Top EMG Pickups – Guide & Comparison
Guitar pickups are part of the mandatory playing gear if you wish to enhance your instrument’s sound and volume and create unique tones. So, if you’re in the market for the best EMG pickups, various models might be suitable for you. After carefully researching the offer, we reckon that the EMG ZW Zakk Wylde Signature Humbucker Guitar Pickup Set represents an excellent choice. The product is designed by the famous Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde. The set includes both the EMG 81 and the 85 active pickups. Both deliver long shaft volume and tone controls and feature a solderless install system. The pickups are perfect for various music genres, including heavy metal and hard rock. The 81 pickup is one of the company’s most popular products that started a revolution. It uses powerful ceramic magnets and close aperture coils. If it’s unavailable or you don’t consider this item as being the best EMG pickup for your needs, a good alternative would be the JH James Hetfield Signature Guitar Pickup Set.
Our Top Choice
The kit contains two of the company’s most popular pickups, the EMG-81 and EMG-85, each delivering unique sound distortions, suitable for various musical genres, from blues to heavy metal. The package comes with all necessary installation accessories, springs and screws included.
Keep in mind that the kit is primarily designed for those who own Les Paul electric guitars and might not work perfectly on other brands.
Designed to meet the needs of the eccentric Ozzy Osbourne guitarist, Zakk Wylde, this EMG set is one of the most popular in the pickup market. Everything is solderless for easy installation.
Available in various cool colors, including gold and chrome, this EMG pickup is designed to stand out from the crowd. The solderless design ensures easy installation on most types of electric guitars. This active pickup delivers a tone that has the punch and clarity of a passive pickup.
You will have trouble installing it given that the instructions are not very clear. The screws that adjust the pickup onto the pick-guard are also hard to screw in.
This signature James Hetfield pickup set provides an active tone with the clarity you would normally get from a passive one. It is good-looking and the hard case is sturdy enough to support wiring.
Also To Consider
Designed in collaboration with reputed bass guitarist Terence Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath, this pickup is perfect for enhancing the sound in many music genres, not just metal and heavy rock. It is easy to install thanks to the solderless design and will eliminate the noise.
Although we liked the way this pickup alters the sounds, the instructions on how to perfectly install it could be clearer. The On/Off switch should be replaced too.
Designed to meet the needs of nostalgic bass guitarists, this passive pickup is perfect for creating a vintage tone. It eliminates the hum and noise mainly associated with bass pickups from the 1970s.
10 Best EMG Pickups (Updated Reviews) in 2020
Going through multiple EMG pickups reviews, there are many models worth talking about as the brand has been manufacturing some of the most iconic pickups in the musical industry. Showcased below you can find a list with a few of the most sought-after and affordable EMG pickups, together with their in-depth reviews, so you can easily find the product that best matches your guitar playing style.
- 1. ZW Zakk Wylde Signature Humbucker Guitar Pickup Set
- 2. JH James Hetfield Signature Guitar Pickup Set
- 3. Geezer Butler Signature PJ Bass Guitar Set
- 4. DG20 David Gilmour Active Pickup Guitar Set
- 5. EMG 81 Active Guitar Humbucker Bridge/ Neck Pickup
- 6. H4 Passive Electric Guitar Humbucker Pickup
- 7. ACS Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Pickup
- 8. J Active Bass Guitar Pickup
- 9. EMG 60 Active Humbucker Guitar Pickup
- 10. PJ Active Bass Guitar Pickup Set
- Our Comprehensive Buying Guide
- Frequently Asked Questions
1. ZW Zakk Wylde Signature Humbucker Guitar Pickup Set
There is no doubt that Zakk Wylde is a legend, known for his remarkable stage presence. He earned his reputation as a heavy metal junkie by playing alongside Ozzy Osbourne and in bands like Black Label Society.
The guitarist has always used EMG’s active pickups and now you can try them on your own with the help of the ZW Signature Humbucker Set. The set contains two of the brand’s most popular pickups, EMG-85 and EMG-81, similar to the ones used on his signature Bullseye Les Paul guitar.
The installation is easy and fast thanks to the solderless design, which means that all you have to do is use the included Quik-Connect cables.
The EMG-81 pickup has a high output and was specifically designed for the lead guitarist. It works best for high volume overdrive and is perfect for playing power rock’n’roll. You’ll get a razor-sharp attack and incredible sustain for your guitar solo.
The package includes all necessary accessories to easily mount this set of two EMG pickups on your favorite guitar and start playing like a true rock’n’roll star.
The EMG-81 is the company’s most popular pickup and was specifically designed for the lead guitarist Zakk Wylde. It is great for high volume overdrive.
On the other hand, the 85 model has more measurable output than the other pickup, while featuring a different string interface and frequency response. It works best if you like the natural distortion that usually comes from overdriving the front end of the amp.
Thanks to the solderless install system, all you need to do is use the included Quik-Connect cables and you’re ready to go.
The kit is aimed to meet the playing needs of Les Paul guitar owners. Some other signature kits may feature the same pickup models but with other electronic configurations.Buy from Amazon.com for ($199)
2. JH James Hetfield Signature Guitar Pickup Set
The James Hetfield collaboration with EMG started in early 2009 when the songwriter and guitarist from Metallica, James Hetfield contacted the Californian company and asked if it could create a stealth looking set that captures the clarity and the punch of a passive pickup while retaining the active tone that shaped a generation.
The new JH pickup series is available in six beautiful colors, including gold and black chrome to easily stand out from the crowd and turn any decent guitar player into a true rockstar. The set consists of the JH-N and the JH-B pickups, one for the neck, and the other one for the bridge of your electric guitar.
The JH-N features individual ceramic bobbins and poles that come with a larger core and are taller than the classic 60. This will produce higher output and a fuller low-end in the neck position. On the other hand, the JH-B features steel pole pieces.
This set of two pickups is designed in collaboration with the legendary songwriter and lead guitarist from Metallica, James Hetfield, so you should expect high-quality designs.
The solderless installation system components make sure you easily install the pickups on your electric guitar even if you’re not familiar. There are multiple diagrams available on EMG’s website so you can see how it’s done step by step.
The US-made caps are available in various colors, including gold, brushed gold, and chrome, so you can stand out from the crowd whenever you’re playing your instrument.
The two pickups in the set can be used for the neck and the bridge of your guitar, each being responsible for a unique sound and vibration.
Those who were expecting to get the same high pitch as an active pickup might be disappointed as both of these devices were designed to resemble more the EMG’s classic passive pickup.Buy from Amazon.com for ($249)
3. Geezer Butler Signature PJ Bass Guitar Set
Going through this EMG pickups review, you can easily tell why the new Geezer Butler Signature PJ set has remained one of the public’s favorites for years. Created alongside legendary artist Geezer Butler, this set is channeling the early Black Sabbath tone, featuring a new EMG vintage-style passive pickup with a few modern touches.
The solderless set uses Alnico 5 pole pieces and custom-wound coils to deliver the right amount of grit and punch whenever playing your bass guitar. The PJ jet also uses Alnico 5 poles and comes with two custom-wound split-coils that will eliminate the noise and hum usually associated with the bass pickups from the 1970s.
As a result, you will get close to the earlier stages of Geezer Butler’s career with a bass tone that is deep and tight solid low end, similar to the one you will hear on “Said Geezer”, “Iron Man” or “Paranoid”. As we previously mentioned, this is also a solderless design that ensures easy installation on many types of bass guitars.
It was created alongside legendary bass guitarist Geezer Butler and channels the earlier tones he would usually play in the first years with the band Black Sabbath.
This is a passive pickup that features a rather vintage tone, which means it is perfect for enhancing your guitar solos when playing soft rock, soft metal, and other music genres popular a few decades ago.
The solderless install system allows you to easily mount the pickup on most bass guitars and enjoy a cool sound.
It eliminates the noise and hum that is usually associated with vintage bass pickups from the early 1970s.
The instructions provided on how to install the pickup could be clearer, especially since not all those that use these devices are professional guitar players.
One of the things that could use improvement in the future is the volume knob. It is now a simple On/Off switch which doesn’t leave much room in-between.Buy from Amazon.com for ($179)
4. DG20 David Gilmour Active Pickup Guitar Set
Member of the iconic rock group Pink Floyd, David Gilmour has been using the same EMG system for many years on his main red Strat. The DG20 set includes ivory SA single-coil pickups, wired with an EXG guitar expander, and master volume on a unique and luxurious White Pearl pickguard with white knobs.
The EMG-EXG guitar expander circuit will increase the bass and treble while reducing the mids, which means it represents an excellent choice for chord definition at higher volumes. On the other hand, the SPC makes the SAs sing by boosting the mids and turning single coils into a full humbucking.
The product uses Alnico loaded single-coil pickups and presence control and comes complete and ready to be mounted to your guitar. If you have trouble installing it on your own, you can check the EMG pickups wiring diagram available on the manufacturer’s website, complete with step-by-step instructions and easy sketches to guide you through the installation process.
The device contains a custom 11-hole beautiful White Pearl pickguard with white knobs that will surely make your guitar stand out from the crowd.
It delivers increased treble and bass frequencies, as well as enhanced earthiness and mid-range so you can enjoy unique sounds no matter the music genre you are playing.
The product is shipped complete and ready to be mounted on your guitar. It works on various models and brands of guitars and the manufacturer offers various useful diagrams on its website to help you install the pickup on your own, without the help of a professional.
The system was designed and used on various occasions by one of the most iconic guitarists of all times, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd.
Keep in mind that you’ll need a place to install a battery in and make the product run. Thus, if your guitar doesn’t come with a special space to put a battery, prepare to drill some holes and make a cavity in your instrument.Buy from Amazon.com for ($299.99)
5. EMG 81 Active Guitar Humbucker Bridge/ Neck Pickup
Available in a series of cool colors, including gold, red, and black, the 81 model from EMG is one of the brand’s most popular and the one that started a revolution.
It uses powerful ceramic magnets and close aperture coils so that the tone you’ll get will feature detailed intensity and fluid sustain. The humbucking pickup is traditionally used in the bridge position of your guitar but if you use it also in the neck position, you’ll get a blistering sound.
For those who are looking for the perfect pairing, you can purchase the classic 81/85 setups or the versatile 81/60 combo. And, thanks to the manufacturer’s solderless installation, you can easily swap your guitar pickups and achieve new sounds, according to the music genre you’re playing.
The package contains all necessary accessories for easy and fast mounting, including 2 connect cables, one battery cable, one output cable, one stereo output jack, a battery busy, mounting screws and springs, and others.
It represents one of the brand’s most popular pickups and has started a revolution ever since it first appeared on the market.
It uses powerful ceramic magnets and close aperture coils to deliver outstanding and unique sounds, as well as intensity, and fluid sustain.
Unlike other pickups designed solely for the bridge, the EMG 81 can be used in both neck and bridge positions to achieve blistering sounds, suitable for various music genres, including hard rock and heavy metal.
The product is delivered with a full set of accessories so you can easily mount it on any type of guitar.
Not all guitars have pickup holders on the body, so you might have to drill screw slots for the pickup to fit your guitar model. The process will take some time and, above all, knowledge so if you’re new to the business, we suggest opting for a different pickup.Buy from Amazon.com for ($89)
6. H4 Passive Electric Guitar Humbucker Pickup
This humbucker pickup designed for the electric guitar combines the power of the active EMG 81 device and the soul of a passive PAF. It is mainly designed to create a big rock or heavy modern guitar sound, and this is why it remains one of the public’s favorites.
The pickup produces a well-balanced tone, featuring crunchy highs, glassy mids, and tight bass response. It is often used in the bridge position of the guitar where it delivers sweet harmonics, an excellent range, and great responsiveness but you can also install it on the neck.
The product utilizes over-wound coils filled with ceramic bar magnets that are fully shielded to reduce noise and hum, allowing you to enjoy a clear sound, whenever you play.
Similar to many other pickups from the brand, the HP one features a solder-free installation that is easy and effective. The included diagrams show the setup for multiple scenarios so you can be up and ready in about half an hour.
If you’re looking for a product that will give you a heavy modern and big rock guitar sound, this is the perfect pickup for you.
It combines the power of the active EMG-81 pickup and the soul of a passive one to deliver a unique sound and enhanced possibilities to distort it, according to your preferences.
The pickup is mainly used in the bridge position of the guitar to deliver incredible responsiveness, an excellent range, and great harmonics.
Thanks to the provided diagrams and the solderless design, the pickup can be easily installed on your guitar in about half an hour, even if you’re not a professional player.
Although not a product flaw, this pickup can be sent with the wrong wiring gear which won’t work with your guitar. If that happens, we suggest you contact the seller’s customer service and sort things out.Buy from Amazon.com for ($99)
7. ACS Acoustic Guitar Soundhole Pickup
Available in four colors, including gold and red, this pickup was designed to shine on stage and stand out from the crowd. It represents the perfect solution for players who are looking for a great amplified acoustic guitar tone without any feedback issues.
The pickup is used by both champion finger-style players and rockers, which means it is versatile and easy to work around with a little bit of practice.
It is created to offer a broad frequency range and authentic acoustic tone with just the right volume to play with a band in front of a decent crowd. Therefore, you won’t need to switch from a practice pickup to a more powerful one whenever you’re playing with your friends.
What we also liked about this accessory is that it employs a unique internal preamp perfectly tailored for the phase and frequency response of an acoustic guitar.
The product is used by both rockers and those who still have a long way ahead until becoming professional musicians, which means it is versatile and easy to understand.
It was created to retain a brilliant top-end favored in acoustic guitar tones.
Unlike similar items, this one offers a broad frequency range and an authentic acoustic tone that delivers the right volume whether you want to play alone or alongside a band.
It represents the perfect choice for anyone looking for improved amplified acoustic guitar tones without worrying about any feedback issues.
The pickup is a great value for your money but might not reproduce the extreme high frequencies that a microphone would usually pick up.
Even though it was created for acoustic guitars, the sounds and tone it delivers are more similar to the ones of an electric guitar, which may not be suitable for all users.Buy from Amazon.com for ($149.99)
8. J Active Bass Guitar Pickup
Available in a matte shade of black, this pickup features sweeping harmonic overtones, delivering a quiet operation and minimizing sounds and interferences.
It has the classic jazz bass characteristics with a broader tonal frequency range which adds clarity and dimension to the sounds you’re playing. Also, due to its very low ratio of resistance to inductance, the pickup increases the low-end response.
One of the things that we appreciated the most about the pickup is its versatility. Whether you play with frets or fretless, preparing for a studio recording or planning a live show, this bass pickup will help you enjoy an incredibly full sound.
The radiused ceramic bar magnet will allow the tone to keep a tight mid-range punch and dynamic high-end response.
Lastly, most of the brand’s pickups are easy to install thanks to the Quik-Connect header and mating cable so you’ll be ready to practice your guitar skills in less than half an hour.
The product is delivered with all necessary accessories to ensure easy installation thanks to EMG’s Quik-Connect header and mating cable. For experienced users, the entire installation process shouldn’t take more than half an hour while those who are at the beginning should be ready in about one hour.
This pickup is one of the most versatile you’ll find on the market and is suitable to play a wide array of music genres. It is perfect for live shows, studio recordings, and those who play on either fretted or fretless models, allowing for a full sound.
It features classic jazz bass characteristics to add a touch of clarity and dimension to any sounds you’re playing.
This pickup also increases the low-end response for those looking for such a feature.
As much as we would want to find a flaw in this EMG pickup, we can’t think of anything that bothers us enough. The sound is clear, the product is easy to install, and what’s most important, it is suitable for many musical genres.Buy from Amazon.com for ($179)
9. EMG 60 Active Humbucker Guitar Pickup
Although the EMG-60 features the close aperture coils filled with ceramic magnets to deliver a brighter attack, the pickup also boasts plenty of output with cut-through high end and clarity.
James Hetfield’s signature ESP models use the EMG-60 due to their distinctive crunch, which means it may be a viable option for you as well. Boasting a distinctive tone for soloing, the 60 pickup works great as a clear and fat lead pickup.
You might find the resonance slope of the device steeper but we guarantee the peak is higher than many other similar models from EMG.
It is considered as one of the most versatile humbucking pickups from the manufacturer even though it doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. Thus, if you’re in the market for cheap EMG pickups that are also versatile and powerful enough for guitar solos, the 60 model represents the suitable choice for you.
The average battery life of this product is about 3,000 hours, more than enough to exercise your playing skills with a set of killer solos.
Despite that it isn’t given enough credit, you are looking at one of the best and most affordable EMG pickups that were ever built. It is versatile and suitable for a wide array of music genres.
The product comes equipped with all necessary accessories to easily install it on your favorite electric guitar in less than an hour.
It is used in one of James Hetfield’s signature ESP models thanks to its distinctive crunch and sound clarity.
Unlike other models, the EMG-60 seems to come with a lot of hardware to install which may be a struggle to fit inside an old guitar without having to drill for additional space. Therefore, expect to make some compromises if you want the pickup to work right.Buy from Amazon.com for ($98.98)
10. PJ Active Bass Guitar Pickup Set
Available in two color combos, red and black, this product provides bass players with the necessary flexibility and a wide range of tonal combinations to experiment with sounds and create unique, high-quality music.
The EMG’s original P adds warmth and an incredible low-end punch which many people will love. On the other hand, the LJ delivers a tight mid-range with a dynamic high-end response for a well-defined attack.
The two items in the set can be used separately or in combination to offer endless options that accommodate both traditional and modern playing styles, from bluegrass to soft rock and heavy metal. You may also use the device for tight slap funk or even Motown grooves.
One of the best things that we liked about this lightweight pickup is that it won’t make too much noise, allowing you to focus better on what you’re playing. Moreover, the solderless wiring harness included ensures easy installation.
The product benefits from EMG’s Quik-Connect technology that allows you to easily and rapidly install the pickup on most bass guitars.
It is versatile and suitable for playing a wide array of music genres, from funk to rock and heavy metal, which means it represents an excellent choice for most bass guitar enthusiasts.
The set contains two pickups – the P and the LJ that can be used separately or in combination to offer endless options and unique sounds.
The original P pickup adds warmth to the sound while the LJ is known for its dynamic high-end response.
The dimensions of this EMG pickup are slightly bigger and longer than other brands which means you may have to sand the bottom edges of the pickup to get it to fit on your bass guitar. Also, keep in mind that the kit doesn’t include any knobs.Buy from Amazon.com for ($179)
Our Comprehensive Buying Guide
If you’re looking for a cheap EMG pickup, several models on the market will get the job done without having to empty your piggy bank for them. No matter your budget, we reckon that these useful tips will help you bring home the perfect accessory for your guitar so you can experiment with new sounds and music genres, improving your playing skills.
Single coil vs. double coil
Keep in mind that different pickups will create different tones, depending on the position of the accessory on the guitar, and the style of the pickup. Even two identical pickups can sound differently when placed on different guitar segments, so you need to pay close attention to a series of details to choose the perfect accessory for you.
Most double-coil pickups are humbucking and they will produce warmer tones than single-coil items. On the other hand, single-coil pickups will generate a brighter, clearer sound, so it is up to you to pick the one that will best match your playing style and help you enhance your on-stage performance.
To give you an insight on how to easily identify these two pickup options, consider the playing styles of two of the biggest guitarists in the world – Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. The first one played with single coils and achieved a “dirtier” sound than the latter who is known for his humbucker preference.
At the end of the day, you choose the item that you think best embodies the sound you’re looking to reproduce with your guitar.
Active vs. passive pickups
There is an entire debate on which type of pickup to choose. Some guitarists swear by passive pickups, while others like the versatility and the unique sound and effects produced by the active ones.
Generally speaking, you’ll mainly see passive pickups installed on most guitars with coils of wire around magnets that don’t require a source of power to function. On the other hand, active pickups come with a battery-powered preamp and deliver a higher output while minimizing the noise.
Depending on the music genre you’re playing, you might find that a high output will be too much for blues, bluegrass or even soft rock. If your tone feels weak, you might want to replace the popular passive pickup with an active one but if your sound is too distorted, a lower pickup would be the best option for you.
Which acoustic guitar set should you pick?
EMG has dozens of great models specifically designed to satisfy the needs of its picky customers but ultimately it’s your choice which product you end up with. Take into account that, in most cases, you’ll have to modify your guitar to install a pickup and it depends on how sentimental you might get over the instrument.
An active and affordable EMG pickup will most likely require you to drill some holes in your instrument so you can attach a battery to it. However, we recommend the help of a professional to install your EMG pickups guitar suitable.
Clip-in and stick-on options deliver a convenient and easy plug and, unlike other options, they are not permanent, which means you can change them with other models, depending on the type of sound you wish to create.
You’ll also have to consider the intended use (performance vs. practice) and, ultimately, the price tag of customizable pieces.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do EMG pickups work?
An active pickup is a device that uses electronics to improve the overall performance and sound of a particular instrument. EMG pickups use an internal preamp, which will make the pickup louder and more responsive while also reducing unwanted noise when playing.
Unlike other devices, active EMG pickups will produce more output and gain for metal and distorted rock tones and will require less external gain from an amp and pedals for distortion. They are virtually silent and will deliver a good bass response for thick heavy tones. That being said, these devices are mainly used for musical genres like metal and hard rock.
To enjoy their performance, you’ll have to install them onto your guitar or instrument by replacing your old pickup. If you don’t know how to install EMG pickups on your own, we suggest watching some video tutorials that will teach you what to do step-by-step.
Q: How long do EMG pickups last?
An active pickup’s built-in preamp is powered by a battery that is installed in the guitar. Therefore, the easiest way to see whether or not a guitar can be used with an active pickup is to look at the back of the instrument for a battery compartment.
Generally speaking, guitars with EMG pickups are powered by 9V batteries. Most of them are rechargeable but you can also opt for regular, disposable batteries that are faster and more convenient to replace.
When it comes to the battery’s life, it depends on a series of factors such as how often you play, if you leave your guitar plugged in all the time or the type (manufacturer) of the battery you use. On average, you should expect to get anywhere from 1000 to 4000 hours of music playing with one battery charge or replacement.
A rechargeable 9V battery is more useful if you use a guitar pedal, apart from the EMG pickup.
Q: Will EMG pickups work without batteries?
EMG is a Californian-based company with over three decades of activity in the manufacturing of pickups for various musical instruments, including guitars.
All of the active bass and guitar pickups manufactured by EMG require a battery so the answer to the question is “no”. An active EMG pickup cannot work without a battery. However, certain selected models are passive and don’t require the use of a battery to work.
As we previously mentioned, one of the greatest advantages of using an EMG pickup is the reduction in noise. Therefore, you can safely use all other accessories such as pedals, wireless systems or long cable runs without losing the tone and treble. The sound consistency will be great throughout your performance.
To make the most of your active pickup, we suggest you take a look at the product’s battery and opt for a rechargeable model instead of the regular disposable one.