1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

Active vs. Passive pickups

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by lawjazz1, Nov 5, 2013.

  1. lawjazz1


    Sep 7, 2013
    Assuming one has an amp with a wide tonal range that already has a preamp and serious power like a Carvin BX1500, what is the advantage/disadvantage between active and passive pickups on a bass? I'm trying to decide between a standard p bass or the deluxe w/ active pickups.
  2. stonewall


    Jun 14, 2010
    Well im into old school tones Passive for me...but i recently decided to purchase an American Deluxe P Bass i do not have a need yet for active but its there for the future is the way i look at it lol.the deluxe covers both ..to answer your question for me the difference is this Passive nice warm tones Active clicky treblely cant stop messin with the buttons tryin to find a tone i like click back to passive awe there,s thoses beautiful tones so easy..im sure active takes time to learn im just giving my personal thoughts good luck.....
  3. RickenBoogie


    Jul 22, 2007
    Dallas, TX
    Just to clarify, the active P bass does NOT have "active" pickups, just a 3 band eq preamp, which allows for quick tonal tweaks, and also includes a passive/active switch to disable the preamp and run in normal passive mode. Active pickups are an entirely different thing.
  4. There really aren't many active pickups these days... It's the preamp and corresponding battery that generally make a bass "active". There are a few pickups that won't make much noise w/o the preamp & are considered active pickups.

    Advantages to an active setup? Control over all the small tweaky things that make up the tone you're going for, generally a more polished/hi-fi sound, generally higher output.

    Disadvantages to an active setup? You have to have a battery, generally a more polished/hi-fi sound, generally higher output.

    I'd say play them both and decide what you like. I've tried active basses off and on over the years and just haven't found any I liked that weren't also passive. I also don't want to have to worry about having a good 9V laying around or unplugging my bass so the battery doesn't drain and all that stuff. I have a hard enough time keeping my phone charged.
  5. Hapa


    Apr 21, 2011
    Tustin, CA
    It has been said already but pickups are not active, the preamp gives active tone control.
    Most EMG's and Bartolini pickups have been made to work with an active buffer only, not as bad as say an OEM musicman pickup.
    The advantage of active is having tone control without having to alter amp settings/ having to go back to your amp when playing live. With a P bass, specifically the P bass is a passive instrument...kinda the point to one pickup-Vol, tone. With the bridge humbucker its cool to have eq settings but ask yourself how often do I change setting when playing live?
  6. Most preamps have bypass switches, so in general, no downside.

    Even when set flat, every preamp will have a buffering impact on the output of the bass, resulting in a reduction in the impact of cable capacitance and volume control capacitance (i.e., you won't lose any top end by not running your bass wide open, or with a long cable), and the tone generally (as stated earlier in the thread) becomes a bit wider (deeper lows, more relaxed cleaner mids, and more treble extension), due to both the buffering and often a bit of 'baked in EQ'.

    With a bypass, the only downside of having a preamp in your bass is that models designed to run optimally with a preamp will use different pickup windings (i.e., you might not dig the passive bypassed tone as much).

    With a P, I'd go passive for sure.... the last thing most would want in a P is a wider, more mid relaxed tone with more treble extension:p
  7. Not so sure about that one... The last two active basses I've owned (Epi T-Bird Pro and Yamaha RBX750) didn't have a bypass switch.

    Also, they may have a bypass switch, but do they still work without a battery? My L-2000 doesn't have to have a battery to make noise & for a bass to be have a true passive bypass that would need to be a requirement for me (no battery to make noise).
  8. stonewall


    Jun 14, 2010
    The Passive mode with my new P Deluxe really has awesome tones the Jazz N3 is nice when blended in passive mode.My go to bass is a 64 CS Relic Jazz but honestly im really diggin this Deluxe P.....My Sterling then Stingray didnt have the passive/active switch or a i prolly would have never got rid of them.
  9. Means2nEnd

    Means2nEnd Supporting Member

    Every EMG pickups I have ever used or seen is active indeed. Bartolini makes an active P pickup in a soap shell it's what Mike Tobias uses most of the time. Most German Warwicks are equipped with active MEC pickups unless the MEC symbol is in white then they are all active.

    Benefits...Lower amount of magnetic pull on strings = less issues and more increased sustain. Batteries last most times way more than 6 months sometimes up to a year with heavy use.

    Cons..Passive pickups and EQ plays better with effects and front end of amps usually. This can be remedied easily. Alex Webster uses a Radial Bassbone before effects and amps to lower output to passive levels.

    Preamps are another story...
  10. Hapa


    Apr 21, 2011
    Tustin, CA
    Yea, I have to disagree with KJung, most preamps are not by-passable. One has to wire it that way and is dependent on the pickups.

    Means2nEnd: The magnetic pull of the pickups has nothing to do with electronics issues, Battery life is dependant on the circuit efficiency typically the FET or Op amp. As far as Sustain... that is a distraction from this thread (OP has a P bass) and not really true. Sustain has to do with construction, wood choices, and hardware last would be pickups. The pickups have a little pull on the strings - they have to, they are magnets. If they didn't that means that they are not being affected by the metal (string) passing through the magnetic field to make current. Less pull is less output, period. Adding power with a preamp over comes this for final output and with less output from the analog pickup, technically yes it is less pull with a larger dynamic range for the preamp to boost. But not the marketing BS that you think it is.
    The Radial bassbone further buffers the signal, nothing like the impedence difference of passive pickups. That and he uses Spectors with EMG's...Very buffered, he lowers the output signal from such a hot source as not to have to use the active input and over load the pre on the amp.
  11. I have to disagree with this.

    Many preamps have bypass switches. However most do not.
  12. CBNJ

    CBNJ Sorry brother.

    Feb 13, 2009
    New Jersey
    I am SO bored with passive. I think it's time to buy an active.
  13. tuBass


    Dec 14, 2002
    Mesquite, Texas
    I have two EMG active pickup basses (but selling one of them, or rather trying to)

    I love that the sound is great coming right out of the bass, I don't even need a preamp in most cases, it's just awesome

    also, I think active pickup basses seem to sound similar to each other, and are not as dependent on "tone wood" and other factors

    CBNJ, hit me up, I'm practically giving away one of my basses!
  14. Webtroll

    Webtroll Rolling for initiative

    Apr 23, 2006
    Austin, TX
    EMG pickups have preamps built into them, I think you're referring to the active EQ. I like active and passive pickups, passive tone and active EQ. I'll take a little variety, thank you!
  15. tuBass


    Dec 14, 2002
    Mesquite, Texas
    what i mean is, with EMG active pickups, you don't need any kind of onboard EQ, and you can get away with an external one if you need to.
  16. Means2nEnd

    Means2nEnd Supporting Member

    The magnetic pull of the pickups has nothing to do with electronics issues..

    did I say this?
  17. bongomania

    bongomania Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
  18. The only inherent difference is output impedance. All other factors are design choices.

    The output impedance of active pickups is generally lower than passives, because of the buffering. This is a good thing, because the lower resistive part of the impedance causes the frequency cutoff point of the LPF created between the pickups and the parasitic capacitance of the instrument cable to shift upward, resulting in less "tone suck." Note that this lowered output impedance can be achieved with an onboard preamp or simple buffer, and is not necessarily restricted to having active pickups.

    Nearly all of the misconceptions people have about active pickups sounding different or being louder are due to generalizations of common design choices. Some manufacturers wind their active pickups differently, or add gain boosts. This is not always the case, however.

    And, as already stated, the active bass in question does not have active pickups.
  19. Means2nEnd

    Means2nEnd Supporting Member

    Just to clarify I just meant less magnetic pull from and active pickup compared to a hot passive will have less pull on strings and increase sustain. This can be demonstrated by the bass whisperer on YouTube demonstrating the difference with a light wave bass compared to a traditional pickup set up and the sustain is way longer than the traditional pickups. But sure there is plenty more to do with sustain than just pickups.

    Also a prominent well known builder that builds some of the best known high end custom shop basses says he prefers using passive Bartolini pickups because their magnetic field is low and intonating is much easier. I haven’t noticed that I but I trust him. I said electronics another story because they have nothing to do with what I was trying to explain.
  20. You're generalizing. Active pickups can have greater, equal, or lesser magnet strength than passives.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.