No matter your level of skill with bass guitar playing, there are a number of ways you can enhance its sound. One such improvement is altering its pickup wiring.
Altering your bass’s pickups is a relatively straightforward and uncomplicated task, provided you have all of the necessary tools. It’s an excellent way to get some new sound out of your instrument.
How Pickups Work
Pickups work by converting the physical vibration of strings into electrical current. They come in various types and configurations, giving bassists full control over their tone while experimenting with various settings.
In general, pickups consist of a copper wire coil wrapped around one or more magnets. This magnetic coil then converts vibrations in the string into an electrical signal that can be plugged into an amplifier.
A pickup’s output voltage is determined by both the material used to craft it and how hard the bass string is plucking. A harder knock results in larger vibrations that disrupt the magnetic field and boost output voltage.
It is also necessary for the coil to be wound tightly and evenly in order to reduce noise from gaps between windings, otherwise known as microphonics. These sounds can lead to unwanted noise or buzzing noise.
Therefore, pickup makers often dip the coil in wax or lacquer to fill in any air gaps. Doing this helps prevent unwanted noise from escaping the coil and interfering with audio signal quality.
Another critical factor affecting pickup output is the distance between magnets. This measurement is essential for creating a balanced pickup.
Bass strings typically have wider spacing between them than electric guitar strings, making it challenging to create a pickup that produces equal output across all strings. This could result in some strings having lower output while others are louder, affecting the overall volume of the pickup as well.
To combat this, some pickup manufacturers have designed their pickups with staggered pole pieces that sit between two of the slugs on each string. This configuration produces more harmonic overtones than fundamental tone is transferred to the signal, creating a unique sound praised by many bass players.
Bass guitars with five or six strings often feature pickups, which can make a significant difference in the tone of the instrument. These sounds tend to be brighter, cleaner and less muddy than electric basses.
Types of Pickups
No matter your musical taste – classic rock fans with an affinity for vintage guitar tones, metalheads looking to add that edge, or bass players looking to add some gritty edge – there is a pickup that fits the bill. The bass pickup market offers plenty of choice with everything from single-coil models and split coils up through humbuckers and more.
Magnetic pickups, in which coils of wire are wrapped around magnets, remain the most popular type of bass pickups. They can be designed to accommodate different string materials and produce a unique sound all their own.
Bass guitar pickups come in two primary varieties: active and passive. Passive pickups don’t need electricity to function, instead converting vibrational strings directly into electrical energy. They’re commonly found on acoustic instruments but may also be found on electric bass guitars.
Active pickups require electricity to run a preamp, which amplifies, filters and equalizes the electromagnetically-induced signal before it’s output. They’re typically more expensive than passive pickups but often provide greater improvements in tone from bass guitars.
One type of bass pickup is the piezo pickup, which reflects light onto a vibrating string and converts its shadow into an electrical signal. Piezo pickups are commonly used with non-ferromagnetic string material like nylon strings.
The most basic bass pickup, the single-coil, utilizes a coil of wire wrapped around a bobbin under each string with pole pieces underneath and magnet on top. The amount of coiled wire, magnet type and pole pieces all play an important role in how well the pickup sounds.
Some single-coil pickups are overwound, which boosts their volume and midrange growl. Others are ‘tapped,’ meaning they only send out the signal from one particular coil.
In 1957, Fender introduced the split-coil bass pickup, commonly known as ‘P’ bass. This design divides strings into two distinct parts and amplifies their range with rich lows and crisp highs that cut through any mix.
When installing bass guitar pickups, there are a few things you should take into account. First and foremost, confirm your bass is compatible with the new pickups by checking its wiring diagram. With that information in hand, wire the new pickups directly onto your bass guitar.
Once the wires have been cut, take out the old pickups from your bass. Be sure to leave enough wiring so that when it’s time for installation of the new pickups, you can resolder them into place.
Next, search for any wires connecting the pickups and any other electrical components on your bass. These wires will connect the pickups to other hardware like potentiometers or an output jack.
It’s essential to have the wiring diagram for your bass guitar pickups on hand. Without it, you won’t be certain that they work with your instrument.
Another thing you’ll need to consider when replacing your pickup is its type. Your choice will have a significant impact on the sound of your bass. Furthermore, whether active or passive pickups are preferred will determine its sound.
If you’re uncertain about the pickups you’re considering, research online to get feedback from other consumers. Some sites even allow users to test drive the trucks before purchasing them.
You can find reviews from previous customers to get a firsthand account of how the pickups performed for them. Spending some time reading these testimonials will help you decide if the pickups you’re considering are suitable for your bass.
Once you’ve selected the pickups that fit perfectly, it’s time to install them. Installing bass guitar pickups may require more steps than electric guitar pickups require, but the process remains relatively straightforward and uncomplicated.
The pickups on your bass guitar are essential components, translating string vibration into an electric signal. Connected via solder to other electrical components like potentiometers, resistors and volume knobs, these pickups must be checked for proper operation when replacing them.
Before you begin troubleshooting, ensure the output jack is in good condition and its wires have been soldered securely to it. Cracking or moving wires could lead to issues with your pickup’s performance; to remedy this, unscrew mounting screws on the output jack and inspect that all wires are correctly soldered.
Additionally, inspect the pickup’s coil to make sure it is securely covered by electrical tape and free from loose wires or parts. Each coil should begin and end with one output wire each with a clean solder joint (no cracking or movement).
It’s wise to take measurements of your overall string spacing directly above the pickup in order to determine the ideal height for the pickups. Pickups that are too low will interfere with string vibration, while those located too high could generate too strong a signal and damage your instrument.
If your pickups are working properly but the tone is either too loud or too quiet, you may need to adjust the height of your bass pickups. The ideal height allows the instrument to produce a strong signal without interfering with strings’ vibration.
Next, use your multimeter to test the wiring of your pickups. Place the black probe on the ground wire and red probe on “hot” wire.
When you touch these probes to the appropriate node on the output jack, your multimeter should generate a buzzing sound. If not, your pickups may have broken an electrical connection.
After troubleshooting the wiring of your bass guitar, you can decide whether you need to replace or repair its pickups. Replacing pickups is a relatively straightforward process: take them away from their mountings and carefully lift them out of the body. Afterwards, guide each wire through its appropriate spot in the body before soldering them back on.