When deciding on which are the best pickups to install on your guitar, you’ll likely be choosing between three leading manufacturers. Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, and EMG are undeniably the most popular pickup producers.
Certain attributes of guitar pickups are subjective, like tone and coloration. Nevertheless, there are plenty of aspects that can be compared to determine which manufacturer produces better pickups.
The following guide will provide you with a detailed breakdown of the pros and cons of Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, and EMG. You can then compare their qualities and drawbacks to help you decide which the best option for your instrument is.
Arguably the world’s most popular producer of instrument pickups, Seymour Duncan boasts a rich and long history at the top of the industry. From humble beginnings as a one-man pickup rewinding service, the brand has expanded exponentially.
Today, Seymour Duncan produces an extensive catalog of pickups for many instruments, including electric, acoustic, and bass guitar. They tailor many of their pickups to suit particular guitars, such as the Fender Telecaster or Strat.
Many of the world’s leading guitar manufacturers use Seymour Duncan as their preferred source for pickups. In 2012, the company was inducted into the Vintage Guitar Hall of Fame for its consistent contributions to the music industry over the years.
Like Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio has also been one of the leading producers of guitar pickups for the best part of half a century. The company also produces guitar hardware, accessories, and cables.
DiMarzio’s popularity dramatically increased in the early 1970s with the introduction of the Super Distortion pickups. Renowned for their high output and energetic tone, these pickups are still one of the most popular models today.
Perhaps the best indicator of DiMarzio’s quality is the long list of guitarists who have used their pickups. Icons such as Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), and The Edge (U2) all prefer DiMarzio pickups for their guitar.
Founded in 1976, EMG is a prolific producer of guitar pickups and EQ devices. They quickly established themselves as one of the most popular and innovative manufacturers of instrument electronics.
Perhaps their most famous creations are their active pickups, which are particularly popular amongst heavy rock and metal guitarists. In addition to their guitar pickups, they also produce a vast selection of bass pickups.
Legendary musicians like David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and James Hetfield (Metallica) are known to prefer to tone that EMG pickups produce. They also design pickups for a specific guitar and bass types.
Pricing & Value
It’s difficult to directly compare the pricing of the three manufacturer’s pickups, simply because they all produce such an extensive range. However, if we compare the top-end Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, and EMG offerings, there are some noticeable differences.
Seymour Duncan’s high-end pickups, such as their Joe Bonamassa Amos set and their Pearly Gates set, are valued at around $400. Their affordable pickups, like the Custom 5 Trembucker are priced at around $90.
DiMarzio’s highest-priced pickups, such as their Dark Matter and Ultra Jazz Bass offerings, cost somewhere in the region of $175. Their more affordable pickups, like the DP110 FS-1, cost around $60.
EMG’s premium pickups, like their Dual Mode TW Humbucker set, are valued at around $250. At the other end of the spectrum, their affordable pickups, like the Geezer Butler Bass Pickups are priced at around $90.
Overall, Seymour Duncan produces the most expensive pickups of the three. However, all three manufacturers have a wide range of affordable and mid-priced pickups, so they’re pretty evenly matched in this category.
Seymour Duncan’s single-coil and humbucker pickups are known for producing instantly recognizable tones. They tend to focus on high-output while retaining the clarity and smoothness of the instrument’s natural timbre.
DiMarzio’s most popular pickups are undoubtedly their Super Distortion range. As the name suggests, these pickups heat the guitar’s signal, causing highly energetic tones and plenty of warm breakups when used with a tube amplifier.
EMG pickups are generally favored by metal and heavy rock guitarists. This is because they tend to produce powerful tones that are thick and full-bodied across the frequency range of a guitar.
Indeed, each of the manufacturers also produces pickups that are better suited to softer styles of playing. For example, many of Seymour Duncan’s pickups are used for the amplification of acoustic and classical guitars.
Materials & Longevity
Pickups generally feature the following components: a magnet, coils, bobbin, and pole pieces. Seymour Duncan pickups use a variety of magnet types, with Alnicos and Ceramics being the most common.
The early pickups designed by EMG had a bar magnet positioned inside them. This was because the pole pieces were interfering with the tuning of strings. Their modern offerings use a variety of magnets.
In the same way, DiMarzio tends to use Alnico 5 or Alnico 2 magnets on their high-end pickups.
Styles & Versatility
When comparing the versatility of each of these three pickup producing heavyweights, it’s fair to say that Seymour Duncan comes out on top.
Their range includes active and passive pickups for acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and bass that are well suited to a range of styles.
That’s not to say that DiMarzio and EMG don’t also produce pickups that suit different genres. However, they both suit high-output, heavier styles of music better, all things considered.
The Bottom Line
In my opinion, Seymour Duncan is the best pickup manufacturer, simply because they transcend style and genre. Their pickups are always reliable and hone in on the prominent tones of the guitar or bass that they are installed on.
DiMarzio is a great option for guitarists who want a little extra grit. Their Super Distortion pickups are their standout offerings and are brilliant if you want classic rock n’ roll tones from your guitar.
EMG produces fantastic pickups for heavier styles of music. Their range is also very comprehensive and features some exceptional bass pickups too. Hopefully, this guide has helped you to choose the best pickups for your instrument.