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Guided wave inspection has proven to be a very effective method for the rapid inspection of large structures. The fundamental shear horizontal (SH) wave mode in plates and the torsional mode in pipe-like structures are especially useful because of their non-dispersive character. Guided waves can be generated by either piezoelectric transducers or electro- magnetic acoustic transducers (EMATs), and EMATs can be based on either the Lorentz force or magnetostriction. Several EMAT configurations can be used to produce SH waves, the most common being Lorentz-force periodic permanent magnet and magnetostrictive EMATs, the latter being directly applied on the sample or with a bonded strip of highly magnetostrictive material on the plate. This paper compares the performance of these solutions on steel structures. To quantitatively assess the wave amplitude produced by different probes, a finite element model of the elementary transducers has been developed. The results of the model are experimentally validated and the simulations are further used to study the dependence of ultrasonic wave amplitude on key design parameters. The analysis shows that magnetostrictive EMATs directly applied on mild steel plates have comparatively poor performance that is dependent on the precise magneto-mechanical properties of the test object. Periodic permanent magnet EMATs generate intermediate wave amplitudes and are noncontact and insensitive to the variations in properties seen across typical steels. Large signal amplitudes can be achieved with magnetostrictive EMATs with a layer of highly magnetostrictive material attached between the transducer and the plate, but this compromises the noncontact nature of the transducer.