Bass Guitar Pickup Height Adjustment

bass guitar pickup height adjustment

No matter if your bass guitar came straight from the factory with pickups set too low or you just need to fine-tune their height, learning how to adjust pickup height is an integral component of setting up your bass guitar properly.

Closer a pickup is to the strings, the louder and clearer its tone and sense of fundamental will become.

How to Measure

If your pickups are too high, they could touch the strings as they vibrate – this can result in fret buzz, intonation issues and other tone-altering problems. Conversely, too low of an altitude means their magnetic fields cannot pick up string vibrations as efficiently and could make your guitar appear thin and quiet.

Setting pickup height by ear is the ideal method. Whether you are playing an old bass with factory pickups or have added replacement pickups to a more recent instrument, experimentation should always take place to find what best meets your tonal requirements and playing style. Keep in mind that it is a personal adjustment based on vibrations from strings and pickup.

Idealy, you should aim for the bass side of your pickups to be lower than its treble counterpart, enabling the vibrations from your bass strings to travel directly to the magnetic field and produce louder tone. In order to reach this ideal, however, you will need to play the bass guitar carefully while listening closely for any changes that could disrupt it.

To test pickup height, depress the Low E string at its last fret and use a small pocket ruler to measure the distance from its base to the top of its pickup magnet. Repeat this procedure for each of your guitar strings. Adjust the pickups until they meet or come close to matching manufacturer specifications for factory tuning, taking care to do it while in playing position with an appropriate screwdriver. Phillips head screwdrivers or their equivalent should be used, since household and automotive screwdrivers typically are not suitable for bass guitars and could fail to keep screws secure. If you don’t have one available, other means such as wood, metal rulers or coins may work; just ensure they’re thick enough so as not to compress when pushing up against screws.

What You’ll Need

Ruler and screwdriver (preferably small). Screws used to adjust pickup height pass through springs on both sides, so tightening them raises them while loosening them lowers them; each screw can also be individually adjusted so you can set them at different heights on either side of your guitar, giving you even more options for tonality and balance.

If your bass pickups are at an inappropriate height, they may be clacking against or pulling on the strings, which causes your bass sound to be weak and muffled. To address this, lower them until there is no buzzing or other indications. Or experiment with them individually until finding what sounds best; some players like to place their treble pickups higher than their bass ones while others want the opposite way around; experimentation is key until finding what balance and tone work for you!

Once you’ve found an ideal pickup height, take note of it just in case string thickness or barometric pressure changes alter it over time – having your measurements handy will come in handy later if that becomes necessary.

As you play for extended periods, your guitar’s intonation may begin to shift over time and once-tuned notes may now sound off pitch. To adjust this issue, fretting the 12th fret of any string and listening out for its natural harmonic, as well as listening closely at its tuning peg at the bridge can help re-adjust its intonation.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pickup height for bass guitars; each instrument, playing style and set of strings varies. But for accurate measurement, using a ruler to measure from the bottom of each string to Low E Pole then High E pole will give you accurate data which can help adjust to optimal pickup height settings.

Tightening the Pickups

Pickup height adjustment can be one of the most advantageous modifications you can make to your bass setup, having an immense effect on tone while being relatively straightforward. Positioning your pickups at exactly the right distance from your strings enables them to accurately detect their vibration and use magnetism’s power to produce electricity and create electricity using its magnetic fields.

Bass pickups consist of copper wire coils wrapped around one or more magnets (polepiece screws on some models) which generate their own magnetic field through interaction between magnets and copper wire coils, creating a magnetic current when vibrating bass strings cause their own magnetic fields to interact with one another and generate currents that create current in their coils. When playing a bass string vibrates it travels up into its entirety before meeting up with this magnetic field which then triggers copper wire coils in your pickups to turn on and send a signal directly into amplifiers via their conductivity windings in their coils.

The optimal pickup position may differ between guitars depending on each guitarist’s playing style and string gauge; finding that ideal spot may require some experimentation to reach. When finding it though, there will likely be a “sweet spot” where pickups should be optimally situated and this zone must be discovered through trial-and-error until all parties involved can find satisfaction with it.

Beginners often find the easiest way to adjust pickups is by turning the adjustment screw under each unit – this should be done while your bass is in playing position so that you can hear how your changes impact its performance. As a starting point, fully depress each string at its last fret and measure its distance from its bottom end to the head of its pole piece screw if applicable (if the pickup is exposed).

As you adjust, keep in mind that higher settings may touch the strings as they vibrate, leading to intonation issues or unbalanced tone – with certain strings being much louder than others.


Once you’ve gone over your checklist and verified everything is safe, it’s time to adjust the pickup height. A pickup that is too high could touch a vibrating string, creating buzzing that interferes with intonation; additionally it may produce thin sound or weak signal; finally it might not fully pick up all vibrations of each note’s vibrations.

This issue can often be remedied by loosening up the adjustment screws until your guitar sounds better. Be wary, though, not to overtighten them too far or it could create additional issues.

Adjust the tuning by ear using different strings and playing styles to find your ideal setting. Many guitar manufacturers publish recommended pickup heights; however, keep in mind that everyone’s ears and playing style vary significantly.

If your bass pickups are set too low, they won’t be able to generate all frequencies effectively and make the guitar sound dull and weak while also decreasing power and dynamic range. Lower powered pickups typically also tend to produce less sustain.

One potential side effect of pickings set too low is a warbling noise caused by the magnet in the pickups battling against the string’s magnetic field as it vibrates, especially single-coil pickups like those found in Strats; bass strings on higher frets may experience this condition more acutely; this phenomenon has become known as “wolf tone.”

Flatwork pickups such as bar magnet types may produce stronger magnetic fields than their humbucking counterparts and therefore be more prone to interference with string’s magnetic field. If you notice any “warbling” sound when playing at higher frets, back off on adjustment screws until the sound goes away.

Some pickups utilize an elaborate mounting system that necessitates unique methods of adjustment. Ring-mounted humbuckers feature one or two screws on either side of their pickup’s ring that secure its placement; these screws can be raised and lowered by turning them clockwise or counterclockwise, with too much raising or lowering potentially leading to serious damage in your guitar’s cavity. As an extra safeguard measure many players mount standard ink pen springs around these pickups’ mounting screws for added flexibility and safety.