Back in GI 18, we reviewed ESP's fine Andy James signature model, the AJ1, which comes with a pair of EMG's 57 and 66 pickups. But suppose you wanted those EMGs in your own guitar? Now you can! Rick Graham tries a set.
The subject, or should I say subjects, of this particular review form an integral part of the tone of a guitar that I reviewed in issue 18, the ESP AJ1 Andy James signature model. And a very fine guitar it is too! The pickups in the AJ1, EMG 57 and 66 actives, formed a formidable team and I distinctly remember being very impressed with the tones they produced. This time around though, I'll be testing these badboys in an ESP LTD Les Paul style guitar and we'll be A/B'ing the pickups alongside an identical LTD model, but fitted with the stock pickups so that you can hear the difference.
Both of these pickups have been voiced to be used in only one position, so that means the 57 is to be used only in the bridge position and the 66 is designed to be used only in the neck position. The 57 bridge pickup uses a combination of Alnico V magnets and steel pole pieces and the 66 neck pickup differs from the 57 in that it uses ceramic pole pieces. Both pickups come supplied with EMG's unique Solderless Install System. This includes: split shaft volume/tone control set, output jack, battery clip set, screws & springs. This will no doubt be a real time saver as well as a more attractive option for those who shudder at the thought of using a soldering iron! It's also worth noting that connection components are purported to offer more in terms of reliability and offer more resistance against temperature changes.
Visually, both pickups look awesome and come in a choice of Chrome, Brushed Chrome, Black Chrome, Brushed Black Chrome, Gold and Brushed Gold finishes.
Casting my mind back to when I reviewed the AJ1, I distinctly remember how well the EMG 57 and 66 worked in conjunction with one another and although they offer a lot in terms of output, they were still able to do a fantastic job at capturing the actual tone of the instrument. Active pickups have sometimes come under fire for being a little too clinical when it comes to tone reproduction but I certainly feel that there is no sacrifice in tone here. The 57 proved itself to be a great sounding pickup, perfect for tight Rock and Metal rhythm tones as well as screaming lead. It cleaned up really well for some sparkling clean tones too.
The 66, meanwhile, had a real warmth despite being a very bright sounding neck humbucker and really excelled when it came to sustain. Perfect for those high gain soaring lead melody moments. Again, the 66 cleaned up remarkably well and offered some lovely vintage sounding clean tones.
Anyway, you can hear for yourselves the difference between these EMGs and our stock ESP LTD and make your own mind up!
For me, the EMG 57 & 66 make for a beastly pickup combination that offers quite a considerable amount of versatility, despite their 'death to all but metal' looks!
As always with replacement pickups, we get down to the price. Is it worth putting a set of pickups into a guitar that costs less than the pickups themselves? Well, it can be if it's a well-made guitar or one that you particularly like the feel of and if you put them into a good quality mid-range guitar, I'd say that they would be a great option as opposed to splashing-out on a real high-end guitar costing thousands.