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Active System Downsides?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Ezmar, Feb 13, 2013.

  1. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    So, I'm planning a custom build, it's going to be a Fretless, with Nordstrand Big Singles in a J configuration. My plans are to have the passive controls in a V/V/T setup. I'm also considering putting a Nordstrand or Bartolini Active system in as well, with the intent of having switchable Passive/Active mode. Are there any downsides to doing it like this? I like the sound of passive, but I also wouldn't mind having a second set of controls to fine-tune my tone if I wanted a different kind of sound. It seems to me that Switchable passive/active isn't as common as it would, seeing as it's the best of both worlds, capable of running passive, and the Active there when needed. Am I missing something here, or is it just a convenience sort of thing?

    Also, I notice that the Nordstrand active system has the Passive/Active switch in a Push/Pull pot, is that hard and fast, or could I have it wired to a switch? I don't like the idea of having that set to a push/pull knob, since one of the two becomes a more "Default" setting, simply by virtue of the knob being easier to push in than pull out. I don't really know much about wiring and such, so that may be just small potatoes.

    Anyway, any and all answers welcome/appreciated.
  2. I imagine you'd be using the active preamp for most of the time if you like the sound of it (I much prefer the character of a nice passive setup myself), and personal preference aside, there's one hangup of many active systems that feature passve bypass: if you bypass the preamp, you have no control over tone. If you want an active system with bypass, I'd be sure to check if there is passive tone control in bypass mode. The best stock setup I can think of this is what G&L does, where you can roll off both bass and treble independently in passive mode. I'm not aware of an aftermarket system that has this feature, but it would give you two truly 'flexible' tone modes, not simply a 'limp home' passive bypass with only volume control. Though I have to qualify this by saying that 95% of the time I play with tone wide open, nothing rolled off at all, and just change playing position or pickup selection to change tone, which i find far more effective than tone controls.
  3. FunkyMan


    Nov 27, 2007
    There's no problem putting a preamp, the only thing i can recomend is that you should be careful with which one you choose, try to find one that deliver transparent performance, because Nordstrand pickups sound so good that would be a shame if the preamp add color to them.

    Aguilar is a perfect example, but looking at your 2 choices, i would go for the Nordstrand preamp rigth away, i guess they are perfect match
  4. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    For me, it depends on the scale of your gigs. If you have a PA and a sound guy, passive is fine. If you're dropping your amp somewhere and hitting it, the active controls are a Godsend. I like using the passive tone for the push/pull pot. It's the least likely to be accidentally switched. But again, the scale of your gigs should determine which is the default 'push' position, as it can be wired either way.
  5. Doner Designs

    Doner Designs Steve Doner Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2012
    Metro Chicago Area
    Doner Designs is an alias for Steve Doner
    I have noticed that my Bartolini preamp does not actually get bypassed when you use the included push/pull control. All it does is bypass the tone controls but you still get gain boost. For pure passive you have to wire it up yourself and, if doing that it would be easy enough to add a passive tone control (if you have room for another pot). I have not done this with my Spectorcore yet but will get to it eventually. Otherwise its a nice pre for the $.
  6. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    My idea is that I'd have 6 knobs, 3 that are the standard Jazz knobs, and then the 3-band EQ. Is that not how it works? Does the Onboard Preamp override the passive controls? I was imagining having it be like a Passive J until I switch it on, which just kicks in the gain boost and the EQ, leaving everything else intact. I play with the tone open most of the time, too, and I do like the passive sound, but I have no comparison with an active system, since I've never played with one. I feel like I'd want to have that option available to me, especially on a nice custom build like the one I have planned.

    Of course, it is an extra cost, but if it's something I'll want even a little, I'm willing to drop the extra cash for it.

    And could the Passive/Active switch be wired to a toggle switch? I think I'd still rather have it there, I don't mind having an extra switch on the bass.
  7. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    Sure the switch could be a toggle. It's just a switch. If you want less knobs, concentric, stacked pots can go a long way. Bass/treble, mid/passive TC is a fairly common setup. Also the passive tone control can be wired to work either passive only, or always. I prefer to have it always available.

    There's a wealth of wiring diagrams revealed by a quick Google. Guitarelectronics.com alone has pages of them. As you're doing a custom build, I'd recommend you wrap your head around these and consider the implications before you commit to drilling holes in your fine new custom bass.
  8. tubehead2


    Jan 26, 2013
    I always prefer the tone of passive over active, especially with good pickups like nordstand, sd antiquity, delano.

    Active bass always too much output and lack of wood tone to my ear. However, active bass is more useful in situations that the sound system is poor. So for me is more like problem solving.

    However, I am going to try an idea of having boost preamp on board to boost overall output of passive pickup and the bass still be used in Bal, Vol, Tone configuration. Just like passive bass but with a 9V battery hidden in side the control cavity. Then I just buy a quality outboard preamp if I need one which can be use with my others bass ^^.

    I am not sure if the simple boost preamp will colored the tone of my bass in bad way, I hope it is not.

    PS. Nordstand pu+preamp is an excellence way to go from what I have read in the board. I never have chance to try Nordstand preamp but his pickups that I use to own are wonderful. ^^
  9. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    Thanks for all the replies you guys. I'm still not sure how I'm going to go, but I guess once we start building, I'll see what my options are and feel it out from there. If the builder can't do it exactly how I want it to be, which would surprise me, I know a fantastic electronics guy where I live who I'm sure could do anything I wanted. He could probably add a soft serve switch, if I asked.

    Thanks again.
  10. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    Okay, Resurrecting my old thread for a follow-up question that's basically the same question again, but whatever.

    So my thought is basically this. I have the Nordstrands in there, with the full passive setup, Volume/Volume/Tone. I also have a switch that would switch on the Nordstrand active 3-band EQ for a different flavor and the EQ options. Is this something that could be done while still leaving the passive V/V/T controls intact? A passive bass with the option of turning on an onboard EQ and Preamp? Or is that not how these things work?

    And this sort of gets into the hardware side, but if the scenario works as described above, would I be able to have a smaller stacked pot for the mid control frequency selection? It wouldn't necessarily need to be there, I could make do perfectly fine with a fixed mid freq, but as evidenced here, I think, I like having options. And by smaller I mean to have all 3 preamp EQ knobs be a smaller size than the standard Volume control, sort of like how the tone knob on a Jazz is smaller than the Volumes. Just a sort of visual separation/distinction. I don't know if there are small stacked pots, though, so that's a decision I'll just have to make when it comes to it.
  11. zfunkman


    Dec 18, 2012
    I have an active Modulus Q5 with Bartolini PUs and a Bartoline 3 band Pre-Amp. The control over your sound is awsome. The only downside is when the batteries die. There are two. I also have a J Bass and a Ric which are passive. I'm getting ready to build a Frettless Warmoth; I'm going with passive Lindy Fralin PJ setup.
  12. testing1two

    testing1two Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Southern California
    First you have to answer how important is it for you to have all these controls on the bass as opposed to the pedalboard or the amp? If you can accomplish the same goals with a pedal then why drill more holes in your bass?

    Second, the more controls you have on the bass, the harder it becomes to find the same sound repeatably. There is something to be said for simplicity when you're under "gig pressure."

    Third, versatility is a function of design, not the number of available controls at your disposal. In other words, a 2 band preamp that sounds good at any setting is far more useful than a 4 band preamp that only has a few useful combinations. The same could be said for a passive setup that sounds good at any setting versus any preamp that needs dialing in.

    I had a Nordy 3 band preamp in my #1 jazz bass (with passive tone and mid frequency switch) and while I consider it an excellent preamp, I ended up removing it entirely and going passive. I have a couple of different preamp pedals if I want a significantly different voicing on the fly but mostly I just make minor adjustments on my amp. YMMV
  13. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    But at the same time, once you use the bass long enough you know how to dial in tones without thinking about it.

    We can also say that the more notes you have on your neck, the harder it gets to play the same passages repeatably. But you learn how to do that, and using your bass' tone controls, as well as your amp is something you also have to learn to do.

    Then it's easy peasy. :)

    I just reach down and give my tone controls a turn to where I know they will get the tone I want, and plus you are listening while dong it.
  14. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    I just realized that the title of this thread is going to draw a biased audience. A lot of people are chiming in about why you'd want a passive setup, but not a whole lot on whether having an optional active EQ would undermine something or other.

    Basically, I think I might want to have an active system, but I also like passive setups, so I'm thinking about a switchable system. So if I'm understanding correctly, that kind of system will have the same sound as it would without the pre-amp at all in passive mode, and active mode will engage a gain boost and EQ, although it won't sound like a fully active pickup system?

    And in terms of being able to find the tone, wouldn't you be able to install notched pots that sort of "click" at +-0db?
  15. FunkMetalBass


    Aug 5, 2005
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses
    Yes. Your signal is manually bypassing the preamp.

    Most "active" basses use passive pickups and active preamps. There are only a few companies that even offer active pickups, and they certainly aren't the norm everywhere.

    Yes. Look for pots with a "center detent." Most preamps come standard with those.
  16. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Most preamps will make the bass a little brighter when the tone controls are set flat. This is because they are buffering the pickups from the passive controls and your cable. Those things remove some high end and lower the resonant peak on the pickup. So a passive bass sort of has a hard wired EQ built in. And the longer your cable is to the amp, or if the cable has higher capacitance per foot, you will lose more high end.

    Some people don't like the slightly brighter tone, but in a band setting you won't notice it, and it will likely make it easier for you to be heard.

    Some preamps have a lower input impedance and don't brighten the tone up as much. Aguilars seem pretty transparent, as are the EMG preamps, and the Audere's middle Z setting loads your pickups the way a cable would, so it sounds passive. The brighter high Z setting is the buffered tone.
  17. Ezmar


    Jul 8, 2010
    Well, I really like a tight, Bright sound, so I'd say that I wouldn't mind that at all. I've heard that Active setups have a more Hi-Fi sound, which I think is something I'd like to have. I'm not a huge traditionalist, so I don't really see any reason to go strictly passive, although it would be simpler and less expensive. I'd probably use passive mode quite a lot, since I don't feel like buying 9 volts all the time. :rolleyes:

    In terms of getting a good preamp (And yes, I know it's a matter of taste), I would surmise that I can't go wrong coupling the Nordstrand pups with a Nordy pre? From what I've read about the Nordstrand pickups, although I haven't personally played any, they seem like they're right up my alley.

    Thanks for all the replies!
  18. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Buffering also tightens up the low end.

    Think about what the term "hi-fi" means? That means high fidelity, which means it reproduces the source accurately.

    So plugging a 50 year old P bass into a pro recording console is a hi-fi recording of that bass!

    It's not what people think it means, which is a bright tone. But a preamp will allow you to boost the highs.
  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    On both of my main fretlesses (Brubaker KXB-5 and -6 Customs) I'm using Bartolini NTMB 3 band preamps. Like the Bart pickups I have installed in each (dual coils in the five, wide single coils in the six), the seemt o let the bass sounds like it sounds unplugged. The NTMB has bass, treble and two or three switchable mids center. I prefer the two band mids... bumping the lower mids a touchs can yield pretty massive fingerstyle tone. All of this with four (including one stacked) or five knobs. I haven't found the need for a passive tone control on fretless.

    I tend to run my EQ flat, I get plenty of highs that way along with everything else, just turn the volume up. I love the internal gain control on the NTMB, I typically set the gain to about 70% of maximum on that control. It's very handy if you feel the need to switch back and forth between active and passive. I don't so I set the gain accordingly.

    I always play in active mode and it does not sound "active" IME. The basses sound incredible for fingerstyle or slap, bridge or neck pickup soloed or both on. I mainly use soloed bridge for fingerstyle and both on for slap.

    Pickup placement matters so choose that wisely. And for pickups on fretless, I haven't heard any better than Bartolini.
  20. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    If you only have the bass plugged in when playing, batteries can last a surprisingly long time.

    As far as going straight passive, personally I'd rather have the active option and not need it than need it and not have it. So no, I don't see any real downsides IME.


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