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EMG 66/57tw set review

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  • EMG 66/57tw set review

    My new ESP LTD M-1000 came with the 66/57 TW ("two way") set. This is a neck through maple/alder guitar.

    After setting up the guitar I've had a chance to run it through my rig. I have a Laney Ironheart 60h running 4cm with a GT-100. The MFX gives me precise control of input gain staging and EQ. So its not "just" an Ironheart through a 4x12, I have control of pre gain boost/EQ as well as post EQ. With these tools I can pretty much make any pickup work.

    At first blush, these are great pickups! In some ways might be considered "better". (But I'm not ready to throw away any of my passives either!) Still TBD if I will be keeping them in the guitar. They absolutely do everything I need, but there are some performance and tonal differences I've noticed from passive pickups that I'm not sure if I will gel with over time.

    I play shred, rock, and metal, so these pickups are right up my alley. They are hot and aggressive. They aren't as hot as EMG 81/85s, so I didn't have to change my gain staging to accomodate them. I would say that the 57 bridge has output along the lines of an Evolution, but not as hot as (say) and X2N. (Or maybe it is as hot, just doesnt sound it!) The 66 neck pickup is also hot, and even with it farther away from the strings, its focused and drives like a hot neck pickup. Maybe similar output to the 57 that is balanced by having it alot farther away?

    Overall they are hot pickups with a broad EQ. They drive hard but at the same time sound "open". There is lots of string definition. They are very modern and don't have any degree of "honk". The mids aren't particularly strong, and there aren't any "outspoken" frequencies. This makes them versatile as you could use a PEQ to enhance whatever frequencies you want to be the voice of the guitar.

    The coil split makes them versatile too, and I wouldn't consider a hot active set unless it could switch to a lower output single coil sound. That said, the single coil sound is not "inspirational" although I'm not the person to ask about this. Clean but not alot of character.

    They have alot of great characteristics, but what are they lacking? There are a few things that stand out to me that are different from passive pickups.

    First, I would say that in the upper registers for soloing, the bridge pickup has a very open "alnico 5" top end. The top end of the pickup is what I would call "buttery" and this isn't something I would ever have used to describe a high output bridge pickup. The top end is smooth and open. Not that it can't be aggressive in its own way, but it doesn't have any of that driving upper mid character ("honk") that you get from ceramic pickups. And its not quite as cutting and aggressive on the top as a hot bridge A5 pickup like the Full Shred, even though the 57 is probably hotter than a Full Shred. Its hot, open, and smooth. This is a unique and modern interpretation of the hot bridge pickup. If there is a passive pickup that can do this, I haven't played it.

    OTH, one of the major differences (drawbacks?) to me is that the pick attack (sound/dynamics) is noticeably different than a hot passive. The pick attack itself is more "clear" than what you get from a hot passive pickup. When you pick high gain notes with a passive, there is this familiar "swish/click" or "sizzle" that you hear in the attack of the note. The attack you get from the 57 is more like from a lower output pickup or single coil.. that is then amplified by the active PU circuitry to be hot. Some people might not hear this, but to me its noticeably different.

    Likewise, while harmonics are easy to get anywhere on the neck, they aren't backed by a strong mid character so they sound thinner. (They are big, but thinner if that makes any sense????)

    And finally, one thing I don't like is how the volume roll-off works. Apparently, the active pickups can retain all the highs when you roll off the volume. At least in my rig, this has the effect of making them sound "nasally" when the volume is less than half. When you roll off the volume, usually its for rythym parts and usually you want a more laid back sound. This might just be an expectation thing....some players may love it. I play humbuckers 95% of the time so maybe this feature would be coveted by strat players.

    (The tone control also has some differences to a passive tone, it seems to be a more subtle affect,,, not sure if you can wire different capacitors to change how the tone control works.)


    Negatives aside, they have alot going for them. They sound huge and modern, with an open character and a smoother top than I've ever heard from pickups with this much heat. And they can switch to a "single coil" mode to lighten up the tone and output.

    Background noise is not any noticeably different than my passive guitars, although for long cable runs or in certain environments they may perform better/worse.

    For someone who is used to swapping pickups, the EMG ecosystem is kinda limiting. For instance, I don't think you can wire them in parallel. Its not clear if you could somehow wire them to get an out of phase sound. You can't swap magnets. And afaik, there aren't a ton of different pickups in their catalog. For instance, if you like the 57's performance, but would like it with a ceramic character, is there a pickup that does this?

    I think the target audience for these pickups are rock/metal/progressive. They probably record very well.


    Last edited by Top-L; 08-13-2020, 09:36 AM.

  • #2
    Nice review. I have the 81/85 set in my Schecter, and don't like them. I was wondering if the 66/57 set would be better for me. Good food for thought. Thanks.

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    • #3
      I played an 81/85 set many years ago. I loved them at the time until I moved to passives and never looked back.

      I think the 66/75tw set is totally legit and doen't have any of the "its definitely active" sound.

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      • #4
        My "problem" with them is that I don't play metal. The guitar was an impulse buy because it was gorgeous. The 57/66 set would be plug-'n-play. I'll have to think about it.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by ArtieToo View Post
          My "problem" with them is that I don't play metal. The guitar was an impulse buy because it was gorgeous. The 57/66 set would be plug-'n-play. I'll have to think about it.
          What guitar did you get with EMGs?

          I might be selling the EMGs.

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          • #6
            Schecter C-1 Platinum. In a silver-gray kinda flame-ish thing. One of these: (Internet pic, since my photo skills suck.)

            Click image for larger version

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            • #7
              not too shabby.
              love multiply bindings and this rather plain look

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              • #8
                I just looked up that guitar and they are now shipping with a 57/66 pair.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Top-L View Post
                  I just looked up that guitar and they are now shipping with a 57/66 pair.
                  Yeah. That's what got me to thinking about that set. Kinda like they caught their own mistake.

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                  • #10
                    I'm pretty sure I'm going to take these out. They sound so good in some ways. The only problem is that single note runs dont have the same character as passive pickups. Its hard to explain, but notes sound "empty". Single notes are clear and big, but there is some sort of "character" missing. When there is more than one note at once, they are amazing. Chords sound huge. If someone had no preconceived idea of how electric guitar should sound, I'm pretty sure they would pick these.

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                    • #11
                      Now I'm not so sure I'm going to replace them...

                      Ive raised the pickup right up under the strings, which gives some thickness to the upper notes. (A normal humbucker at this height would sound terrible.) And I've also added some additional drive from my SD-1.

                      These pickups are strange. They have high output, but also really clear. They benefit from additional diode distortion, but lower gain. I admit they have me confused, but they are getting closer to what I'm used to.

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                      • #12
                        Well, I'm going to keep them in there! (At least for a couple weeks)

                        They are hot, but also really clear distortion. I don't know if its because it has a smoothed top, or something else. I can get much closer to the sound I'm used to by increasing diode distortion in the OD pedal, but reducing the output gain to the amp. This gives it some "complexity" that its missing by itself.

                        Also, the 57 bridge sounds better when its really close to the strings. Its even hotter, yes, but it sounds better. I still have the neck 66 at standard height from the strings. Its also really hot but its got a very good shreddy attack. No complaints with the neck pickup at all.

                        For now I like them! Very good for metal, high gain rock, and shred.

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                        • #13
                          Compared to the high output dimarzios I usually play, the 57/66 set...

                          Has higher output.
                          Has more mids, even more than Evolution.
                          Has more treble.
                          Has less presence.
                          has a touch less bass.
                          Is clearer, has less harmonic distortion naturally.


                          I have to decrease input gain level, roll off mids and treble, bump up resonance and presence, decrease gain to amp, increase od distortion...and they sound pretty much like my dimarzios.

                          When I change my settings so the emgs sound like my dimarzios, I'm left asking, why use emgs?

                          If the goal is to get them to sound as good as passives, why not just use passives?

                          I understood why ppl used 81s, because they have distinct quality you can't get from passives, but it seems like the goal of the 57/66 set is to sound like passives.

                          I still like them, just haven't heard anything that blows away my passive pickups. I wouldn't go out and buy a set, but if they're already in there might as well use them.

                          Maybe as I keep using them I will learn what makes them special.


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                          • #14
                            well the cable and cable length you‘re using shouldn‘t really matter with active pickups.
                            also if you roll down the volume they should have less highend loss than passives.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by ToneFiddler View Post
                              well the cable and cable length you‘re using shouldn‘t really matter with active pickups.
                              also if you roll down the volume they should have less highend loss than passives.
                              If I was gigging with long cable runs, I would go wireless.

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