I have extensively researched the active/passive debate, and I know most of the pros and cons. I tried Blackouts and they were too muddy compared to the EMG's. So for now I use EMG81's and I accidentally got the EMG81 X series and they seemed a little more clear than the standard 81's.

But now I'm very used to the active sound and feel, I like playing complex chords, like for example bar chords in drop tuning while using my pinky for extended voicings. Sometimes they can be drowned out by the other notes. With passives, would a good set like the Sentient/Pegasus by Seymour Duncan be more clear on those types of things compared to the EMG's?

Edit: also for reference I use 7 strings so I am frequently around the low A/B range
Last edited by Knight Elijah at Oct 9, 2015,
The issue isn't active pickups with complex chords, but levels of gain. You won't cure the problem by changing pickups. You've discovered why so much gainy music utilizes two-note chords.

One cure is to have two different rigs and divide the signal between a clean rig and one with more gain. By adjusting the balance between the two, you can hear more complex chords while retaining some gain.

This is one of the reasons that recent Pods (for example) allow you to split the signal internally and run two separate rigs that can either run out to two separate channels and be mixed or that can actually be run to two separate powered speakers or the like.

Gain is all about complex harmonics being generated, and when you get too much of that by adding more notes in the chords, the whole thing turns to mush (as you've discovered).
I feel like EMGs have perfectly good note separation, and wouldn't necessarily suggest a passive over them for clear voicings.

On the other hand, the pole pieces on a lot of passives would let you adjust the individual string response, which could be valuable here. I haven't played the Sentient/Pegasus set in particular but they are designed specifically for downtuned playing. I bet someone here has played that set and the EMGs and can tell you what they think.

Also, since you mentioned drop tunings and big chords - are you drowning in distortion and bass? The clearest pickup on earth (and EMGs have got to be high on that list) doesn't stand a chance if the amplification is throttling it. Have you tried out a few amp/pedal/EQ combos? I'm mostly asking because I'd normally expect EMGs to handle what you're describing quite well.
I agree with Roc
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Yep, it's a gain problem not a PU problem.
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Just read your other thread. You're running an Engl Savage with the depth boost on and the bass dimed!? I don't think the pickups are the issue here.

This is like wondering if the USS Nimitz is hard to parallel park because the throttle's a bit slow.
Quote by Roc8995
Just read your other thread. You're running an Engl Savage with the depth boost on and the bass dimed!? I don't think the pickups are the issue here.

True haha, usually I'm not using my savage unless I'm playing live but yeah, you guys are right. I'll try to maybe lay off the bass and reduce the presence? But then the presence is what makes those voicings stand out

Also I use 7 strings (I'll put that in my original post)
I don't see any reason to reduce the presence. I'd come down on the gain and bass - a lot - and go from there. Keep in mind that trying to compete with a Triple Recto (seriously, what band is this so I can avoid fault lines during your next show) means you may need to try to occupy a different sonic space (more mids for you, more bass for him) instead of fighting a terrifying arms war over the low frequencies and then wondering where the clarity went.

Trying to 'have it all' often means that you end up trying to substitute raw power for...everything else.
I have played passive for many years and I only just got a guitar I like the sound of with emgs, partly because I could never find a passive guitar that sounded any better than the guitar I have and I wanted something different , ~Well when I pick up my emg guitar I played it and made it work, I didn't think one sounds better at this or that a good guitarist can make the best out of what they have , as for actives I never thought I would actually like them because I have play passive for so many years but with a good guitar and amp actives sounds good , and again using the EQ on the amp and pedals I don't find it hard to get the sound I want from passive or active pickups .
Last edited by dazzzer30 at Oct 9, 2015,
I use the pegasus/sentient set in my carvin 7 string, it does give you clarity for drop tuned chords compared to the active stock pups (I got my 7 string before the Kiesel Lithiums were created), I usually tune to drop Ab and haven't had any note definition issues but your settings on your amp and the pedals you use also play a part in how clear things sound.

I use a mesa dual rec but even on the 3rd channel I don't use as much gain as you'd expect because it makes notes sound "flubby" if that makes any sense. Instead I use my overdrive pedal which has a mid boost and that in particular really helps with note clarity. In addition, although not often talked about in metal, a good compressor that's transparent can also help make sure notes down drown each other out. I'm not talking about the super compressed sound found in funk or some country, just a subtle compression to help even things out.
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I feel like an OD pedal with control over the bass cut/boost or an EQ pedal could sort you out better than switching pickups. EMGs and Blackouts are actually pretty clear.

But what I've found helps the most in getting clarity WITH your brootz is addressing WHERE you add your bass. Too much bass going into the amp often results in mud unless you really turn your gain down. Well, what if you don't want to turn your gain down? Cut some bass going into the preamp. This is why Tubescreamers are so popular -- they cut bass going into the amp, making the tone a lot more focused and making the bass tighter and more punchy. Then, if you add some bass back in either through the amp's EQ or an EQ pedal in the effects loop -- it will retain most of that tightness but sound a lot more massive and thick. So in a nutshell, bass before preamp =/= bass after the preamp.

Having owned Blackouts for quite some time now, I can agree that they have maybe a bit too much bass. Even with a Tubescreamer, there can be a little too much going into the amp. But what I've noticed with my MXR M77 OD is that if I cut just a little more bass with the bass knob, the Blackouts clear right up and sound amazing. But the pedal on its neutral setting doesn't cut *quite* enough. You can get more aggressive with it and turn the bass waaaayyy down and it gets extremely clear and djenty (a tone that I detest). But if that's what you want, go for it.

You can use an EQ pedal in front of the amp for a similar effect and maybe a little more control. But with my MXR OD, just adjusting the 100 hz knob (bass) does everything I need it to do. Some of those modern high-gain passive pickups like the Nazguls/Sentients/D Activators have the same thing in mind -- they are wound to not be overly bassy so when you tune down and hit the amp with a lot of gain, it can still sound tight and clear.

But a lot of that can be simply dialed in with your EMGs and some tweaking like I mentioned.
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Boost the mids a bit and roll back on both the gain and the bass. What sounds like a sonically massive tone in your bedroom or by yourself will get drowned out by the rest of the band.

Guitars aren't designed to take up the frequencies that the bass knobs boost, so you end up not being heard over the bass guitar. And I'm not talking about low notes, I'm talking frequencies of the notes produced. Even if you're tuning low, boosting the mids will still let you be heard over the bass.

Rolling back on the gain will prevent undesired distortion, that is, distortion that is no longer musical in nature and ends up compressing and oversaturating your sound beyond what you need. Even Mesa Boogie's Triple Rectifier manuals say that you should never go beyond the 4 o'clock position on the gain knob, and while those amps have a great clean tone, that's not what they're known for.

If you find that you still need a bit of extra boost, use a clean boost or a Tubescreamer set for one and that will help tighten up your sound without oversaturating the amp.

Try setting your gain for 2:30 position, boost the mids a bit, roll back on the bass, and if you have access to an overdrive of some kind, set it for a clean boost, and see how that turns out. I think you'll like it a lot.
The key to clarity in metal is having a high gain amp with the gain control dialled down to open up the sound if you ask me. Whilst pickups will have an effect on clarity, there are a number of other factors (as have been mentioned) to keep in mind.
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I agree, this is a gain problem. It is also a midrange and compression problem. The Sentient/Pegasus combo will absolutely solve this, but you might have to adjust how much gain you need. After a lot of gain, which fattens the notes and compresses everything, there isn't much a pickup can do- it mushes everything together.
Dave @ Seymour Duncan
I feel like an OD pedal with control over the bass cut/boost or an EQ pedal could sort you out better than switching pickups. EMGs and Blackouts are actually pretty clear. KailM suggested an EQ pedal. Would that be better suited to helping me while still keeping the same general sound?
^^If you already have an OD pedal that you like, then an EQ might be just the right thing to cut a little more bass going into the amp. EQ pedals are pretty transparent, especially when put in front of the amp. Your tone will carry the same voicing it did before, but you can tweak which frequencies will be sent to be distorted or not.

That said, I have two MXR 10-band EQs; one in the effects loop and the other in front of the amp. Recently I removed the one from in front of the amp because I didn't feel that it was doing anything for my tone that my OD pedal couldn't do on its own. As I said earlier, all that's really needed in front of the amp is some way to control the bass boost/cut, and my MXR Custom Badass OD has a very wide range of adjustment there. When I plug my Schecter with Blackouts in, I cut the bass a little bit, and it makes those pickups clear as hell. With my other guitar, which is much brighter with Black Winter pups, I increase the bass to a more neutral setting and even back off the higher frequency tone knob to balance things out.

Another thing to keep in mind is that an EQ in the effects loop has a much more drastic effect on tone than one in front of the amp. It will almost certainly affect your tone more than a pickup swap. But for clarity I would start by cutting a little more bass going into the preamp.
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Last edited by KailM at Oct 12, 2015,
If you use an OD, you'll want it to be a 'light' overdrive (e.g. Tube Screamer) with the gain set really low, and the volume high. If you want to use an EQ then you need to cut the lower frequencies. Essentially, you want to present the amp with a signal that's been through a high-pass filter. Personally, I use a Boss SD-1 but I'm sure I could achieve similar results with an EQ. It's a matter of taste (or what you have).
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^ I'm not sure. You get a fair bit of compression out of SD1s and TS-style ODs that I'm not certain you'd get with an EQ. But maybe you would if you cranked up the mids a fair bit, I'm not sure I've ever tried it.
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