How Bass Guitar Pickups Height Affects Tone

Pickups that are closer to the strings often sound louder; however, this also means they’re much more sensitive to minor variations in volume.

There’s an ideal compromise, which will differ between guitars and pickups, but generally speaking: trust your ears! Experimentation may be required before finding it.

How to Measure

Pickup height plays a significant role in the tone of a bass guitar. If its pickups are too low, their magnetic fields “float” above your strings and don’t produce an impressive tone; too high could mean string vibrations disturb their magnetic field causing intonation problems or warbling sounds to emerge from them.

Adjustments can be completed relatively effortlessly using only a screwdriver and pocket ruler. Begin by depressing each of the last frets on all three strings, using a ruler to measure distances between their top ends and respective pickup pole pieces and writing down measurements that serve as reference points for future adjustments.

Goal of proper bass guitar pickup positioning is to bring string vibrations fully within their magnetic fields and achieve louder, heavier tones while improving clarity and focus. Most pickups come equipped with specifications detailing recommended pickup heights; you may even adjust these incrementally until you find one that suits you and your bass guitar!

If your guitar features a single-coil-sized humbucker, make sure it’s set lower than the bridge pickup for optimal results. This helps the humbucker balance its output between both sides of bass, eliminating potential imbalances between bass and treble tonality spectrums.

Another effective technique for getting the ideal sound is setting pickups higher on bass strings than on treble strings, enabling thicker bass strings to vibrate more freely, creating fuller tones, while thinner treble strings vibrate less and sound clearer and smoother.

Be careful when making adjustments to the pickups on your bass guitar. Just a few extra turns can have a drastic impact on its tone; take your time making small tweaks until you are satisfied with results. Once you find an optimal pickup position for yourself, keep a screwdriver and ruler handy and write down measurements taken of string-to-pickup distance so if your action or professional setup change your string-to-pickup distance can quickly return to its preferred setting.


Once you’ve discovered an ideal pickup placement, use a marker or make some other arrangement to help remind yourself how far down to tighten the screws. This will come in handy later when it comes time to adjust your guitar’s action or have another setup tech work on the bass; string-to-pickup distance changes over time so having these measurements on hand will allow you to restore its original position when ready.

If your pickups are set too high, their magnets will exert too much force against the strings, causing them to go out of tune and reduce sustain. Furthermore, dampened vibrations may prevent sustain from being reached as easily.

On the other hand, if your pickups are set too low, they won’t be able to pick up enough of a string’s magnetic field and produce thin basses and harsh trebles. A good way to check whether your pickups are too low is by playing an E string at higher fret (15th, for instance). If a warbling sound comes through from playing this note at that fret level (15th for example) that indicates your pickups clashing with its string; raising them might help.

Adjusting pickup height on a bass guitar is one of the easiest and most impactful adjustments you can make, as it has an incredible influence on tone. Finding your ideal position may take some trial-and-error; take the time to experiment. Making incremental adjustments and listening to their effects before reaching a definitive decision can help ensure you make the best choice possible. If you’re having difficulty finding your ideal setting, experiment with different combinations and listen out for what sounds right to you in terms of output, warmth, clarity and sustain. If your results still do not satisfy, consult an experienced bass player or visit a repair shop that specializes in electric guitars and basses. They will offer invaluable insight into popular bass models as well as guidance in finding one to meet your specific needs, be it acoustic or electric.


Most bass pickups come from the factory at an optimal height, giving you a solid starting point that provides good sound. To add even more tonal options you can tweak these pickups further; getting close to your strings increases output, clarity and balance between string-to-string volume as well as being responsive to changes in playing style and tuning stability – making this an effortless way to improve your guitar!

To adjust pickups, you’ll require a precision handheld screwdriver, pocket ruler and an uncluttered environment to work in. Before beginning work on any pickups, be sure to unstring them first in order to avoid tension on them while working.

Utilize a screwdriver to loosen and unscrew each pickup completely from its base, being careful not to strip any screws along the way and taking note of where each goes; this will make reinstalling them much simpler in future.

Marking each screw with a marker can help ensure you stay on track when installing new pickups, as it helps ensure they go in their proper places when taking apart and reassembling. Also, installing your jack, switches and pots prior to dismantling pickups will help make sure no connections get missed and allow you to test out their sound after your replacements have been installed.

Once the pickups have been properly installed, several tests should be run to make sure you are happy with their performance. Play the lowest E string at an advanced fret (15th or so is a good place to begin) and listen out for any “warbling” sounds indicating magnetism that may be overpowering the strings; such a sound indicates magnets fighting with strings and needs to be reduced slightly before trying again.

Moving the pickups closer to the strings will result in louder, clearer bass music that is more dynamic. But too close means less sensitive string movement sensitization – it is necessary to experiment until finding what works for your particular guitar, playing style and string gauges.


Once you’ve found the ideal pickup height, it is essential to write down its measurements. This information can come in handy later when making adjustments – especially if undergoing professional bass guitar setup or changing string gauge. Keeping track of these measurements will allow you to regain their optimal positions at any point in time.

Setting your pickups at an optimal height can have a dramatic effect on your tone. If they are set too high, their magnets could wreak havoc with your intonation and tuning as their magnets push and pull against strings causing intonation issues and tuning mismatches; additionally, vibrations of strings may not be picked up and may produce dull sounds instead.

As previously discussed, too-low pickups can create intonation and tuning issues as well as dampen the vibrancy of each string, leading to a thin sounding tone. Adjusting pickup height can be accomplished relatively easily by using a metal precision ruler and matching screwdriver that matches up with the adjustment screws on your bass guitar. Once equipped with these items, depress the last fret on each string while measuring distance from string bottom to pickup pole piece (a good starting point is 3/32″ on bass side and 2/32″ on treble side).

As you tweak the pickups, play and listen closely. Your first attempt may not provide exactly the tone that you’re after; keep trying different settings until you discover the ideal combination of mechanical and intangible elements that composes your unique tone.

Keep this in mind: the guidelines outlined are only guidelines; every guitar, playing style and string set may differ and affect pickup height settings differently. Therefore, there is no single “perfect” setting; rather these steps will help you attain the best sound possible from your bass guitar!