EMG 60 Vs 85: Which Guitar Pickup Is Better? [2023 Guide]

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If you’re curious about the EMG 60 vs 85 pickups and how they compare, this post is for you!

And if you don’t have either of these pickups but want to learn about tricking out your guitar with one of these pickups, check out my article on hot-rodded guitars.

EMG Pickups

EMG is currently one of the biggest names in the world of guitar. Making pickups ever since 1976, their active humbuckers are one of their more popular products. However, they still make some passive pickups as well.

To those not familiar, active pickups come with built-in preamps that require additional power. This power comes from any standard 9-volt battery.

At the same time, they also use fewer windings of wire compared to passive ones. This results in a “hotter” output, making them very popular among metal musicians.

And this genre is exactly where EMG pickups get the most use. However, surprisingly enough, some classic rock players used them as well. For instance, David Gilmour, Prince, and Steve Lukather had them on some of their guitars at some point.

But their metal reputation for popularity in metal remains. Plus, pairing them with a tube amp creates a lot of quality distortion.

EMG 60

The EMG 60 model is an active humbucking pickup. It is designed to be a neck pickup. Or, according to the traditional role, it’s a “rhythm” pickup. In most cases, guitarists pair it with the EMG 81 model. In fact, these two are quite often sold together.

The 60 variant is designed in such a way to bring a “thicker” tone. There’s a noticeable accent on the bottom-ends. But it also has very pronounced mids, and the high-ends add to its character as well.

It’s also worth noting that it comes with ceramic magnets. This makes its response in the high-ends pretty great.

Its resonant frequency is at 2.95 kHz and the output impedance is 10 kOhms. The battery life for the 60 is estimated at around 3000 hours of playing.

Although a neck pickup, some guitarists also use it in the bridge position. Yes, the bridge position might be a bit unconventional. However, it can add some thickness and power to the tone in this position.

Jackson King V JS32 - Pickup Upgrade (EMG 81 & 60)

EMG 85

The EMG 85 variant is yet another active humbucker. And this one goes way back as one of the company’s first pickups. Just like the EMG 60, the EMG 80 is also designed to be a neck pickup.

This one comes with a bit of a “bassy” tone. In it, you will find Alnico 5 magnets which give their own twist to the active pickup configuration. And, quite often, many praise this pickup for its versatility.

The EMG 85 has a resonant frequency of around 2.45 kHz. Meanwhile, its output impedance measures at 10 kOhms.  

That said, the 85 has a great response with some of the deeper frequencies. Many consider its tone a bit “rounder.” But this is what makes it really interesting.

You can even put it into the bridge position for a different twist. However, this isn’t what it was originally designated for. It’s worth trying, but the resulting tone might not be for everyone.

Most commonly, the 85 goes in pair with EMG 81. The most famous user of this combination is Zakk Wylde.

EMG 81 & 85 - Metal | Pete Cottrell
You can hear the EMG 81 and 85 combination in this video!

EMG 60 vs 85: Which One Is Better?

Both EMG 60 and EMG 85 are active neck pickups. Additionally, they’re both favored and highly praised by metal players.

What’s more, you will notice they have some of the same specs. Both can last for about 3000 hours on your average 9-volt battery. And they both have an output impedance of 10 kOhms.

Despite obvious similarities, there are some nuanced differences in their tone. But these nuances can mean a world of difference to lovers of active pickups.

This is especially true for metal players. After all, metal players can be picky and detail-oriented when it comes to tone. 

While both pickups focus on slightly lower frequencies, the EMG 60 might bring more clarity. Guitarists often praise it for its clean tones, although this comes down to personal tastes.

Its use of ceramic magnets really boosts the trebles. In the bridge position, it may even sound a bit “twangy,” like a single-coil pickup. These are some of the reasons why the 60 is more popular as a bridge pickup compared to EMG 85.

EMG 85, on the other hand, is a bit more bass-oriented. In fact, some would even call its tone slightly “muddy.” The experiences with this “muddy” tone are different, and different players report different results. This muddiness can come down to the use of different amps, effects, and other gear.

EMG 60 vs 85: Which One Should I Pick?

Although I’ve pointed out some differences, both of these pickups are pretty close if you use them in the neck position.

If you’re playing a sensitive tube amp, you might notice some differences more easily. However, if you’re playing the regular high-gain stuff, they’re very similar. And many would even say their differences are imperceptible.

In case you play amps where even the slightest nuances are noticeable, then you might find that the 85 brings out more of the bass while the 60 has a really good high-end response. 

Likewise, if you’re planning to use the 85 as a bridge pickup, bear in mind that it might not be as sharp as you’d like. This isn’t necessarily a downside as some prefer this tone.

Both 81/85 and 81/60 humbucker combinations are very popular among metal players. Some experimentation with positioning can bring good results. But at the end of the day, it boils down to personal preference.  

EMG 81 vs EMG 85 vs EMG 60 - Neck Position

EMG 60 vs 85: Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you learn more about these pickups and which you might prefer.

As usual, please let me know if you have further questions in the comments!

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