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Why Such (Relatively) Little Love for EMG HZs?

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  • Why Such (Relatively) Little Love for EMG HZs?

    With the big push toward combining aspects of passive and active pickups in the gear world over the last 10-15 years or so, I'm wondering why people tend to hold their noses at the EMG HZ line. I think it does a pretty good job of combining aspects of active EMGs with the benefits of a passive pickup.

    Like most kids in the 90s, I grew up playing the 60/81 combo, mainly due to Metallica. When the 18 volt mod came along, I tried that. I now use the 24 Volt Mod.

    I've recorded tracks with EMG HZs though, mainly the HZ3 and HZ4, and have found them perfectly good pickups.

    I would say for people who like the overall tone of the 60/81 but want aspects of a passive pickup (more dynamics, softer transients, less compression, etc.) they should start with the HZ line.

    In addition, you get flexibility that the 60/81 doesn't offer, like being able to wire the HZs in various ways. You would need an 81tw/89tw to get this with actives. I don't think the 60 even has a split option. The HZ3 would give you that.

    The funny thing is, I think the HZs kind of hurt active EMGs in the sense that you realize that the active preamp doesn't add all that much to the sound. This is because the HZ4 is the 81 without the active preamp.

    I often found myself wondering, "Why am I fooling with 2 9 volt batteries when an HZ4 gets me 90% of the 81 sound along with some benefits of a passive pickup?"

    My guess is the hate for the HZ is because if I remember correctly for a while HZs were sold with cheaper guitars and were retailed at a lower price point. This combined with their not being active made people think they were an inferior pickup to the active line.

    These days in my 40s I'm over any kind of fascination with output or any kind of special technology. I try everything with an open mind and, if I like it, I keep it.

    So, I think HZs are pretty good pickups. What do you guys think?
    Last edited by Inflames626; 08-26-2022, 09:32 PM.

  • #2
    I agree. Though I have always wanted to try pairing a set with the Blackout Modular Pre-amp.

    Sent from my SM-A115A using Tapatalk

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Inflames626 View Post
      (softer transients, less compression)
      At least one of these two things isn't what you think it is.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Cynical View Post
        At least one of these two things isn't what you think it is.
        To my ear the HZs do not have as sharp of an attack as the regular actives (softer transients) and are less compressed because they lack the preamp that shapes the tone of the actives. The actives sound mildly "sharper" than the HZs, but to me that is the only difference. Once again, this is more obvious on clean parts than with distortion.

        If I get his implication correct, I agree with Demanic that, by themselves, the HZ4s are a little weak on output. However, I get most of my gain later on in the signal chain, anyway, so the HZs end up making the tone easier to shape because they are more restrained.

        The parts of the 81 that people don't like--gritty, extreme mids, nasally, narrow frequency band, etc.--seem to be less obvious in the HZ4, but the HZ4 is still EQ'ed in a way that sits well in a mix.

        I didn't truly get into passive pickups until about 10 years ago. It wasn't until I played a Duncan Distortion that I had found a pickup that had all the things I thought the EMG 81 was supposed to have.

        As an example, I used the HZ4 to track this Judas Priest cover several years ago:

        Cover of Judas Priest's "Beyond the Realms of Death" from the 1978 album "Stained Class." It is unmastered with no vocals. All instruments and programming by Aaron Rogers. Words and music by Ro


        On the left is a Jazz/JB Jackson KV3, which sounds darker overall and supplies the body of the tone, and on the right is an HZ3/HZ4 Jackson Dinky, which is the brighter guitar that adds grit to the sound.

        To make up for my lack of a 12 string, I did four clean guitar tracks--two electric and two acoustic. The HZ3 was a bit peaky with the transients under the acoustic guitar, but was warmer than an EMG 60 might have been with less snap on the G, B, and E strings.

        The solo is a Jackson DK2 with Sustainiac and a Duncan Distortion in the bridge--slightly compressed so that it cuts through. Again, I always thought 81s were supposed to sound like this, until I played the Distortion and realized how much highs and output my 81 had been missing.

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        • #5
          Compression makes transients softer, by definition, since compression is reducing the volume difference between the quiet and loud parts. Thus, if the active EMGs have a sharper attack, they're less compressed, not more compressed.

          (FWIW, a preamp won't necessarily make a signal more compressed -- in fact, it will usually do the opposite. Most preamps apply a flat <some number>dB boost to a signal; however, the dB scale in this context isn't additive but multiplicative, so the loud parts will be made a lot louder, the soft parts won't be touched by as much, and the silent parts not at all [noise floor excluded], meaning that the preamp gives the signal more dynamic range, not less. Most of what you read about EMGs being "compressed" is nonsense; run them into a clean solid-state amp, and you'll realize they react to picking strength more than almost any other pickups on the planet. However, what they do have is *tons* of output, meaning if you're running your volume knob at 10 into the front of a tube amp, you're smashing the front end of the amp about 1.5x as hard...)

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          • #6
            (Because people speculate without actually trying them.)

            Aren’t you thinking of an 85TW? The 89 already has a dual mode. I don’t imagine EMG could screw up making a decent passive. I run my EMG’s at 18v. It’s perfect for me, there’s no way I’m fitting another 9v inside though (come to think of it, that would make it 27v!) and the difference between 18 and 24 seems a lot less dramatic than 9 and 18.
            Last edited by El Dunco; 08-26-2022, 11:15 PM.
            The opinions expressed above do not necessarily represent those of the poster and are to be considered suspect at best.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Cynical View Post
              Compression makes transients softer, by definition, since compression is reducing the volume difference between the quiet and loud parts. Thus, if the active EMGs have a sharper attack, they're less compressed, not more compressed.

              (FWIW, a preamp won't necessarily make a signal more compressed -- in fact, it will usually do the opposite. Most preamps apply a flat <some number>dB boost to a signal; however, the dB scale in this context isn't additive but multiplicative, so the loud parts will be made a lot louder, the soft parts won't be touched by as much, and the silent parts not at all [noise floor excluded], meaning that the preamp gives the signal more dynamic range, not less. Most of what you read about EMGs being "compressed" is nonsense; run them into a clean solid-state amp, and you'll realize they react to picking strength more than almost any other pickups on the planet. However, what they do have is *tons* of output, meaning if you're running your volume knob at 10 into the front of a tube amp, you're smashing the front end of the amp about 1.5x as hard...)
              Most people would say compression makes things louder at the expense of dynamic range--makes everything louder up to wherever the brickwall limiter is set, and makes the quiet parts louder also.

              Not sure I agree here, since a sharper transient is going to stick out from the background. Yet if everything is compressed it's going to all be close to the same volume, because we're lacking dynamic range due to everything being compressed.

              The transient isn't being made softer so much as everything is being squashed and made louder, evening out the volume difference.

              I get what you mean though about the greater dynamic range making the louder parts more obvious. But there's also more to be said about compressed sounds being more obvious because they seem to be louder.

              But, to put that aside I'll restate my observation about EMG HZs in a way that might be more agreeable--they seem to have softer peaks and a broader dynamic range than their active versions.

              Also, if you look at the input stage on a DAW relative to a passive pickup, you'll find an EMG 81 is much quieter and with less output than it is marketed. I have noticed about a 6 to 9 db difference between my active and passive pickups going into the same input which can handle both active and passive sources.

              My view on EMG 81s being compressed is that they are EQ'ed very tightly around 2.2 khz (the resonant frequency is around 2.25 khz I think), so they sound squashed. The limitations of the preamp design would also cause problems in the form of a perceived lack of headroom and dynamics to the point that the X line was introduced to update the pickup design.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Beer$ View Post
                (Because people speculate without actually trying them.)

                Aren’t you thinking of an 85TW? The 89 already has a dual mode. I don’t imagine EMG could screw up making a decent passive. I run my EMG’s at 18v. It’s perfect for me, there’s no way I’m fitting another 9v inside though (come to think of it, that would make it 27v!) and the difference between 18 and 24 seems a lot less dramatic than 9 and 18.
                If I remember, there never was an 85TW. Just the 89, which was essentially a split-able 85. The regular 89 splits at the bridge, and the 89r splits at the neck.

                A quick browse of the models page does not show an 85TW, but rather 85-7, 85-8, and their X variations. (I am surprised to see an 85-7--I thought the 707 was essentially an 85 as a 7 string humbucker.)

                The 89's model page says it is similar to the 85, so I basically consider the 89 to be a split-able 85.

                "Featuring two pickups in one, the 89 houses separate preamps and coils for a custom humbucker and single coil sound at your fingertips. Loaded with Alnico V magnets, the humbucker sound is rich, warm and powerful, but still clear and articulate, similar to the 85."

                If you're not familiar with it, check out the 18 Volt Mod, El Dunco . It takes up less room than two 9 volts and gives you more voltage.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Inflames626 View Post

                  If I remember, there never was an 85TW. Just the 89, which was essentially a split-able 85. The regular 89 splits at the bridge, and the 89r splits at the neck.

                  A quick browse of the models page does not show an 85TW, but rather 85-7, 85-8, and their X variations. (I am surprised to see an 85-7--I thought the 707 was essentially an 85 as a 7 string humbucker.)

                  The 89's model page says it is similar to the 85, so I basically consider the 89 to be a split-able 85.

                  "Featuring two pickups in one, the 89 houses separate preamps and coils for a custom humbucker and single coil sound at your fingertips. Loaded with Alnico V magnets, the humbucker sound is rich, warm and powerful, but still clear and articulate, similar to the 85."

                  If you're not familiar with it, check out the 18 Volt Mod, El Dunco . It takes up less room than two 9 volts and gives you more voltage.
                  I already have the 18v mod. I like it. I just couldn’t feasibly pack in a third battery. I have an 89 in the neck. Sounds gorgeous split clean.
                  The opinions expressed above do not necessarily represent those of the poster and are to be considered suspect at best.

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                  • #10
                    I also think when EMG Selects were a thing, it was easy to confuse the HZ line with them. The Selects were pretty bad, but they were known as the Hi-Z EMGs.
                    Administrator of the SDUGF

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                    • #11
                      I've always liked the EMG H3 & H4. I always imagined it to be a "2-dimensional" sound compared to SD's hotter humbuckers, but still awesome for heavier styles of music.
                      Turn me on, Dead Man.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Beer$ View Post

                        I already have the 18v mod. I like it. I just couldn’t feasibly pack in a third battery. I have an 89 in the neck. Sounds gorgeous split clean.
                        El Dunco, sorry, I meant 24 Volt Mod. I have typed 18 volt so much that it comes out automatically.

                        The 24 Volt Mod&#8482; is a 9 Volt battery replacement for active guitar or bass pickups. Learn More.


                        You will need to get 12 volt type 23A batteries, but they do take up less room. And you can pull the Mod off the regular battery clip if you want to change it.

                        I suppose what brought this thread to mind was I didn't hear a big difference between the 18 volt in series version and the HZs. I keep a couple guitars dedicated to HZs now instead of racking up more 18 volt active models.

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                        • #13
                          I'm building an ESP LTD EX with HZ1s. It wasn't planned for this build but the previously mentioned LTD F-200 I built with Mastertones had the HZ1s stock. So I thought I would give the HZ1s a new home in the LTD EX.

                          The naming convention is a bit odd. You would expect the HZ1s to have the lowest output since they are numbered lowest, but they are actually around 13-14k. I think they are meant to have more of a PAF sound relative to the HZ4.

                          I will try them (with Triple Shots of course to see how the wiring possibilities sound) and let everyone know what happens on this thread.

                          If you want something a little thicker (thicc-er?) than an HZ4 the HZ1 might be a good choice--or the Alnico V A versions (I don't like them as much as they make the low end looser).

                          Also the HZ3 (60) as a bridge pickup doesn't get a lot of attention, but it is very even without the obnoxious mids of the HZ4 (81).

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Inflames626 View Post

                            El Dunco, sorry, I meant 24 Volt Mod. I have typed 18 volt so much that it comes out automatically.

                            The 24 Volt Mod&#8482; is a 9 Volt battery replacement for active guitar or bass pickups. Learn More.


                            You will need to get 12 volt type 23A batteries, but they do take up less room. And you can pull the Mod off the regular battery clip if you want to change it.

                            I suppose what brought this thread to mind was I didn't hear a big difference between the 18 volt in series version and the HZs. I keep a couple guitars dedicated to HZs now instead of racking up more 18 volt active models.
                            Alright, I’ll do it. I could use the extra cavity space.
                            The opinions expressed above do not necessarily represent those of the poster and are to be considered suspect at best.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Inflames626 View Post
                              I'm building an ESP LTD EX with HZ1s. It wasn't planned for this build but the previously mentioned LTD F-200 I built with Mastertones had the HZ1s stock. So I thought I would give the HZ1s a new home in the LTD EX.

                              The naming convention is a bit odd. You would expect the HZ1s to have the lowest output since they are numbered lowest, but they are actually around 13-14k. I think they are meant to have more of a PAF sound relative to the HZ4.

                              I will try them (with Triple Shots of course to see how the wiring possibilities sound) and let everyone know what happens on this thread.

                              If you want something a little thicker (thicc-er?) than an HZ4 the HZ1 might be a good choice--or the Alnico V A versions (I don't like them as much as they make the low end looser).

                              Also the HZ3 (60) as a bridge pickup doesn't get a lot of attention, but it is very even without the obnoxious mids of the HZ4 (81).
                              In my understanding and memories, coils are the same in H1, H3 and H4 variations : all of 'em appear to be 81's without preamps, fitted with various magnetic cores and mags. Hence their close inductance values, which are also close to the inductivity of a Duncan SH4, for instance.

                              The only different model (and the most adapted to neck position, at least on paper) seems to be the H2, whose LRC specs are those of a P.A.F. clone. Even the capacitance that one can deduce from the published resonant frequency is typical, @ 280pF.

                              Technically, the original recipe reminds me Bill Lawrence products: same absence of metallic baseplate to prevent Foucault currents, same epoxied coils hosting metal blades as poles. These blades are just a bit thicker in EMG's.

                              What makes EMG's really special remains their preamp, working like a band-pass filter in the 81. Almost as if there was a built-in treble booster. There's an interesting analysis about that here:
                              EMG81 Schematic, Voltage Gain, Frequency Response, Electronic Humbucker Unbalance, Bajaman Active Pickup.


                              To reproduce the special response of a 81, a HZ humbucker would have to be wired in series with a capacitor (pickup>tone pot> series cap> volume pot... plus possibly another cap from hot to ground if the cable from guitar to amp is a low capacitance one) : the output wouldn't be there but the EQing would come closer to the spectrum of the active version.

                              FWIW. :-)

                              EDIT - I share below the specs of HZ hb's, according to a doc published by EMG a few years ago.

                              Click image for larger version  Name:	EMG HZ HBs.jpg Views:	3 Size:	140.6 KB ID:	6193212

                              EDIT bis - Actually, the same infos than above can still be downloaded from EMG in an updated .pdf precising the kinds of magnets and core used (Ceramic/steel or AlNiCo/steel). It makes even clearer what I've tried to explain about similarities and differences between HZ hb's. ;-)
                              Last edited by freefrog; 08-28-2022, 01:27 AM.
                              Duncan user since the 80's...

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