Bass guitar pickup spacing plays a significant role in how bass strings sound. The closer a pickup is to the string, the brighter and more articulate it will sound.
Unfortunately, placing the bass pickups too close together can cause intonation issues and “warbly” sounds. It is ultimately up to the player to experiment with different settings to find what works best for them.
How to Measure Pickup Height
Pickup height is an integral factor in bass guitar tone and playability. Whether you’re upgrading your pickups, or simply want to maximize what you already have, taking into account pickup height can make all the difference.
Many bass players are surprised to learn their pickups may be set too high, especially if they’re unfamiliar with how the pickups interact with strings. A pickup’s height can be affected by several factors like string gauge, winding condition and tension.
When the pickup is set too high, it can produce various issues such as wolftones and strangles, fret buzz and even lack of sustain. Conversely, when set too low, you get a thin anemic guitar sound that lacks depth.
Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to adjust your bass guitar’s pickup height. Doing so will let you get the most from your current set and start enjoying that authentic tone that comes from carefully selecting two pickups.
Before you get started, you’ll need a few tools. Ideally, have an open work space where you can set up your bass and have an amp nearby so that you can test out the changes made.
When measuring your pickup height, use a ruler calibrated in either millimetres or inches. A precision ruler allows for accurate angles and is the most precise way to decide what sounds best for your bass.
You may wish to use a pair of calipers for greater accuracy. If unsure which unit should be used, consult your manufacturer’s recommendations.
Next, depress the strings at their highest fret and measure the distance between the top of the pole piece and each string’s bottom. This will help determine proper placement for both bridge and neck pickups.
Although there is no ideal height, you may find that the neck and bridge pickups need to be closer to the strings than their middle or bass counterparts. This is because strings vibrate more overtop of a neck pickup than near its bridge counterpart. To compensate, you could lower the neck pickup or raise its placement closer to the strings.
Positioning Pickups Close to Strings
A pickup is a device that converts mechanical energy (string vibrations) into electrical signals that can be amplified by an amplifier. They’re essential for amplifying bass guitar sounds for live performances or studio recordings. The primary benefit of pickups over microphones is that they don’t generate feedback, making them ideal for use in smaller venues or low-volume settings rather than louder bars, rock/pop/metal concerts with high reverberation or studios where feedback may be an issue.
To achieve the optimal tone, it is essential to adjust pickups in a way that balances their output levels and produces an equal sound with each other. This can be achieved by altering each pickup’s height individually.
First and foremost, measure the string-to-pickup distance on each side of your bass guitar. To do this, press down either the highest fret on the lowest E string (for a Strat) or the highest fret on the lowest E string (for an SG), and measure from below that fret to the top of the pickup pole piece.
This measurement will enable you to determine whether each pickup is too close or far from the strings. If they’re too close together, they will reduce sustain and produce a muffled sound reminiscent of string buzz.
When the pickups are placed too far from the strings, they can affect pitch and clarity. Furthermore, this could interfere with tuning accuracy, leading to inconsistent tuning results.
Many guitarists have discovered that raising their pickups closer to the strings can produce a better tone and higher output levels. However, there is an optimal pickup height which will improve sound without decreasing volume, so it’s essential to listen carefully and experiment until you find your ideal combination.
Pickups should never be adjusted too close to the strings, and no closer than 2mm to 3mm should be allowed. If you’re unsure of what distance should be between your guitar’s strings and pickup, consulting a professional is your best bet.
Positioning Pickups Further Away from Strings
Pickups are an integral part of any electric guitar or bass, and their placement can have a major influence on the tone. Their primary function is to convert string vibration into an electrical signal that can be sent to your amplifier. However, if the pickup is placed too close to the strings, magnetic fields may interfere with vibration and lead to issues like fret buzz.
Fortunately, there is a way to move your pickups away from the strings without reducing their output. All you need to do is use precision rulers, calipers or string tension gauges to measure the distance between your instrument’s strings and pickups.
On standard full-sized humbucker guitars, a good starting point for bridge pickups is slightly more than halfway between high E and lowest E. This same rule applies to middle and neck pickups as well.
However, the ideal position should provide your desired output without interfering with the string vibration. Once you find this position, make adjustments based on how your guitar sounds.
For example, if your bass guitar’s sound has a lot of low frequencies, lowering the neck pickup will make it sound clearer and brighter. Conversely, raising the pickup can give off an expansive and full sound when there are lots of highs present.
It can be especially advantageous if you plan to perform in bars or venues with high reverberation. Furthermore, increasing the string-to-pickup distance will enhance the tone of your bass guitar.
Active pickups such as EMG or Lace Sensor pickups offer lower-powered magnets with differently shaped magnetic fields that don’t pull on strings like standard humbuckers do. This means you can adjust them closer to the strings without fear of fading or deterioration due to lack of pulling action.
Accurate pickup height can make a big difference in your guitar’s tone, so taking time to measure and note their actual height adjustment will save you lots of hassle in the future.
Adjusting Pickup Height
Pickup height is an important factor in how well your bass guitar sounds. Setting it too high can cause the pickups to push and pull your strings out of tune, while setting it too low will result in a weak magnetic field created by the pickups.
Bass guitar pickups typically feature screws that can be tightened or loosened to adjust their height. These screws usually thread through a spring, pushing or pulling the pickup up or down depending on where you place them; loosening will lower it accordingly.
Some pickups also feature rubber inserts or springs to stabilize their bodies. These help prevent screws from falling off at one end or causing vibrations within the pickup itself.
You can use a set of needle nose pliers to grasp the base of the pickup and pull up or down until you achieve your desired height. However, this process may be somewhat tricky so it is best to practice on another guitar until you feel confident with how it works.
When adjusting pickup height, it is essential to use a precision ruler or calipers calibrated in inches or millimeters. Doing this helps avoid any confusion later on as even an inch can drastically change how well a pickup performs.
First, measure the distance between the top of the pickup and the bottom of each string on both bass and treble sides with the last fret depressed. This will account for magnetic pull on strings which varies depending on pickup type and gauge.
Humbuckers require even closer measurement as the magnetic pole piece will be closer to the bottom of the string, creating a direct magnetic field which can enhance lower frequencies in your sound.
You can then adjust the pickup to create an optimal magnetic field, or raise it to balance string vibrations with pole pieces. This is a great way to experiment with your sound, though be aware that backing off on pickup height will thin out bass tones and reduce sustain.