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Electric Guitar Manual

EMG Active Pickups: Different Types

GET INFORMED about the Characteristics of Different Models of EMG Active Pickups for Electric Guitar.

Active Pickups For Electric Guitars Explained

While Dual-Coil Humbuckers were designed to benefit from the hum suppression and sustain, Active pickups were developed to go one step further in terms of sustain and interference elimination.

Passive pickups feature a high impedance output, which can be prone to picking up interference.

In the case of high-gain passive pickups with larger magnets to generate greater output, the power of these magnets can exert a force on the strings, which dampens their free vibration, thus affecting the sustain of the instrument.

The design of the active pickups is based on a pickup that emits a low impedance signal, processed through a preamplifier built into the circuit.

Active Pickups Low Impedance

This 9 volt battery powered preamplifier boosts the output signal to a level that is less affected by electromagnetic interference. Furthermore, the resulting signal has the advantage of not being degraded over cables of a certain length.

Therefore, a stronger output is achieved than that of a passive pickup, through less powerful magnets that can interfere with the vibrations of the strings, and the sustain of the instrument is noticeably increased.

In this way, an unbeatable signal-to-noise ratio is achieved. In addition to obtaining a signal that is not degraded by many meters of cable that exists between our guitar and the amplifier.

Pots for Active Pickups

The use of a built-in preamp also allows for more powerful and precise tone control than the standard passive circuits found in most guitars.

However, replacing passive pickups with a set of active pickups involves some difficulties. To begin with, the wiring and potentiometers of a passive circuit would not work for an active circuit. Since the 25 Kiloohm pot is the standard for active pickups. Passive pickups usually need 250K or 500K pots.

Pots for Active Pickups

In addition, we will need enough space in the cavity of the potentiometers, to accommodate the battery that powers the preamplifier.

If to access the cavity we must remove the strings and the pickguard as in the Stratocaster models, it would not hurt to place a long-lasting battery. Since removing the strings and pickguard to change the drums is not something we want to do often. However, a good 9 volt battery rarely lasts less than 10 or 12 months.

Always Disconnect the Guitar Jack

It also doesn’t hurt to always remember to disconnect the plug from the guitar when we finish playing, because this will consume the battery, significantly reducing the useful life of the battery.

Always Disconnect the Guitar Jack with Active Pickups

Due to all these peculiarities, their different output levels and other electrical properties, it is generally not possible to mix active and passive pickups in the same instrument.

Active pickups pick up the vibration of the string so faithfully and clearly that it hardly detects the vibrations coming from the wood of the guitar. For this reason, the resulting sound in guitars with different woods is hardly perceptible when it comes to active pickups.

Precisely the precision of this type of pickups, can be “cold” or unnatural, as it happens with the precise Digital Delays pedals in comparison with the Analog Delays. But really they are just different effects, and in the case of active or passive pickups they are not better than each other, they are just different. Each one with its qualities and different characteristics, active pickups being highly appreciated in genres such as Hard Rock or Heavy Metal.

Active pickups are very suitable for extreme high-gain sounds without the consequent noise problems, and very useful in studio recordings and on stages with a large display of lighting that could generate interference, such as the case of David Gilmour and his spectacular lighting in live.

Red Stratocaster of David Gilmour

EMG Active Pickups: Different Types

The first to develop active pickup technology was the American brand EMG.

Although many brands currently sell active pickups, EMG remains the market leader in this type of pickup. Used by many guitar brands such as Dean, Epiphone, BC Rich, ESP, Godin, Jackson, Schecter, Cort, Ibanez, or even Fender and Gibson.

As it happens with most pickups, EMG active pickups can be found in different finishes to adapt to the aesthetics of the guitar in question, or to our personal taste.

Different Finishes on the EMG Active Pickups

EMG Humbucker

EMG 81

The first model marketed by the Santa Rosa (California) brand was the popular EMG 81. A high-performance double pickup, to the delight of the most forceful musicians. This model mounts a ceramic magnet and is characterized by its great sustain and high output level.

The EMG 81 is very common to find it in the bridge position, but some guitarists like Kirk Hammett also mount it in the neck position.

EMG 85

For greater versatility and a more organic and docile sound, we have the EMG 85 mounted with alnico V magnet. With this pickup model we can play from Blues to Metal, and it would be the equivalent of a powerful classic Humbucker in active format. Its most common placement would be in neck position, but its behavior in bridge position would be equally optimal.

EMG ZW 81 85 Zakk Wylde Pickups set

If we need more reinforcement for bridge position, we can install an EMG 81 in that position. One of EMG’s best-known pickups sets, made popular by guitarist Zakk Wylde. Although the musician has his own set of custom pickups (EMG Zakk Wylde) on the market.

EMG 60

On the other hand, in the neck position we can also consider the EMG 60 with ceramic magnet. In this way we will obtain the great sustain and output typical of good active pickups, but probably with the best clean sound of the entire brand.

For a warmer sound, we have the EMG 60A with alnico V magnet. This model would also be optimal for bridge position, with a more classic and controllable sound.

EMG Single Coil

In a single coil pickup format, we have the EMG S with a ceramic magnet for a high-output Stratocaster sound.

And the EMG SA with alnico V magnets for a more balanced output and vintage Stratocaster-style tone. Used by David Gilmour on his Red Strat (EMG DG20 David Gilmour Set).

For a classic HSS setup, we can opt for an EMG 85 in bridge position, along with two EMG SA. This is the setup Mark Knopfler uses on his Pensa Shure MK 1.

Pensa Shure MK 1 of Mark Knopfler

On the other hand, if we need a configuration with even more punch, we can opt for an EMG 81 in bridge position, along with two EMG S such as the EMG KH20 Kirk Hammett set.

EMG Pickups for Telecaster

For classic Telecaster style sounds we have the EMG RT and the EMG FT with alnico magnet. And for more aggressive tones we have the EMG RTC and the EMG FTC with ceramic magnet.

EMG also has humbucking models in a P90-style housing (EMG P60) and in a mini-humbucker format (EMG M50).

Swap EMG Pickups

Swapping different models of EMG pickups is a breeze. Since its installation without welding allows you to simply disconnect the installed one, and connect the new one.

Unless they are coil split system like the EMG 89. This model integrates the sound of an 85 and an SA in the same pickup.

EMG Solderless pickups

Seymour Duncan Active Pickups

Seymour Duncan is a mythical brand of passive pickups, but also sells high quality active pickups. Consequently, it forces the EMG brand to introduce improvements to its most legendary pickups so as not to be left behind, such as the X series.

This series takes its name from its new X preamp, which offers greater dynamic and organic response, to bring the active sound ever closer to the qualities of the passive sound.

Different Types of Guitar Pickups