85 Review

manufacturer: EMG date: 10/25/2012 category: Pickups
EMG: 85
Its sound is, bluntly put, massive. As a humbucker, its made for being a rythm pickup and having a huge crunch to it. And that it does.
 Sound: 8.8
 Overall Impression: 8.8
 Reliability & Durability: 9.3
 Overall rating:
 Reviewer rating:
 Users rating:
reviews (4) 33 comments vote for this gear:
overall: 8.7
85 Reviewed by: EpiExplorer, on june 30, 2009
4 of 5 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 100

Purchased from: GuitarWorld - NY city

Sound: As one of the leading and most famous products of EMG, it definatly lives up to a reputation. Its sound is, bluntly put, massive. As a humbucker, its made for being a rythm pickup and having a huge crunch to it. And that it does. To me, it makes the sound of the guitar much thicker, it vastly improves the sound of a guitar, and gives it a unique tone too. I'm also able to mimic a vast range of band sounds, like Machine Head, Slipknot, Amon Amarth and to a lesser extent Scar Symmetry (cheap but good 7 strings are hard to find). Its got a very strong ''80's heavy metal'' quality to it, making it very appealing to the ears, so to speak. Sounds great for playing anything heavy, makes palm muting sound very chuggy like old Judas Priest or Metallica. It is best paired off with another EMG, possibly an 89 or in my experience an 81, which is a classic pickup set-up. The only thing I'm not comfortable with is its sort of, disdain for the top 3 strings (G B E). They sound incredibly thin, and even with the volume fully up, you cant get rid of the plucking sound which dominates the tone. That said however, in my set up of an Epiphone Explorer with an EMG 81 at the bridge and the 85 at the neck and the toggle switch in the middle, it has a very good solo-ing tone for Machine Head, particularly for their album, the Blackening. This has become my main tone for playing. It actually has a positive effect to distortion, it requires less effort for hammering and improves the crunch by a substantial amount and responds much better than an 1. I'd say keep the pickup in the neck position, it has no use in the bridge because of the confusing sound you get. By confusing I mean it has no real place, its too strong for soloing but with too much bass for rythm playing. // 9

Reliability & Durability: Like the 1 I wrote about earlier, it seems very durable, the only thing needing to be replaced is the battery which lasts very long indeed. Apprently if you have two battery connections it improves the sound somewhat, I havent tried this as it has a large electric fault factor. I can definately say I'd replace it if it did break. May be a pain because of installation waiting periods and the fact that its pretty expensive to buy. But dont let that put you off, if you happen to have 90 for a small, absolutely magical electromagnet, then dont hesitate! // 8

Overall Impression: Its a bit hard to fault, overall, though it does have some problems. Price for one, it costs a lot for the actual pickup, and it does increase the price of guitars with pre-installed pickups by quite a lot, such as when comparing the Ibanez MBM2 (Matt Bachand Signature and the Ibanez MTM2 (Mick Thomson Signature), The MBM2 is around 490 and uses an 81/85 setup, while the MTM2 is more or less the same except from the paint job and the headstock, yet the MTM2 has Ibanez passive V7/V8 pickups, and is around 100 less. As mentioned, I installed this into an Epiphone Explorer, which is a somewhat basic guitar, but the EMG makes it sound as good as something 3 times as expensive. And I wouldnt have it any other way. In all honesty, I couldnt imagine having a guitar without it. It just feels so good to play. Also, it looks killer, very smooth and shiny with that golden logo on it and of course, black goes with everything. In my humble opinion, if you're thinking about buying one then get it, the only thing you need to think about is what its attatched to (or not attatched to). // 9

Was this review helpful to you? Yes / No
Post your comment
overall: 8.3
85 Reviewed by: sea`, on october 25, 2012
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Sound: The EMG 85 is commonly used as a neck position pickup, and for good reason. It has a high output, and a rich, warm low-end which still retains clarity and articulation thanks to a small peak in the highs. On some guitars, this can come across as a bit muddy, however, when paired with the right tonewood, the EMG 85 can really Shine as a powerful, but smooth pickup.

The EMG 85 is best in two applications - clean tones and smooth lead playing. Played clean, it is very balanced and precise, with good picking dynamics coming through (more so than the EMG 81). It lacks the nasally quality of the EMG 81, without the upper-mid peak largely responsible for the 81's infamous "sterility." This makes it ideal for jazzy Chord work and arpeggios, especially when played with effects. However, it won't really manage crunchy blues rhythms or distorted power chords, as the low-end tends to dominate too much.

As a lead pickup, the EMG 85 is fantastic. The clear highs allow for extremely precise playing when under overdrive or gain, and the smooth mids and warm lows really help notes sustain and sing in a way few other pickups do. Although highly distorted lead tones work well with the EMG 85, it'll also do a decent job with more conventional rock or even blues lead provided you don't absolutely require a more traditional tone. // 8

Reliability & Durability: The EMG 85, like most EMG pickups, is cased in epoxy and is not vulnerable to dust, hair and similar foreign matter that can sometimes get stuck in open-coil pickups. EMG pickups are world-class and dependable, built to very exacting standards, and I trust them to sound and function just as well years to come.

As an active pickup, the EMG 85 requires external power from a 9V battery to power its preamp. Battery life is roughly 6 months of daily use, provided that the instrument cable is unplugged when the guitar is not in use, which is quite reasonable all things considered, no worse than any other active pickup, and even a bit better in my experience. The active preamp ensures virtually no hum from the pickup itself, which is a big benefit for high-gain or high-volume playing, and is a worthwhile trade-off. // 9

Overall Impression: The EMG 85 is not my favourite pickup by any means, but where it excels it is more than worthwhile. Although a warm pickup, it lacks the same boosted mid peak common in more traditional pickups, which means that it isn't ideal for certain styles of music. For full, rich clean jazzy chords and arpeggios, or smooth, overdriven and distorted leads, it is near-perfect.

Like other active pickups, the preamp does tend to amplify your mistakes, so adjusting your technique may be required to get the most out of it. Also like other active pickups, you can't expect to use your amp set up for passive pickups - the EMG 85 is particular and getting the best from it requires a bit more than plug-and-play.

The EMG 85 I have came installed from the factory with my LTD MH-1000FR. I have had no reliability issues whatsoever with it, nor with any other EMG pickups I have owned in other guitars. I have never used it as a bridge pickup, however, I have heard it can work better in the bridge than the commonly-paired EMG 81 manages in the neck, and dual EMG 85 guitars are not uncommon. // 8

Was this review helpful to you? Yes / No
Post your comment
overall: 9.3
85 Reviewed by: HelpComputah, on september 20, 2016
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 99

Purchased from: Guitar Center

Sound: I recently bought two EMG 85's to replace the stock pair of EMG 81's in a 2015 ESP LTD M-1000. I've had a love hate relationship with the 81 over the years. In the right axe, it absolutely slays for nearly all sub-genres of heavy metal. However, this particular guitar, with its alder/maple neck-thru construction, thin neck, and Floyd Rose tremolo, is not inherently well suited to the 81. The 81 is known for it's compressed but aggressive attack, with a tight low end and and focused, razor sharp highs. In my M-1000, tuned to standard E, the tone was dominated by the upper midrange, resulting in a clinically tight and thin tone that lacked saturation and warmth when distorted (no, it wasn't the battery's fault).

After many months of hemming & hawing, I finally went ahead with a pickup swap. I opted to stick with active EMGs in order to avoid replacing the rest of the electronics (active pickups require different pots vs. passive pickups). The goal in switching both pickups to the EMG 85 was to beef up all settings on the guitar, and boy did they do the trick. Played through either a Blackstar ID:60 or a Line 6 Spider IV 75, the tone is far more balanced. The biggest improvement is in the lower mid-range, lending a significant broadness to the notes that was sorely missing before. The bass end is bumped up just slightly from the 81 and is a bit rounder now, though (in this guitar at least) it's still plenty tight for thrash riffage. The increased mid-range push of the 85 results in a fuller, more saturated distortion tone. I have a Fender Strat with a DiMarzio Super Distortion in the bridge, and the EMG 85 is somewhat similar in tone with its broad mid-range, slightly relaxed highs, and bottom-end thump. The 85 has an alnico 5 magnet, however, (as opposed to ceramic in the DiMarzio, and in the 81 for that matter), giving the low end a creamy, chewy character that sort-of reminds me of a Duncan JB.

In the bridge position, the 85 is a versatile beast. It has enough classic alnico character to do well with old-school hard rock, but with a ton of output, allowing for plenty of metal mayhem. In the neck position, your mileage may very with the 85. In a bright 24 fret guitar, the 85 is a solid choice. I really like how it has thickened up and smoothed out both the clean and lead tones. In a warm sounding 22 fret axe, it may be a bit much, in which case, an EMG 60 or 81 may be a better bet.

For this axe, the 85 is just right for both positions. // 9

Reliability & Durability: EMGs are well made pickups. They may have a bit more going on electronically given that there is a pre-amp wired in there along with the pickup coils, but the units are housed in a very solid plastic cover protecting the whole works. An open-coil passive humbucker is more at risk for damage comparatively.

The quick-connect system is very nice, making swapping from one active EMG to another fairly easy. I've always thought they looked cool, too, with their matte textured surface, black finish (other colors are available), and metallic logo in the corner. // 10

Overall Impression: A common criticism of EMG pickups (and passive pickups in general) is that they suppress the character of the guitar they are installed in; i.e. an EMG 81 will sound like an EMG 81 regardless of what axe/plank/broomstick with strings you slap it in.

Having owned several guitars with EMGs (with three in my collection currently), I don't feel that this is truly accurate. Sure, the compressed nature and feel of active pickups run on a single 9v battery will always be there, but the voice of the individual guitar in question still must be accounted for. In the past, I had an Epiphone Explorer with an 81 in the bridge that sounded stiff and sterile for whatever reason. In my current collection, my ESP LTD MH-1001 that has an EMG 81 in the bridge is monster. The 81 seems to compliment it's mahogany-bodied, fixed bridge construction to a T, resulting in a tight, crushing tone that still has some body and warmth to it. I also have another LTD M-1000 that has a slightly thicker neck than one in question in this review, and the EMG 81 set that one is aggressive yet balanced, though the fact that it has heavier-guage strings and is tuned to Drop C helps thicken things up as well.

The EMG 85 set has rid the M-1000 I installed them in of the sterile, somewhat anemic tone that plagued it with the stock 81's. It has also given the guitar a truly unique voice compared to my other two LTD's, which is an added bonus IMO. I mostly play metal, and I am really digging the way in with the 85's have fattened up this axe while retaining the necessary edge for aggressive music.

I definitely recommend the EMG 85 in either the bridge or the neck position for anyone looking to add meat to their metal, especially if you already have an EMG 81 in the guitar and find it too thin. // 9

Was this review helpful to you? Yes / No
Post your comment
overall: 9.3
85 Reviewed by: Fenderexpx50, on september 02, 2011
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 75

Purchased from: eBay

Sound: It has a bit more output than the 81 according to EMGs chart. Can't really remember how much, something in the 2-2.4 volt area. It's fairly bass heavy, has good mids, but the treble seems to not be as present as on a passive or the 81. Probably has to due with my guitar being all mahogany and the alnico magnet. I've used 85's in both positions. Does well in all of them really. In this particular guitar in the bridge, it sounds great. It's got a really heavy, dark sound due to the pickups inherent tonal qualities and the thick mahogany body guitar. But it doesn't get muddy at all. It stays crystal clear even under high gain. It's a lot warmer sounding than the 81 which I like. I never cared for the 81 myself. I really like even though it's really bass heavy it can still have a defined sound. At home, I use it with a Vox Valvetronix. Sounds good through that. For times when I actually play out, I've got a Fender Champ 25SE and two overdrive pedals I use. The EMG makes that setup sound really heavy. I can actually go for some 80's metal and almost get there. No fault of the 85, but without real preamp tubes it doesn't sound quite right to me. It hits the amp nice and hard. It also has this tightness about it that no passive pickup I've heard has. Very articulate. It's important to me that the sound be very clear. The only downside is the slight loss of treble you get. // 9

Reliability & Durability: It'll last. It's sealed up in epoxy. Short of doing something crazy, I think it'll be alright. The only issue with these is the battery. I replace mine every few months. They get about 170 hours in two months, but the actual life is 3000 for one. I just always keep a fresh one in there since they're not that expensive. Basically when I change strings I change it too. They don't sound good when the battery goes. // 10

Overall Impression: I really love the huge bass and clarity of the pickup. The installation is a breeze, though the prewired pots might be a bit short for your guitar if the original pots were far away from each other. I put it in a Washburn X-50 Pro in the bridge. Kind of by chance really. I had it laying around and I figured the SH-11 would sound good in my RG. It did and this kicks a-s in the Washburn. It's the only functional pickup on the guitar as of now, the '59 is out of the circuit but still in the guitar. I'm thinking of a 60A for the neck. I've been using EMGs for nearly my whole time playing, not exclusively, but I've always had a guitar with them. They really do offer a specific sound, but if it's what you want you can't beat them. These are made for high gain amps. They're not bad clean either. I've stuck with the 85/60A setup. To me, that's the best. They do cause a slight treble drop, but I just add more when I use this guitar and it's good. But that tightness they have is worth that. EMGs are great if you want to hear yourself as clearly as possible. I'd highly recommend it to someone else. EMGs don't quite have that organic sound a passive does, but they have the clarity and huge sound passive's don't. If you have a second or third guitar and want different tones, these might be worth a look for you. // 9

Was this review helpful to you? Yes / No
Post your comment
Only "https" links are allowed for pictures,
otherwise they won't appear