Puneet Varma (Editor)

EMG 81

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Manufacturer  EMG, Inc.
Type  Active humbucker
Voltage (RMS), V  3.00
Period  1979–present
Magnet type  Ceramic magnet
Voltage (peak), V  4.50
EMG 81

The EMG 81 is a popular active humbucker guitar pickup manufactured by EMG, Inc.. It is usually considered a lead pickup for use in bridge position, paired with EMG 85 as a rhythm pickup in neck position (Zakk Wylde is famous for this configuration). It's not uncommon, however, to see a guitar with two EMG 81s in both bridge and neck positions (for instance, Kirk Hammett's EMG-KH21 pickup sets, which include 2 EMG 81 pickups for both neck and bridge positions).


The EMG 81 pickup is preferred as a lead pickup because of its high output and smooth control from having a rail magnet. Rail magnets tend to sound smoother through string bends because they have a constant "rail" that runs through the pickup, while typical guitar pickups have polepieces under each string that lose signal strength as the string bends away from the polepiece. The EMG 81 can be recognized by its dark grey humbucker form-factor and a silver embossed EMG logo.

History and design

The EMG-81 was developed in 1979 and released to the market in 1981 (hence the model number). Construction is similar to traditional U-shaped pickups, but there are no separate pole pieces; steel bars (rails) are used instead. The Alnico V magnets of earlier discontinued models have been replaced with ceramic ones. While nominal output is the same as current EMG 85, lower noise ratio gives more gain opportunity.

As most other modern EMG pickups, today's EMG-81 has a Quik-connect output, which is a five-pin header on the pickup which comes with a compatible wiring harness. This allows for a less complicated pickup swap in the future, only requiring the removal the pickup guard and disconnecting the pickup, as opposed to melting the solder and installing the new pickup.

A few variants of the EMG 81 have also been released, such as the TW and X. The 81TW version features two separate pickups and preamps in a single pickup housing, allowing for single-coil and humbucking tones. The 81-X provides increased headroom giving the voicing an organic and open tone while still maintaining clarity and response.

18V Mod

The EMG 81 power source can be modified from 9V to 18V by adding a second 9V battery wired in series. This increases the headroom of the pickup and decreases distortion, particularly with regard to transients. Although the majority of EMG's pickups are rated for 27V operation, they recommend a maximum of 18V, citing the negligible performance increase.

There are two main ways to perform this modification. One method involves using separate battery harnesses for each battery. There are several different ways to achieve this, and wiring diagrams can be found all over the internet. The other involves using a separate 9V snap leading to the control cavity to wire two batteries in series outside of the battery compartment.

Guitars that are sold with the EMG 81 as stock

  • Dean Guitars Razorback 255
  • Dean Guitars Razorback V 255
  • Dean MAB 1 Armorflame
  • Dean ML Knight
  • Dean Custom 550 Floyd (EMG 85 in neck)
  • Diamond Guitars Barchetta STE FR MTB
  • B.C. Rich Mockingbird Pro X (EMG 60 in neck)
  • B.C. Rich Mockingbird Pro X Jake Pitts signature model (EMG 81 in neck, too)
  • B.C. Rich Kerry King Signature Wartribe (EMG 85 in neck)
  • B.C. Rich NJ Deluxe Warbeast (EMG 85 in neck)
  • B.C. Rich NJ Deluxe Warlock (EMG 85 in neck)
  • B.C. Rich Villian Deluxe (EMG 60 in neck)
  • Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX (EMG 85 in neck)
  • Epiphone les paul Zakk Wylde custom (EMG 85 in neck)
  • Epiphone Les Paul Custom Midnight
  • Epiphone Les Paul Custom EMG
  • Epiphone Les Paul Prophecy EX
  • Epiphone SG Prophecy EX
  • Epiphone Futura Prophecy Custom EX & FX (EMG 85 in neck)
  • Epiphone Limited Edition G-400
  • ESP M-II's
  • ESP Eclipse II
  • ESP Eclipse II Standard Series
  • ESP Eclipse Limited
  • ESP EX
  • ESP FX (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP Jeff Hanneman Signature (EMG-85 in neck)
  • ESP JH-1 (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP JH-2 (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP JH-3
  • ESP KH-1
  • ESP KH-2
  • ESP KH-2 Relic
  • ESP KH-3
  • ESP KH-4
  • ESP Truckster (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP LTD AX-400FM
  • ESP LTD Deluxe M-1000
  • ESP LTD Deluxe EC-1000
  • ESP LTD Deluxe MH-1000
  • ESP LTD Deluxe H-1001
  • ESP LTD EC-2005/EC-500
  • ESP LTD EC-400 (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP LTD EC-500 (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP LTD EX-400 (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP LTD EX-400BD (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP LTD F-2005/F-500
  • ESP LTD F-400MF
  • ESP LTD F-350
  • ESP LTD FX-400 (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP LTD "The Grynch" (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP LTD KH-602 (since 2009 with EMG-60 in the neck)
  • ESP LTD KH-603
  • ESP LTD M-400
  • ESP LTD MH-350FR (EMG-85 in neck)
  • ESP LTD MH-400 and MH-401 (EMG-85 in neck)
  • ESP LTD H-1001
  • ESP LTD M-1000
  • ESP LTD M-300FM
  • ESP LTD MP-600
  • ESP LTD Viper 2005 Limited (EMG-85 in neck)
  • ESP LTD Viper Deluxe 1000
  • ESP LTD V 401DX
  • ESP LTD V 300
  • ESP LTD Viper-400
  • ESP LTD VP-2005/VP-500
  • ESP M-II Custom (EMG-60 in neck)
  • ESP MX Custom Shop
  • ESP RZK-1
  • ESP SV
  • ESP Viper Standard Series
  • Fender Jim Root Telecaster (EMG-60 in neck)
  • Fender Jim Root Stratocaster (EMG-60 in neck)
  • Fernandes Revolver Pro-81
  • Gibson Les Paul Studio II EMG
  • Gibson Les Paul Zakk Wylde
  • Gibson SG Special II EMG
  • Godin Freeway EMG
  • Godin LG EMG
  • Godin Redline 1
  • Godin Redline 2 (EMG-85 in neck)
  • Godin Redline 3 (EMG-85 in neck)
  • Ibanez ART500E (EMG60 in neck)
  • Ibanez MBM1 (EMG85 in neck)
  • Ibanez RGA72TQMZE (EMG 81/85)
  • Ibanez RGT6EX (EMG85 in neck)
  • Ibanez RG3520ze (EMG 81/85)
  • Ibanez RG8420ZE (EMG 81/85)
  • Ibanez RGIR20E Iron Label (EMG 81/60)
  • Ibanez RGIR20FE Iron Label (EMG 81/60)
  • Ibanez RGIX20FEQM Iron Label (EMG 81/60)
  • Ibanez RGIB6 Iron Label (EMG 81/60)
  • Jackson Stealth
  • Jackson DKMG Dinky (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson DKMGT Dinky (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson RR24 Rhoads
  • Jackson RRTMG Rhoads (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson RRXMG Rhoads (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson RRMG Rhoads (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson JCS Kelly KE2 (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson KVMG King V (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson KVMGQ King V (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson KVXMG King V (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson Demmelition King V (EMG-60 in Neck)
  • Jackson SLSMG Soloist (EMG-85 in Neck) (After July 2006)
  • Jackson SLATXMG3-6 Soloist (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson SLATXMGQ3-6 Soloist (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson SLATTXMG3-6 Soloist (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson SLATTXMGQ3-6 Soloist (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson WRXMG Warrior (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson WRXTMG Warrior (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson WRMG Warrior (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Jackson DK1 Dinky (EMG-85 in Neck)
  • Schecter Guitar Research Hellraiser guitars
  • Schecter Guitar Research Damien Elite (EMG 81/85)
  • Schecter Guitar Research Damien Eilte Avenger (EMG 81/85)
  • Schecter Guitar Research Devil Spine
  • Schecter Guitar Research Devil Custom
  • Schecter Guitar Research Stiletto Classic
  • Steinberger Guitars Synapse Demon TranScale (EMG 81/85)
  • Washburn X50Pro FE
  • UVA Instruments - Baphomet
  • Cort X-TH (85 in neck)
  • Cort X6-SA (85 in neck)
  • Paul Reed Smith SE Torero (81 bridge, 85 neck)
  • References

    EMG 81 Wikipedia

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