If you’re looking for a pickup set that will give you the best of both worlds, either the EMG 81/60 or 81/89 combo might be just what you’re looking for.
The EMG 81/60 combo is a great pickup for the neck position because it’s a versatile alternative achieving a focused sound that’s perfect for solos. The EMG 89 is a great alternative pickup for the bridge position because it produces a cutting sound that’s perfect for heavy metal.
In this article, I’ll dive into the differences between these pickups and help you decide which one is right for you.
Pickup models in this comparison
Powerful ceramic magnets and a solderless design make swapping pickups easy. Its tones are close to pure and lush, with plenty of sustain and an obvious lack of noise.
Best mellow solos
The pickup’s smooth and warm tones are perfect for lead playing, while its balanced output and crisp sound make it an excellent choice for clean sounds.
Best balanced output
If you’re playing a more traditional style of music, the EMG 89 pickups can bring warmth and color to your sound, making it sound fuller and more dynamic
EMG 89 Pickups: A Versatile Alternative for Achieving a Focused Sound
EMG 89 pickups are a set of humbuckers that allow guitar players to achieve a wide range of tonal options. They are widely chosen for their ability to produce cuts and sound that are geared towards modern music. Some of the main features of the EMG 89 pickups include:
- Ceramic magnets that produce a bright and treblier sound
- Separate coils for each position, allowing for amazing sonic differentiation
- Ability to be paired with other pickups, such as the SA or SSS, for a complimentary sound
- Brightness that helps with soloing and melodic playing
- Retains the original sound of the guitar while adding a modern twist
Why Choose EMG 89 Pickups?
There are many reasons why guitar players prefer the EMG 89 pickups over other brands and kinds of pickups. Some of the most popularly cited reasons include:
- The versatility of the pickups, which serve a wide range of tonal options
- The ability to achieve a focused sound that is both clear and oriented towards modern music
- The amazing brightness of the pickups, which helps with soloing and melodic playing
- The fact that the pickups can be paired with other pickups, such as the SA or SSS, for a complimentary sound
- The overall quality of the pickups, which are known for their sonic differentiation and ability to cut through a mix
Pairing EMG 89 Pickups with Other Pickups
One of the great things about the EMG 89 pickups is that they can be paired with other pickups to achieve a wide range of tonal options. Some popular pairings include:
- EMG 89 in the bridge position and an EMG SA in the neck position for a versatile HSS setup
- EMG 89 in the bridge position and an EMG SSS set in the middle and neck positions for a bright and clean sound
- EMG 89 in the bridge position and an EMG S or SA in the neck position for a darker, more vintage-oriented sound
- EMG 89 in the bridge position and an EMG HSH set in the middle and neck positions for a versatile and tonally rich sound
Cleanup and Sonic Differentiation
One of the standout features of the EMG 89 pickups is their ability to produce a bright and treblier sound while still retaining the original sound of the guitar. This is achieved through the use of separate coils for each position, which allows for amazing sonic differentiation. Additionally, the brightness of the pickups helps with cleanup and allows for a more focused sound when playing solos or melodic lines.
EMG 60 Pickups: A Versatile and Complimentary Option
The EMG 60 pickups are a popular choice for guitarists looking for a tonal alternative to the more widely used EMG 81 and 89 pickups. These humbuckers are designed to be paired with other EMG pickups, particularly the 81, to achieve a focused and modern sound. However, the EMG 60 pickups also have their own unique features that make them a particular favorite among guitarists.
EMG 60 Pickups in Action
One of the most popularly chosen ways to use the EMG 60 pickups is in the neck position of a guitar, paired with an EMG 81 in the bridge position. This set up allows for a versatile range of tones, with the EMG 60 providing a clear and articulate sound in the neck position, while the EMG 81 produces a more aggressive and cutting sound in the bridge position. The ceramic magnets in the EMG 60 pickups also help to retain the original vintage sound of the guitar, while still achieving a modern tonal edge.
The EMG 81 Pickup: A Modern Classic
The EMG 81 is a humbucker pickup that is widely regarded as one of the best pickups for metal and hard rock guitars. Here are some of its main characteristics:
- Geared towards the bridge position of guitars
- Great ability to produce cuts in sound
- Focused on bass and midrange frequencies
- Features ceramic magnets
- Similar to the EMG 85 pickup, but with more emphasis on the high end
- Allows for achieving a modern, cutting tone
The Sound: How Does the EMG 81 Pickup Actually Sound?
The EMG 81 pickup is known for its versatile tonal capabilities. Here are some of the ways it can serve different kinds of guitarists:
- Overall, the EMG 81 has a modern, cutting sound that is great for heavy genres like metal and hard rock
- The pickup’s ability to cut through mixes makes it popularly chosen for soloing and melodic playing
- The EMG 81 is bright and treblier sounding, which can be a great feature for those who prefer a brighter tone
- The pickup retains the original sound of the guitar, allowing for a clear and articulate sound
- When paired with a complimentary pickup, such as the EMG 60 or SA, the EMG 81 can achieve a wider range of tonal possibilities
- The EMG 81 is also a popular choice for HSS and HSH pickup configurations, allowing for even more sonic differentiation
The Verdict: Should You Choose the EMG 81 Pickup?
Overall, the EMG 81 pickup is a fantastic choice for those who prefer a modern, cutting tone. Here are some of the reasons you might opt for the EMG 81:
- You play heavy genres like metal and hard rock
- You prefer a brighter, treblier sound
- You want a pickup that can handle high gain settings without getting muddy
- You want a pickup that can retain clarity even at lower volumes
That being said, if you prefer a darker, more vintage tone, the EMG 81 might not be the best choice for you. However, for those who want a versatile, modern humbucker pickup, the EMG 81 is an amazingly bright and clear sounding option.
EMG 89 vs EMG 60 Pickups: Which One to Choose?
EMG 89 pickups are a great alternative to the traditional EMG 81/85 combo. These humbuckers are designed to serve as both a neck and bridge pickup, making them incredibly versatile. They have a rounded and balanced tone that works well for a wide range of music genres, from vintage to modern. The EMG 89 pickups come in black and have a lower output than the EMG 81, but they still sound great. Here are some features of the EMG 89 pickups:
- Can be used as both neck and bridge pickups
- Versatile and balanced tone
- Rounded sound that works well for different music genres
- Lower output than the EMG 81
- Solid and fair price
EMG 60 Pickups: Warm and Tight
EMG 60 pickups are a solid choice for those who want a warmer and tighter sound. They are usually paired with an EMG 81 in the bridge position to get the best tonal range. The EMG 60 pickups have a clear and crisp sound that works well for metal and high-gain playing. Here are some features of the EMG 60 pickups:
- Warm and tight sound
- Clear and crisp sound that works well for metal and high-gain playing
- Usually paired with an EMG 81 in the bridge position
- Solid and fair price
EMG 89/60 Combo: The Best of Both Worlds
If you want the best of both worlds, the EMG 89/60 combo is an excellent choice. This combo is designed to give you a versatile and focused sound. The EMG 89 in the neck position provides a rounded and balanced tone, while the EMG 60 in the bridge position gives you a warmer and tighter sound. Here are some features of the EMG 89/60 combo:
- Versatile and focused sound
- EMG 89 in the neck position for a rounded and balanced tone
- EMG 60 in the bridge position for a warmer and tighter sound
- Solid and fair price
Examples of Guitars That Use EMG 89/60 Combo
If you’re interested in trying out the EMG 89/60 combo, here are some guitars that use this set:
- ESP Eclipse
- Fender Root
- Slipknot Mick Thomson Signature
- Ibanez RGIT20FE
- Schecter C-1 FR S
Other Alternatives to EMG 89/60 Combo
If you’re not sure if the EMG 89/60 combo is for you, here are some other alternatives to consider:
- Seymour Duncan Black Winter Set
- DiMarzio D Activator Set
- Bare Knuckle Juggernaut Set
- Fishman Fluence Modern Set
How to Choose the Best EMG Pickup Combo for Your Guitar
Before you start shopping for EMG pickups, think about the type of music you play and the sound you want to achieve. Are you a metal player who wants a focused, high-gain tone? Or are you a blues player who prefers a warm, vintage sound? Different EMG pickups are geared towards different genres and playing styles, so it’s important to choose a set that matches your needs.
Decide Between Active and Passive Pickups
EMG pickups are known for their active design, which allows for a stronger signal and less noise. However, some players prefer the character and warmth of passive pickups. Consider whether you want the extra power and clarity of active pickups or the more organic sound of passive ones.
Look at the Features of Each Pickup
EMG pickups come in a variety of different models, each with its own set of features. Some pickups, like the 81 and 85, are designed for high-gain distortion and heavy metal playing. Others, like the 60 and 89, offer a more versatile range of tones. Check out the specs of each pickup to see which ones offer the features you need.
Consider Combining Different Pickups
One of the great things about EMG pickups is their ability to mix and match different models to achieve a unique sound. For example, combining an 81 in the bridge position with a 60 in the neck position can offer a great balance of high-gain distortion and clean tones. Experiment with different combinations to find the mix that works best for you.
Check Compatibility with Your Guitar
Before you make a purchase, make sure the EMG pickups you’re interested in are compatible with your guitar. Some pickups are designed specifically for certain brands or models, while others are more widely available. Check with the manufacturer or a guitar store service to ensure that the pickups you choose will work with your guitar.
Consider Price and Budget
EMG pickups are known for their quality and versatility, but they can come with a higher price tag than other brands. Consider your budget and how much you’re willing to spend on new pickups. If you’re a beginner or intermediate player, you may want to start with a more budget-friendly option like the EMG HZ series. If you’re a professional or serious player, investing in a higher-end set like the EMG 81/60 or 81/89 combo may be worth the price.
Read Reviews and Get Recommendations
Finally, don’t forget to do your research before making a purchase. Read reviews from other players to see what they love (or don’t love) about different EMG pickups. Ask for recommendations from other guitar players or check out online forums and gear guides. With a little research and experimentation, you can find the perfect EMG pickup combo to take your playing to the next level.
EMG 81/60 vs. 81/89: Which Combo is Right for You?
Now that we know the main characteristics of each pickup, let’s compare the two most popular EMG combos:
- EMG 81/60: This combo is a classic choice for metal and hard rock players. The 81 in the bridge position provides a strong, cutting tone, while the 60 in the neck position offers a more mellow sound for solos and clean playing.
- EMG 81/89: This combo is a great alternative for players who want the versatility of the 89’s switch. With the 81 in the bridge and the 89 in the neck, you can easily switch between the 81’s cutting tone and the 89’s warmer sound.
Additional Features and Considerations
Here are some other things to keep in mind when choosing between the EMG 81/60 and 81/89 combos:
- The 81/60 combo is a popular choice for metal and hard rock genres, while the 81/89 combo is more versatile and can work well in a variety of playing styles.
- The 81/89 combo allows for a wider range of tones, but may require more time to find the right sound for your playing style.
- The 81/60 combo is a more traditional choice, while the 81/89 combo is a more modern option.
- The 81/89 combo is a great choice for studio production, as it allows for easy switching between tones without having to change guitars or plug in additional gear.
Choosing the Right Combo for Your EMG Pickups
When it comes to EMG pickups, there are a variety of combos available to suit different playing styles and tonal preferences. Here are some of the most popular combos:
- EMG 81/85- This classic combo is widely used in metal and hard rock genres. The 81 is known for its focused sound and ability to cut through heavy distortion, while the 85 offers a warmer, more rounded tone for solos and leads.
- EMG 81/60- Similar to the 81/85, this combo pairs the 81 with the more versatile 60. The 60 is geared towards a more vintage sound and is great for clean tones and bluesy leads.
- EMG 81/89- This combo allows for switching between active and passive tones, making it a versatile choice for players who want a variety of sounds. The 89 is similar to the 85 but with a slightly darker character, making it a great match for the 81.
- EMG 81/SA/SA- This HSS (humbucker/single-coil/single-coil) combo offers a wide variety of tones, from the classic humbucker crunch of the 81 to the bright and chimey single-coil sounds of the SA pickups. This combo is often found on intermediate and beginner-level guitars, such as those from Ibanez and LTD.
- EMG 81/S/SA- This HSH (humbucker/single-coil/humbucker) combo is similar to the 81/SA/SA but with an extra humbucker in the neck position. This allows for a thicker, more full-bodied sound when using the neck pickup, while still having the versatility of the single-coil SA pickups in the middle and bridge positions.
Improving Your Tone with EMG Pickups
EMG pickups are known for their ability to produce cutting, modern tones that work well for heavy genres of music. However, there are some tips and tricks you can use to get the most out of your EMG pickups:
- Experiment with different pickup heights to find the sweet spot for your particular guitar and playing style.
- Consider pairing your EMG pickups with a passive pickup in the neck position to achieve a more balanced tone.
- Use the tone knob on your guitar to adjust the high-end frequencies and achieve a more rounded, vintage sound.
- Try different pickup combos to find the one that works best for your playing style and genre of music.
- Consider upgrading your guitar’s electronics, such as the pots and switch, to improve the overall tone and functionality of your EMG pickups.
So, there you have it- a comparison of the EMG 81/60 vs. 81/89 combo. The EMG 81/60 is a great complimentary option to the EMG 81, while the EMG 81/89 is a great choice for a focused modern sound.
As always, don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:Subscribe