Having hard time with EMG active pickups

  • Hi all,


    I am a new Kemper owner (powered) and at the same time have bought a replaced the stock humbuckers in my budget guitar with an EMG Het Set active pickups.


    This is my first experience with actives and I have made the mistake of not checking the Kemper tones with stock passives, thus have no reference to compare to. I, also have no other guitar to try it with at the moment.


    So here is the issue, all and I mean all profiles whether stock, rig exchange or commercial sound really dull with no dynamics. They all sound the same and are pretty muffled on the higher gain spectrum. It even gets worse when I play using the neck pickup. My setup is guitar > Kemper front input > Kemper main outputs > balanced (L & R) inputs into Mackie Cr4 monitors. As far as the guitar and monitors go, I am aware that they are not quality and might be contributing to the issue.


    I have no clipping issues on input or output. Cabs are enabled and there are no global EQ's acting anywhere. I have tried many parameters and especially the distortion sense with no benefit. I have changed the batteries and even bought a new quality cable. The Kemper just sounded bad and after reading many threads came to the conclusion that the signal from the EMGs might be too hot.


    Yesterday I took it to the extreme (maybe) and decided to lower the pickups height as far as possible; given that I have initially set them up pretty close to the strings. Now they are sitting as far as 1/4 in. (6.3 mm) away from the strings when pressed at the last fret. They are sunk way below the pickup frames and I can actually see a gap into the cavity.


    But guess what, now I am getting killer tones with much better dynamics and all.


    I guess my issue is practically solved (maybe) but I thought I'd start this thread to see what more experienced players would say. I am still in doubt if lowering the pickups that low is the right solution or am I overlooking something. I would appreciate if anyone could share their experience with active pickups; whether it be their pickup height, any special parameters in the Kemper, etc.


    Thanks.

  • I don't think there's anything wrong with lowering them that much; they're pretty-hot after all.


    Also, if you're running a mahogany body be aware that things might sound a bit dull-and-muddy if you're running EMG 89s for driven sounds. I learned the hard way that '85s at the very least and moreso 81s are a lot safer for this wood, especially if it's a mahogany neck as well.


    For cleans, the 89 is great with mahogany for jazz tones, but once you start getting into crunch and beyond, to my ears amps start to sound samey and layering tracks with different amps just doesn't give you the variety you'd otherwise expect from using different amps with one guitar.


    YMMV, and as I suggested, this is something I learned the hard-and-expensive way back in the '90s with custom jobs for which I picked 89s when I should have gone 85, 81 or combinations thereof.

  • I had a guitar with emg's in it, LTD 401 EX. I have owned other's before but this one was the only one I've owned since I bought the kemper. I had the pickups quite high close to the strings and it sounded killer and no no rig sounded the same either and they should not do that. Yes active pickups are less sensitive and works good on some profiles some passive pickups don't, or less good.

  • Interesting. I don't have EMG's, but I'll have to see how things sound when running my Ibanez S7320 with EMG Blackouts into the Kemper. Thus far, I've only had time to mess with running my custom Ibanez with Fishman Fluence pickups into the Kemper and those sounded great, although they are not a traditional active pickup. Glad you seem to have solved your issue!

  • Never had the chance to test a guitar with Fishman Fluence but they seem to sound more or less like a pair of EMG in active mode. At least when I listen to YT clips.

    I've played a couple guitars with EMG's and the Fluence, even in active mode, don't really "feel" the same to me. I can toggle back and forth between Active and Passive mode and while there IS a difference, it's not night and day like switching between a real passive and something like an EMG, at least to my 47 year old ears. FWIW, I don't have any high frequency hearing loss yet... and used to have to do auditory testing for lossy compression and lossless compression audio codecs (MP3, AAC, ATRAC, etc...) so I'm hopefully not on the "terrible" side of the "golden ear" spectrum... though I am by no means the best ears in the biz. As always, YMMV. ;)

  • Very interesting thread. When I use to work in the Jackson customshop/ EVH/Charvel in Corona I had my fair share installing and testing all different varieties of pickups. The EMG's are thin sounding type pick ups to begin with unless you get the more bottom sounding version like 89's or artist versions. We would set the pick ups as close to the strings as possible (usually 4-2/64th fretting the high and low E strings at the last fret. )


    Since I got my Kemper, I have the Fishman KSE artist pickups in my new Dean M24 and EMG 81-85's in my Dean Stealth V fitted with fu-tone hardware and I have unbelievable sustain and bite with both setups. The profiles are altered from the EVH 5150 50 w from my friend Chris Green that I slightly modified. So happy with my sound.lol.. anyways, you just gotta find that sweet spot for your style of playing which sounds like you resolved it.

    I play Dean guitars upgraded with fu-tone upgrades! I am also the guitarist for the band Ryatt. Finally got my Kemper and it has changed the way how I listen to guitars! Thank you Kemper!



    S.O.T.L ( Silas Of The Lamb)

    https://www.reverbnation.com/seansilas

  • I've played a couple guitars with EMG's and the Fluence, even in active mode, don't really "feel" the same to me. I can toggle back and forth between Active and Passive mode and while there IS a difference, it's not night and day like switching between a real passive and something like an EMG, at least to my 47 year old ears. FWIW, I don't have any high frequency hearing loss yet... and used to have to do auditory testing for lossy compression and lossless compression audio codecs (MP3, AAC, ATRAC, etc...) so I'm hopefully not on the "terrible" side of the "golden ear" spectrum... though I am by no means the best ears in the biz. As always, YMMV. ;)

    Well YT isn't the best to judge sound and if I had DI files to compare I would here some difference too. Maybe not that much but enough. One day soon enough I will buy Fishman Fluence pickups. :thumbup:

  • Yup the guitar has a mahogany body and neck. The pickups sounded really good when on clean with a very warm sound, however once on higher gain settings it just went downhill from there. Lowering them seems to have fixed the problem. but now the guitar looks aesthetically weird with the pickups sunk that low.

  • I had a guitar with emg's in it, LTD 401 EX. I have owned other's before but this one was the only one I've owned since I bought the kemper. I had the pickups quite high close to the strings and it sounded killer and no no rig sounded the same either and they should not do that. Yes active pickups are less sensitive and works good on some profiles some passive pickups don't, or less good.

    I mean you could hear the power of the pickups however everything lacked dynamics. Playing power chords was awesome but not so much on leads. Maybe my ears are just not used to actives, this is my first experience with them after all.

  • Very interesting thread. When I use to work in the Jackson customshop/ EVH/Charvel in Corona I had my fair share installing and testing all different varieties of pickups. The EMG's are thin sounding type pick ups to begin with unless you get the more bottom sounding version like 89's or artist versions. We would set the pick ups as close to the strings as possible (usually 4-2/64th fretting the high and low E strings at the last fret. )


    Since I got my Kemper, I have the Fishman KSE artist pickups in my new Dean M24 and EMG 81-85's in my Dean Stealth V fitted with fu-tone hardware and I have unbelievable sustain and bite with both setups. The profiles are altered from the EVH 5150 50 w from my friend Chris Green that I slightly modified. So happy with my sound.lol.. anyways, you just gotta find that sweet spot for your style of playing which sounds like you resolved it.

    I have the James Hatfield set and initially had them set quite close to the strings as per EMG recommendations. But with that my first problem was that I had no control over the volume. I probably had volume control from 0 - 3 when turning the knob and basically the volume stayed the same from 3 to 10. I am in contact with EMG now as I could have faulty volume pots. But with lowering the pickups that low, I now have better tone with the Kemper and full control over the volume 0 - 10. I am not sure where the actual problem is hahaha

  • Do you have another amp that you can test your guitar with? EMGs have a very low magnetic pull and can be very close to the strings. They typically sound best up high. Something sounds wrong about your situation to me. Unfortunately without another guitar or amp it’s going to be tough to isolate. I’d start by checking/redoing the wiring. They are all solderless installs now, so double checking should be easy.


    Also, are you using 1/4” cables or XLR from the main out? I have only had luck with XLR for some reason. Do you have headphones so you can see if it’s an issue with your monitors?

  • EMG81/85 in my Gibson Flying V all mahogany. I have the PUs as close to the strings as possible.

    The sound is nothing dull, i find it rather too harsh for some profiles.

    I'd recommend (if you haven't done this already) try to find profiles that have been created with EMGs (if possible the saem model you are using).

    Or maybe try the Lasse Lammert rig pack, these profiles are pretty bright (and i think were made with EMGs?).


    I also had EMGs in another (ESP) guitar with mahogany body, maple neck. Great sound too. No dullness at al.

  • Do you have another amp that you can test your guitar with? EMGs have a very low magnetic pull and can be very close to the strings. They typically sound best up high. Something sounds wrong about your situation to me. Unfortunately without another guitar or amp it’s going to be tough to isolate. I’d start by checking/redoing the wiring. They are all solderless installs now, so double checking should be easy.


    Also, are you using 1/4” cables or XLR from the main out? I have only had luck with XLR for some reason. Do you have headphones so you can see if it’s an issue with your monitors?

    That's what I keep reading on every forum I come across, EMGs should be as close as possible. Unfortunately I have no access to another guitar or physical amp at the moment. I have Guitar Rig 5 software and had the same issue as the Kemper. I guess I'll have to wait a couple of months till I save up for my dream Les Paul hahahah.

    As far as wiring goes I have checked many times and confirmed by sending pics to EMG support. There are no issues there. I am using 1/4" cables unbalanced into the Kemper and balanced from the Kemper to the monitors. Monitor and headphones sound the same.

  • You are correct. Definitely found the profiles that were made with EMGs better sounding than others, but still no dynamics at all. Only after lowering the pickups I was able to get decent tone. I'll check out the Lasse Lammert pack. Thanks.

  • EMG support is now telling me I could either have bad volume pots or there is some weird issue with the guitar build being magnified by the EMGs since the guitar is a budget not so great quality product ($200), if that makes any sense haha

  • I recently replaced my SD JB/Jazz set with an EMG KK Set (81/85 + preamp) in my LTD ET1000. And they sound fine with Kemper. The Preamp though gets a bit Hot, But I don't have them up too close either. The dynamics are definitely different than passives but I assumed that is a given with actives.

    When Using EMG I have the distortion sens down to -12 and clean to around -6


    Have you tried them with 18v. That will give them more headroom/breathing space.

    Apart from Lars Luettge pack give the Guidorist pack a try too. He also has EMG actives installed.