When Metallica came knocking on EMG’s door in 2009 wanting to create a special pick up you, tend to at least listen. James Hetfield wanted an active pickup but wanted it to have a very passive ‘metal’ sound. He wanted the punch and the clarity of a passive pickup, but he also wanted that wall of sound that comes from an active design.
You can’t stray too far from home with his or the Metallica sound. So what EMG came up with has the basic pattern in line with the pickups Hetfield had been using for 30 years. They came up with an EMG, James Hetfield Electric Guitar Pickup Set. But there were a few differences.
What are they? Stick around, and you’ll find out in this in-depth EMG JH James Hetfield Electric Guitar Pickup Set Review. First though, who are EMG?
Founded in 1976 in California, they were originally called Dirty Work Studios. In 1981 they began to be known as EMG. And in that year became the pickup of choice for the Steinberger guitar and bass range.
With the sudden growth in popularity of Steinburger guitars, EMG suddenly had a following. Guitarists from many genres then wanted their raw yet precise sounding pickups. In 1983 they formalized the brand, calling it EMG. As Steinburger grew, so did EMG, and now they are a well-respected creator of a whole lot of noise.
EMG JH James Hetfield Electric Guitar Pickup Set – An Overview
The outcome of the collaboration between Hetfield and EMG was the JH-B and JH-N pickups – one for the neck and one for the bridge. If you are looking for a quick description, then they just have a lot more of everything.
They aren’t going to suit some people. EMG pickups can be an acquired taste and not to everyone’s liking. But those who like what they do are going to love them.
EMG pickups are now widely used on a variety of brands of guitar as standard fittings. They have also been fitted by many players to guitars that were using other pickup brands. The James Hetfield Signature Pickups, though, are a different animal. So, maybe it is about time we let them loose…
If you are designing a set of pickups to go on stage with Metallica, the sound is only one thing you have to think about. They’ve also got to look right.
EMG seems to have got the balance between a little bit different and not being flashy and cheap and nasty about right. In fact, they look quite elegant with their brown and black finish. They have been given quite a sleek look with their black nickel-plated caps.
They have used covered Alnico magnets. A lot of people say that Alnico magnets are better than Ceramic. The fact is that Ceramic magnets produce a stronger magnetic field than Alnico. The result from Ceramic is, therefore, often a treble based and hotter sound.
Ceramic pickups are often used in cheaper guitars where the quality of the rest of the build is poor. That has given them a bad reputation. A pickup isn’t just about the magnet; it is the sum of all the parts. Alnico magnets though, are more ‘musical’ in the sound they create and, therefore, capable of some great tonal changes.
Don’t forget to take out the cable…
The JH-B and N are active pickups, so they will require a battery. The batteries should last about four or five months, providing you don’t leave the guitar plugged in when it is not being used.
The design process has obviously been around the exact requirements of one person. They are, therefore, not going to suit everyone.
The JH-N neck pickup has a larger core with individual ceramic bobbins and poles. The structure sits quite high and is taller than most. This will give you a lot of attack and very high output. It will also develop a much thicker and warmer low end.
At the bridge, the JH-B has a similar core but is fitted with steel pole pieces. This is different from some of the EMG range, which uses bar magnets. This pickup has slightly less attack but offers a very passive sounding bottom end that sounds clean and uncluttered.
When ordering, you have the choice of short or long shaft potentiometers.
This is an important issue to consider when you are thinking about changing pickups. Not all pickups will fit every guitar, and these certainly will take a little bit of care. But if your guitar is designed with standard-sized humbuckers, the fit should be fine. For example, they will fit perfectly in a Gibson Les Paul or SG.
You will have to specify the shaft length, and for a Les Paul, that will be a long shaft.
Other guitars that already use EMG pickups like the Jackson Flying V will also be fine, as well as other humbucker models such as the Epiphone Les Paul. Some instruments may need a bit of ‘creative fitting’, but if you use a quality luthier, there should be no issues getting these to fit into anything apart from a ukulele.
There is a solderless installation, so it is an easy job to fit them, and they come with a writing kit. If you are concerned, take it to the guitar tech at your local shop or a luthier. He or she should be able to fit them while you wait.
What you get
In the package, you will get two 25k volume pots and two 25k tone pots. Plus, all the necessary cabling you need, including the battery and output cable, two pick up cables, and four connecting cables. It will also include mounting screws and springs and stereo output jack socket
Hetfield wanted these pickups to remain active but have a slightly passive sound for clarity. It is quite likely he was more than pleased with the results. If you are going to be creating a new signature sound for a guitarist in a band like Metallica, then it has to be right.
They have certainly not lost the traditional sounds of the rhythm guitar that drives Metallica. If anything, there is now a little more attack, especially from the neck pickup. But the lows have also become quite prominent, and surprisingly clean.
There is still this wall of active pickup sound. But somehow it feels under control. Is it better? Not for us to judge. That will be the domain of others, but it is certainly a very powerful sound.
EMG JH James Hetfield Electric Guitar Pickup Set Review Pros and Cons
- A superb choice if you play grinding down-tuned rhythms.
- Obviously, a great fit for Hetfield and Metallica fans.
- Not as versatile as other pickup choices.
Looking for more Perfect Pickups?
If so, check out our reviews of the Best Stratocaster Pickups, the Best P 90 Pickups, the Best Single Coil Pickups, the Best Telecaster Guitar Pickups, and the Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups currently available.
EMG JH James Hetfield Electric Guitar Pickup Set Review – What we think?
It is a slightly different sound when compared to normal EMG pickups. Not that much, but you can hear some subtle differences. There will, of course, be much more of a difference if it is compared to a regular quality humbucker, such as a PAF or BareKnuckle.
If what you want the most authentic Metallica sound you can get, then, as long as you have the guitar, amps, and pedals, here it is.
As a set of replacement pickups, they are not cheap. In fact, they cost more than most player’s first guitar. But quality costs and they certainly are quality, with quite a bit of edge added.
But, in fact, they are a little more than that. To create your own tone, you need a very good base sound to work with. And if you are trying to create your own unique metal guitar sound, there aren’t many better places to start than this.
Go make some noise!