While many of its contemporaries have
focused on meticulously tinkering with
pickup designs of the past, EMG has focused
on modern tones for the last 40 years. That
emphasis helped EMG lead the active-pickup
revolution, most notably with the wildly
popular 81, 85, and 60 models that provided
players with crisp, hot, detailed tones especially
suited to heavy music. But the new 57-B
(bridge) and 66-N (neck) pickups turn over a
new leaf and essentially attempt to meld vintage
PAF humbucker tone with active fidelity.
Old Dog, New Tricks
Both the 57-B and 66-N feature alnico 5 magnets,
which tend to provide smoother, stronger
midrange than the ceramic magnets in most
EMGs. The 66-N still uses ceramic pole pieces,
while the 57-B sports steel pieces. Each has an
attractive brushed-steel cover with a look that’s
simultaneously vintage and modern.
Each pickup comes with an EMG solder-less
connection kit—a pair of 25k volume and
tone pots, an output jack, 9V battery clip, wiring,
mounting hardware, and a small circuit
board with slots for snapping components
into place. The wiring from the pickup switch
can either be soldered onto tiny pads on the
board or clamped down with a set of screws.
Loading the pair into a Gibson Les Paul
Traditional was quick and almost effortless—I’ve never done a pickup installation this easy.
Excellent detail, clarity, and diversity, especially with the 66-N. Focused response with overdrive. Fast, easy installation.
Neck pickup might be too bright for some. Some loss of dynamics with high gain.
Playability/Ease of Use:
Playability/Ease of Use:
Active and Aggressive
Both the 57-B and 66-N react to picking dynamics and volume-knob changes in an uncannily biting and PAF-like way.
They aren’t as smooth and rich as some
PAF reproductions, but what you lose in
smoothness you get back in dynamics.
Through a ’65 Fender Twin Reverb reissue,
jazz chords from the 66-N yielded a
robust, extremely clean tone with great detail,
sustain, and output. The best PAFs produce
Texas-sized tone that’s clear and crisp in spite
of relatively low output. The 66-N nails this
while smoothing out low end when you roll
back the guitar’s volume. It also has high-end
crispness and detail that a lot of neck PAFs
lose when you cut the output.
Throwing some dirt into the mix with a
Boss SD-1 thickened up the tone even more,
though at the expense of dynamics. Picking
harder didn’t seem to bring out the highs as
much, and the mids lost a bit of their liveliness.
Still, I was able to coax out some pretty
nice Clapton “woman” tones with velvety mids
that sang in slow and nuanced lead settings.
The 57-B was a bit more even sounding.
The mids and highs had the same presence,
and the lows were tighter and snappier than
the booming 66-N. Thin Lizzy-inspired riffs
and heavy attack showcased honky midrange
that softened nicely as I eased up. The
highs were smooth as silk, while the lows
stayed focused and punchy as I piled on
the gain from the SD-1. Clarity was excellent,
and complex mids remained uncluttered
even with seething distortion from
a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier. Dynamics
suffered a bit from the added gain, and decreased sensitivity and range was even more pronounced with hard-rock and metal
tones—though it was still impressive for a
PAF-style pickup. The lows were tight—not
unlike an EMG 81—and the highs and
mids flattened out in a way that complemented
The melding of vintage character and EMG’s
trademark fidelity makes the 57-B and 66-N
unique beasts. Though the loss of richness
with medium to heavy gain might turn off
some headbangers, players looking for a
new spin on PAF tones will love the detail
and clarity. In the right hands, these EMGs
might just become modern classics.