Price paid: $ 220
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Sound — 10
The sound of these pickups is very clear, punchy, and powerful, with a killer attack. The active pickups need to be adjusted closer to the strings than passives, but they don't get muddy at close range as passive pickups do. The 1 in the neck position gives high-output but very smooth and round tone that stays musical throughout the range of the volume and tone knobs, and I find this to be the smoothest sound from these pickups. In the bridge position it's the most aggressive sounding of these pickups, though it doesn't seem to be quite as loud at the 85. The 85 in the bridge has a huge midrange kick that cuts through the mix even when heavily distorted. This pickup will Drive your amp very hard. In the neck position it's not quite as warm as the 1 but it has more of it's own tonal character. In either setup it provides a nice contrast with the 1. Overall each pickup has a unique personality. The 85 is slightly higher output but has more of it's own sound, which moderates it slightly. The 1 seems to show off more of the sound of the guitar, which makes it warmer in the neck and hotter in the bridge, despite it's lower output. The PA-2 is a gain boost that you can adjust from 0-20 dB using a small screwdriver. 20 dB is a huge boost - take your time when adjusting this to find a sound that works for you. It sounds like a clean boost should - simply turbocharging your current sound that you've got dialed in and bludgeoning the front end of your amp with a surplus of volume. This switch is perfect for taking a tube amp from the edge of breakup into full on distortion without using a footswitch. It can also take a clean solid state sound and simply make it louder if you have the headroom required. Every guitar should have one, in my opinion. The important thing to note about this setup is that your volume and tone knobs are not just for decoration any more. Both pickups (but especially the 1) sound musical through the full range of volume and tone settings. You can dial in a huge variety of sounds with a 2 vol/2 tone setup. The pickups blend together beautifully. I definitely suggest installing 2 tone knobs if you use these pickups.
Overall Impression — 10
The EMG KFK Set includes the EMG 81 and 85 pickups, as well as the EMG PA-2 gain boost. The set includes the appropriate (25k) volume and tone pots, as well as screws and springs to mount everything. EMG suggests the 1 in the bridge and the 85 in the neck. I've set it up both ways and currently favor the 1 in the neck and the 85 in the bridge. Overall, EMG's are active pickups, and they sound the part. If your guitar sounds great, they will make it sound great. If it sounds crappy, they won't necessarily hide that. People say that all guitars with EMGs sound alike or that EMG's kill the subtleties of your sound. I have to say that I strongly disagree. I use EMG's for everything from jazz to experimental rock to metal and I think these are some of the most versatile pickups around.
Reliability & Durability — 9
I've played EMGs almost exclusively for about 5 years now. They sound great. My best advice for those considering reliability: do not worry about your batteries! As long as you don't leave your guitar plugged in for weeks on end, they won't wind down. In fact, you would literally have to leave your axe plugged in for 2 months to kill the batteries. If you're that worrried about it, wire up a couple of batteries in parallel to extend the lifespan to twice what you'd normally get. If you play for 2 hours a day, this should give you 3-4 years of battery life. There's one mistake I know of that seems to kill EMGS: Lots of people like to do the 18v or 27v mod to these. (It entails supplying the pickups with 2 or 3 9-volt batteries in series.) This is fine, and it sounds good to a lot of people. If you accidentally reverse the polarity under normal conditions, -9v will not Hurt the pickups but if you reverse it during this mod, -18 will fry them. There is more information on this modification on the UG forum. Also, be careful with the snap-together outputs from the pickups. It seems kind of fragile. Less fragile than one of my awful solder joints but it also doesn't seem as easy to repair. The final verdict on reliability is that anything bad that can happen to your EMG's will probably happen while you're messing around with them rather than playing them, so under normal conditions, reliability is excellent.