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The subject of
pickups is a big one and it would be foolish for me
to state this as final or complete guide to
choosing the right pickup for your bass. Pickups
are important to the sound of a bass, ranked right
up there with strings as a way of defining your
sound. They probably have more effect on your final
sound than whatever combination of woods you choose
for that perfect tone. To complicate the issue, a
pickup can give quite different results on
different basses. Changing strings will effect a
pickup's response as well. Here is an alphabetical
overview of the pickups I use regularly.
"MXY" (wide aperture) and "AXY"
(narrow aperture). Using ceramic magnets and a low
impedance, humcancelling winding, Alembic pickups
must be combined with their active system to boost
the signal sufficiently. There are two control
options; either "Q" control (a sweeping, narrow
band boost) or bass & treble controls. Uses 9V-
48V power supply.)
are "hand" wound by the Wickersham grandparents in
California and are supposed to reproduce the
"acoustic" sound of the bass with no coloration.
Because these pickups are low impedance they
require a specially designed preamp circuit from
Alembic, these circuits are modular in design with
solderless connectors. (Meaning you can keep adding
tone modules a la Series II.) The circuits use the
best components available and are extremely quiet.
That said, the basic setup doesn't do much for me.
It is very easy to work with and get what you need
but don't expect to be blown away on the first try.
Some folks say it's bass shy...
Bill and Pat
Bartolini have been winding pickups for a lot
longer than I have been playing bass. They know
what they're doing. With hundreds of different
pickup models in thousands of permutations you
might have to wait a while for your own custom
wound Bartolinis. It's difficult to generalize the
"Bartolini sound" except to say that they sound
nice with the sharper edges in the sound slightly
rounded over, smooth, clean, fast response with
lots of midrange definition. There are two winding
options available on most of their pickups;
"Bright" or "Deep". Most people will find the the
"Bright" pickups midrangy and bass shy though they
excel at giving a voice-like quality to solo bass
and can give a very percussive attack and "growl".
The "Deep" pickups have great low mids but still
won't go as deep as the the deepest. (This is
generally an asset when mixing bass in large venues
with boomy or difficult sound). Slappers seem happy
with the compromise between slap tone and
"These Bartolinis (M4 dual coils) would be
excellent in a hard rock band, they remind me
always of a typical punchy Fender Precision sound
and cut through a Marshall full stack like a
knife." -Manfred Kromer.
Bill has a new
ceramic magnet structure, known as "CX", which
gives an extended range similar to the Lane Poor
pickups. This pickup should fill the gap for those
players who seek a true full range pickup with the
low noise that the Bartolinis are renowned for.
Hum-cancellation comes in four configurations;
"vertical hum-canceling" AKA "stacked" (lower
output for use with active preamps),
"linear"*, i.e., "split", "quadraphonic",
"pentaphonic", "hexaphonic" etc. (A separate coil
and magnet under each string or pair of strings.
*These pickups cannot be mixed with other types or
some strings will be out of phase, also, these
pickups must be built to the exact string spacing
of the instrument or the strings won't be over
their respective magnets and volume will be
"Dual coil", a traditional humbucker which can
be wired in several ways to alter the tone.
"Triple coil" is a refinement of dual coil where
a dummy coil (no magnetic structure) sits between
the regular coils to cancel out hum when only one
of the coils is used.
4 string: "Jazz", "Precision", "P+J" combo,
"VJ","35J", "35P4", "35P", "DC35"
5 string: "LJ5", "40P5", "40J5", "DC40",
6 string: "45J", "45P", "DC45".
All EMG pickups are active and
require a 9V battery. All use ceramic magnets
except the 4 string "VJ" which uses alnico V
magnets. Some models use ceramic magnets and iron
cores to warm up the tone.
people either love or hate the EMG sound. I like
it. These pickups always sound good to me. What's
more they record well and engineers love them. If I
had them in my bass I would probably hate them
because they always sound exactly the same. They do
pick up string movement in 2 axis which is
important for slappers. They seem best suited to
good old rock and roll and not much else because
they are not very dynamic and don't have the
extended lows of some passive models. They don't
work when the battery dies. They are quiet and hum
free, the "DC" line being the quietest of the
bunch. I used to think the LJ5's had a nice low end
but it's hard to say now for sure.
Fender Lace Sensor /
4 string: "Jazz", "Precision", "P +
Lace sensors are passive and use flexible magnet
passive pickups, unique in design with the single
coil on the inside and the magnets on the outside.
They can sound great considering the limitations of
the old Fender shells but are not hum free as
advertised despite attempts to shield the coil from
RF and buzz. I like the strong, sweet, tight low
end however the flexible magnetic tape may have
something to do with the absence of extended
4 String "Precision" and "Jazz"
with alnico V magnets or ceramic magnets and steel
Lindy Fralen is
a custom pickup winder in Richmond, VA. His
specialty has been "vintage" stratocaster pickups
for which he is world renowned. He has since
started manufacturing replacements for Precision
and Jazz basses. If you are looking for a top of
the line Fender type pickup these are the ones to
start with. Lindy will wind them hot if need be.
The alnico V magnets are warmer, smoother and
higher output, the steel/ ceramic ones are
"clangier" but feature adjustable pole pieces to
balance string volumes.
Lane Poor: (Note: Lane
Poor has permanantly ceased operations and choices
are limited to stock on hand.)
String: "JC", "P+J", "M3.5W", "M3.5hb"
5 string: "M4.0W".
6 string: "SB4.650"
All with ceramic magnets, SB" denotes soap bar,
"W" denotes wide aperture, "HB" denotes
These pickups are neutral sounding, they let the
bass speak in it's own voice. They sound clean and
accurate. The low end is tight and full with quick
response. The low mids are audible so you know what
note you're playing on a noisy stage. The mids
aren't barky or annoying but you can coax a good
growl with some eq. They pick up in the vertical
axis so your slap sound is balanced and matches the
volume of your fingerstyle playing.
They are best suited to "bedroom" players who
want a sweet, hifi sound or for recording in Jazz
and New Age genres, or anywhere the bass has a lot
of room in the mix
Some people have experienced RF noise problems
in certain situations, the "hb" are quietest.
"I found Lane Poor Pickups get me a nice clear,
warm and punchy sound. Just what I was looking for.
You should consider making these the default
pickups in all your basses." Manfred Kromer.
4 string: Vintage Jazz, Vintage Precision,
Hot"J", Hot"P", active "J" with EQ., Active "P"
with EQ., 1/4 pounder "P", 1/4 pounder "J", "Music
5 & 6 string: active, humbucking soap bar.
"Music Man" 5, "J 5", "M4", "M5"
Many different verions are
available using alnico II, alnico V and ceramic
magnets some with iron cores or pole pieces
the name of the company's bass division headed by
Kevin Beller, they have some money for R&D and they
seem to be doing things right. The passive pickups
boast a "big" sound that's hot, aggressive and a
little bit "dirty". Their active pickups are more
conservative, something between an EMG and a
Bartolini. (They've even told me so). Not quite
sterile, fine slapping tone, very tight sounding
when played aggressively, almost warm sounding when
fondled but never really dark sounding. Not too hot
for passive inputs. There is still a man behind the
name and if you are big on vintage Fender sound
then Mr Duncan himself will hand wind a pair of
Jazz or Precision pickups with formvar wire on
alnico II magnets and then personally "age" them by
beating them with some blunt objects, ask for the
"Antiquity" series at your Seymour.
Outside commentary: "I have a set of Basslines
"Active five string for Jazz" (AJB-55 SET) that
came stock in my Hamer Cruisebass Five. No preamp
other than the one inside the pickups themselves -
passive controls. These are the nicest pickups I've
ever heard in my relatively brief five years on
bass." -Kraig Olmstead
"OBP-1" Two band broad shelving +-12dB at
40Hz and 4KHz
two band on-board preamp sounds great and is very
quiet. It a boosts only circuit, starting from
unity gain. The 18 dB of boost requires plenty of
headroom, 18V is recommended. The circuit can
handle 9-48V. The unit is encapsulated in an
awkward size case that can make it difficult to
retrofit. It comes with separate bass and treble
controls however an EMG dual stacked volume pot can
be used if stacked controls are desired.
"NSTMB-18" and "NTMB3"or "NTMB2"
18 Volts. Bass; +/-14 dB at 30Hz. Treble: +/- 16dB
at 10KHz. Mid: +/- 10 dB at 250/500/800Hz
switchable (NTMB3) or 260/430/660Hz switchable
(NTMB2). Other mid frequency selections from 250Hz
to 1500Hz can be chosen. $120
This is Bill
Bartolini's latest and most refined design. It is
as quiet as anything out there (106 dB S/N) and
really sounds good. To quote from the spec. sheet
"(The bipolar) +9V/ -9V system allows a completely
DC coupled signal path. There are no capacitors to
diminish in any way the low end punch, clarity and
frequency response of the instrument" (THD .003% @
100Hz). Bill has used wide bands that overlap
slightly to avoid the honky sound of other midrange
controls. The 250Hz mid could be useful as a cut
option when recording. Includes a gain trimmer to
match outputs with your other axes. Needs two 9V
"BTC" (Bass and treble on concentric knobs
with switchable treble shelving) ($80)
I have used
dozens of these in basses, they work well, they are
easy to install and are reasonably quiet (96 dB
S/N). They don't make your bass any better sounding
though. The treble shelving is switchable from 2500
Hz to 3500 to 4500 to 8000Hz via two micro switches
inside the bass. It's a pretty impractical feature
that's hard to evaluate.
"BQC" (Sweepable midrange
[300Hz- 3kHz] with concentric sweep and 12
db boost/cut,concentric bass and treble, switchable
treble shelving) 9V to 27 volts. I recommend 18V
power for all EMG stuff. ($120)
unacceptably noisy, the mid band is a bit too
narrow to be useful except as an effect on
fretless. You can make wah-wah sounds with your
"U-RETRO" Britain's John East has
designed a state-of-the-art 3 band EQ system with a
sweepable mid, dual input buffers and adjustable
gain from 1 to 12 dB for each pickup. Includes
stacked volume and blend controls (blend only works
in active mode). Asymetrical treble control with
center detent; (+12dB @ 3kHz, -12dB @ 1kHz ) which
can be pulled up for "bright"; (+8dB @ 7kHz)
stacked with boost only bass control; (+15dB @
50Hz). Mid control; (+/- 12dB) indent at "flat"
setting, stacked with frequency control;
(150Hz-3KHz). Also includes active/passive switch
and pickup selector switch for passive mode
(switches between rear pickup and both pickups
together). Uses custom plastic element pots, 3 ICs
and compact, low noise components on a single epoxy
insulated board. 18V power. $300
but still quite noisy. It colors the sound -treble
gets muted, -bass is bigger and tighter. John is
redesigning the circuit to improve the noise ratio
and flatten out the response.
POOR:(Out of stock)
"2 AC" Variable10 dB boost with dual buffer,
battery check light, 9V supply, 3 band eq insert
Featured the OP282 audiophile chip and
trimmers for each channel allows you to set boost
independantly. This unit provides a buffered blend and
(Concentric bass and treble with center
detents, 18dB boost, 6dB cut, switchable mid
I have had
this circuit in my bass since the mid-eighties and
it is different from most others in that the
shelves are wider and the slopes flatter. I like it
because it really does something without messing up
the volume balance between the strings, when you
boost the bass you're boosting everything between
20Hz and 300Hz instead of say 40Hz to 60Hz as in
many circuits. If I need to fine-tune my sound I'd
rather do it on my amp anyway. Hand soldered with
high grade, discrete, components using only 2
transistors so noise should be minimal though I
have experienced some RF interference. The circuit
can be powered with 9V to 48V, I use 18V.
2 band EQ, 3 band EQ, MusicMan 3 Band EQ
played with these much. They have a push/pull
volume switch that activates a "slap contour" which
you preset inside the bass, giving you two distinct
sounds. The noise floor is low at -85dB according
to the specifications. The bands are narrow and
preset; bass is centered at 30Hz (25Hz on the Music
Man model), mid is 675Hz and treble is up at
6800Hz. The rather large circuit board uses SMT
components and bulky, plug-in connectors to make it
a tricky retrofit (the Music Man version is
smaller). Can be by-passed for passive studio work.
Runs on 9-18V. $120