DIY Bass Guitar Pickups

diy bass guitar pickups

No matter their physical appearance, all bass guitar pickups use similar principles to convert magnetic fields created by vibrating strings into an electrical signal that can be amplified. They include single coil, split coil, and humbuckers models.

No matter if your style of music leans toward rocking like Hendrix or funkifying like Parliament’s Billy “Bass” Nelson, we have something perfect.

The Basics

No matter the genre you play – be it gritty power rock or funky funk – your bass guitar’s pickups have an immense effect on its sound. How your strings vibrate and are amplified depends on where they’re situated on your instrument as well as their type and your personal preferences for tone.

Pickups are electromagnets which convert string vibrations to an electrical signal that can be fed into an amplifier, creating different tonality depending on where a pickup is positioned on a bass guitar neck and its position in relation to its string’s physicality. Bass guitarists rely heavily on them when crafting sounds specific to their genre of music and band roles (rhythm or lead, for instance).

Bass pickups come in all sorts of forms and styles – the simplest being passive magnets wrapped around a coil of copper wire, creating an electromagnetic field which reacts to string vibration and transmits it via volume and tone controls to shape into desired soundscape.

Most basses feature multiple magnetic pickups of various varieties – single-coil, humbucking and split-coil pickups being the most commonly found options – each producing different amounts of noise interference and power; single-coils provide cleaner sound while humbucking pickups provide more low end power for bass playing. If clarity and tone is what you seek then perhaps opting for single-coils may be best, while for heavier low end punch a humbucking pickup might be more suitable.

Piezoelectric pickups operate differently, using crystals to detect changes in pressure rather than electromagnetism. They’re typically located beneath the bridge/saddle and used directly sense the vibrations from each string – these pickups are commonly seen on acoustic instruments but also sometimes seen alongside magnetic pickups on higher end basses.

Optic pickups are another more unusual type, using light to convert string vibrations to electrical signals. Although you won’t find many bass guitars with optical pickups installed, keep an eye out for these as they can provide very quiet playing and offer superior sustain compared to their counterparts. They’re also great at picking up acoustic feedback without needing microphones; making this option ideal for recording and live applications alike.


Pickups on a bass guitar have a significant effect on its tone. Pickups are electromagnets which create a magnetic field around a coil of wire that detects when strings pass over them, turning vibrations into electrical signals which can then be amplified. Different types of pickups produce various tones; their placement within the body also plays a significant role.

To get the best sound possible out of your bass guitar, replacing or installing new pickups may be essential in creating the ideal tone and playing experience. While installing new pickups may be complex and tricky process, anyone with enough knowledge and dedication can swap out their basses with something better suited for their playing style or desired tone.

Magnetic pickups are among the most frequently installed bass pickups, often found on guitars. There are various configurations of magnetic pickups including single coil, split coil and double coil (known as humbuckers).

Magnetic pickups work by sensing any changes to the magnetic field created by interaction between magnets in the pickup and steel strings of an instrument, then transmitting that change along with frequency (pitch and volume), to an amplifier for further amplification and distortion as needed.

Many bassists have their preferred type and location for bass guitar pickups; however, not everyone understands how each type of pickup produces its own distinct sound. A bridge pickup tends to produce brighter tones as its proximity is closer to strings with higher tension; on the other hand, a neck pickup provides closer proximity with lower tension strings, creating warmer tones.

One factor influencing a bass guitar’s tone is the type of magnet used in its pickups and its polarity. Magnets may either face north or south; how they are wound on a bobbin (clockwise or anti-clockwise) also matters greatly.

The Flatwork

Bass guitars require unique pickup designs in order to accommodate their vibratory characteristics. One major distinction from electric guitars is that bass pickups utilize two magnetic pole pieces per string instead of just one as is typical with most electric models, allowing more free vibratory movement of each string and helping address issues associated with transients (the short attack of a note when played) or vibrational movements due to thicker strings on bass guitars.

This addresses noise caused by individual strings contacting metal parts on a guitar. There are various solutions for addressing this problem and traditionally most bass guitars used pickups with single magnetic pole pieces per string for pickup, but as technology advanced more modern basses utilized P style pickups containing dual magnetic pole pieces per string; such models can now be found on most modern basses.

Flatwork for your homemade bass guitar pickup may be constructed out of wood, plastic or another material such as maple. Many guitarists like maple for its sound qualities; however, other materials will work just as effectively. Rod magnets may simply be glued onto this flatwork. To make a humbucker instead, however, four-colored electrical wire will likely be necessary – usually red, blue, black and green are sufficient.

After creating your flatwork, the next step will be to cut holes for screws to go in. This can easily be accomplished using a hand drill and woodworking saw; ensure all holes are round to allow magnets to fit correctly into them. When drilling has been completed, epoxy or superglue may be used to secure magnets to your structure before using a compass to determine whether they face north or south before attaching them permanently.

The Magnets

Pickups for bass guitars convert vibrations in the strings into an electrical signal that can be transmitted via amplifier and speakers to create their signature sound, and are essential in crafting the distinctive tonality that sets bass apart from other types of electric string instruments. From airiness and zing of an acoustic-electric bass to distortion-happy metal basses – there’s sure to be one out there that suits your preferences!

Magnetic or split-coil bass pickups are among the most widely used varieties. These feature two single coil pickups connected out of phase with each other and aligned so their magnetic pole pieces face in different directions, effectively eliminating electromagnetic interference caused by lightbulbs or other sources of electrical noise while providing a hotter signal.

There are numerous variations on this basic design, and different combinations of magnets and coil windings create different tones. Generally speaking, higher magnet strengths lead to more gain and sonic punch from bass pickups.

Other pickup types include piezo-electric pickups, which use a thin layer of compressed crystal installed beneath bridge saddles to translate string pressure changes into an electrical signal. This pickup type offers more natural sounding output and is preferred by many acoustic-electric bass players; however, its versatility limits it more.

Finally, there are optical pickups, which use sensors to monitor string movement and convert that information into an electrical signal. While less common than their counterparts, optical pickups have proven equally effective; you can often find them installed in acoustic-electric basses.

The J bass pickup has long been one of the most iconic designs, used by notable bassists such as Jimi Hendrix, Larry Graham (from Paul McCartney band), Robert Trujillo of Metallica and others. Though not as sonically versatile as its counterpart (P), the J offers an assertive yet big tone perfect for solidifying an ensemble’s aural foundation – as well as being popular among slap-style players who demand a stronger presence in their sound.