Price paid: C$ 200
Purchased from: Avenue Guitars
Sound: This pickup set is obviously geared towards very aggressive metal tones, given its namesake. My particular set is loaded into an 2005 Epiphone Les Paul Custom, and are currently set-up for 18 volt operation. However, for this review, I have removed the extra battery. Currently, the guitar is being used through either a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Roadster or a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe.
The bridge pickup, which is an EMG 81 unit (a ceramic magnet based pickup), is extremely bright and tight. It is designed to be able to cut through any mix with ease, and to provide very tight bottom end and precise highs. Overall, I find the pickup is perfectly suited to metal rhythm work, and it is good for lead work. It is definitely very bright, and will probably be too bright for some amps, particularly on lower-gain and clean settings. I've found that backing off the volume a little bit, and possibly the tone control too, can help to reign in the high end and give the pickup as surprisingly good clean funk tone.
The neck pickup, an EMG 85 (Alnico 5 magnets), is much warmer and more lower-mid and bass heavy. This results in very fluid and warm lead tones, without the tendency to become muddy or ill-defined with extreme gain settings. It is a great lead tone, working well for all metal and rock tones. The real kicker for the neck pickup, however, are it's clean tones. Through a properly set-up amp, this pickup can deliver very warm, bouncy and clear clean tones, which are able to cut through the mix very easily both during chord-work and lead playing.
Overall, I like these pickups quite a bit. However, EMG's - and most other actives - have to be treated a little differently than passive pickups. Because they're actually very weak pickups with pre-amps that boost the signal, they have a flatter and wider frequency response than most other pickups. This can result in a sterile sound if the amp isn't properly set-up to accommodate the pickups. Generally, this is much more pronounced with solid-state amps - which lack the harmonic content of tube amps - and when playing alone without a band. However, with a properly set-up amp, these pickups are capable of playing nearly any style you could want: I've played in metal bands, jazz groups, wedding bands and even a country band for a while, and the pickups have worked fine.
EMG's are definitely best suited for metal, but if you know what you're doing, you can get more versatility of out them. That being said, they definitely are not for everybody, as some players may find that they lack dynamics or that they make mistakes pop out too clearly. // 8
Reliability & Durability: I have had these pickups in my guitar since mid 2006, and I have yet to have an issue other than the battery running out. So long as you are careful to ensure that you're unplugging the guitar when you finish playing - and making sure you keep an extra battery in your case- there's absolutely no reason you should have to worry about long - term reliability.
6 years and no issues is pretty impressive. The 9 is only because the battery does tend to go with no warning whatsoever, which can be a bit of a pain. // 9
Overall Impression: I have very much enjoyed these pickups since the day I got them. The have tremendous power, and the flatter, wider frequency response suits my playing very well. Generally, I like the sounds and versatility that I've gotten out of the pickups, and I've really only been disappointed when I've used them far outside their intended purposes with an amp that really wasn't up to the task.
As with all EMG's, it is important to know what you're getting. EMG's have a fairly unique response character and they sound different than most any other pickup. I feel like many of the complaints leveled against them stem from people buying them because they're "FOR METAL!!!" without really understanding how they work. I love them because they are significantly more precise than my passive pickup loaded guitars, which is perfect for some of my music. However, if I had to pickup one pickup set for life, I am positive that this would not be it.
Overall though, I am quite happy with these pickups as they provide exactly what they promise: boosted output, added presence and massive clarity. // 8