. I don't care for this combo, primarily because the 85 totally overwhelms the 8 in output when in the neck, forcing me to lower the 85 considerably to compensate. I experimented with swapping the two pickups, putting the 85 in the bridge and 81 in the neck. The output levels were much more balanced this way. The hi-fi tendencies of the 81 were still in full effect. The clean sound was punchy & sparkly (almost too much so), while the lead tone in the neck was much spankier then the 85 (though also thinner & considerably less smooth). It was an interesting experiment, but I eventually swapped them back, and I plan to replace the 85 with an EMG 60 sooner than later. // 7

Reliability & Durability: EMG active pickups have a bit more going on with them than your average passive pickup, which probably means more potential failure points. That said, I don't see any reason why they wouldn't last for years. The pickups themselves are well made. The covers seem fairly damage-proof (within reason of course). The quick-connect pins and wiring seems maybe a little flimsy, but not horribly so. Changing the battery is kind of a pain, as there is not a lot of room in the battery compartment to squeeze everything in. There also isn't a whole lot of slack in the battery connector wire. Every EMG install is different, however; these concerns are probably more tied to my specific guitar. // 8

Overall Impression: The guitar in question is a black Epiphone Explorer 1984 EX model, which is basically a spitting image of James Hetfield's ESP Explorer from the "Black Album" era. I have been a big Hetfield fanboy since I was a teenager, so getting this axe was a no-brainer for me. The EMG 81 is a great choice for metal, especially thrash metal & modern extreme metal. It's clarity & sterility actually become an asset in this arena, allowing your flurry of palm muted rage to come through clearly without any trace of mud. For hardcore metalheads, the EMG 81 gets a 10, no doubt. That said, don't be surprised by a perceived lack of output relative to its reputation. For that matter, don't expect much else from the 81. If you play styles other than metal and/or hope to get a wide variety of quality tones from this, forget it. That is why I downgraded the rating to 7 for sound & overall. For me, I will keep the 81 in this guitar given that the whole reason I bought the guitar was to bash out Metallica tunes. I would not buy an 81 to retrofit into another guitar, however, as I much prefer the sound of passive pickups for general use. // 7

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overall: 9.7
81 Reviewed by: T4D, on december 17, 2012
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 95

Purchased from: ebay

Sound: I used to be a Super Distortion DiMarzio guy then I got a guitar with EMG pickup in them a telecaster I got cheap on eBay NOT 81's but was very happy with the output of the pickups, SO being a Metallica fan I got a 81's for my main guitar (a B.C. Rich at the time) and well that was 12 years ago I have around 20 guitars and nearly all have an EMG in the bridge position. (I have 3 with Duncan Blackouts). I have tried alot of other pickup Tone Zone, Pearl Gates, too many to count. In alot of different guitars and the EMG do have a complete different tone depending on what guitar they are installed into. If you want metal only maybe go for blackout if you want more flexibility to come down into blues, clean and jazz etc. The EMG 81 is a great clean and powerful pickup. I play thru computer mainly using VST plugins for recording and a Line 6 X3 for gigs Carvin 1000 and JCM 900 and a 200 wat tube amp to 4 cabs. The EMG 81 is a high output pickup but clearer then a Super Distortion DiMarzio. A much fuller sound, it's like when you play at 11 on your amp and the hairs on you legs move to your playing, the Super Distortion DiMarzio took on a new sound and much better sound EMG 81 does that sound a low volume levels, so you don't have the cops around every practice session. // 9

Reliability & Durability: I have had EMG in one guitar for 12 years no issue. But always keep a spare 9Volt in your case, they last a long time so it's easy to forget the last time you changed the battery and well if it's sound a little flat it's normally new battery time. Never a problem Always strong and loud can not see a problem if you wired it up correctly when installed the first time. As for the new wireless installation system it had me confused the last few I did I just got the soldering iron out and done it old school. Just did get it to work the follow the manual? Reliability and durability on a pickup what more can I say? It works and has kept working for me for many years. // 10

Overall Impression: nothing to hate this is a nice pickup I have installed these in Fender's, Gibson's, Carvin's, Jackson's, B.C. Rich's, Peavey's, PRS's and Yamaha's etc all keep the tone of the guitar bust add EMG power and clean tone to the mix. Lower your volume on your guitar and the pickup fills out and give nice warmer tone. At full volume you have all the tone of Mega high volume without crazy feedback and a police visit. But on the subject of feedback it does it well I have and EMG 81 installed in a studio dot hollow body and the feedback that comes from that when you stand directing in front of the amp is a truly beautiful thing it screams so so well in all the right ways. Very happy with my 81's.

// 10

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overall: 9
81 Reviewed by: PatrickHardy, on june 17, 2013
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 100

Purchased from: zzounds and american musical supply

Sound: High output with amazing chickin plucks I can achieve anywhere from serious high gain to buttery solos. I used the amazing Peavey 6505+. Depending on several factors of the type of guitar you use, EMGs in the tone can be very different. Most people don't believe it's possible with these pickups. They are typically people who have never truly tested them. I am comparing EMG 81 in bridge position on 2 completely different crafted guitars for the best possible review. Definitely more bassy in my Jackson and more mids in treble in my ESP I believe. // 10

Reliability & Durability: Yes the pickup has lasted me several years. I believe I first acquired the EMG 81 for bridge position in my old B.C. Rich Warlock. I remember buying it at Daddys Junky Music and ripping it up through a Marshall 1959 Reissue 100 watter. I was probably 13-14 at the time and I am now 24. That is proof it can at least last for a decade for a 100 $ can't go wrong with that right? I have always depended on it until battery change. Then again that was when I was new to emgs and always left my axe plugged in. Just keep it unplugged when not using that should prolong battery life. // 7

Overall Impression: I love how I can easily achieve the gain I want with this pickup and the tone is amazing. Chicken plucks come easy. The pickups pickup very easy on your soloing. It lets your solos shine. I have used ESP LTD MH-350FR with 81/85 and Jackson San Dimas with custom installed 81/S/S. I have noticed a big difference in tone and sustain. The ESP has AMAZING sustain and tone since its a soloist with neck thru mahogany body and rosewood fretboard. The Jackson is bolt on maple fretboard with basswood body. The Jackson sounds a lot brighter and I mean a lot brighter. Bottom line: Depending on a guitars wood, fretboard wood, and neck construction it can play a significant difference. // 10

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