Seymour Duncan vs EMG Pickups: Which are the Best?


Seymour Duncan and EMG are both incredibly popular guitar pickup brands, but which one makes the best designs? In this article, I’ll compare the signature tones of Seymour Duncan and EMG, along with the different models on offer in the range, and the price, to help you decide which is the best option for your guitar.

At a Glance

Seymour Duncan pickups have a more vintage tone compared to EMG pickups which sound more modern. Seymour Duncan make a wide range of passive pickups and make a limited range of active pickups, whilst EMG specialise more in active pickups, and make fewer passive options.

Contents

This article is pretty long because I wanted to go into as much depth as possible to help you make your decision on which pickups are best for you, so I’ve split it into the following sections:

  • Brand Overviews
  • Tone Comparison
  • Ranges and Options
  • Which Should You Choose?

Brand Overview

Before we compare the two brands, I thought it’d be a good idea to briefly outline and summarise the EMG and Seymour Duncan ranges so you can get to grips which the types of pickups on offer. If you’re already an expert and just want to look at the comparisons, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.

Seymour Duncan

Seymour Duncan primarily make passive pickups in humbucker, single coil and P90 varieties. They also make a limited range of active humbucker pickups. They range is absolutely huge, and I’ll go into more detail on it later in the article when I compare it to the EMG range, so for now, here’s a quick summary.

Humbuckers

The range is divided into the following:

  • Vintage (lower output): ‘59 Model, Slash, Pearly Gates, Jazz Model, Antiquity Humbucker, Seth Lover, Whole Lotta Humbucker, Alnico II Pro HB, Vintage Blues, Saturday Night Special, Phat Cat, Antiquity Jazz HB.
  • Medium Output: ‘59 Custom Hybrid, Custom 5, Screamin’ Demon, Full Shred, P-Rails, Custom Custom, Benedetto, Jason Becker Perpetual Burn, Parallel Axis Blue Saraceno.
  • High Output: JB Model, Hot Rodded, Mark Holcomb, Invader, Duncan Distortion, Black Winter, Nazgul, Mayhem, Duncan Custom, Dimebucker, Sentient, Pegasus, Dimebag, Alternative 8, Jupiter Rails, Dave Mustaine Thrash Factor, Parallel Axis Distortion.
  • Active: Mick Thomson Blackouts, Jeff Loomis Blackouts, Dave Mustaine, Retribution, Blackouts HB.

Stratocaster Single Coils

The range is divided into true single coil and noiseless models:

  • True Single Coil: Custom Flat/ Staggered, Vintage Flat/ Staggered, Antiquity Texas Hot, Quarter Pound Flat/ Staggered, Antiquity II, Hot, Jimi Hendrix, Vintage Flat, Alnico Pro II Flat/ Staggered, Lipstick Tube, Five-Two.
  • Noiseless: Hot Rails, Classic Stack, Everything Axe, YJM Fury, Little ’59, JB Jr, Duckbuckers, Vintage Rails, Cool Rails, Vintage Hot, Red Devil, Hot Sack, Custom Stack Plus.

Telecaster Single Coils

The range is divided into true single coil and noiseless models:

  • True Single Coil: Vintage Broadcaster, Quarter Pound, Hot, Alnico II Pro, Vintage, Vintage ’54, Five-Two, Jerry Donahue Lead, Brad Paisley La Bra, Antiquity, Antiquity II, Antiquity ’55.
  • Noiseless: Hot Rails, Little ’59, Hot Stack, Vintage Stack.

P90s

Here is a breakdown of the Seymour Duncan P90 selection:

  • Vintage (lower output): Antiquity P90, Antiquity P90 Dog Ear, Vintage P90.
  • Medium Output: P90 Stack, P-Rails.
  • High Output: Hot P90, Custom P90.

Offset Guitars

Seymour Duncan also make pickups for the Jaguar including the following: Antiquity, Antiquity II, Vintage and Duo-Sonic.

Here are some images (all link to Amazon) to show some of the most popular designs.

Duncan Distortion

Antiquity P90 Dog Ear

Vintage Strat

Blackouts

EMG

EMG produce active and passive pickups in single coil, humbucker and P90 designs. They specialise primarily in active humbuckers, and these models make up the bulk of the range, which is why they are so often associated with modern metal music.

Active Humbuckers

EMG’s active humbucker range is split into the modern series (57, 58, 60, 66, 81, 85 and 89) and the retro active series (Fat 55, Hot 70, Super 77).

They use both alnico and ceramic pickups, and most of the pickups in the modern series are designed to either go in the bridge or the neck position. However, there are some pickups which are considered more balanced and work well in either position, and even pickups that are designed to go in the bridge, can also work really well in the neck and vice-versa.

Most numbers also have different variants e.g. X or TW. Here’s what they mean:

  • A = alnico magnets (not all pickups with alnico magnets have the A)
  • TW = dual-mode (humbucker and single coil tones using coil splitting)
  • X = X-series pre-amp which provides better clarity
  • R = reversed single coil positioning

The retro active series come in black and zebra colour options and have an open coil design, whilst the modern series offers some open coil options, but most are fully cased and available in multiple colours.

Passive Humbuckers

EMG have a passive humbucker range made up of the following models: H1, H2, H3, H4. With each model, you can also get a variant which has alnico magnets instead of ceramic, and these are distinguished using the letter “A” e.g. H1A.

Single Coils

EMG make a wide range of single coil pickups, and many of them are voiced specifically for either a Stratocaster, or a Telecaster. They are usually designed for specific positions, and utilise alnico and ceramic magnets. The active range consists of the following models: Crossroads, FT/ RT, Maverick, S. The passive range consists of the S1, S2, S3 and S4 models.

P90s

EMG split their P90 range into models designed for the neck position, and models designed for the bridge position. However, as with the humbucker range, you can experiment with different positionings.

  • Neck P90s: P60, P60A, P92HZ
  • Bridge P90s: P81, P85, P91HZ

All the pickups are active except for the P91HZ and P92HZ models.

The EMG range is huge an it can be very difficult to select the right pickup for your guitar. I’ve made a complete guide to the EMG pickup range which includes all the models and how they differ, so check it out here if you want to learn more.

Here are some images (all link to Amazon) of some of the most popular EMG pickup designs. Most models are available in a few different colours.

EMG 85 Humbucker

EMG 57 Humbucker

EMG Super 77 Set

EMG S Single Coils

Tone Comparison

Comparing the tones of two entire pickup brands is pretty difficult, and really risks oversimplification. However, it’s what you can here for so I’ll do my best to decipher the signature tones of the brands.

Since Seymour Duncan primarily specialise in passive pickups, and EMG in active pickups, this allows us to identify the first big differences.

  • Active pickups have a higher output and better clarity when using high gain amplifier settings. They also produce less hum and background noise.
  • Passive pickups have a more vintage tone by comparison and a wider dynamic range.

This means that Seymour Duncan pickups tend to sound a bit more classic whilst EMG pickups sound more modern. Although you can play a range of music styles with either brand’s pickups, EMG are most commonly associated with heavy modern metal, whilst Seymour Duncan are slightly more versatile, but less suited to super heavy metal.

It’s also important to consider the magnet material, as this has a huge impact on the voicing of the pickups. Both brands use ceramic and alnico magnets. Ceramics have a higher output and tighter low-end, whilst alnico magnets produce a more rounded tone. So with each brand it’s possible to choose whichever magnet type sounds best to you, again making it hard to pin down concrete differences between the brands’ tone.

If I had to distil it into a few bullet points, this is what I’d say:

  • Seymour Duncan pickups sound more rounded and full, with a wider dynamic range and more mid-range frequencies than EMG pickups.
  • EMG pickups sound a bit scooped in the mid-range by comparison, causing then to sound a bit thinner than Seymour Duncan pickups. This is more evident when using clean tones.
  • EMG pickups have a tight low-end and very crisp highs which cut through very well when using distortion.
  • Seymour Duncan pickups have a warmer more natural tone than EMG pickups which sound more artificial.

Personally, I prefer the clean tones of Seymour Duncan pickups, due to their open and rich tone, whilst EMG pickups sound better when using distortion due to the crispness and high output of the active technology.

Of course, this is a generalisation, and the brands make such large ranges of pickups that you can easily find an EMG which sounds fuller than a Duncan and vice-versa.

If you’re into metal, then check out this video below to hear the EMG 81 and Seymour Duncan Distortion SH-6 in action. These two pickups represent the metal tones that both brands offer really well.

Ranges and Options

In this next section, I wanted to compare the full ranges of EMG and Seymour Duncan pickups so you can see what they specialise in. The prices are all from Seymour Duncan’s and EMG’s websites at the time of writing and are subject to change.

Considering how large each brands’ ranges are, the tables are massive. I’ve just made them to help give a summary so you can see what options are available to you at your price point. All the tables are ordered from the lowest to the highest price and are split into the following pickup types:

  • Passive Humbuckers
  • Active Humbuckers
  • P90 Pickups
  • Stratocaster Single Coils
  • Telecaster Single Coils

If you’re not interested in this section, keep scrolling because there are some additional sections after all the tables.

Guitar Center have a huge range of pickups at great prices so make sure you check them out if you’re in the market for some. Here’s a link to take you directly to Guitar Center’s pickup range so you can check for current deals.

Passive Humbuckers

  • Seymour Duncan have a much larger range of passive humbuckers than EMG.
  • Seymour Duncan cater for the 7 and 8 string market more than EMG for passive humbuckers.
  • Most Seymour Duncan pickups are voiced specifically for the neck or bridge yet have the same name, whilst EMG usually voice specific models for different positions, although they can still be used in either.
PickupMagnetPositionStringsPrice
SD ’59 ModelAlnico VEither6, 7$79
SD JB ModelAlnico VBridge6, 7$79
SD Jazz ModelAlnico VEither6, 7$79
SD Duncan DistortionCeramicEither6, 7, 8$79
SD Duncan CustomCeramicBridge6, 7$79
SD Custom 5Alnico VBridge6, 7$79
SD Alnico II ProAlnico IIEither6$89
SD InvaderCeramicEither6, 7, 8$89
SD Black WinterCeramicEither6, 7, 8$99
SD Phat CatAlnico IIEither6$89
SD Full ShredAlnico VEither6, 7, 8$89
SD Custom CustomAlnico II6Bridge$89
SD NazgulCeramicBridge6, 7, 8$99
SD SentientAlnicoNeck6, 7, 8$99
SD ’59 Custom HybridAlnico VBridge6$99
SD PegasusAlnico VBridge6, 7, 8$99
SD P-RailsAlnico VEither6$99
SD Alternative 8Alnico VIIIBridge6$99
EMG H1CeramicAny6$99
EMG H1AAlnicoAny$99
EMG H2CeramicAny$99
EMG H2AAlnicoAny$99
EMG H3CeramicAny6$99
EMG H3AAlnicoAny6$99
EMG H4CeramicAny6$99
EMG H4AAlnicoAny6$99
SD SlashAlnico IIEither6$109
SD Pearly GatesAlnico IIEither6$109
SD Whole Lotta HumbuckerAlnico VEither6$109
SD DimebuckerCeramicBridge6$109
SD Saturday Night SpecialAlnico IVEither6$109
SD Screamin’ DemonAlnico VBridge6$109
SD Jason Becker Perpetual BurnAlnico VBridge6$109
SD Dave Mustaine Thrash FactorAlnico VEither6$109
SD Seth LoverAlnico IIEither6$119
SD BenedettoAlnico VEither6$119
SD Mark HolcombCeramicEither6, 7, 8$129
SD Jupiter RailsCeramicEither6$129
SD AntiquityAlnico IIEither6$139
SD Ducan Distortion Active MountCeramicEither7, 8$139
SD Nazgul Active MountCeramicBridge7, 8$139
SD Sentient Active MountAlnico VNeck7, 8$139
SD Psyclone Filter’TronAlnico VEither6$139
SD Hot RoddedAlnico VBoth6$149 (set)
SD MayhemCeramicBoth6$149 (set)
SD Vintage BluesAlnico VBoth6$149 (set)
SD DimebagCeramicBoth6$199 (set)
SD P-Rails Triple ShotAlnico VBoth6$259 (set)
Seymour Duncan (SD) vs EMG Passive Humbucker Range

Active Humbuckers

  • EMG make a much larger range of active humbuckers than Seymour Duncan.
  • Most Seymour Duncan pickups are voiced specifically for the neck or bridge yet have the same name, whilst EMG usually voice specific models for different positions, although they can still be used in either.
PickupMagnetPositionStringsPrice
SD Blackouts HB Coil Pack CeramicAny 6$79
EMG 58AlnicoAny 6$99
EMG 60CeramicNeck6, 7, 8$99
EMG 60AAlnicoNeck 6$99
EMG 81CeramicBridge6, 7, 8 $99
EMG 85AlnicoNeck6, 7 ,8$99
EMG HCeramicAny$99
EMG HAAlnicoAny6$99
SD Blackouts HBCeramic Any 6, 7 $99
EMG 707AlnicoAny7$109
EMG 58XAlnicoAny$109
EMG 60AXAlnicoNeck6$109
EMG 60XAlnicoNeck 6, 7, 8$109
EMG 81XCeramicBridge 6, 7 ,8$109
EMG 85XAlnicoNeck 6, 7, 8$109
EMG HXCeramicAny 6$109
EMG HAXAlnicoAny 6$109
EMG 707XAlnicoAny7$109
EMG 808AlnicoAny8$119
EMG 81TWCeramicBridge 6$119
EMG 57AlnicoBridge 6, 7, 8$119
EMG 66Alnico/ CeramicNeck 6, 7, 8$119
EMG 89AlnicoBridge6$119
EMG 89RAlnicoBridge$119
 SD Mick ThomsonCeramic Either 6, 7 $119 
SD Retribution  CeramicAny 7, 8$125
EMG 707TW/ 707TWRAlnicoAny7$129
EMG 808XAlnicoAny8$129
EMG 909AlnicoAny9$129
EMG 81TWXCeramicAny 6$129
EMG 89XAlnicoBridge 6$129
EMG 89XRAlnicoBridge 6$129
SD Jeff Loomis Blackouts AlnicoAny  7 $129
EMG 909XAlnicoAny9$139
EMG 66TWAlnico/ CeramicNeck 6$139
EMG 707TWX/ 707TWX-RAlnicoAny7$139
EMG Fat 55AlnicoAny6, 7$199 (for set)
EMG Hot 70 BridgeCeramicBridge6, 7 $199 (for set)
EMG Hot 70 NeckAlnicoNeck6, 7$199 (for set)
EMG Super 77CeramicBoth 6$199 (for set)
SD Dave MustainAlnico VBoth6$209 (for set)
Seymour Duncan (SD) vs EMG Active Humbucker Range

P90 Pickups

  • EMG make active and passive P90 pickups.
  • Seymour Duncan only make passive P90 pickups.
  • Most Seymour Duncan pickups are voiced specifically for the neck or bridge yet have the same name, whilst EMG usually voice specific models for different positions, although they can still be used in either.
PickupTypeMagnetsPositionPrice
SD Phat CatPassiveAlnico IIAny$89
SD Vintage P90PassiveAlnico IIAny$99
SD P-RailsPassiveAlnico VAny$99
SD Hot P90PassiveCeramicAny$99
SD Custom P90PassiveCeramicAny$99
EMG P60ActiveCeramicNeck$99
EMG P60AActiveAlnico VNeck$99
EMG P81ActiveCeramicBridge$99
EMG P85ActiveAlnico VBridge$99
EMG P91HZPassiveCeramicBridge$99
EMG P92HZPassiveAlnico VNeck$99
SD Antiquity P90 Dog EarPassiveAlnico IIAny$109
SD Antiquity P90PassiveAlnico IIAny$119
SD P90 StackPassiveAlnico VAny$119
Seymour Duncan (SD) vs EMG P90 Range

Stratocaster Single Coils

  • EMG make active and passive single coils whilst Seymour Duncan only make passive versions.
  • Most Seymour Duncan pickups are voiced specifically for the neck, middle and bridge positions yet have the same name, whilst EMG usually voice specific models for different positions, although they can still be used in either position.
PickupTypeMagnetPositionPrice
SD Custom Staggered StratPassiveAlnico VAny$59
SD Vintage Staggered StratPassiveAlnico VAny$59
SD Quarter Pound StratPassiveAlnico VAny$59
SD Quarter Pound StaggeredPassiveAlnico VAny$59
SD Hot StratPassiveAlnico VAny$59
SD Vintage Flat StratPassiveAlnico VAny$59
SD Custom Flat StratPassiveAlnico VAny$59
SD Alnico II Pro Flat StratPassiveAlnico IIAny$69
SD Alnico II Pro StaggeredPassiveAlnico IIAny$69
SD Hot Stack StratPassiveCeramicAny$79
SD Lipstick Tube StratPassiveAlnico VAny$85
SD Vintage Hot Plus StratPassiveAlnico VAny$89
SD Cool Rails StratPassiveCeramicAny$89
SD Vintage Rails StratPassiveCeramicAny$89
SD DuckbuckersPassiveCeramicAny$89
SD JB Jr StratPassiveCeramicAny$89
SD Little ’59 StratPassiveAlnico VAny$89
SD Antiquity Strat Texas HotPassiveAlnico IIAny$89
SD Antiquity II Surfer StratPassiveAlnico VAny$89
SD Classic Stack Plus StratPassiveAlnico VAny$89
SD Custom Stack Plus StratPassiveAlnico VAny$89
SD Hot Rails StratPassiveCeramicAny$89
SD Five-TwoPassiveAlnico II+VAny$89
EMG CrossroadsActiveAlnico IIAny$89
EMG Maverick VActiveAlnico VAny$89
EMG SActiveCeramicBridge$89
EMG S1PassiveAlnico VAny$89
EMG S2PassiveAlnico VAny$89
EMG S3PassiveAlnico VAny$89
EMG S4PassiveCeramicAny$89
EMG SAActiveAlnico VAny$89
EMG SAVActiveAlnico VAny$89
EMG SLVActiveAlnico VAny$89
EMG SVActiveAlnico VAny$89
SD YJM Fury StratPassiveAlnico VAny$99
EMG SAVXActiveAlnico VAny$99
EMG SAXActiveAlnico VAny$99
EMG SLVXActiveAlnico VAny$99
EMG SXActiveCeramicAny$99
SD Red DevilPassiveAlnico VAny$109
Seymour Duncan (SD) vs EMG Stratocaster Single Coil Range

Telecaster Single Coils

  • EMG make active single coils whilst Seymour Duncan only make passive versions.
  • The EMG Tele range is divided into ones that are suitable for the neck, and ones suitable for the bridge position. Most Seymour Duncan pickups are also divided this way, but some models include both neck and bridge varieties.
PickupTypeMagnetPositionPrice
SD Vintage ’54 TelePassiveAlnico VBridge$65
SD Vintage BroadcasterPassiveAlnico VAny$69
SD Quarter Pound TelePassiveAlnico VAny$69
SD Hot TelePassiveAlnico VAny$69
SD Vintage TelePassiveAlnico VNeck$69
SD Alnico II Pro TelePassiveAlnico IIAny$79
SD Jerry Donahue LeadPassiveAlnico IIBridge$79
SD Hot Stack TelePassiveAlnico VBridge$79
SD Hot Rails TelePassiveCeramicAny$89
SD Little ’59 TelePassiveCeramicBridge$89
EMG FTActiveAlnico VNeck$89
EMG FTCActiveCeramicNeck$89
EMG RTActiveAlnico VBridge$89
EMG RTCActiveCeramicBridge$89
SD Five-Two TelePassiveAlnico II+VAny$99
EMG FTCXActiveCeramicNeck$99
EMG FTXActiveAlnico VNeck$99
EMG RTCXActiveCeramicBridge$99
EMG RTXActiveAlnico VBridge$99
Seymour Duncan (SD) vs EMG Stratocaster Single Coil Range

Which Are the Best?

This is always a tough question to answer because tone is so subjective, and what sounds good to me, might not sound good to you. However, I wanted to make some conclusions to help you come to your decisions:

  • If you want very high output active pickups for modern metal, go for EMGs.
  • If you want versatile pickups which have a balanced tone, go for Seymour Duncan pickups.
  • If you want passive pickups, then Seymour Duncan offers a wider selection.

Seymour Duncan pickups do a great job at producing a vintage, classic tone that works for pretty much every genre and when using clean and distorted amp settings. EMG pickups are perfect for players looking to achieve a more modern high gain tone, and although their clean tones do sound bright and crisp, they’re a bit more love or hate than Duncan pickups.

If I was building an all-out metal machine, I wouldn’t think twice about going for EMGs, but for pretty much everything else, I prefer the Seymour Duncan tone.

Here are some more articles you might find useful:

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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