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My review on two different EMG 57/66 sets

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  • My review on two different EMG 57/66 sets

    Some while ago, I posted a thread asking if anyone knew if EMG changed their preamp recently. I was told by EMG themselves that it wasn't, and that the 57/66 set had a different preamp altogether (more on that later). But then there were some interesting posts on the thread mentioning that a. the chip they used for their preamp was discontinued recently and b. the main guy behind EMG told Frank Falbo that indeed the preamp was changed.

    Furthermore, a few months ago, I also got a new 85 that I ended up giving away because it sounded too different from the 85 I already had (and recorded different too, but more on that later too).

    Well, I wasn't quite happy with the way my 2020-made 57/66 set sounded. It sounded a bit cleaner/less squishy and MUCH brighter (not in a good way, at least through my EVH). I tried recording DI's, and indeed, the waveform was wider (meaning more headroom in the preamp) compared to the couple of 81's, the 85, and the 60 I have at hand (all of which peak at exactly the same level). I traded this new set to a friend who heard them and liked them (they did work well with his amp) for an 81/60 set he had and didn't like.

    So I went ahead and ordered an old crummy beat up 57/66 set off eBay to test this theory because I wasn't convinced (and it was cheap enough). In all of the comparison clips I've seen online, this isn't the difference I hear. I actually really liked how the 57 came off in all comparisons you find in YouTube. So after a LOOOOOONG while being stuck at customs, I received the set yesterday. And guess what: this set (from 2014, as seen in the little label behind) sounds like the rest of my EMG's. It records at exactly the same level, proving the preamp is much closer to the 2010-2017 81,60, and 85 EMG's I have, if not the exact same. It also doesn't sound as scratchy and twangy as the new 2020 set I had. I honestly believe the preamp isn't different AT ALL, at least within the first years of production of the 57/66 set, so I call BS on what EMG told me.

    So do I like this old 57/66 set? Absolutely! They still have that familiar EMG sound: squishy compression, consistency in the palm-mutes, mix-slicing upper-mid focus, tight low-end rolloff. The 57 in particular has things I like about the 81 (cut and tightness) and the 85 (chunk), albeit hotter and louder than both (even though they are all technically the same output, at least @9V). The 66 is somewhat like the best parts of the 60 (clear and tight) and the 85 (warm and throaty) put into one. They still sound like EMG's, though, so I don't think they came up with a "miracle formula" with these pickups. Are they more passive-like? Kinda. They still resemble the good old classic EMG's more than they do passives, TBH. At least to my ears.

    So my recommendations? Buy used EMG's. The new ones sound way too bright and unlike the classic EMG's from the early 2000-2010's.
    Last edited by Rex_Rocker; 08-13-2020, 10:22 AM.

  • #2
    Maybe the new set you bought has problems? Also its possible that ICs vary in performance, in the same way that a 500K pot may actually be 550K or 450K?

    Or possibly they changed the way the original 66/57 was made to accomodate the new "tw" pickups?

    My new guitar has the 66/57tw set and they have alot going for them. My only comment on your review is that I don't hear an "upper mid spike" in the 57. At least compared to passive pickups like a JB, Evolution, or Full Shred. I would say that the EQ is very broad. To get my amp to sound the same as my passive Evolution guitars, I had to boost the mids a good bit, and I rolled off some presence.

    However, its been 20 years since I played the 81/85 set so I don't know how the new set compares. I remember that the 81 set was really hot and compressed and also had alot of presence, unlike hot passive pickups that roll off presence. In fact, that is the defining characteristic of the 81, what sets it apart from passives, is that is really hot, but ALSO has alot of presence on top. Pickups that have alot of presence (for instance A5) to my ears sound more "open" because the top extends higher. Really hot ceramic pickups tend to sound peaky or nasally because the top frequencies are rolled off. The EMGs don't sound that way ime.
    Last edited by Top-L; 08-13-2020, 12:01 PM.

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    • #3
      I disagree. I do think the 81 has some presence, OK, but not as much compared to an airy-sounding passive (or even the 57). What sticks out to me about the 81 is a lot of high-mid bite. Plus I don't think the 81 is all that hot. The 85 (in the bridge) and 57 (non-TW, the coil-splittable EMG's I've tried tend to be tamer) are both hotter. IME, even something towards the higher end of passive high-output pickups like the Black Winter OBLITERATES an 81 in terms of output/hotness too. Pretty sure the Duncan Distortion has both a lot more presence and possible even a little more output than the 81.

      The classic EMG preamp has a dramatic low-end rolloff, and a less dramatic, but still present high cut effect. In general, they're very focused, meaning they have this sort of "bandpass" effect that makes them distort so well. Absolutely every passive I've tried, including something as mid-focused as the JB, has had more low bass and high treble than anything EMG I've tried. Granted, I have not tried the retroactives.

      The newer 2020 EMG 57 I had was less dramatic in that sense. Sorta like an X series. But I'm pretty sure the difference was caused by more than tolerances and parts variation. It was not subtle, to the point where it was unusably twangy with my amp. It almost sounded like a single coil in attack. The old 57 is much better.

      Either that, or I have had VERY bad luck with defective or mislabeled EMG's. But I doubt that. Like I said, Frank Falbo confirmed the top guy at EMG said the preamp was changed.
      Last edited by Rex_Rocker; 08-13-2020, 02:37 PM.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Rex_Rocker View Post
        I disagree. I do think the 81 has some presence, OK, but not as much compared to an airy-sounding passive (or even the 57). What sticks out to me about the 81 is a lot of high-mid bite. Plus I don't think the 81 is all that hot. The 85 (in the bridge) and 57 (non-TW, the TW versions tend to be tamer) are both hotter. IME, even something towards the higher end of passive high-output pickups like the Black Winter OBLITERATES an 81 in terms of output/hotness too. Pretty sure the Duncan Distortion has both a lot more presence and possible even a little more output than the 81.

        The classic EMG preamp has a dramatic low-end rolloff, and a less dramatic, but still present high cut effect. In general, they're very focused, meaning they have this sort of "bandpass" effect that makes them distort so well. Absolutely every passive I've tried, including something as mid-focused as the JB, has had more low bass and high treble than anything EMG I've tried. Granted, I have not tried the retroactives.

        The newer 2020 EMG 57 I had was less dramatic in that sense. Sorta like an X series. But I'm pretty sure the difference was caused by more than tolerances and parts variation. It was not subtle, to the point where it was unusably twangy with my amp. It almost sounded like a single coil in attack. The old 57 is much better.

        Either that, or I have had VERY bad luck with defective or mislabeled EMG's. But I doubt that. Like I said, Frank Falbo confirmed the top guy at EMG said the preamp was changed.
        In the Dimarzio catalog when they create a passive pickup that is "active like" it has around 500mV output, which is 100mV more than most normal "hot" pickups like a Super Distortion or Evolution.

        I don't know how old you are, but I started playing when EMGs came out and alot of people gravitated to them because amps didn't have all that much gain. If you installed an 81 in the bridge, it was instant metal. Of course, they are so hot that they would make the clean channel grumble. So I have to disagree with you. The 81 is hotter than almost every passive humbucker, with the exception of the ones that are trying to imitate actives.

        The 81 was designed to be put VERY close to the strings, in many cases you see lines cut into the pickup casing. The EMG81 uses very weak magnets, which is why they need to be so close, but its ALSO why the 81 has so much presence. If you put a hot ceramic passive as close to the strings as you do an EMG 81, it will interfere with the vibration of the string and make it darker. So the 81 can get a really high output without affecting the vibration of the string. Which is the large part of what makes it special. Like I said, you cant get a really hot ceramic pickup that is as bright as the EMG 81.

        So for all these reasons, I will have to strongly disagree with your assessment that the 81 is "not that hot"; my guess is that you don't have the 81 as close to the strings as it was designed to be. If its not close it will lose alot of output.

        Regarding the tone, the EMG81 is scooped with lots of bass and presense extension. This is why EMG pickups sound "bigger" than passives. If EMGs didn't sound bigger, if they didn't have that characteristic, there would be absolutely zero reason to use them.

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        • #5
          I guess we hear things completely different. The last thing the 81 has is lots of bass to my ears.

          I do like to keep my EMG's as close to the strings as I can. I am very heavy-handed, so I have to back them off a bit, but my bridge pickup is still a good 1.5-2mm away from the lower strings, so I think it's pretty close.

          Honestly, in absolutely every comparison you hear in the clips, the EMG 81 has less bass than pretty much anything, lol.

          Last edited by Rex_Rocker; 08-14-2020, 10:19 AM.

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          • #6

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            • #7

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Top-L View Post
                The 81 was designed to be put VERY close to the strings, in many cases you see lines cut into the pickup casing.
                That's interesting. My Schecter has the 81 at "normal" string distance. Tomorrow, I'll raise it up a bit and see if that helps it's tone. Which I definitely don't like now.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by ArtieToo View Post

                  That's interesting. My Schecter has the 81 at "normal" string distance. Tomorrow, I'll raise it up a bit and see if that helps it's tone. Which I definitely don't like now.
                  It will help the tone, but it will be even more metal.

                  https://www.espguitars.com/forums/19...-pickup-height
                  Last edited by Top-L; 08-13-2020, 04:09 PM.

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                  • #10
                    Ok. I'll play with it. I kinda knew it was a "metal" guitar when I bought it. But I also have a new set Duncan Livewire Classic II's in the box. I'll try those also. Thanks.

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                    • #11
                      I am with Rex_Rocker on this one.
                      Scooped and lots of bass are NOT things i associate with the EMG 81 anymore.

                      i had the EMG 81 for over a century in the bridge of one of my Les Pauls. I always thought the EMG had a big bass.
                      the Les Paul has a passive in it now and i tried the 81 and several EMGs in other guitars.
                      the conclusion: the EMG 81 doesn't have a big bass at all, it was just the guitar. the slimmed down bass and reduced low mids of the EMG81 really help to tame this poster, even for dropped D


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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ToneFiddler View Post
                        I am with Rex_Rocker on this one.
                        Scooped and lots of bass are NOT things i associate with the EMG 81 anymore.

                        i had the EMG 81 for over a century in the bridge of one of my Les Pauls. I always thought the EMG had a big bass.
                        the Les Paul has a passive in it now and i tried the 81 and several EMGs in other guitars.
                        the conclusion: the EMG 81 doesn't have a big bass at all, it was just the guitar. the slimmed down bass and reduced low mids of the EMG81 really help to tame this poster, even for dropped D

                        The EMG 57 I'm playing now has a really broad EQ. Sounds huge and that doesnt happen without good bass.

                        I will say, one thing I am absolutely sure about re the 81, its a HOT pickup and is designed to be really close to the strings.

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                        • #13
                          The 81 is hot alright, but not as hot as the upper-end of the hot passive realm. I'd say it's just above JB levels, just below the Duncan Distortion. Hard to compare directly, though, because the preamp clips, so it's already overdriven/compressed before it even hits the amp.

                          The 57 is quite a bit hotter. I have them both right now in different guitars, and my LTD EC-401 has had both in the bridge position at some point.

                          Out of the classic EMG 81, 85, and 60, I'd say the 81 and 60 are more or less equally hot with the 85 being slightly hotter than both. That has been my experience.

                          Don't get me wrong, it is a high output pickup, alright. But it's not a blistering hot pickup like a Blackout is. Or some of the other EMG offerings. Or some passive monsters like the Black Winter and the Invader.
                          Last edited by Rex_Rocker; 08-14-2020, 09:37 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by ToneFiddler View Post
                            I had the EMG 81 for over a century in the bridge of one of my Les Pauls.
                            I bet that pre-1920 LP is worth some serious coin now.

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                            • #15

                              Man I'm old!!!
                              oops sorry, should of course read DECADE!
                              me not so good at teh english

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