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Do you embrace or fight against the sonic characteristics of pickup location when selecting pickups?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Antisyzygy, Mar 9, 2016.

  1. I fight against

    0 vote(s)
  2. I embrace it

    3 vote(s)
  3. It depends...

    4 vote(s)
  4. Carrots

    1 vote(s)
  1. Antisyzygy


    Dec 8, 2014
    We all know that when you move a pickup to different positions on your bass body that you will get different timbres. Assuming you used the same exact pickup, when that pickup is closer to the bridge the tone is quieter, brighter and has more attack. When that pickup is closer to the neck the sound warms up and gets louder.

    This has a pretty theoretical way of explaining it : Response Effects of Guitar Pickup Position and Width

    Assuming we control for output :

    If you were selecting a neck pickup, would you select a pickup to try and enhance the warm character, or would you try to brighten it up?

    If you were selecting a bridge pickup, would you try to tame the highs, or roll with it and brighten it up?

    Mids are also a factor, so where would you try to get those from? Neck, middle-ish, or bridge positions?

    I understand there isn't one answer, I'm just curious if anyone has a compelling argument either way. I've been thinking about a custom build and I am not sure which way I'd go.
  2. rufus.K

    rufus.K Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2015
    Doctor J likes this.
  3. Growlmonkee


    Jan 30, 2013
    Florida, U.S.
    I wouldn't purposely put a boomy pickup in position close to the neck, that probably would make for mud, and be hard to get a good mix with other instruments, I'd go for moderation, wouldn't pick an over bright pickup either, for the neck position, and I'd go the same way for the bridge, of course slightly hotter for the bridge position would be desirable, because a pickup is quieter in that position. The first criteria would be pickups that I know sound good. many manufacturers pre-made sets of 2 pickups are made up of pickups that sound very close to each other, and it's the position that defines the differences, it's harder to get a good mix from polar opposites. So I would pick a set that I've heard, that sounds great, possibly on a different bass, then live with the fact that the neck will be deeper, the bridge would be brighter. If the pickups are actually similar, and good sounding, it would give you a wider usable blend, than very different voiced pickups would. I've personally never liked a setup with one right at the neck, one very close to the bridge, YMMV. Same thoughts on active, or passive setups. An example for me would be the GZR P/J set, I really like it, one reason is the J in that set is voiced closer to a P than a lot of other P/J sets, and the entire range of blend sounds great on that set, with a good amount of variation, due to position on the body.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2016
    Antisyzygy likes this.
  4. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Non-issue for me.

    I'll play it - and if I like it - I'll buy it. So any struggling I may have to do to get what I want gets done (just that once) before it goes right back on the rack for the next guy. It's a whole lot easier that way.

    Life is too short to fight with an instrument. If you can't get most of what you want out of something right out of the box - and varying your settings and/or technique doesn't get you the rest of what you're looking for in fairly short order - why would you further consider ever owning it?

    Or so I think anyway.
    Antisyzygy likes this.
  5. ofajen


    Apr 12, 2007
    92.4W 38.9N
    If you take a look at the Wishbass in my avatar, you can see why I've had to learn a few things about the response of a pickup that is close to the bridge. Till's articles were very helpful as I was sorting this out.

    Personally, I've addressed the issues of tone with tone controls (adding both standard tone and Q-filter mid-cut to the Wishbass), rather than purposely choosing a pickup with a notion of a tonal bias.

    I did swap in a different pickup, but that was to replace a single coil J with a stacked humbucker. Given the low bass output and boost required, the hum was a problem. I picked the Carvin because it was $40, shipped. Given the tone controls I have and amount of eq I do to compensate for the pickup location, I'm not sure the pickup choice was that critical, other than to kill the hum.

    Antisyzygy likes this.
  6. Snaxster


    Nov 29, 2008
    As someone who has been on a bass pickups bender during the past year, I find this to be true for me:

    The pickups are what they are. The basses without the pickups are what they are. A given pickup may (often they certainly will) sound different in any given bass vs. in any other.

    No amount of observation, planning, calculation, etc. can compare to the moment when a given pickup perfectly suits a given bass. Almost always that match is unforeseeable by me, so the moment catches me by surprise.

    As such, now I neither fight nor follow the constraints of a bass and its pickup placement. Rather I meddle in the relationship of the bass and its possible pickups, to enable the chance of me stumbling on a perfect match.

    Sometimes I try many pickups in that bass, only to return to the first pickups and realize they were the best, irrespective of any measurements or other factors (materials, construction, etc.)
    Antisyzygy likes this.
  7. Antisyzygy


    Dec 8, 2014
    I really like the Geezer P pickup. I slapped one in a Road Worn 50s P bass and it was a real improvement for me. I probably could have tamed what I didn't like about the stock pickup with Flats. I just prefer rounds, and the Geezer has a nice little bump in the mids I like. What I liked about it is that pickup gets the EQ I want even when the amp EQ controls are flat (well for a SVT4).

    I'm planning a build and was trying to think of what pickups would work the best where. The problem is no one makes 3-pickup sets normally unless you buy Strat sets (I've put guitar pickups in a bass before, it wasn't bad sounding at all).

    In general it seems people either go bright, or mid-heavy for the bridge. Then the middle/neck (we refer to the P location as "neck" sometimes but I'm lumping in with middle) position is a toss-up, some people go with scoops, some with balance, some with mid-heaviness, sometimes bright. I can see why you'd want to tame the boom from the neck position, maybe with a single coil or brighter humbucking pickup.

    Anyway, thanks for your input!
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2016
    Growlmonkee likes this.
  8. Antisyzygy


    Dec 8, 2014
    Thanks for the input all!

    I understand some people think this sort of discussion is silly, but the fact of the matter is different pickups have different sounds. Look at Seymour Duncan pickups, the SPB-1, SPB-2, SPB-3, etc. Each one gets a very different tone. How would you blend them in various positions?

    When I wrote the post I was thinking of three positions :

    1. Neck (Mudbucker location)
    2. Middle (Basically P or J neck location)
    3. Bridge (J bridge location, or Stingray H location)

    I guess I could see three approaches to a build :

    1. Balance.

    Use a set of pickups that don't accentuate mids or highs/lows too much. Rely on the different positions along the string to give you the different tones you use for blending. This is kinda somewhere in the middle between 2 and 3 below.

    Historically, this is the route I've gone with builds. My bias was that I didn't want one thing or the other, just somewhere in the middle. The Geezer P for example has a nice mid-twist, plenty of low-end, but isn't over-the-top hot and still retains some brightness.

    2. Asymmetry -> Embrace the string location

    Use a set of pickups that accentuate certain frequencies present at the pickup location. This would be a design that is intended for blending pickups rather than solo-ing one of them. For an extreme example, use a really bright pickup in the bridge, and a muddy humbucker in the neck. You might not ever use either pickup on their own, but you could get some good balanced sounds by blending. The blending would be how you EQ your bass!

    Maybe this would be versatile? Sort of like having a first order approximation to an active bass in a passive design. (You can isolate pickup volumes with proper wiring).

    3. Asymmetry -> Fight against the string location

    This would be an attempt to bring each pickup position closer to the sound of the others. It would let you have more usable tones when soloing each pickup but when blending you'd lose some versatility (possibly).

    For example, maybe you use a mid-heavy pickup for the bridge, a balanced pickup for the middle, and a bright pickup in the neck.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2016
  9. ofajen


    Apr 12, 2007
    92.4W 38.9N
    Till's articles show that two basic things happen as a pickup moves toward the bridge: 1) the inherent 6 dB/octave low end roll off due to the nature of the pickups' magnetic sensing starts at a higher frequency and increases for a given low frequency and 2) the series of comb filter nulls shifts up in frequency.

    So, my Wishbass pickup location needs a lot of eq (using tone controls to reduce highs and mids and some low end shelving from about 600 down to 100 Hz). What I have embraced is the clarity of tone I then get from having no comb filter effects until up around 1500 Hz or higher. Once I get the bass back at a reasonable proportion, I find the output sounds uncannily like the actual sound of the strings, which for a fretless (and one that sounds this good unamplified) is a good thing.

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