81 review by EMG

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  • Sound: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 10
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 10 Gem
  • Users' score: 8.4 (83 votes)
EMG: 81

Sound — 10
This pickup is pretty badass for heavy stuff. The clean tone is also beautiful if you have clean playing. I understand this pickup isn't for everyone, but it most definitely has a place in hard rock and metal. I'm currently using an ESP ltd deluxe (EMGs) through a Blackstar ht metal 100 and the sound is colossal!! They aren't as versatile as some passives but they are really good at what they do. Haven't had any problems with excess noise. If your not used to actives I recommend giving your ears at least a week of playing to adjust. Experiment with amp settings... etc and you will dial in a badass heavy sound in no time!

You can listen to some of my sound clips using this pickup here (use headphones or good speakers for a better listen):

YouTube preview picture

Reliability & Durability — 10
The pickups are cased so unless you really do some crazy stage antics and throw your guitar or drop something heavy on it, they should last forever. Don't pull a kurt cobain and smash your guitar, unless your either quitting music, which never happens, or your already a rockstar and you can afford endless amounts of new musical equipment. They are actives so make sure to keep an ear out for the signal. If you notice the sound starting to thin out you probably have to switch out the battery. Haven't tried the 18 v mod yet, heard great things.

Overall Impression — 10
I play basically all kinds of rock,classical, blues, jazz, flamenco, everything really. But my favorite and specialty is heavy rock and metal, some shred here and there. EMGs are definitely a good fit for the heavy stuff. I've been playing for 16 years now with tons of experience with gear of all sorts. I own a bunch of EMGs, Seymour Duncans, DiMarzios, Gibsons... and so on. EMGs definitely hold their own. If lost I would probably buy another set. Overall the EMG 81 is a really solid and awesome hard rock/metal pickup. Sounds great in the bridge. Rock on!

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I really hate it when reviewers give something constant 10's. Takes away all credibility. 
    Why? If it is genuinely a "perfect" product in the eyes of the reviewer, why shouldn't they rate it as such?
    I found that when EMG81s were all the rage in metal every guitarists tone started to sound fairly similar. Since newer active pickups & high gain passives have come out there is a bit more diversity. I've had it in one of my guitars but prefer a passive + gain boost setup. The 81 is still great & despite what most people say there is a slight difference in tone depending on what wood your guitar body & neck is made out of however unlike most other pickups you pretty much know what it's gonna sound like when you install one.  
    That's exactly my complaint with EMGs.  I love them in guitars with floating trems (because they don't sound thin, like a normal pup in that use) , but I'm not a fan otherwise.  Not that they sound bad - they just always sound like EMGs, and that's not my style. I have the same complaints about active pickups on basses.  I can't tell you how many times I've thought, "Well this plays better than mine, but it sounds the same.  Maybe I'll just practice more."  So thanks for saving me money, EMG and Bartolini.
    Iv'e been using the EMG 81 for over 5 years on my LTD M-1000 Deluxe and i think it's a kickass pickup for Hard Rock / Metal tones. Iv'e heard a lot of people say that it sounds muddy but i honestly don't think so. Iv'e always got a thick, bright heavy metal tone out of it which cuts through the mix perfectly! and it's totally silent even at high gain...Totally Recommend it! 
    I own and have used the EMG81 for years and years and I really like it, primarily because I never feel like I have to fiddle around too much with tone controls to make it sound big and punchy. However, the versatility when it comes to clean sounds isn't that great in my opinion. The way I went about it was that I installed an EMG89 in the neck, which is basically the same as an EMG85 with the added feature of being able to be put in split coil mode. That opened up some new possibilities for bluesy lead tones and warm sounding cleans in general, and I highly recommend it if you're looking at the 81 but feel like you're getting yourself tonally trapped deep in metal territory.
    I've never had a massive problem with EMGs per-se, but they sound a bit muddy to my taste. I do like them for cleans though, so there's that.
    They're super compressed, and IMO they take away from most of the other tonal qualities of the guitar (wood type, neck type, etc...). All EMG 81s sound super similar. They don't sound bad, but I think if you play heavy music and want a more unique tone, there are better choices.
    Have had EMG's on plenty of my guitars. Over-rated although good for metal music. Not versatile enough tho, cleans lack any warmth, regardless of what EMG pick up used.  You can get much better options now and 10 years ago.