Talk me out of Active Pickups

wildschwein

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For anyone intersted in the electronics check out this thread:

Especially Bajaman's post here:
 

kLyon

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I had a set on a Strat for years. They were good pickups; nothing wrong with them. But for some reason I can't recall, I went back to the good old noisemakers sometime in there, and then lost the EMG set in a divorce/transcontinental move (along with five years, a gold record, a sense of optimism, and a bunch of other stuff...))
 

wildschwein

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I had a set on a Strat for years. They were good pickups; nothing wrong with them. But for some reason I can't recall, I went back to the good old noisemakers sometime in there, and then lost the EMG set in a divorce/transcontinental move (along with five years, a gold record, a sense of optimism, and a bunch of other stuff...))
I'm off topic now but this one's for you:
 

Grateful Ape

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I was thinking it probably has something to do with the type of rig you might typically find that is used with active pickups, which might employ lots of effects, and therefore might be more SS in nature. So for that reason, the sterility is probably associated more with the rig and not the pickups.

The kind of weird thing is that you now have a number of players who employ some kind of 'always on' pedal (with like the gain set to minimum), which they claim makes things sound warmer or more alive, when they could probably get a similar effect with using active pickups, especially with the onboard EQ controls that they tend to have as an option.
Well....one or two players I know use the SA set, and sound warm and musical to me. But I think the vast majority of us are constantly doing a mental duet with the historical sound of the strat, and that peakiness is what defines 'strat' to many.
 

Peegoo

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I've had a few guitars with active pickups. I have only one now--it's a 1980s Charvel Model 4 with EMGs. I keep it because it has a Floyd and it does that one thing it does very well: the high-gain 80s stooge-rock-hair-band sound that was very popular back then.

The tone is very pristine-clean and somewhat compressed or squished. There's not much "air" (for lack of a better term) in the sound. To my ear, it sounds a bit over-produced for most of the stuff I do.
 

Twang-ineer

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To me, this is just all about how many crayons do you want in your box.. For me, the best sounding pickups are a classic 57 neck and tele bridge pickups, anything else is a compromise, on some level. I do love the EMG sound for what it does, and I am not a high gain kinda guy. But when I want high gain sounds, I grab for an EMG equipped guitar. The better compromise, IMHO is the Gibson/Fishman pickups in the new Prophecy line by Epiphone. Truly the best sounding, lowest noise and most lively pickup set that I have. I would sell every Gibson LP I own before getting rid of that Prophecy.
 

Skyhook

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Looking for your testimonials (for or against) EMG active pickups.
I bought an EMG85 in the 90's and had it installed in a H/H guitar which had coiltaps separately for each HB.

The good:
- It did the metal distortion bit really well.
- Completely silent, even through distortion when hands removed from strings.
- The tone pot had an incredible range! It was almost like an onboard wah pedal.

The bad:
- It was active(of course), so there's always the concern to remember to unplug the guitar as not to drain the battery.
- It was a one trick pony. On dist it did METAL and on clean it did that violent mid-range-y humbucker sound quite convincingly.

The ugly:
- Since it's not a good idea to hook up passives and actives together, the guitar went from H/H to H.
- There was no possibility to coiltap the EMG85 so no more fiddling with Strat-y sounds either.

Bottom line:
The EMG85 put my metal sound through the roof but I also did hard rock and a lot of funk scratching and the likes
so going from H/H to H on config and losing coiltaps in the process was not a price I was willing to pay.
I had the guitar reverted to its original config. The EMG85 later got put into an SG copy(with a busted neck pickup
so no worries about config degradation) but that whole shebang was sold, EMG85 and all, to make way for my Telecaster. :)

Afterword:
I do have a set of EMG:s installed in my 5-string bass though and no thoughts of replacing either the bass or the pickups.
I have 2 other basses with (non EMG)actives as well. Seems to me that actives is more of a success story in the bass realm
than on guitars for me, but YMMV of course.
 

Antigua Tele

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It's too bad, really a shame, that the EMG 81 / 85 have become what everyone assumes all active pickups sound like. Not much EMG can do because they needed the metal community's adoption of their product in order to get off the ground in the first place.

EMG 81/85's have caps buried under their epoxy that give them the EQ curve people come to associate with "active pickups". The only difference between 81 and 85 is one has alnico bars, the other has ceramic bars. An active pickup by nature lacks an audible resonant peak, so their default is "flat" and from time to time I see people say positive things about an electric guitar with a "flat" EQ. In fact I got some fake EMGs from China, and a quirk of their fakeness is that they have a flat response, as if the Chinese maker omitted the caps, or just put in a lower value, and they're really great for cleans, very clear sounding. Bartolini's are highly regarded by bas players, I have a bass with them, they sound flat responsed to me, which would make sense since they're often paired with a three band EQ.

But now actual EMG sells a wide range of active pickups, many if not most of them probably have an EQ that is distinct from the 81/85, including some that promise to sound like a dead quiet passive PAF type, like Fishman Fluence with vastly superior battery life, but most assume they will all just sound like the 81/85.
 

ukepicker

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I got these installed a week or so ago.

Long story short: the screw spacing on the EMG P-sized pickups is slightly different than a minihumbucker. There's not much wood to screw into in my SG, so I ended up fabricating new mounting brackets from a galvanized junction box cover. Then drilled and tapped at the correct location for EMGs. Loooong delay waiting for the tap to arrive (I went with the standard american humbucker screw size).

(Side note: The EMG screw spacing is the same as my Bill Lawrence L-610 (which I believe to be the same as the L500 series. So, if I should decide to go that route, mounting them should be pretty simple.


I installed an 85/85 set.
They are both fantastic! I love how much of my playing dynamics come through. They're pretty mid-heavy, but I expected that. There is still plenty of low end thump and high end chime. MUCH more balanced and dynamic (and less compressed) than the minihumbuckers I've tried. Really, they feel like a nice compromise between P90s and firebirds, minus the noise.
There is nearly 1/4" height difference between the neck and bridge pickups when balancing the output.

I also have an 81, PSA and P60 to try out. Easy swapping, plug-n-play with these things.

I haven't tried different voltages yet, but I will soon enough.

Very pleased. Thanks EMG!
 

ukepicker

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I was thinking it probably has something to do with the type of rig you might typically find that is used with active pickups, which might employ lots of effects, and therefore might be more SS in nature. So for that reason, the sterility is probably associated more with the rig and not the pickups.

The kind of weird thing is that you now have a number of players who employ some kind of 'always on' pedal (with like the gain set to minimum), which they claim makes things sound warmer or more alive, when they could probably get a similar effect with using active pickups, especially with the onboard EQ controls that they tend to have as an option.

I have a Pettyjohn Filter EQ - the Deluxe version with the discreet op amp. It's subtle, but it really adds some special sauce to anything I plug into it.
The EMGs sound great through it.
 

ukepicker

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It's too bad, really a shame, that the EMG 81 / 85 have become what everyone assumes all active pickups sound like. Not much EMG can do because they needed the metal community's adoption of their product in order to get off the ground in the first place.

EMG 81/85's have caps buried under their epoxy that give them the EQ curve people come to associate with "active pickups". The only difference between 81 and 85 is one has alnico bars, the other has ceramic bars. An active pickup by nature lacks an audible resonant peak, so their default is "flat" and from time to time I see people say positive things about an electric guitar with a "flat" EQ. In fact I got some fake EMGs from China, and a quirk of their fakeness is that they have a flat response, as if the Chinese maker omitted the caps, or just put in a lower value, and they're really great for cleans, very clear sounding. Bartolini's are highly regarded by bas players, I have a bass with them, they sound flat responsed to me, which would make sense since they're often paired with a three band EQ.

But now actual EMG sells a wide range of active pickups, many if not most of them probably have an EQ that is distinct from the 81/85, including some that promise to sound like a dead quiet passive PAF type, like Fishman Fluence with vastly superior battery life, but most assume they will all just sound like the 81/85.
Thanks for chiming in, Antigua!

I spent some time with an EMG frequency analysis that you posted in another forum. VERY helpful. And interesting. Thank you.

The PSA pickup I ordered is simply an SA in a soapbar package. I'm interested in what they'll sound like.
 

ukepicker

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Caveat: EMG 85 with drive pedals is weird

Fuzz Face hates them.
Almost all of my other drive pedals sound strange with them.
But they love my SD-1. I never really got along with that pedal (at least not in its unmodded form), but the EMGs sound really nice and natural with it.

I was hoping to be rid of the need for a buffer, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Might be the extra long cable I just switched to, but a buffer makes a difference, just like if they were passives. Even first in the chain.
 

ukepicker

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Oh yeah - and the attack transients* are great!!

I love the sound of fingers or picks on the strings. Very detailed, not over-present or over-compressed. For me, they easily and seamlessly become part of the music. Kinda like an extra-clean P90. The firebirds and minhums I tried did not do that.



*yeah I'm a justnick fan from waaaaay back.
 

11 Gauge

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But now actual EMG sells a wide range of active pickups, many if not most of them probably have an EQ that is distinct from the 81/85, including some that promise to sound like a dead quiet passive PAF type, like Fishman Fluence with vastly superior battery life, but most assume they will all just sound like the 81/85.
That seems like the real strength of active pickups - either a flat response that can have the EQ tailored beyond what a passive with its resonant peak will allow, or for any given resonant peak that would work great for more specific styles of music.

IMO, it would be pointless to assume that EMG designed all of their pickups to sound like the 81/85. Country players used EMG Tele sets in the 80's/90's, and they didn't sound like the 81/85 at all. Same thing with the Strat pickups used by Gilmour and others.

I briefly had access to a Tele with the alnico EMG set in them in the 90's. I'm going by memory, but they didn't sound worlds apart from other passive Tele pickups to me. I certainly didn't find myself thinking they'd be great for high gain metal, either.

...It's probably only been a few times that I've ever tried guitars with the 81/85 set, but from memory, I knew it just wasn't really a great fit for me, because they weren't voiced like traditional PAFs. But it's the same thing with a Seymour Duncan JB or DiMarzio Super Distortion, and I know they make other models that sound more like a trad PAF.
 

Twang Dog 54

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I have and use active and passive and passive+preamp. EMG, Fishman and many others make fantastic sets. They sound great and are less noisy in some environments. Plus, in my own experience, EMG batteries last a very long time.

You'll get responses from folks who love them and folks who "just don't think it's right".

But ask yourself this, would EMG still be selling active pickups 45 years on if they weren't great? Aren't there enough options that they would have been weeded from the market if people didn't love them? I can't guess what you like but I can tell you EMG makes great product.
I have used Emg's since the mid eighty's Both the ceramics and the Alnicos in my stage Tele's. I love the original 60's Tele pkups but they Buzz ,Howl and Squeal. I think the Tele Alnico neck pickup is EMG's best sounding unit. I do this for a living and just don't need the noise. Every time I let people talk me into changing out an EMG equipped stage guitar for something non active, that instrument became a non stage guitar because of noise issues. I also recently installed a set of 1952 EMG Tele in one of my builds, (don't like the bridge Pkup at all). I think EMG got it right the first time.
 

NoTeleBob

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Didn't read the whole thread, @ukepicker, BUT...

I think the EMG's will meet your stated requirement of full frequency and low noise. My only complaint with them is that they seem kind of lifeless to me in sweet harmonics and such. Since most people playing them are doing overdriven/distorted tone, it's not really an issue for their use. It is for me as I play mostly clean.

I'm surprised that you didn't like mini-humbuckers. They are bright (not Firebird bright, but most of the way there) and they are noiseless, all with out active electronics. EDIT: Assuming what you tried was a real Gibson mini or accurate clone and not some Mini/Firebird mix that a few manufacturers seem to sell.
 

ukepicker

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One more quick update:
24v makes a pretty big difference. I tried 9v, 12v, 18v and 24v (from my PP2Plus) and 24v was easily the most full sounding, richer, more articulate. Very similar to how a boost pedal would sound by increasing the voltage. I'm trying to figure out how to make it a more permanent arrangement (stereo cable from the pedalboard, without buying an ES-918. I think I have a voltage doubler on veroboard lying around someplace...).

I've tried each of the pickups in each of the positions, and in all different combinations.

The P60 is probably my favorite for the neck position, big and full and full frequency. It captures the nuance of fingers-on-strings really well. But it seems louder than the 81 and 85 and makes it hard to balance. I also really like the PSA (which is just their SA pickup in soapbar form). It has an even more extended frequency range, less mids and a loads of articulation, but with less character (whatever that means).

For the bridge, I like the 81. It's probably the most like a minihumbucker-like, but with a little more extended frequency range.

I've been spending time with the P60/P81 combination. But will try the PSA(neck)/P60(bridge) one more time before I settle in.

Or maybe I won't settle in. I mean, a total pickup swap takes about 2-1/2 minutes. CRAZY.


One thing I will say: These pickups all have a pretty similar character. Except for the P60. There is something special there. I may order another one so I can have a pair.
 

11 Gauge

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One thing I will say: These pickups all have a pretty similar character. Except for the P60. There is something special there. I may order another one so I can have a pair.
So even the SA is also similar to the 81 and 85?

I really dislike a lot of PAF-type pickups in the neck position, so I was always curious as to if the 60 would work more for my liking, because I prefer a humbucker that's closer to sounding like a Strat single coil.

How would you say that the 60 and SA differ from one another?
 




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