#1
I've thought about putting active pups in one of my guitars for a while but i really dont know anything about them.

How do they sound clean/overdriven/distorted? Theyre know for being good with lots of gain but how do they compare to regular humbuckers?
How about battery life? How long do they go before needing battery change?
Are they worth the price?
Do you personally like active pups?
Etc
#2
You can't really lump all actives in together like this. If by actives you just mean the 3 or 4 most popular, stereotypical EMG/Blackout models then I guess you can generalize a little but outside of that there's a lot of variety. 

How they sound clean/overdriven/distorted depends an awful lot on what model we're talking about and what amp/effects they're being used through. Most actives have a lot of output so you might have to adjust the way your amp is set up or how you manipulate controls to get enough clean headroom for the preamp. Obviously that output can also drive and amp more heavily into overdrive if you want it to. Generally thought they each sound different and "how do they sound" is pretty hard to even begin to answer without a more specific question in mind IMO. 

Battery life is super long (thousands of hours of playing) as long as you unplug the cord from the guitar when you're not playing. 

Your local guitar shop probably has at least a few instruments with the more common EMG sets in them, go give them a try and see what you think. Otherwise you're going to get a lot of generic, opinionated responses here and you might form a notion based on rumor and hearsay, which is how half of the opinions on active pickups get formed. Better to try them without any preconceived notions, if at all possible. 
#3
My sole complaint is the batteries. Not the life, but what happens when you forget them and they rupture.

That's not going to be an issue for someone who uses the guitar with actives routinely: you'll notice the degradation in sound and replace them LONG before that's going to happen.

But if you have a lot of guitars- especially a mix of actives & passive- or any other factors in your guitar playing regimen that would have you leaving that guitar dormant for a while, that risk rises. I almost had that happen to me with a Fernandes Ravelle that has a Sustainer in the neck.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#4
agree with what has been said. Actives have their place and it's not all about high gain. they were originally invented with jazz in mind. they also often have a somewhat broader frequency range than traditional passive pups as well. if at all possible try a couple of guitars out that have them as stock pups to get an idea. do your homework in terms of what would work best for your playing requirements. 
#5
Quote by dannyalcatraz
My sole complaint is the batteries.  Not the life, but what happens when you forget them and they rupture.

That's not going to be an issue for someone who uses the guitar with actives routinely: you'll notice the degradation in sound and replace them LONG before that's going to happen.

But if you have a lot of guitars- especially a mix of actives & passive- or any other factors in your guitar playing regimen that would have you leaving that guitar dormant for a while, that risk rises.  I almost had that happen to me with a Fernandes Ravelle that has a Sustainer in the neck.


My solution was to replace them all around New Years every year, whether they need it or not. Just lump it in with changing you smoke detector batteries. 

I've never needed to replace them more often than that. 
#8
Yes, definitely. The 81 is quite bright, very high output, tight bass. It's usually a bridge pickup because it's so aggressive. Some people use it in the neck but it seems to me a lot of those people do that because they don't use a traditional warm/bassier neck pickup sound and want a second pickup option that sounds closer to what a bridge pickup usually sounds like. So with an 81/81 or an 85/81 (bridge/neck) you almost have two bridge pickup sounds, IMO.

Not surprisingly because it's so bright and aggressive, it's usually used with a fair amount of distortion. They're not good clean IMO. The 81 is the stereotypical "active" pickup that's great with gain (if it's your kind of flavor) but not very usable into a clean amp. It has a ceramic magnet which gives it that nice crisp, crunchy high-end but makes it sound less warm or smooth than, for example, the 85 which has an alnico magnet. 
#9
Quote by CENSORED.

What if i were to specify down to say an emg81? Could you help specify a little more then?


One of my primary guitars has an EMG81. Been using it for the last 8 or so years more than any other guitar, but that's not necessarily because of the pickups.
Personally I absolutely LOVE the pickups, but only when it's for a specific type of metal, that primarily being modern drop tuned death metal / metalcore sort of stuff. If I'm playing Parkway Drive / Lamb of God / Born of Osiris etc then I can't think of a better pick-up. They complement tube amps very well and of course have a very aggressive and punchy tone.
For metal in general they're a very solid pick-up and they will definitely get the job done. All that being said, for the bands you have listed in your signature I wouldn't use an EMG81 if I had alternative options. I'd 100% switch to one of my guitars with SD invaders. This is all personal opinions here but for me active pick-ups are just a bit too much for those bands. EMGs will still sound fantastic, but if you're particularly anal about your tones then there are better options in my opinion.
Also whilst I know the 81 is generally a bridge pick-up, it's not very good for your usual lead tones. It's a bit too treble heavy for leads and doesn't have the warmth that I would want for the majority of my leads. It also doesn't achieve a good balance for when you're playing barre chords and other big open chords where you really want to hear each individual note in the chord. This isn't really an issue for the music you play though, but if you're big in to prog like I am then it does become an issue.

In answer to the questions you have listed:

Overdriven / distorted tones are fucking awesome. If you want to get as heavy a tone as possible this is the pick-up for you. Cleans can become an issue, but there's other external factors at play here including your amp, what you're playing and how you play. It's not uncommon to get a bit of a bass heavy sort of buzz and a sort of clipping gainy sound when you're playing particular cleans. The pick-up is also way too treble heavy for my liking when it comes to cleans. If you know what you're doing you can generally mitigate this problem to some extent. It can get the job done, but so can any other pick-up. I'd prefer a generic stock squier pick-up over an EMG81, that's how much the cleans leave to be desired.. Lets be honest though, you're not buying an EMG81 if you want good cleans.

Battery life is fantastic. You will easily get 100+ hours out of it.

If they're worth the price is entirely up to you. Depends how much you value a set of pick-ups.

I personally like active pick-ups. They have their time and place and that place is of course Metal.

Anyways, best of luck with your search for the right pick-up. To summarize, I think the EMG81 is a fantastic pickup for the heavier genres of metal. The heavier the music the better they are. For more lead influenced and progressive music there are better alternatives. If I lost my EMGs for whatever reason then I would 100% buy them again.


EDIT: Quickly going through your profile I wouldn't put EMGs in a Fender if that was the plan haha.
Last edited by vayne92 at Jul 30, 2017,
#10
I have experience with the classic EMG 81/85 set and Seymour Duncan EMTY's which are basically Blackouts tweaked a little for Mick Thompson(Slipknot). 

IMO they have a unique sound that I haven't heard in any passive pickup. From experiencing these 2 sets, they can sound OK to GOOD clean, not terrible through the right amp, but they don't sound as good as a passive, and the down side is you can't coil split many actives. I have always wired my pickups to coil split for more versatility. Actives work best with distortion, they're clear, percussive, and fat while also being super quiet. There's basically no hiss or hum at all.

In my opinion to get the best out of them you need a good tube amplifier. They sound good through modeling amps, but you won't be able to hear what they're truly capable of . 

I like both passives and actives, they both have great qualities, to me passives sound a little more "real" if that makes sense. Actives have more of a processed and compressed sound that works great for hard rock and metal.
#11
Quote by CENSORED.
I've thought about putting active pups in one of my guitars for a while but i really dont know anything about them.


I'm thinking that this is pretty much a red flag that you should NOT put them in one of your guitars.
#12
Quote by monwobobbo
agree with what has been said. Actives have their place and it's not all about high gain. they were originally invented with jazz in mind. they also often have a somewhat broader frequency range than traditional passive pups as well. if at all possible try a couple of guitars out that have them as stock pups to get an idea. do your homework in terms of what would work best for your playing requirements. 


Current guitars with actives these days are generally aimed at high-gain use, but there are (and have been) active pickups that aren't aimed that direction at all. Alembic, Bartolini and others have had actives available over the years that simply allow a much wider variety of tones and tonal controls than passives.
#13
Several Godin guitars have their H.D.R. (High Definition Revoicer) system: with a flick of a switch, your pickups go from passive to active mode. And if you look at those guitars, they're not really aimed at the metal guitarist, but more likely, traditional rock, pop or jazz musicians aiming for that original"active pickup clean tone.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#14
Quickly going through your profile I wouldn't put EMGs in a Fender if that was the plan haha.

I was planning on putting them in my home made guitar i just made, not my fender haha
Roc8995
I do play quite a bit clean and while the distorted tone does sound good, i dont think i would get them due to the fact of their sub par cleans as my best amp doesnt have eq settings on the clean channel

Thanks for the help everyone!
#15
I had active PUs in my 335 for a while.  They were jazz voiced and sounded good clean with very low noise.  I moved away from the Fusion scene and have since gone back to more vintage PAF style passive PUs.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#16
For EMGs I like the 81/60 combo and want to try the 57/66.

A nice amp will do wonders as well.
Guitars:
Jackson Kelly KE3 - MIJ (Distortion/Jazz)
Jackson DKMGT Dinky (EMG 81/85)
ESP E-II Eclipse Custom (JB/'59)
ESP LTD EC-1001FR (EMG 81/60)
Fender MIM Strat

Amps:
Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier Roadster 212
Laney IronHeart IRT-Studio
Peavey Vypyr 30
Peavey ReValver Amp Sims
TOOOO many T.C. Electronic Pedals. . .
#17
Pretty much my same opinion with lasers and optics on my firearms. 

Never rely on glass or batteries.
"It's better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war"
#19
i have never replaced the batteries since i bought my guitar. got emgs 60 - 81 set. that was 2 years ago... dont know about the sound starting to fade or something. but i guess no one can really hear the difference mid song. 
#20
The EMG 81 sounds SUPERB for tight high gain rhythm tone. It's very high output but not noisy and has a very clear tight tone with a lot of lows and highs and slightly scoped mids.  With high gain it will get you that nice tight, chunky chugga chugga palm mute sound that's super responsive and tight sounding.  Doesn't sound saggy at all and has a lot of low end thump. If you want to play Metallica, or Slayer thrash type stuff this is the pickup.  An 85 in the neck is EVEN higher output, is much more mid-heavy and will give you that glassy smooth lead tone.  For cleans the pickups are actually not bad, but you have to use the volume knob.  At full volume, the 85 absolutely annihilates the clean channel on my amp, and the 81 is better but it's still a bit much at full volume.  I think the EMG 60 might be the better choice if you want some decent cleans without playing with the volume knob.

Now the bad.  The EMG's are super clear but they seem to be so clear that they're almost missing some sort of harmonic overtones that passive seem to have.  Maybe these "harmonic overtones" is just some sort of added noise and/or artifacts and for tight high gain rhythm playing this is great but if you try to play mid-gain stuff or want a more harmonically rich lead tone they fall flat on their faces.  They can sound very sterile. 

IMHO, the EMG 81/85 combo are superb pickups for a VERY specific job.  They are great at that job but they suck at everything else.  So great pickups but not versatile at all.  
#21
CENSORED. Idk about pickups but i had an active bass and it was a pain to take care of and the battery drained even when i had it plugged in and turned off. Again, I know nothing about active pickups, but just having an active bass was a pain.
#22
Quote by evilducky27
CENSORED. Idk about pickups but i had an active bass and it was a pain to take care of and the battery drained even when i had it plugged in and turned off. Again, I know nothing about active pickups, but just having an active bass was a pain.


It's because you kept the bass plugged in. Plugging it in creates a physical circuit. Removing the cable breaks the circuit. So it's not the bass being active that was the problem, just that you weren't aware of the maintenance.
#23
I have a EMG 81/60 set in a superstrat and I enjoy it a lot for heavier metals.... And lighter stuff. I really like the EMG 60 on crunch sounds, sounds very much like a single coil, but with more power.

Comparing to passive pickups... They are very different beasts. They seem to have a very tight bass, it makes amps sound like they had a tubescreamer in front, yet they still retain the low end power that a TS takes away
#24
Smith357 The batteries in active pickups will last FAR longer than batteries in lasers or in most optics. Then again, Aimpoint's T2 Micro has a ridiculous battery life. 


That being said though, I really do enjoy the sound of my Blackouts. I just change the battery once a year to make sure that the battery hasn't corroded. The only problem with changing the battery is that my Rhoads does not have a battery box, so I have to remove the pickguard and I'm worried I might strip the threads at some point. 
My crap:

Guitars
Jackson RR3T Limited Edition with Seymour Duncan Blackouts (MIJ)
Jackson JS1-X Rhoads
Jackson PDXT with Seymour Duncan Black Winters
Dean Vendetta XM

Amps
Peavey 6505 MH
Carvin 1X12 Cab

Pedals
Boss TU-3 Tuner
Boss NS-2 Noise Gate
Boss DD-7 Delay
Last edited by BlackDeath92 at Jul 31, 2017,
#25
BlackDeath92 I have got a battery box routed and installed for a price equivalent to 30 us dollars. And it's much better than removing the pick guard.
#26
I know you're looking at EMGs and I'd say the standard 81/85 thing is quite good. With that said, I still tend to prefer passives to those. Totally a taste thing though.

And with THAT said, I just had a custom guitar built (mostly Warmoth parts). I put Fishman Fluence Classic Humbuckers in it. They're pretty friggin awesome. Amazing note clarity and I prefer these to the 81/85 setup. Check out some YouTube videos like Tosin Abasi's comparison between his Fluences and some passives.
Guitars
- Strandberg OS6, Strandberg CL7, Gibson LP Studio, S570DXQM, RG7421, Mayer Strat, Partscaster

Amps
- TC-50, Mark Five:25, Invective (soon), Vypyr 60
#27
Quote by ArturPr
BlackDeath92 I have got a battery box routed and installed for a price equivalent to 30 us dollars. And it's much better than removing the pick guard.

I would love to do that with my Rhoads, but I don't have any luthiers near where I live and I sure as hell don't trust my local Guitar Center to do it right. I don't have the proper tools to do it myself and as much as it would cost to purchase them and only use them for one job, I might as well keep to my current method. 
My crap:

Guitars
Jackson RR3T Limited Edition with Seymour Duncan Blackouts (MIJ)
Jackson JS1-X Rhoads
Jackson PDXT with Seymour Duncan Black Winters
Dean Vendetta XM

Amps
Peavey 6505 MH
Carvin 1X12 Cab

Pedals
Boss TU-3 Tuner
Boss NS-2 Noise Gate
Boss DD-7 Delay
#29
Quote by dannyalcatraz
My sole complaint is the batteries. Not the life, but what happens when you forget them and they rupture.

That's not going to be an issue for someone who uses the guitar with actives routinely: you'll notice the degradation in sound and replace them LONG before that's going to happen.

But if


it is a maintenance thing

you and I have quite a few guitars, certainly more than the average player . it's no different than changing strings. its maintenance. i have a dozen guitars that are in storage in the closet, all are prepped for a year or so. I pull batteries out when not in use.

Jeffh40 has a good procedure
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#30
ArturPr Yeah, I've been removing the pickguard for at least 6 years (maybe 7) and nothing has stripped yet. I think I'll be safe for another few years! 
My crap:

Guitars
Jackson RR3T Limited Edition with Seymour Duncan Blackouts (MIJ)
Jackson JS1-X Rhoads
Jackson PDXT with Seymour Duncan Black Winters
Dean Vendetta XM

Amps
Peavey 6505 MH
Carvin 1X12 Cab

Pedals
Boss TU-3 Tuner
Boss NS-2 Noise Gate
Boss DD-7 Delay