81/85 Active Humbucker Pickup Set review by EMG

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  • Sound: 10
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9.3 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.5 (29 votes)
EMG: 81/85 Active Humbucker Pickup Set

Purchased from: The Guitar World

Sound — 10
Firstly, the output level is excellent. The sound is very clear, the 81 in the Bridge has great tone and definition and when Palm Muted it has a really nice crunch. When I play odd Chord shapes, all of the strings come through clear as a bell. Nothing gets lost in the mix. I play in C# and I am currently using a Peavey 6505+ Head with a Peavey XXX 4X12 Cabinet. The 85 in the neck position is only ever used for clean channel and it really helps add more depth and tone to what is a decent but not quite Stellar clean channel on the 6505. I am very happy with the sound.

Overall Impression — 9
I love the fact that the pickups have a very balanced sound overall. There is plenty of low end crunch, but there is also a wealth of Mid and High range tone and the sustain is quite good. For the 85 when in clean channel, it sounds very clear but there is also a softness to the tone, especially when strumming as opposed to picking. I never use the 81 in clean because I absolutely despise the twang. My only gripe about the pickups is the noise level when I'm muting the strings. The fact that the 6505+ is a high gain amp doesn't help either, nor does my lack of a noise suppressor. Small price to pay for Active pickups but one that is easily remedied without too much expense.

Reliability & Durability — 9
The pickups came installed from the factory. I bought a used ESP LTD MH-400NT about 6 months ago and I haven't had an issue yet. The pickups seem to be pretty easy on the 9V battery. They don't seem to suck a lot of juice and the fit and finish impresses me as top notch. There is no unusual noise from the pickups when no notes are being played and they seem like they will last a long time. I have absolutely no apprehension about the reliability and I never feel nervous about having any kind of technical issue on stage.

6 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Gonna try and make the switch to either a used set of these, or dragonfire equivalents.. Always liked dragonfire, they're kick ass. Just not as tight on the bass end.. Switching from their screamers.. How much of a change do you guys think these will make? My amp is a peavey vypyr 15, I know not a very high end amp...
    Picking up my ESP LTD MH350NT with 81n 85b. Do certain amps not work well with certain guitars? I will probably be buying a Line 6 Spider IV 15.
    I love EMG's, and the 81/85 set is not just my favourite. I think we all recognise those tones from so many songs now. I say....the 81/85 set has now become a standard sound, and they sound much the same in what ever guitar they are in, they don't seem to be affected by build like passives. All down to personal taste....
    I added a battery in line to step my EMG's up to 18v. I have the Charvel DC-1 FR, there is just enough room in the pot box for the extra battery. This makes a significant difference, more umph and even easier pinches, but then its subtle, not loosing out on that low end 81 chord grunt. A good way to actually hear the difference is by using another nine volt battery connector, but solder the red and black wires together. So it completes the circuit, so...you can unplug the second battery, add the blanked off connector, male to female, to re-complete the circuit. This way you can hear the difference instantly, it's not massive, it took me about a half an hour to realise that it just plays so much better with the second one. It's like oiling an engine, everything seems to flow better.
    You had to remove your jack and pots? What for???
    Whenever you switch from passive pickups to active pickups in a guitar, you have to change out your jack and pots. Reason being, the pots have to be 25k for active unlike the 500k for active. Also, the jack has to be switched from a mono to a stereo. That way, the pickups are 'activated' whenever the guitar is plugged in. Hope this helps.