an important lesson about pickup height...

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by joebar, Jan 3, 2015.

  1. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    I have a Yamaha BB1025X that I bought a few months ago.
    I like it except it had what I thought was a weak B string. I even had it listed FS.

    now I would like to think I have pretty good knowledge about setting up basses; I have even learned to shield and solder and install preamps. (drop-in).
    but I admit I am a player rather than a tinkerer.

    I took the bass over to my good friend's house the other night (Crabby here on TB-he happens to know a lot about guitars and basses).

    he notices right away when we plugged it in that there was a strange distortion/warbling going on when the gain was cranked. I told him that the B string simply vanished and had a spongy, quick decay-I changed the B string twice to no effect.

    because its a passive 5er, I assumed it wasn't as hot an output as an active bass so I cranked the PU's fairly high; nothing unusual though.

    he immediately saw the issue-he said the J PU was too high and he radically dropped it down.
    instantly the bass sounded and responded better. the B was much better. he said that this was happening because the PU's were hot and needed to go down because they were dragging the strings.

    Crabby has an excellent ear-he understands the nuances of instruments. he simply loved everything about this bass and said the B was better on it than one of his boutique 5ers.

    I am glad I took it over to show him; I may have sold a bass that need not be sold.

    lesson learned.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2015
    Joedog, Cmymud, divetone and 4 others like this.
  2. punchdrunk

    punchdrunk Inactive

    Jun 22, 2013
  3. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Yep, anyone who's spent much time setting up Stratocasters is well familiar with this. It's even informally called "Stratitis" where the magnets exert enough pull on the string to affect the strings' vibration. It's common on Strats because the PUPs poles are actual magnet slugs (unlike a Gibson style PUP where the magnet is in the bottom of PUP and the poles are simply ferrous slugs or screws to bring the field to the string) and the E (sometimes A) strings have enough magnetic mass to be deflected easily.

    The key part of this is the assumption you made without checking it out in real-life. You said "because its a passive 5er, I assumed it wasn't as hot an output as an active bass so I cranked the PU's fairly high (sic)". Might have been better to spend some time just playing it the way it was and then addressing any needs.

    Also there's the fallacy that active basses have higher output than passive ones, which is so far from the truth to be laughable. The hottest output I've ever experienced is the original G&L MFD PUPs on the original L-1000 and L-2000e basses. I was a very very early G&L dealer (when they still offered only ebony and maple fingerboards, when the catalog listed a passive L-2000 which never was produced, etc.) and those basses with the PUPs properly adjusted were hotter than my '78 StingRay, and any other active bass I've played since then. Now if you're boosting all the EQ knobs all the way, you may be putting out more juice than a typical passive bass, but without extreme EQ every active bass I've played has very similar output to a good properly set up passive.

    iiipopes likes this.
  4. Yup. Too far away from the strings gives a weak signal. Too close gets you magnetic interference/pull and will result in some weird warbling and string dampening. It can take some experimentation to get each position just right.
    Grab a set of jeweller's/precision screwdrivers and tinker till you're happy.

    Just a note; some pickups have adjustable pole pieces...some don't, but the pickup bodies themselves can be adjusted.
  5. JustForSport


    Nov 17, 2011
    Typically, active (powered, w/internal preamp) pickups have less magnetic pull on the strings because they use the internal circuitry to boost the signal enough, and can be set up with lower string height.
    Passive pickups, because there is no internal preamp, generate the full signal from the magnets and coils, so usually the magnetic pull is quite a bit stronger on the strings, requiring a larger distance between strings and poles. Also, a bit more distance can help equalize the string's signal generation due to the distance/strength ratio of the magnetic field.
    squidtastic likes this.
  6. When strings are too close to the pup you can get distorted sounds but not necessarily string pulling,
    and you can get pulling and no distortion...
    i suppose distortion is related to an electrical thing (that can be solved placing the string far away),
    but not because the magnet strengh itself...
  7. Those obnoxious noises you get from excessive pickup height are called "wolf tones". Someone in another forum was asking how to get a newer 4003 to sound like a 4001 without mutilating it, and it was suggested to lower the pickups into the body cavity. Not only will the strength of the signal diminish, but the bottom end will disappear as well.
  8. bassdude51

    bassdude51 "You never even called me by my name." Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    Better for pickups to be a "bit" too far than a "bit too close.
  9. Canadian APII

    Canadian APII Supporting Member

    Yup. Often the pickups are set too low also. I have picked up many Aria Pro II basses because of this. A lot of people tighten them down hard and complain the sound is too weak. I have bought a few APII's with this "problem", I simply raised the pup into the sensing zone and they turned into tone monsters.
  10. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    that is what he said-
    he mentioned setting up his strats.

    part of the problem I had was that I took the PU's out when I shielded it and likely didn't screw them in enough.

    I have had a huge revelation about this aspect; glad it happened actually...

    I am going to check my other basses now...
  11. I also heard it gives the strings a weird chorusy effect too if the poles are too close to the strings. Is that the same as the "weird warbling and string dampening" effect you describe?
  12. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    could be-

    I knew something was wrong a few weeks ago when I took it to church and played it.
    there was a strange distortion/clipping sound thru the IEM's ; this never happened with any other basses.
    when we plugged it in to one of Crabby's glorious Mesa rigs, that is when we heard the warbling in a prominent way. took him about 10 seconds to figure it out.
  13. Bassamatic

    Bassamatic keepin' the beat since the 60's

    According to my genius engineer - the pickup covers on P and J basses are not there for shielding - I don't even think that they are grounded - but to reflect some of the magnetic field from the pickups back down to the strings to help compensate for the pickups' downward pull. I don't know if anyone has ever tested this, but it sounds possible.
  14. I must meet Crabby. My MIM P had a similar effect when I changed strings. I realized the D and G pickup was higher than the E and A. I lowered them a lot, to the point where I almost find it difficult to anchor my thumb while I play. Hence, why I got a thumbrest...just in case.

    Output was a little weak as a result, so I raised them back up a bit to the size I like them. Can't be happier.
  15. Yup.
  16. markmeloney


    Apr 27, 2013
    Just out of curiosity, did you measure the new pickup distance? (preferably with the last fret pressed down, measured from the bottom of the string to the pickup). mine are at 2 mm and I'm wondering if that might be my problem
  17. markmeloney


    Apr 27, 2013
    do you think there's some place online where I can hear what the "warbling" sounds like?
  18. dinoadventures

    dinoadventures Feets don't fail me now!

    Jul 10, 2015
    Dallas, TX
    I have a 1025x too and it's definitely rather hot on the output for a passive, almost as hot as my stingray. With some strings they like some weird stuff too, like having just the B and/or E strung through the bridge. Despite that, they're incredible instruments.
  19. Sure. I googled it for you. Took me all of five seconds to find one.

    About 1:14 and 1:39.

    The more bass...the more the effect is pronounced. Very pronounced on a bass guitar.