EMG 81
jkessel 04/30/2012

EMG 81 : jkessel's user review

« Tight crunchy, but stale tone »

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I tried to avoid active pickups for the longest time, just didn't want to have to deal with batteries and all the negative views on them. Eventually I just bought one and was pleasantly surprised. They do have a different sound from passive pickups but it's in no way a negative difference. They are very tight sounding, low noise, and have a great crunch to them. They are pretty bright so that's all personal taste, but I like it. Hard to describe the stale sound but it's like they're so tight and clean sounding it's almost unnatural, but in a good way. There's no fizziness or any annoying spiked frequencies to these, just overall a great pickup. On cleans they really excel IMO. I like a very bright, sparkly, chimey clean tone and these just nail it. Perfect example is the clean tone off MetallicA's And Justice For All album. They used EMG 81's in the neck into a Roland JC120 for that album and the EMG 81 is a huge part of that tone. Later they switched to using the EMG 60 in the neck but that album is all 81.
Anyways there’s a 18 volt mod that some people are doing, it increases the headroom. The new X series are designed to be like the 18 volt mod but more dramatic, and only run on a single 9 volt. I tried the mod and wasn’t really impressed. I didn’t notice much of a difference at all. It was slight, the overall tone was quieter and thinner, but nothing you’d ever notice in a band setting or multitracking. I’d prefer to stick with 9 volts to save batteries.
I own 3 along with some of the X series and various other EMG pickups, this one is by far my favorite. Check out my 81x review for a little more in depth comparison.