There exists a sweet spot height which enhances tone without significantly decreasing pickup output (volume). When this ideal height is achieved, strings and magnetic pickup fields come close together but still have enough room to vibrate freely in accordance with their own natural cycles and harmonics.
Due to this reason, most bass players aim to set their guitar pickup heights to optimal levels – an easy modification that can have significant effects on tone.
How to Measure
Be it your first bass guitar or one with pickups that require adjustment, it is vital that the setup be correct from the outset. Doing so can save both time and money spent taking it to an expert to have it setup right, as well as giving you an opportunity to tailor its tone while becoming familiar with its instrument. Managing pickup adjustments yourself gives you even greater control and allows you to personalize it further than leaving this task up to another person.
Most basses feature screws on either side of the pickup that allow you to raise or lower it, with some even featuring knobs on the back for height adjustments. A Phillips head screwdriver should work in most instances; if your pickup features metal on its base however, needle nose pliers might be best as this will avoid twisting or scratching its finish during adjustments.
Befor making any adjustments, play your bass for some time and listen to how its notes sound. If there is a noticeable buzz from the strings, this indicates they are too high and need lowering; to achieve this use a feeler gauge or machinist’s rule to measure between each string and the top of the low E pole (see specifications chart for proper measurements).
If the notes sound clear but lack punch, raising the pickup height on the treble side could help. Be mindful that there is no single optimal setting for pickup height; rather, this decision depends on factors like string thickness, playing style, barometric pressure changes and temperature shifts that affect space between strings and pickups.
Once your guitar has reached the desired height, be sure to inspect both sides to make sure its bass and treble strings are balanced equally – this will prevent future adjustments should your thoughts shift toward either bass or treble sides of the instrument.
Lowering the Pickup
Bass players frequently lament that their guitar has low output, when in reality it may simply be that the pickups are mis-calibrated. By lowering them closer to the strings and improving interaction between their magnetic field and string vibrations.
Many humbuckers feature two screws on either side, usually located either within the pickguard or pickup ring (such as on a Les Paul). Tightening these screws raises or lowers the humbucker accordingly; loosening them lowers it.
Now with a screwdriver in your hand, open up the pickup slightly to give yourself enough room for making adjustments. Be careful not to lose a screw in this process – it can be easy! For this task it may be beneficial to use a smaller driver, since larger ones might slip into and damage the finish on your guitar.
Start off your adjustment by playing some notes to hear how each string sounds, listening closely for both bass and treble sides of each note; bass should be clear without woofiness while treble should be crisp but non-biting. After you have established this, measure string height on both sides of the pickup. Use these measurements as references throughout this process.
Typically, bass sides tend to be lower than treble sides due to massier bass strings interfering more with magnetic fields than their lighter treble counterparts. By adjusting pickup height accordingly, we can make bass strings higher while decreasing treble string height accordingly.
At its core, every bass, pickup and player’s style are unique. While there may be general guidelines to follow when setting the perfect tone on any string instrument, finding your ideal balance may require trial-and-error. Furthermore, if an adjustment doesn’t seem to help at first glance it might be due to worn springs or mounting screws causing issues; before making changes to pickup height.
Raising the Pickup
Setting your pickup at its optimum height creates a magnetic field which gives your bass guitar its tone. However, setting it too high can lead to intonation/tuning issues due to magnets pushing and pulling strings out of tune, as well as producing warbling noise caused by magnetic interactions between strings.
As such, it may be wise to adjust your pickup gradually until settling on an optimal balance between string tension and pickup proximity without creating unwanted side effects. To adjust its height using a screwdriver on either bass or treble sides of the pickup. Be mindful that these adjustments should be completed while sitting down with guitar in playing position so you can get an accurate representation of how it will feel and sound while being played upon.
As you begin adjusting the height, take an initial reference measurement so that you have a starting point for any adjustments. Mark any modifications with ruler or, even better, calipers so that you can track how far off from original adjustments you have gone and give yourself a reference point should you decide to go backward.
Lowering the pickup can have a dramatic impact on your tone, so experiment with various settings until you find an optimal combination of sound and output. As you tweak, you may notice your bass notes become clearer while your treble strings will become less affected by its presence.
As part of your pickup height adjustment process, take care to test the guitar with open strings and different amp settings as well as all possible chords and scales to ensure everything works as it should.
Adjusting pickup height can have a dramatic effect on tone and tuning stability, which means it is wise to rule out other possible causes of an out-of-tune string before resorting to changing pickup height.
Keep in mind that changes to a bass guitar pickup without drastically decreasing or increasing output are generally limited, enabling you to make initial adjustments more safely while exploring various settings more freely.
As soon as you are ready to experiment with pickup height, grab a screwdriver and locate the screws used to adjust its height. A Phillips or flathead screwdriver works best; in some models flathead may work better. Once found, loosen all of its screws on both ends of the pickup while switching sides if possible; you may notice different string sensitivity and balance on either side of your guitar!
Step Two involves playing a bass guitar for some time and paying close attention to how each string sounds and how its notes blend together, using the twelfth fret of any bass string (playing its natural harmonic on this note gives an indication of its tones) to set intonations for individual strings. After some playing time has passed, listen carefully for every pickup on your bass guitar pickups.
If your bass guitar pickup is set too high, you will hear an unpleasant warble as its strings disturb the magnetic field. Lowering it will reduce this effect and allow your strings to vibrate freely for fuller and richer tone production.
Periodically readjusting the pickup height on your bass guitar is also recommended, since playing for long hours may cause vibrations to shift and push down on it, leading to decreased output and often times hearing claims that strings or pickups need replacing, when really they simply require raising.