Active or Passive pickups: How to tell?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by bachfantasia, Mar 26, 2014.


  1. bachfantasia

    bachfantasia

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2014
    Active or Passive pickups: How to tell?

    Active or Passive pickups: How to tell?

    I've been searching various websites and looking at basses and it's not always clear if the pickups are active or passive. Sometimes they describe the bass as having active electronics or an active eq, does this always mean the pickups are also active?

    Unless the description says passive or active pickups, can it be safe to say that the pickups are passive? If not, is there a surefire way to determine if the pickups are active or passive?

    Thanks.
  2. i_got_a_mohawk

    i_got_a_mohawk

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    Feb 9, 2005
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    Edinburgh & Dundee, Scotland
    The vast majority of active basses use passive pickups (active pickups are generally regular passive pickups by design, just with a small preamp epoxied into the casing).

    Not sure if there is a surefire way without looking under the hood.
  3. line6man

    line6man

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    Close to Los Angeles, CA
    As Mohawk said, the vast majority of basses have passive pickups. The ones that have active pickups are usually advertised as such. There are a small handful of companies that are known for active pickups, such as EMG and MEC, so if you see these pickups on a bass, they are usually active. Otherwise you're only talking about a handful of unidentifiable actives.

    What is your reason for asking, though? If you are buying a bass, rather than modding, then it really makes no difference whether the pickups are active or passive, as long as you are aware of whether or not you will need batteries, and whether or not you will have a buffered signal.
  4. Nate85x

    Nate85x

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    Mar 24, 2014
    One good sign is does it run off a 9 volt battery if so it should be an active bass. My Ibanez SR 505 has bartalloni mk 2 pickups and it runs of a 9v its an active bass.
  5. i_got_a_mohawk

    i_got_a_mohawk

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    That doesn't tell you if you have active pickups.

    Most active basses will use passive pickups and a preamp, only the preamp requires the 9v or 18v supply.

    There are some active pickups but they are a small minority of the active bass market.
  6. Nate85x

    Nate85x

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    Mar 24, 2014
    That's what I get for assuming. Great clarification, I know the preamp gets powered from the 9 volt but I assumed it indicated for the pick ups as well
  7. chilliwilli

    chilliwilli

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    Aug 17, 2005
    Active pickups tend not to have exposed pole pieces, but of course a passive pickup can look the same.
  8. i_got_a_mohawk

    i_got_a_mohawk

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    Feb 9, 2005
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    Edinburgh & Dundee, Scotland
    As Line6man said earlier, EMG and MEC are the big names in active pickups, really few and far between outside of those two manufacturers.
  9. bassgod0dmw

    bassgod0dmw Supporting Member

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    White Plains
    If it has EMG (not the hz), MEC, a particular Seymour Duncan, or very few others that I can't even think of...
  10. SanDiegoHarry

    SanDiegoHarry Supporting Member

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    Location:
    San Diego, CA
    Yup - EMG and SD. The rest are passive with preamps and should work without a preamp.

    Of course, there might be some other brand that has popped up.
  11. mmbongo

    mmbongo I like turtles. Supporting Member

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    Upstate, South Carolina
    Yet it has passive pickups...
  12. Nate85x

    Nate85x

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    Mar 24, 2014
    Yeah its passive pickups with an active eq. Got mixed up too with the whole active passive pickup thing
  13. rojo412

    rojo412 MARK IT ZERO! Supporting Member

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    Best way to tell...

    Open the control cavity and look for where the pickup leads are coming in. If you can see a red wire going next to that or any wires coming from there are connected to the battery wire, you have active pickups.

    There are very few active pickups on the market by comparison to passive ones. Chances are likely that if you have a bass with pickups and a preamp, it's using passive pickups.

    If your EMG pickups don't say "HZ", they are active.
  14. bassgod0dmw

    bassgod0dmw Supporting Member

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    Location:
    White Plains
    Just to clarify, not all SD pickups are active. They make only one that I'm aware of.
  15. JustForSport

    JustForSport

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    Nov 17, 2011
    Ibanez and Conklin have made active pickups,
    and some basses have been advertised as having active pickups, when in fact the pickups were passive, run thru an active preamp.
    If no battery hot leads go to pickups, then they're passive.
    Active pickups usually read very low with an ohm meter, and sometimes it won't stabilize.
  16. bachfantasia

    bachfantasia

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2014
    I just found the perfect example of a good website clearly distinguishing and specifying that the pickups are passive but that it is the eq that is active.

    The ESP LTD RB-1005 clearly states "Electronics Passive P.U. w/ Active EQ".

    In my opinion, this should be the standard of all bass listings. :)
  17. bachfantasia

    bachfantasia

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2014
    Then there is the PRS Grainger 5 String, which describes how the knobs switch back and forth from active to passive. Little confused, but it sounds like you can choose if you want the pick ups to be passive or active IN ADDITION to the bass having an active eq? I'm I getting that right?
  18. mmbongo

    mmbongo I like turtles. Supporting Member

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    Location:
    Upstate, South Carolina
    No it's just basically a preamp bypass switch as found on most active basses that don't use EMG pickups. It's just a little fancier than most since you can bypass the preamp on each pickup separately. Pickups cannot be both active and passive.
  19. bachfantasia

    bachfantasia

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2014
    I see. So they are still passive pickups, you can just choose to use the active eq or not?

    In the description it does say "If this knob is up and Knob 2 is down only the neck pickup (passive) is heard" and "If both knob 1 and knob 2 are in the up position, both pickups (passive) are heard."

    It looks like they are indeed specifying that the pickups are still passive.
  20. kucor

    kucor

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2011
    If bass runs on battery but no onboard EQ (just vol/tone controls), pickups are 100% active. otherwise, by pot value, active pups usually have max 100K volume/blend pots, while passive pickup requires 250/500K main pots.

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