Guitar Gear Review: EMG SA/SA/89 Set

We can all pretty much agree that EMG is the company known to pave the path for active pickups. There is a reasonable probability that we all have songs with EMGs rolling around in our head. Steve Lukather. Zakk Wylde. Prince. Kirk Hammett. Reb Beach. James Hetfield. David Gilmour. KK Downing. EMG is the standard by which all other active models since are measured.

The 89? Dual Mode?

For lack of a better description, the 89 is a dual-mode model. In dual mode, you get what is more or less the EMG 85 model. You can switch to single-coil mode for (wait for it…) single coil mode. LOL! A switchable humbucker.

Yes, it’s a switchable humbucker. The closest thing in relation to traditional passive humbuckers would be a coil split. Except it’s not actually splitting a humbucker. Confused? HaHa! Check out this photo:

EMG 89 Cross Section
EMG 89 Cross Section

From that, you can see that L1 and L2 are active in full humbucker model. Switch over, as you are using L2 and L3 in a way that approximates the SA model. In other words, you can have a hot-rod hum-single-single. Or flip the switch and have a single coil set. Pretty cool!

There’s an entire section on the EMG website for these Dual Mode models. The 81TW is also one to consider, if I say so myself.

EMG SA/SA/89 Ivory
EMG SA/SA/89 Ivory

Modern EMG connection are literally plug-n-play. EMG offers many options for switches and pots that handles many configurations. The switching for the 89 can easily be a push-pull pot. But the Voyager comes with the hole for the DPDT TW Switch. So that’s what I’m doing here. The SA/SA/89 kit does not come with that TW Switch, so it’s the only addition to my installation process.

If you’re buying the SA/SA/89 kit, EMG includes what you’ll need for most typical install configurations. Check it out:

EMG SA/SA/89 harness
EMG SA/SA/89 harness

That 25k pot with all the connections acts as the Dual Mode switch in this stock harness. It’s not as intimidating as it might look to some. LOL! Follow the instructions, take your time, and it works out like a champ. The best part of this harness is that if you get a connection in the wrong spot, you’re not pulling the soldering iron back out! HaHa! Also, if you piece this set together a la carte, any one-off parts for the harness are available directly from the EMG site PARTS page.

The SA/SA/89 set is going in to a mid-90s Korean Ibanez RBM Voyager. You remember it from THIS article. Mahogany body. Maple neck with rosewood board and 25-1/2″ scale. New Jescar 47104 fret wire. German Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo system with locking nut. The only issue is the size of the control cavity makes it all a snug fit.

EMG SA/SA/89 White
EMG SA/SA/89 White

As before, the 89 is pretty much the 85 when in full “dual coil” mode. I know, I know. People see the 85 and think it goes in the neck position of the Zakk Wylde set, with the 81 in the bridge. LOL! For starters, flip that around and discover how good the 81 is in the neck. And you will also hear how incredible the 85… um, er… 89 is in the bridge.

That Alnico 5 magnet in the 89 brings a little more organic vibe to the voice as will as a broader footprint to the tone. Mids have more of a roar and it’s a little more like home for players that need more tonal range. The one thing about the 89 is that the ‘SA” mode placement is nearer to the bridge. That’s common if you were to split coils on a passive humbucker. They also offer the 89R, which switches that so that the “SA” mode is closer to the neck. I’m sure someone has just flipped the regular 89 to get the same result, but EMG makes it easy if you already know you want that option.

The SA model is like taking a traditional vintage single coil and then tweaking the mids and the output both upwards just a little. Think of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and you will hear a set of SA models in his Strat. The little bit of extra sustain is awesome in this SA/SA/89 configuration. It also uses an Alnico 5 bar magnet, so it bypasses dropout between the poles during bending. Overall, a bit of a Fat Strat, so to speak.


There are really no specs in the traditional sense of DCR and Henries and all that. But here are what EMG does publish about this set:

EMG 89 Model
Logo Color: Copper
Magnet: Alnico 5
Res Freq (single): 3.80 KHz
Res Freq (dual): 2.00 KHz
Output Impedance: 10 K
Current (@9V): 160 microamps
Battery Life: 1500 hrs
Max Supply: 27V DC

EMG SA Model
Logo Color: Gold
Magnet: Alnico 5
Res Freq (single): 3.70 KHz
Output Impedance: 10 K
Current (@9V): 240 microamps
Battery Life: 1000 hrs
Max Supply: 27V DC


The most popular and known user of the full SA/SA/89 set is Reb Beach. You’ve been seeing Reb with Whitesnake for many years. So let’s go back to when he first started to use this set in Winger. First from 1990s In The Heart Of The Young album and then from 1993s Pull.

Winger – Can’t Get Enough (Official Music Video)
Winger – Down Incognito

Here’s an official EMG demo of the 89 in the bridge, with the 85 in the neck for a bonus:

EMG 89 (nridge) 85 (neck) demo

How about an official demo of the SA set?

EMG SA set demo

Yeah, I know. Nothing official for the entire SA/SA/89 set. But if you’re reading anything on this website, I’d like to hope you’re already smart enough to figure it out. LOL!


The EMG SA/SA/89 set is versatile enough to get in to Rock, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Glam Metal, Arena Rock, Pop, Progressive Rock, Jazz, Fusion, and more. It’s very much a take on legendary Super Strat for a modern player.

This set is available in the 6-string configuration. As a complete set, it’s available in black, white and ivory (photos above). If you piece the set together separately, there is also red. By itself, the 89 also comes in chrome, gold, black chrome, brushed chrome, brushed gold, and brushed black chrome.

For reference, this EMG SA/SA/89 pickup set evaluation was conducted with a Fractal Axe-Fx II XL+ featuring Celestion Impluse Responses and Fractal MFC-101 MIDI Foot Controller.  Real cabs in use are Marshall 1960BMojotone British, and Peavey 6505 cabs loaded with Celestion Classic Series Vintage 30s, Classic Series G12M Greenbacks, and Heritage Series G12-65s.

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