81C/85A Review

manufacturer: Dragonfire date: 02/13/2013 category: Pickups
Dragonfire: 81C/85A
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).
 Sound: 8.5
 Overall Impression: 8
 Reliability & Durability: 7
 Overall rating:
 Reviewer rating:
 Users rating:
reviews (2) 7 comments vote for this gear:
overall: 6
81C/85A Reviewed by: unregistered, on august 05, 2010
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 88

Purchased from: eBay

Sound: 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). // 7

Reliability & Durability: 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. // 5

Overall Impression: 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. // 6

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overall: 9.7
81C/85A Reviewed by: guitarplayer369, on february 13, 2013
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 30

Purchased from: TnT Guitars.

Sound: I hate to say this, but to an extent I agree with the review above me. I did some YouTube video research and listened to the way these PUs sounded. Actually unlike his thoughts I really liked the way they sound. This is an awesome PU set to put in a budget guitar and make it sound 1,000 times better. I would not put these PUs in a heavy wood like mahogany, it would make them sound too dark and bassy. On the other hand, in a light wood like basswood, alder or even agathis these PUs would work and sound great since those woods have less bass tone and more treble. They have great out put, just make sure you get these PUs as close the strings as possible without them hitting and you're set. They have a little less brightness, lower mids and more bass than a real EMG 81 and 85 set which is perfect for what I was looking for. The rhythms they sound awesome, plenty of chunk, enough highs to give you presents, a lot of low end and lower mids for that killer metal rhythm sound. For leads they could be decent, but you may want to tweak with your amp to get the right sound. If I were to use this guitar live I'd definitely have a boost petal to increase my mids and highs or have a decent head with a separate lead channel already set that way. // 10

Reliability & Durability: I've had these PUs for a while, they are well built, the wires are sturdy enough, but unlike EMG you have to know how to solder to install these. Actually I'd rather have PUs soldered than use the wireless system. For some reason once everything was wired correctly I had no noise or ground loop issues at all. These things are dead silent, but beware because if you use a noise gate you may want to looses it a bit because you'll lose substain and get your note will die fast if a gate is set too high with these pickups. // 9

Overall Impression: I bought these to upgrade a cheap BC Rich Warlock Bronze series guitar and I also added lock tuners, a new 3 way switch and also sand the gloss off the back of the neck and now this guitar went from a step above a piece of junk to something I can record with and use as a backup guitar if needed. I put the 81 in the bridge and the 85 in the neck, but I've heard from some forums that if you use the 85 in the bridge you get an even better sound, but I've yet to hear a posted sound track or video to draw that conclusion. I paid $100 for the BC Rich used and I didn't want to invent a lot for money in it and these PUs more than did the trick. If you're looking for a great budget active PU set and you have a guitar that is built with a lighter wood then this is the to go. If you're looking for an EMG sound you will be disappointed. It sounds very little like a real EMG, but for what I do I actually like this PU more than I would an EMG. // 10

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