Pickups on your bass can have an immense effect on its sound (but won’t compensate for an underperforming instrument). Pickups define your tone and can take it in many different tonal directions.
Change pickups involves working with delicate wires that could become easily damaged, so entrusting this task to an experienced professional is best advised.
1. Active Pickups
Active pickups differ from passive models in that they include an amp, powered by a 9V battery, that boosts and filters electrical signals before reaching your amplifier. This results in low-impedance output which drives amps harder while producing cleaner tone; notes also tend to sustain longer and be more articulate using actives than with passives due to their lower impedance output design; the active pickup’s design makes them less susceptible to high frequencies being lost over long cables due to its lower impedance design.
Installing active pickups in a guitar can be relatively straightforward, and many models are compatible with existing control knobs and jacks. The main challenge lies in finding enough room in your instrument for installing the battery for preamp (typically through drilling new cavities in tremolo cavity or behind volume and tone pots) but older bass models with tight cavities might allow a smaller battery to fit, providing you with a chance to try them without permanently installing them.
Active pickups’ preamp naturally compresses signal, which some players appreciate while others find frustrating. Actives tend to offer higher initial output levels that suit heavily distorted tones better; thus making them popular among metal players. Before selecting an active pickup for yourself, read reviews or consult other guitarists about their experiences before making your choice.
Humbuckers are dual-coil pickups that produce a more full sound than single-coil models, making them popular among heavy metal guitarists but also beneficial in blues and jazz settings. Due to their higher output levels, humbuckers tend to push amps more easily for harmonic distortion which is especially pronounced with tube amplifiers.
Humbuckers are typically found in bridge and neck positions; however, there are a few companies who provide wired-for-use humbuckers designed specifically to work at just the bridge position, which eliminates hum while still offering all of its high-output clarity benefits.
Single-coil pickups tend to pick up electromagnetic interference (hum) from wiring, lighting and other sources in a room. This can become problematic during live performances; even the best shielding cannot reduce it completely. Humbuckers provide an effective solution by using two coils with opposing windings and polarities which cancel out any potential interference, leaving a big, warm tone prized by many musicians.
Before investing in a humbucker upgrade, be sure to research all available types and consider your musical style before making a decision. If unsure which pickup to purchase, think about what tone your favorite bassists use and then research which kind of pickup they have installed in their guitars. Be mindful that when installing one yourself it may involve working with electrical wiring which may prove dangerous without proper precautions being taken – be sure you have solder wick at hand, plan the order of connections prior to beginning installation work, etc.
3. Single Coils
Some guitarists favor single coil pickups for their unique twangy dirt sound while others favor the power and clarity of humbuckers for more complex sounds. Both choices offer valid alternatives – it all depends on what kind of music you’re playing!
Designed with two large ceramic bar magnets and custom coil winding for an impressive punch, the Music Man Stingray bass pickup makes an excellent choice. Boasting strong attack and plenty of low end, this pickup features vacuum wax potting to prevent squealing due to high levels of gain or distortion.
Seymour Duncan offers another option with their Vintage JB pickup, which offers more vintage tones with more emphasis on clarity and definition than its predecessor. Perfect for covering various genres or styles; especially effective when used on jazz bass guitar in lead and neck positions.
There are various varieties of single-coil bass pickups to select from. Magnet types will alter both tone and output; Alnico III provides soft tones while Alnico 2 delivers more intense tones. There are also pickups with varied winding patterns for different tones such as twangy dirt to thick harmonics.
Coil splitters allow you to get even more variation out of a single bass pickup by switching between its two halves – offering both full tones of single-coil pickups as well as clarity and power from humbuckers.
If your bass guitar features J-bass or P-Bass pickups, upgrading them for greater tonal options may be simple and affordable. Many modern premium basses already include passive pickups like these; however, if it didn’t there are several fantastic upgrades from Sweetwater that may provide it.
Dual-coil humbucking soapbars are an invaluable upgrade for any bass guitar. Their rich, deep voice provides lots of low mids and high end clarity – not harshness or quackiness when dug in with. Being passive makes these humbuckers sweat-proof while working seamlessly with existing preamps as well.
EMG, Bartolini, and other pickup manufacturers provide dual-coil bass humbuckers in either J-bass or P-bass soapbar styles – perfect for anyone seeking versatile pickups that can adapt to any genre or circumstance.
These pickups feature a humbucking design to reduce noise, while still producing massive bass response. Many also come equipped with voicing switches so you can fine-tune their sound to suit you personally.
For instance, you can select the ‘Classic Bass’ setting for a balanced, full sound that responds to your touch; use the P-Bass position for a vintage tone with big bottom end and low mids; switch to J-Bass when playing jazz or other tight articulation styles like fingerstyle guitar; each of these options come in 4-string and 5-string versions to accommodate any bass guitar size – simply check your graphic to confirm if the sensing structure you prefer is available in that size!
5. Switchable Pickups
People often avoid changing their pickups out of fear that it requires soldering or making permanent modifications to their guitar, but if you own an old bass with 5-way switches and want more variety for yourself, this mod could be very easy to try.
Your pickup will depend heavily on its magnet/s, but other elements also play a part in its tone; such as its thickness and insulation type as well as how many turns it makes around its bobbin. Some pickups can even be further customized with coil split technology which lets you turn off one coil for single coil tones.
Piezoelectric pickups offer another intriguing option, sensing pressure changes in the strings to produce sound without touching them directly. They can produce bright or smooth tones for any situation – or both at once!
Seymour Duncan Antiquity offers various models that are tailored to certain styles of music, with the Surfer model offering a classic ’60s sound. Equipped with an alnico magnet and aged to achieve that vintage charm that works so well with Stratocasters.
Metal enthusiasts will appreciate Seymour Duncan’s Invader set, featuring ceramic magnets for powerful yet aggressive tones with hot bridge pickup and less aggressive neck pickup, making for an aggressive but smooth sound favored by Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit and Troy VanLeeuwen of Queens of the Stone Age respectively. Meanwhile, their Black Label line provides high output bridge and neck pickups, as well as being aged to give a classic look and feel.