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Thread: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

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    Super Toneologist BigJoe77's Avatar
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    Default EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    I've seen the notion on here several times recently that Dimarzios will sound more or less the same regardless of whether they are on a hubcap or a 59 LP, while SD's are more organic and will take on more of the characteristics of the wood.

    Where do EMG's fit on this scale? How sensitive are they to, say, ash vs. alder on a tele?

    Just thinking out loud...

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    Guitaris Maximus Stratman's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    No contest here!

    I change all my guitar pups to Seymour Duncans!

    Got boxes of the original and that other stuff, just to remind me not to make any mistakes using the wrong gear!
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    Lewguitar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    I like EMG's a lot. I have three sets. One set is in a Yamaha Bass and two sets are in Strats. There's a lot of prejudice against EMG's by players who probably have no experience with EMG's but have read crap on the internet dissing EMG's and now they pass those views off as their own in order to sound more worldly than they really are.

    There's lots of good stuff out there - and it doesn't come from just one manufacturer.

    That said, most of my guitars have Duncans. And like most players, I don't use or keep anything that doesn't sound good to me.

    Lew
    Last edited by Lewguitar; 01-25-2009 at 09:26 AM.

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    Super Toneologist BigJoe77's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    I kinda like EMG's, I've just never done a back to back with the same pickups in different guitars.

    I'm kind of chasing a sound that I can't get out of my head that comes from a Tele with an EMG bridge. The tele has an ash body with flame maple top and maple neck. Just trying to get a feel to see how close I can get with, say, alder or solid ash instead of the ash with the maple top.

    Thanks.

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    Mojo's Minions blueman335's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    I have an assortment of PU's in my guitars, different brands & models (Duncan, DiMarzio, Gibson, Carvin, and Schaller). Like Lew said, I only keep what sounds good. I have more Duncans than any other brand.

    I bought a guitar with EMG's (81/85) and couldn't sell it fast enough. Thin, bright, puny, and sterile. They're designed for huge amounts of distortion and effects, to keep from sounding muddy, but outside of that, I don't see any use for them. Don't work for the music I play.

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    HardtailPisser ibanezrocks's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    I really don't believe the notion that EMGs were "designed" to be used with huge amounts of distortion. They were designed to be quiet, that's it. There's far too much garbage being passed along on the internet about how they're only good for one thing. The idea that EMGs sound the same in any guitar is obviously true for those that use huge amounts of distortion like a good number of EMG players use, but that shouldn't be a knock against the pickups themselves. In fact due to the clear nature of the pickups I don't think they really colour the sound much from my experience.

    Dimarzios on the other hand do colour the sound quite a bit in some cases, certainly the Evolution adds a lot of its own character to the sound. This also isn't a bad thing, its just different. I've played a few Dimarzios, and they all sounded good in the guitars they were in. They don't totally mask the sound of the guitar, but they definitely add something to it.

    Right now I only have Duncans in my guitars, and just bought more to try out in my Telecaster so it's safe to say I'm a fan. I do think the other pickup manufacturers deserve more credit than they get on here a lot of the time though. It seems like there's a lot of customer loyalty to SD on here and that's a good thing, I know I'm a loyal customer, but you have to keep it in perspective. Mr. Duncan himself probably has a good deal of respect for the other manufacturers. For example, active pickups get ragged on quite a bit around here sometimes, and then SD came out with the Blackouts. Although they're supposedly his improvement on EMGs, there still exists that recognition that the EMGs are a good enough product to be worth improving upon.

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    Mojo's Minions blueman335's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Quote Originally Posted by ibanezrocks View Post
    I really don't believe the notion that EMGs were "designed" to be used with huge amounts of distortion. They were designed to be quiet, that's it.
    I never thought HB's were that noisy, so I don't see any benefit from an active PU, as you lose the color & character than comes with the additional windings of a passive PU (like tube vs solid state). Actually actives were originally designed by a tech for the Grateful Dead, who wanted more control over their guitar's EQ. But when I listen to Jerry Garcia, I just hear a thin, trebley tone. I'm impressed by his playing, not his tone. Metal heads "discovered" actives can handle more distortion & effects, which is what's made EMG a success. I don't know how much of a market they have for non-metal players.

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    HardtailPisser ibanezrocks's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Quote Originally Posted by blueman335 View Post
    as you lose the color & character than comes with the additional windings of a passive PU
    Exactly what I was referring to in terms of EMGs not really colouring the sound that much... but I guess you never really made a comment on them colouring the sound and sounding the same in every guitar, just that you don't like the sound of them, which is fair enough. I guess we kind of answered the original post for that one.

    In general I'd say EMGs for the most part colour the sound of the guitar more than the PAF type pickups in the SD line, but less than the higher output Duncans or Dimarios. Again this may not be accurate for every pickup, but this whole thread was just a generalization about brands anyways.

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    Mojo's Minions blueman335's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Quote Originally Posted by ibanezrocks View Post
    Exactly what I was referring to in terms of EMGs not really colouring the sound that much... but I guess you never really made a comment on them colouring the sound and sounding the same in every guitar, just that you don't like the sound of them, which is fair enough. I guess we kind of answered the original post for that one.
    +1. What I miss with EMG's is that lack of color, and tone. Just my opinion, but I like that passive "flavoring." Actives are too pure & sterile for what I do. Give me the impurities, textures, & intricacies that come from a signal passing thru all those windings. To me, passives gather more of the wood's natural tones too. That's good stuff to my ears.

    But if I played different styles of music, I might love EMG's. Back to that "taste" thing again.

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    Toneologist Fikealox's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Yeah, I agree. Actives, to me, sound "clean" and don't colour your tone like passives, but they're more opaque with regards to the wood of the guitar than passives. That can definitely be a good thing, making actives a safer bet in a wider variety of guitars. Some passives which I've absolutely loved in LPs I've loathed in superstrats (and vice versa for different passives), but I've liked (not loved) the EMGs I've had in basically every guitar I've had them in.

    Still, while I can see the advantages of actives, and I personally think they're actually very versatile, I prefer passives. Part of it is just that like blueman I enjoy the extra flavour of passives, part of it is "mojo" and the "feeling connected to the guitar" thing, which is a bit airy-fairy, but part of it is also that I like tinkering, and I find it's easier to do things which I find interesting with passive pickups (since they're not sealed, and because they're unbuffered).

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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    I have used EMG's and found them to be lifeless, sterile, dead, but loud.

    Sorry, I can not justify that brand of Pups.

    I have also used Barden pickups in a tele and they work well there and Lindy Fralin pickups in a Stratocaster where they also work but are over priced, and Harmonic Design pickups in a Jazzmaster, which were a wasted effort.
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    Mojo's Minions blueman335's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Quote Originally Posted by Fikealox View Post
    Yeah, I agree. Actives, to me, sound "clean" and don't colour your tone like passives, but they're more opaque with regards to the wood of the guitar than passives. That can definitely be a good thing, making actives a safer bet in a wider variety of guitars. Some passives which I've absolutely loved in LPs I've loathed in superstrats (and vice versa for different passives), but I've liked (not loved) the EMGs I've had in basically every guitar I've had them in.
    Yeah, EMG's probably sound very similar no matter what they're in, which can be good for some players. I like the idea of having a variety of PU's in my guitars so that they don't all sound the same. I want an LP to sound different than a SG, or 335, or big hollowbody 175. Each one seems to need different PU's, to get the full effect of it's body design.

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    Mojo's Minions blueman335's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Quote Originally Posted by Stratman View Post
    I have used EMG's and found them to be lifeless, sterile, dead, but loud.
    Me too. I don't understand the idea behind 'purifying' the sound by eliminating the corruptive influences of natural tones, the obsession to eliminate all possible noise (even the noise you can't hear), and sealing them like a bank vault. If that somehow gave you wonderful, rich tones, it would be worth it. But what you get is an empty sound with the life filtered out of it.

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    Ultimate Tone Slacker ParameterMan's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    All pickups will sound more or less the same in every guitar, the more or less depends on the pickup. A Dimarzio Evolution will have the "Dimarzio sound" in any guitar. It'll also have the Evo sound, because it's a pickup with a strong character of it's own. The Duncan JB is a pickup known for being picky about what guitar it's in.

    EMG pickups follow the same trend. I've played SAs in multiple guitars, and they sounded like completely different models. Of course, they retained the basic EMG flavor, which I happen to like. On the other hand, the 81 has a very distinct sound that jives with pretty much anything- well, as much as you can call that signature tooth-shattering upper midrange "jive".

    Now for the terrific eye-rolling that strikes me when I read posts like Mr. blueman above. Such misinformation on the intarnets! Active pickups are typically underwound magnetic blade pickups with a preamp onboard that electronically sums the coils. They pick up the string and body vibration in the same manner as a passive pickup, and have similar construction. It is physically and magnetically impossible for them to kill tone, or overpower the natural sound of a guitar with their own. In fact, they contribute less of their own character than a typical passive pickup.

    So, those who talk about actives not giving the "true sound of the guitar"(how do we determine this? With a stethoscope? Do we care?) reveal that their desired guitar sound comes by and large from the actual pickups themselves, and not indeed from the guitar itself. Which is as it should be with an electric guitar. Vintage style humbuckers, in fact have a lot of coloration and compression and can seriously "round out" and "juice up" a dull sounding guitar(Les Paul anyone?). Note: I have had a guitar with excellent unplugged tone, and found that actives did indeed most resemble playing it unplugged.

    - - - - - - - -

    All that said, rest assured that your EMG-equipped tele will most likely retain the character you love while reflecting the different wood and hardware you've screwed it on. And keep in mind that tone is a spectrum, not a 1-10 scale. The point is to create cool sounds that you like.

    Ok, we've established that most of the sound from an electric comes from the pickups, but I'm feeling crazy so I'll address the rest of the equation since no-one else has....

    Ash is quite snappy with a slightly hollow midrange, and maple brings out the treble attack. Alder is nice and pleasant all around, a little blander, maybe a more vocal quality to it. I can only think this guitar you're wanting to copy must be really bright and sparkly.

    In my experience, though, the bridge makes the most tonal difference on a tele, followed by the neck thickness/stiffness, tuner weight, finish thickness and finally body wood. Again, this is after the massive percentage the pickups themselves contribute.

    An ashtray bridge is a/the major source of piano-like tele twang and snap. A heavy cast six saddle bridge give it a much more even tonal response and more controlled dynamic range.

    Heavy tuners continue the effect, giving more sustain but losing some openness and liveliness.

    The neck itself contributes much to the resonance and sustain of notes below the 12th fret, and if it's dead you'll fight it the whole way.

    A thick finish can really dampen the organic bloom of subtle richness contributing overtones.

    String height and neck relief also play a big part in shaping the sound.

    Pot quality, fret size, nut material and slotting, size of cavities, pickguard material, trussrod, humidity, amount of death grip applied by the player, etc. ad nauseum, all can contribute to the sound.

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    Super Toneologist BigJoe77's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Thanks for the help.

    Like I mentioned, I have a feel for what EMG's are and what they do. I just wasn't quite sure how much they'd do in chasing a specific tone or if I need to continue to look at building the guitar to go with it to get closer. Sounds like I need to chase the guitar first.

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    Mojo's Minions JohnnyGuitar's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Last time I've played EMGs it was their Tele set. Got to play that guitar for an hour in a jam and thought there was nothing "telecastery" about it... it sounded like a generic classic rock humbucker with no twang or personality.
    Can't say I have a lot of experience with actives though - they just don't usually come on the guitars I want to try in a store.

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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    EMGs were important in the distant 80s. People were exploring high-gain styles and back then, amps didnt produce enough gain by themselves. Putting a boost pedal in front of the amp usually did the trick, but some smart guys said, hey why dont we use a really low output pickup in the guitar coupled with a small preamp? That will cut down on cabling, clean up the stage, and lots of practical benefits. . .

    Thus was born the EMG. It was not born out of a desire for improved tone, but to have really hot output and quiet at the same time.

    Of course all the amps in the world are built to work with passive pickups and modern gain stages and adustable input gain can accomplish the same level of gain.

    Some people claim to like the tone of EMGs, but they really have no place in music anymore. They are a relic.

    Beginners love them because they are so compressed and easy to play. Some SC guys love them because they were the first scs to eliminate 60 cycle hum.
    Last edited by WyrmCracker; 01-25-2009 at 09:16 AM.

  18. #18
    Lewguitar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Quote Originally Posted by WyrmCracker View Post
    Some people claim to like the tone of EMGs, but they really have no place in music anymore. They are a relic.
    Beginners love them because they are so compressed and easy to play. Some SC guys love them because they were the first scs to eliminate 60 cycle hum.
    Rubbish. There's way to many GREAT guitarists (guitarists with much more professional experience and guitarists who can play rings around most of the bedroom guitarists who hang out on the internet giving advice and making recomendations) who use EMG's and get great tones.

    Like I said: I have Duncans in most of my guitars. But I have EMG's in two Strats and one bass and those three instruments get great tone, are much more versatile than my guitars with passive pickups, and they don't hum.

    I started using EMG's because I went into the studio with my favorite Strat with Duncan Antiquity pickups and had to play every tune with the selector switch set to the #2 or #4 position because that was the only way to avoid the awful buzz and hum I was getting in this particular poorly grounded studio.

    Vince Gill uses them...Zakk Wilde...David Gilmour...Steve Lukather...even SRV used them at times.

    I don't always gig with my Strats with the EMG's. I usually gig with my guitars with Duncans - or sometimes with Bardens or Tom Holmes pickups.

    But the EMG's are just fine.

    Lew
    Last edited by Lewguitar; 01-25-2009 at 09:31 AM.

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    Mojo's Minions blueman335's Avatar
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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Quote Originally Posted by ParameterMan View Post
    Now for the terrific eye-rolling that strikes me when I read posts like Mr. blueman above. Such misinformation on the intarnets! Active pickups are typically underwound magnetic blade pickups with a preamp onboard that electronically sums the coils. They pick up the string and body vibration in the same manner as a passive pickup, and have similar construction. It is physically and magnetically impossible for them to kill tone, or overpower the natural sound of a guitar with their own. In fact, they contribute less of their own character than a typical passive pickup.
    "Eye rolling", geez. Yeah, all the stuff I already know. The point I was trying to make was that to me EMG's sound stripped clean of tone and flavor. From a technical point the tone was never added in the mix in the first place (thru a normal amount of windings). No they don't 'kill' tone, something I meant figuratively, they never have it to begin with: they're "pure, bereft of colorings". That's the reason they contribute less of their own character. Relax man, & give those eyes a rest.
    Last edited by blueman335; 01-25-2009 at 10:12 AM.

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    Default Re: EMG vs Duncan vs Dimarzio

    Quote Originally Posted by Lewguitar View Post
    Vince Gill uses them...Zakk Wilde...David Gilmour...Steve Lukather...even SRV used them at times.

    Only guy on this list who is "A list" player is Steve Lukather and he hit in the 80s when noise-free EMGs were the only game in town. I am positive he could find a modern passive that is noise-free to replace the EMGs, if he hasnt already.

    Zakk Wylde (lol), a B-list rocker who benefits from the 81. OK, the 81 has a place in metal, but we're not talking about tone so much, just compressed, focused gain.


    Quite frankly the "good players use EMGs" is such an utter fail argument because of the 99.9% players, technical masters and tone gods alike, ALL PLAY PASSIVES!

    I used EMGs for TEN years before switching back to passives in the mid-90s. I know what they are about. They are garbage. Stick with Duncan or Dimarzio lke the pros.

    PROTIP: If you really want all the advantages of EMGS (lo impedance), they sell a circuit called a PA-1, which converts signal to lo impedance (no loss on long cable runs) and lets you boost output to the 81 range, and can be added to a passive setup for $30 bucks or so. Buying the active pickups is a waste of cash.
    Last edited by WyrmCracker; 01-25-2009 at 10:41 AM.

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