81C/85A review by Dragonfire

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Sound: 7
  • Overall Impression: 6
  • Reliability & Durability: 5
  • Reviewer's score: 6 Neat
  • Users' score: 7 (4 votes)
Dragonfire: 81C/85A

Price paid: $ 88

Purchased from: eBay

Sound — 7
I play through a Bugera 6262 with a 212 Cabinet that contains a celestion G12K-100 and a Celestion Vintage 30. These are a pretty decent set of active pickups, many people compare them to the EMG 81 and 85 but I think this is a very wrong assumption. EMGs are renowned for their tight high end and bass (especially the 81). Dragonfires are the complete opposite, they have a very emphasized bottom end but not much of an upper end. The result? They both sound best in completely opposite guitars. I originally bought this set for a Mahogany Les Paul (think Trivium and Zakk Wylde kind of metal sound). When I installed them they did not compliment the wood type at all. Mahogany is already a bassy wood and these pickups just gave a tone that sounded like a wah pedal that's completely open - not a nice tone. After being disappointed with this setup, I took these pickups out and placed them in a cheap flat basswood "metal" guitar. Cheap Basswood is renowned for it's lack of bass (ironically). Upon doing so the guitar sounded AMAZING, the bottom end was thick but controlled and the upper ends were finally under controlled. On top of this the pickups are VERY forgiving when detecting artificial harmonics, they squeal really well and really easy. They made a 100 guitar sound like it's worth 300. The 81C is a very good bridge pickup but the 85A is a bit muddy in the neck (like the majority of cheap neck pups) To reach the full potential of these pickups I needed to use at least an 18v pickup mod. Unlike EMGs which just sound compressed without this mod, the dragonfires just resembled early 80's thrash metal (Think Slayer "show no mercy"). Upon adding the 18 Volt mod the gain was substantially increased and sounded more like the modern metal sound I was aiming for. Another note on the side, when I removed all the batteries from the pickups I was still able to hear my guitar through the amp (not usually what should happen to active pickups). This shows these are basically just very low output passive pickups which have an active preamp (most likely a MOSfet transistor). Finally, these pickups are pretty decent once in the right guitar but at high amp volumes they lose A LOT of definition, EMGs are great in a "cranked up" amp, but dragonfires sound really muddy in a loud amp. So they fare better for recording then playing live at loud volumes (unless there's a PA system involved).

Overall Impression — 6
I love the bottom end these can give cheap guitars, I hate how these can't handle loud volumes. When you're playing speed metal all you want to do is crank up you're amp (hence the reason you buy a tube amp and guitar with actives) but these really limit the guitar and amp, I think an EQ pedal will probably be the remedy. These are really good in cheap guitars which don't have much of a bottom end but have ridiculous high ends. These same guitars sound sterile with the normal EMG 81 and 85, so Dragonfire pickups work really well for people who want a cheap metal sound. I have to admit though, once the novelty wears of that these are "Cheap active pickups! :O!" These become quite boring and really don't compare to EMGs.

Reliability & Durability — 5
I gave a median 5 because I've never had problems with the pickup but I've only had them for about three months. When contacting the people at Dragon Fire they haven't replied since, so custom support sucks. If these broke or got stolen I wouldn't really care, because they're not on my main rig and never will be. They are nice to have on cheap back up guitars though.

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Did you replace the electronics too? they say they really suck if you don't and i thought maybe that might be a problem your having...
    GerryL1992 wrote: Did you replace the electronics too? they say they really suck if you don't and i thought maybe that might be a problem your having...
    If don't use 25k pots with actives then they will sound awful due to the output they have. There was a guy on youtube who used these and they sounded awful because he didn't shield his wiring...