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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.)

      Alembic pickups 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 fingerstyle warmth.
"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 uneven).

"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.


      It seems 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 / Actodyne:

4 string: "Jazz", "Precision", "P + J combo".
Lace sensors are passive and use flexible magnet material.

      These are 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 highs.

Lindy Fralen:

4 String "Precision" and "Jazz" with alnico V magnets or ceramic magnets and steel pole pieces.

      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.)

4 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 humbucker,

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.


Seymour Duncan:

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 Man"
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

       "Basslines" is 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


Active Electronics:


"OBP-1" Two band broad shelving +-12dB at 40Hz and 4KHz

      Alex Aguilar's 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 batteries.



"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)

       Cool but 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 free hand...



"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

       Very cool 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.

LANE POOR:(Out of stock)

"2 AC" Variable10 dB boost with dual buffer, battery check light, 9V supply, 3 band eq insert point) ($125)

       Featured the OP282 audiophile chip and trimmers for each channel allows you to set boost independantly. This unit provides a buffered blend and variable boost



(Concentric bass and treble with center detents, 18dB boost, 6dB cut, switchable mid boost.) ($150)

       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.

Seymour Duncan:

2 band EQ, 3 band EQ, MusicMan 3 Band EQ

      I haven't 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



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© 2004 David King Bass Guitar Systems | 503-282-0327 | Updated January 1 2005