Episode 035: The Pickup Line

Episode 035: The Pickup Line

Practical Bass
Practical Bass
Episode 035: The Pickup Line

Different pickup choices are what make electric bass exciting. How do they affect your sound?

Do you have a favorite pickup configuration?

  • Dave
    • I lean toward Precision but mostly prefer having the options of a P/J combo
  • Paul

How do pickups work, anyway?

  • They’re transducers, meaning they change one kind of energy into another
  • Copper wire wound around a magnet, sometimes in multiples, generates a magnetic flux field
  • The vibration of your string disturbs the field, which generates a tiny electric signal
  • Then you amplify this signal and it becomes what you hear
  • The amount of copper wiring (number of windings) also changes the tone!

Passive vs. Active

  • Active pickups usually have fewer coil units and wire winding
    • Meaning even lower signal
    • The battery power lets you amplify that way up, EQ it, etc.
  • Passive pickups have a brighter, fuller tone though… that’s why all pickups aren’t active


  • Where do you play on your strings?
    • Dave
      • Wherever I can get the sound I need! – But most time spent by the neck
    • Paul
  • Where you put the pickup affects the sound similarly to your fingers
    • By the neck — round, booming tone
    • By the bridge — trebly, nasal tone

Precision pickups

  • Since the late 50’s, split coil — one unit for the low strings, one for the higher strings
  • Gives the characteristic “bark” of a P bass
  • Early 50’s P basses had a single coil pickup
  • Chuck Rainey, Rocco Prestia, Bootsy, all the punk

Jazz pickups

  • One closer to the neck to give body and fullness
  • One closer to the bridge to give more twang
  • Combine them and you get the trademark “growl” of a jazz bass
  • 70s spacing means the pickups move toward the bridge, especially the one closest
  • Sounds: Geddy Lee, Jaco, John Paul Jones, Marcus Miller, Aston Family Man,

Music Man pickups

  • Standard configuration is a dual coil pickup fairly near the bridge
  • Switch on the StingRay may differ depending on the age of the bass, but most made in the last twenty or so years allow you to switch between parallel, series, or single coil
    • The cheaper SUB and Sterling don’t work the same
  • Louis Johnson, Randy Jackson,  Pino Palladino (80’s)

Different manufacturers make lots of options

  • Size/weight of pole pieces, number of windings, material used…
  • Popular: Seymour Duncan, Nordstrand, Aguilar, Bartolini, lots more…
    • Check out our friend Blyss at sonofabass.com, he dropped Aguilar pre + pickups in a Sire V7 for amazing sound

Other aspects

  • Soap bars
  • Noise issues

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

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