"J" pickups discussion and comparisons.

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by SMASH, Jun 28, 2003.


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  1. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Location:
    Canada.
    I'm on a soldering and wiring frenzy as of late, and as circumstances would have it I'm accumulating cool pickups which I'll be evaluating for my own amusement and will share my thoughts.

    If anyone else wishes to add their thoughts, costs, or ratings on any of these (or other) J pickups then please do !

    Tests are done with Fender pure nickel strings and I favor a thick meaty tone.


    Overall scores so far :

    - new Fender J p'ups = 2

    - old Fender J p'ups = 4.5

    - EMG active p'ups = 3

    - Seymour Duncan Antiquity II = 5 (best for a HUGE bottom with the vintage vibe)

    - DiMarzio Model J = 5 (massive tone and punch that's closer to humbuckers/P than any classic J sound)

    - Aero Type 1 = 5 (purely the sound of your bass - the opposites of the Model J but equally great at what they do)

    - Aero Type 3 = 3.5

    - Nordstrand NJ4 = 5 (if you can't get a 30 y/o set of p'ups but want the same vibe, with perhaps slightly more bottom and no breakup on the highs - nearly exact sonic replica of my '74 p'ups)

    - Nordstrand NJ4SE = 4


    P Pickups : Seymour Duncan SPB-2 "Hot For P Bass" and DiMarzio Model P http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?p=1405276#post1405276post1405276


    New resource : good reviews including models not covered here, + sound clips. http://www.subsonicfamily.com/bass/
  2. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Location:
    Canada.
    New Fender J.

    These are the ones that come in a new passive J bass.

    They're OK. You can gig with 'em no problem, but when you hear the bass with *real* pickups you'll wonder how you ever did without. With good pickups you don't need J-Retros and SABBDI, etc.

    Bottom line is that everything on a stock MIA J is just fine, but the pickups should be replaced so I'm not going to say much about these. They're just kinda there. Not crappy, but unfortunately not impressive either. Single coil, two conductor, ceramic (I think), exposed flat pole pieces. Standard issue.

    The famous Bass Player J Pickup Shootout http://archive.bassplayer.com/z1999/9903/pickups.shtml (also see that link for pics) made the grave error of not rating the stock pickups for comparison, so I'm starting with stock as a control group. I rated all of these without first looking at the BP scores, but I find my scores and theirs are similar. So while they've reviewed most of these, I'll add my view for balance using their familiar categories with added "punch".

    Yeah it'd be nice to have sound samples too, but with different strings, style, woods, speakers, etc. ... what would it tell you, really? In any case, for me it's either do it like this or not anytime soon. So ...


    New standard MIA J pickups :

    Warmth: 2.5
    Clarity: 3
    Output: 3
    Punch : 2
    Amplified Sound: 3
    Recorded Sound: 3
    Value: 2.5*

    * these come stock with a MIA bass so it's hard to rank the value. That said, they sell for about $75 a pair and while that's cheap, given that these aren't amazing pickups I'll give 'em a middle mark of 2.5 ... but only because they're functional. In truth, if you're going to buy pickups it's my belief you shouldn't buy these.
  3. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Location:
    Canada.
    Seymour Duncan Antiquity II.

    Totally killer. A very phat bottom end, high output, smooth highs. These make the tone knob more useful than it is with the stock pickups.

    Not really vintage-y if that's your bag .. more like vintage++ so if you're after a big badass tone then these do the job very well. With good flats, and especially with a series option, you can out-P a P bass easily with these. I'm not saying they sound "exactly like" a P, I'm saying they sound bigger and badder ... almost too much so at times. Not overly defined in a live mix though, but if you want a big medicine ball bottom end then these are "it".

    These come with a bit of a pre-worn look for the "antiquity" vibe. I dig that. Nothing stands out worse on an old bass than shiny new parts.

    Single coil, Alnico 5, two conductor. These rule (unless you're looking for a straight "vintage" tone). They can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to get as most places don't have these in stock, and I think they're around $250 for a pair.

    BP gave these a "Top Tone" award. So do I.


    Seymour Duncan Antiquity II.

    Warmth: 4
    Clarity: 3.5
    Output: 4
    Punch : 3.5
    Amplified Sound: 5
    Recorded Sound: 5
    Value: 4.5

    Warmth: 4 - Chewy goodness. Manly tone.

    Clarity: 3.5 - You can be heard and felt, but not in a nasly way.

    Output: 4 - More than the stock p'ups, not as much as other replacements.

    Punch : 3.5 - A perfect mix of gut-kick and enveloping goodness.

    Amplified Sound: 5 - These should be legislated to be the new stock J p'ups.

    Recorded Sound: 5 - As with my "amplified" score, take these to heart only if you want to lay down the New Law. If you want to be heard clearly on AM radio playing on 3 inch speakers, these will not work for you.

    Value: 4.5 - For me they're closer to 50 than 5, but given that they're high-priced in the world of replacement J p'ups and there can be a wait, I knocked off a half mark.


    The bassline - don't waste your time and money buying basses, preamps, etc., unless it is for sport. For tone, you only need a physically good J bass, then drop these in and you're the man !


    BP said :

    Warmth: 4
    Clarity: 3.5
    Output: 4
    Amplified Sound: 5
    Recorded Sound: 5
    Value: 4.5

    Similar to Antiquity but more punch‹and a ton
    of bottom. Top end voiced slightly lower for cut.
    "Lows have a real feeling of support."

    EDIT : Again, believe it or not, while I have seen this BP review several times in the past I did my markings before checking the BP reviews. In this case, we agree completely. And why not? These are great pickups.

    EDIT : Harmony-Central reviews : http://www.harmony-central.com/Bass/Data2/Seymour_Duncan/Antiquity-II-Jazz-Bass-01.html
  4. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Location:
    Canada.
    EMG active pickups.

    These are OK. At around $130 for the pair, they're inexpensive enough to make a good upgrade from cheap or no-name pickups. They've got a creamy scooped type of tone, very interesting if you've never heard active pickups before (I hadn't). The tone knob does more with these than with passive pickups.

    The problem for me was the "sparkle" on the high end. A prevalent tone that couldn't be EQ'd out. There's nothing wrong with the tone (obviously since so many people love these and put them in high end customs), but I can see why there's a love/hate polarity of opinion on these. I don't hate them, but since they just don't make "my" tone when amplified to proper volume (they sound great to me at low volumes) then to me they're useless so I sold them. I think I'm just not an active pickup guy. These would provide a great tone to work with for recording though, and for someone else they might also be a Godhead tone all-around.

    I tried 'em in 18-volt configuration but it made no difference to me. Also tried 'em with a BTB-01 (J-Retro's active stacked bass/treble assembly), and they were extremely beefy (too radical tone-shaping active pickups, IMO) but still retained that shiny top end which I don't dig.

    Esthetically, the lack of pole pieces looks a bit odd to me - though it's nice you can set the action ultra-low with no fear of clacking the strings against the poles - and the gold EMG logos on the covers is a bit much.

    Note : for these you'll need different tone and volume pots than what comes with standard passive J controls. 25 K with a .10 capacitor, if I recall. These being active, you can't put them in series. You also can't access or manipulate their internal preamp/tone.


    EMG active pickups.

    Warmth: 3.5
    Clarity: 5
    Output: 4.5
    Punch : 4
    Amplified Sound: 3
    Recorded Sound: 4.5
    Value: 3


    Warmth: 3.5 - There is a solid fundamantal here.

    Clarity: 5 - Mucho clarity. The inherent sound of your bass, only more-so. Missing some mids, but both the emphasized lows and the highs are on the middy side so in some ways there are a lot of mids. EQ to taste.

    Output: 4.5 - More than enough signal to drive effects boxes, etc.

    Punch : 4 - More of an inflated boxing glove punch than a vicious rabbit punch. On a spectrum analyzer we find a bell curve with the top caved in. I'm not making much sense I suppose.

    Amplified Sound: 3 - Again, the characteristics of the bass is emphasized but with much color. If, like me, you don't like the top end of the bass/frets in question then you're not gonna dig having them boosted eh? In that case, it's hard to EQ it out ... the "For Sale" forum will be your next stop.

    Recorded Sound: 4.5 - Plenty of character to work with. But if you don't like the nature of this active pickup sound then you're out of luck. They do what they do very well, but they can't be tamed.

    Value: 3 - Another middle-of-the-road mark as I respect what they do for the price - which is unique - but not what they do for me.


    The bassline - this review should illustrate why there's such a love/hate evident when asking different people about these pickups.


    BP didn't rate these.

    Harmony-Central reviews : http://www.harmony-central.com/Bass/Data2/EMG/J-Bass-01.html
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  6. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Location:
    Canada.
    "Vintage" Fender Pickups.

    I'm fairly certain these are a pair of '74s. Doesn't matter too much what I say here since you can't readily buy them and I ain't sellin'. Given that, I'm not sure how to gauge "value" so I'll leave that blank.

    In any case, these are fabulous. I was never quite sure what a "vintage" sound was until I heard these. When you hear it you know, and it is sweet indeed.

    These don't work well in passive with a J-Retro (impedance mismatch?), but sound rich in passive mode with the stock passive electronics and really good & creamy in series. Superb all-around Jazz vibe to these. I wouldn't ever change 'em.

    They're worn, a bit rusted, with shielding welded to the coils, and foam that's turning to powder it's so old & wretched. Cool old-school.

    Single coil, two connector, ceramic (I think?), staggered exposed pole pieces. I like the staggered poles, but they can get in your way a bit depending on your neck radius and how you prefer your action. But no matter - two thumbs waaaaay up !


    "Vintage" Fender Pickups.

    Warmth: 4
    Clarity: 4
    Output: 3
    Punch : 3
    Amplified Sound: 5
    Recorded Sound: 5
    Value: ?


    Warmth: 4 - These are exactly "it". So exciting to finally hear that sound that you might be inspired to riot.

    Clarity: 4 - Solid lows but not boomy, rounded top, present mids.

    Output: 3 - Maybe a bit weak, but should be enough to drive your stomp boxes and preamps.

    Punch : 3 - More of a friendly hug from a hot babe than an impact punch.

    Amplified Sound: 5 - Sweeeeeet.

    Recorded Sound: 5 - No real variety, but enough character that you can manipulate it on mixdown. However, 'the' sound is right here.

    Value: ? - Depends what you pay, but if you want the vintage warm sound these will certainly do it. What's it worth to you?


    The bassline - why can't they make 'em like they used to? These should please everyone from purists, to finesse players, to he-men.


    BP didn't rate modern or vintage stock J p'ups. For shame !
  7. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Location:
    Canada.
    DiMarzio Model J (aka DP123)

    WOW !!! These are extremely impressive, especially given their low cost - just $90 for the pair brand new.

    Split humbucker, ceramic, 4 conductor, adjustable pole pieces, coated in some kind of waxy goodness to shield, and mine came with beige covers which looks ultra-swank on my sunburst with tort guard '69 replica.

    These are deep pickups, so you might have to take the foam out of your pickup cavities or shave it down. Easy install despite the extra wires the coils come with, and DiMarzio's site has extensive wiring info, options (even suggestions for different pot resistances and capactitors to try), and clear diagrams. Best I've seen. DiMarzio recommends 500k pots, but these work fine with standard 250s.

    You can hard wire these easily in humbucking series or parallel. In parallel they're more standard / tame with better clarity, while in humbucking series they're almost perversely thick and beefy. I give them a low "clarity" score based on the series setting which is their recommended wiring. It's a low "clarity" score in a good way though - like a rhino hitting you head-on in slow-motion.

    Massive output and punch. An indistinct/thick tone (which for some is a bonus), but there are highs buried there which you can easily dial in with either an active preamp (sounds stupendous with a J-Retro) or the stock passive tone knob and thereby get some definition and cut. In fact, these are the only pickups I've had to cut the bass and boost the treble. Sick !!! These are dead quiet due to the split-coil humbucker.

    The only real knock I can make on these is that due to the look of the adjustable pole pieces they don't look like "normal" J pickups. There's also a wee DiMarzio logo on the covers but it is just embossed in the plastic and to see it you have to put your eye right up to it, so no big deal.

    If you don't like muscular tone you'll hate these, but I feel these are an exceptional value. They deserve an 18 out of 5 on the bang-for-the-buck scale. How can these be so infrequently discussed ?! Bass Player gave them a "Top Tone" award and that's damn right. Say what you will about BP reviews, but in the J Pickups Shootout I find they've spoken the Truth and as with the SD Antiquity IIs I again agree with BP - they ain't recommending any sissy "hi fi" or "modern" pickups.


    DiMarzio Model J

    Warmth: 4.5
    Clarity: 2
    Output: 5
    Punch : 5
    Amplified Sound: 4.5
    Recorded Sound: 4.5
    Value: 5


    Warmth: 4.5 - Pure goodness, but it'll be too much of a good thing for some.

    Clarity: 2 - You can sure hear the bass. If you want a bit more than that, you can dial in a round top too. A low clarity score, but in a good way.

    Output: 5 - Quite loud, and dead quiet in the way of 60-cylce hum.

    Punch : 5 - A knockout punch !

    Amplified Sound: 4.5 - Huge tone. Almost to the point of being ridiculous.

    Recorded Sound: 4.5 - To be undeniable, all you have to do is plug in and play.

    Value: 5 - Priced almost free. One of the best bass values I've come across.


    The bassline - you are a crushing glacier, nothing will stand in your way!



    BP said :

    Warmth: 4
    Clarity: 2.5
    Output: 4.5
    Amplified Sound: 3.5
    Recorded Sound: 5
    Value: 4

    Boatloads of punch. Rolled off top with thick bass. Pickups sounded great recorded. Ballsy growl sounds a bit ugly when soloed but is smooth and filling in the track. "The Marshall killer." "Loud & proud."

    Harmony-Central reviews : http://www.harmony-central.com/Bass/Data2/DiMarzio/DP123-Model-J-01.html , http://www.harmony-central.com/Bass/Data2/DiMarzio/Model-J-01.html
  8. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Administrator

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    Smash,
    thanks a lot for this. I don't own a J bass, but this was still very interesting. If I'd thought about this properly, I'd have made similar notes when I went through my own pickup tryout extravaganza on my Thumb5.
  9. odie

    odie Supporting Member

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    To bad he doesnt have the Ultra Jazz mixed in for a review. None the less he did a great review, and gave lots of helpful info.
  10. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Location:
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    I'd like to get a set of Ultra Jazzes too, but from everything I've read I understand them to be less "kickass" than the Model J's ... so given that, I'm not as intrigued by them.

    Surely someone else can add their comments though? We have BP's review, and we just need to corroborate it ... on any model.

    Of the Ultra Jazz, BP wrote :

    Warmth: 4
    Clarity: 4
    Output: 4
    Amplified Sound: 4.5
    Recorded Sound: 4.5
    Value: 4

    Very alive-sounding for a split humbucker. Crisp
    highs and strong low mids beg to be slapped or
    plucked. Stays punchy in the studio even down low.


    Harmony-Central reviews : http://www.harmony-central.com/Bass/Data2/DiMarzio/DP149-01.html , http://www.harmony-central.com/Bass/Data2/DiMarzio/Ultra-Jazz-01.html
  11. babecker

    babecker

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    Very useful reviews, Thanks!
  12. Tsal

    Tsal

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    So what pups did you end up with in your Thumb 5, then?
  13. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Administrator

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    Not wanting to hijack SMASH's thread...

    but when my MEC's died, I tried all Barts setup. Then tried Dimarzio Ultra Jazz 5', Carvin SC & HB, before settling on EMG's which counteract the darker tone out of the Thumb wood nicely.
  14. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
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    The more input the better ! Feel free to post whatever you can recall of the ones you tried. That goes for everyone pls.
  15. jimmy ray

    jimmy ray

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    thanks for all the input here, i've been debating the model j's or the duncans you mentioned. anyways, any chance you could post a few clips of the pickups you reviewed?
  16. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Location:
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    I've thought about it, but it'd be awhile.

    In the meantime I'll try hard to describe them meaningfully, and between BP's take, my take, and hopefully the takes of anyone who wants to contribute here on in other related threads people can get a good idea.

    So much makes a difference with clips - strings, style, speakers they're being heard through, that at some point it still requires a leap of faith and a try on your own terms & equipment.

    FWIW, I've taken receipt of the Aeros, but it might be awhile before I've been able to fully run through them.
  17. sean p

    sean p

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    still hoping to hear about some experiences with the dimarzio ultra jazz V... according to the dimarzio site they put out less treble information that the model j's, and comparable middle and bass information.

    also, is anybody familiar with the necessary modifications for installing this in an mia?

    sean p
    FourBass likes this.
  18. marc40a

    marc40a

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    Nice Reviews, Smash.

    I like that you included info about pot values regarding the Dimarzio humbuckers. I think bassplayer's review was slightly flawed for that omission when reviewing humbuckers.

    Also...how do you feel about a "Balance" category or info on staggered pole pieces? When my J is set up properly my A and D strings are further from the PU's and I can hear the difference - those strings just don't have the 'bite' of the outer strings. Obviously Dimarzio addresses this issue w/ the adjustable pole pieces but I'd be interesed to know if some models w/ fixed polepieces are staggered more than others.
  19. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

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    I'm loving this shootout, Smash. Excellent job! Care to sell those model J's to a fellow Canucker? :)
  20. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2000
    Location:
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    Stay tuned. It depends how hard the Aeros hit me. I'll be trying them over the next couple of weeks I expect.
  21. SMASH

    SMASH

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Thanks for your comments.

    Of the ones I am reviewing so far only the vintage Fender '74s have staggered poles, and as you point out the DiMarzio's are adjustable.

    I'd like to eventually try the Fender Custom Shop 60s but I don't know if they're staggered.

    When ordering the Aeros, Larry (the Aero guy) and I spoke about this at length. I just recently got the phone bill and I was surprised to find we spent almost 45 minutes going over details. He's very giving of his time and knowledge, and even included capacitors of what he feels is the proper value to match with his pickups. You wouldn't believe how serious - completely humourless in fact - that this guy is about tone. I'd gladly treat him to drinks all night if he'd keep talking. I learned a great deal.

    Anyway, I originally wanted staggered poles, but he asked me the measurements of my fingerboard radius(es), how I set my action, etc. and I realized that with the exception of fingerboards with great curvature (not the case with my/typical Js) that the staggering of pole pieces didn't make a difference re: the sweet spot distance from the poles to the strings.

    In the case of the Aeros I ordered, their sweet spot is closer to the strings than most pickups and as such his concern is that staggered pole pieces would run a greater risk of getting hit by the strings than making any sonic difference.

    In your case you might have the entire pickup too low or need to adjust your action. I think a distance of 5/32" is normal from top of the poles to the bottom of the string. Larry recommends 3/32" for the Aero models I ordered.




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