I'm not sure why I didn't review this pickup earlier, I've had it in a lot of used guitars I've previously owned without consciously knowing it was the S pickup that was actually in the guitar! I can remember this pickup specifically in the neck position of an early 90's Gibson SG'90 that I had once owned and now regret ever selling. Of course, that's the circle of life. It was a great guitar, and had the diamond inlays on the fretboard like you'd see on nothing now except the overpriced Gibson supreme models.
Anyhow I remember this pickup (as being in the neck) being a really clean pickup when on clean with no possibility of breakup unless you overdrove the amp a bit. And once in the distorted mode I also remember the distortion sound to be quite clear, not thick, maybe a bit piercing but it wasn't shrill nor was it muddy. A very transparent or shall I say balanced sound? Most people compare the word sterile and lifeless with sounds like these, cause it's so transparent it doesn't seem to have any mojo of it's own. Though that may be true, the transparency part, not the lifeless part, it doesn't mean it can't be worked with! I liked my EMG S when i had it. It was an overall great pickup and noiseless too!
A little background. I have used one of these in the middle position of an Ibanez rg550 along with 2 EMG 81's for about 6 years now. That alone should attest to the staying quality of this pickup. I must say up front. I have never had any issues with this pickup or any other emg pickup. No cutting out or weird noises or whatever. In fact these are the quietest pickups I have ever used. I feel like people tend to forget this about EMG's. They are super quiet compared to other pickups.
The EMG S is a very different type of single coil. It's true that it's very sterile. People act like that's a bad thing. But for some styles this is fine. A lot of blues and jazz players love these for the clarity and sterile sound they produce. Make no mistake though, it is still very much a single coil. And it quacks like any single coil should.
For cleans it helps to have two of them running at once, or maybe an 81 split running together with one. By itself it can have a tendency to lack bass and be a treble monster. These aren't super warm in the first place. But make no mistake they are wonderful at taking effects and not imparting their own sound into the mix. The clarity and pureness of sound comes in handy when you have a lot of delay or effects going on.
Can't recommend enough, but make sure this is what sound you want. These aren't warm or organic pickups. You trade off that warm vintage sound for clarity and noiselessness. It's just a different flavor of strat pickup. Good for metal, blues, and jazz in my opinion. Not much else.
EMG is a well known company when it comes to active pickups. With EMG pickups you get a truly modern pickup design that puts out modern tones. They use an active battery powered preamp to amplify the signal they get from smaller magnets to help give you quiet pickups that have big tones. The EMG S is one of their single coil sized pickups. To do this you will need to wire in a 9v battery to power the preamp otherwise the pickups wont work. With EMG pickups they use a rail magnet that is pretty weak. With this weak rail magnet you get two advantages. It does not produce must magnetic drag on the strings. This drag would lower your sustain and can even pull your notes out of tune if your magnet is too powerful. With the long rail magnet there is no dead zones in the magnetic field. On some pickups if you bend the string away from the pole piece you may get a slight loss in signal because the string is farther away from the magnet. The tone of this pickup is based on that of the classic EMG 81. It has the raw bright sound that you get from an 81 in the size of a single coil. The EMG S is a great pickup for most everything. It has a bright sound like a single coil yet has the power of a full sized humbucker. It has the high end searing grind that you get from an EMG 81 and because of the active preamp the pickup what lots of output so it can drive most any amp. Single coil sized EMG pickups arent the most popular pickups on the market but there is a market for the people who need them. If you are looking for a single coil sized EMG that has lots of high end tone and the power of a humbucker this pickup is for you.
The EMG S is very similar to being a single coil sized version of the EMG 81. This is the original ceramic magnet version of the pickup, and it’s an active pickup which means it runs off of a power source – in this case, it’s a 9V battery.
The EMG S is a pickup that’s getting a bit dated today, but it is still a decent pickup. It’s housed in an epoxy housing that allows the strings to always be under the magnets and never fade out like some of the regular single coils do when bending. The biggest benefit is that it can be run without a buffer during long cable runs thanks to the built in active preamp. This also helps keep it very quiet and avoid RF interference, especially during live situations.
I said that this pickup is similar to the EMG 81, but that doesn’t mean they’re exactly the same. It’s got that bright grind going on like the EMG S, and it’s a fairly hot pickup thanks to the preamp, but it still has that single coil tone going on. The treble is fairly strong, the midrange is decent and the bass seems to be even to maybe pushed back a little bit. I find this works best in the bridge of a strat. In the neck, it goes too piercing for me, but some people really like that bright, clean quality for soloing.
If you’re looking for a single coil sized EMG, this is a pretty good candidate. It can be a bit “linear” sounding and somewhat compressed at times, but it still delivers some good tones, especially in the bridge and especially for heavy metal. If you find it to be too bright, get the SA which has the Alnico magnet inside of it. It’s a good bit fatter and more even sounding.