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Gibson Les Paul bass, upgrade options?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by generation zero, Jan 6, 2014.

  1. generation zero

    generation zero

    Jul 24, 2012

    Hi everyone, I'm coming here a little late in the game, as I've already likely made some poor choices... but nothing that isn't reversible short of spending money, LOL! (Warning... I have a bad habit of writing long posts... please bear with me...)

    My live rig up until now has consisted of a 2012 Gibson Les Paul bass, a Mesa M3 Carbine head, and a pair of Hartke Transporter cabinets (1x15 and 4x10). I plan to upgrade the cabinets to a Mesa Powerhouse cab, but that's still a few months out.

    Anyway, I've been pretty happy with the tone I get from my rig so far, using mainly the bridge pickup I still manage to get a nice big bottom end, with enough highs for note clarity but not too much to make it clanky or thin sounding. The bass has passive Thunderbird humbuckers stock, which are wound for bass but are guitar sized humbucker pickups. That makes them difficult to find direct replacements for, as there aren't many basses out there to my knowledge using guitar sized pickups. Why would I want to replace them if I'm happy with the tone though?

    Well, two reasons... first, I just bought a PRS Gary Grainger 5 string bass, which sounds absolutely phenominal. I want to be able to switch between the two live, but with as good as the Les Paul sounds live, it sounds like a cheapo beginner bass in comparison to the PRS. The PRS is active/passive switchable, with a 3 band EQ when in active mode. It sounds much clearer, and fuller in all registers, than the Les Paul. It also has a substantially louder output level than the LP, even though the LP has a much louder output level than the Jazz basses I had been using before it. Second, when we just went into the studio and I plugged the LP in through a DI to lay the scratch tracks with the drummer, I was not able to dial in a sound straight from the bass that had any redeeming qualities whatsoever... it just sounded like crap going DI straight to the board and back into headphones. That tells me that the tone I am loving so much live is coming more from my amp than the bass itself, and is therefore probably not coming across the mains if the soundman is using a DI box like they often do.

    So, bottom line, I need to make the LP sound more like the PRS does. I know I won't be able to make them sound the same per se, but I need them to at least sound like they are in the same class of instrument. Otherwise, I will have to either sell the LP or at least stop using it live and work towards getting another PRS, since I hate gigging without a backup bass. I still love the look of the LP and the way it plays, so I'd rather upgrade it and keep it.

    I figured since the PRS is active, I needed active pickups to solve my problems. (Didn't do my research first... trying to fix that mistake now.) I bought a set of chrome covered active EMG guitar humbuckers, an 81 for the bridge and a 60 for the neck. Taking the amp out of the equasion, I am comparing the two instruments through my Behringer V-Amp and run direct into a small mixer into my computer... in both settings, the LP still has a noticably lower output, although the tone does sound more balanced if I have both pickups on. The EMGs don't seem to pick up the low string very well though... the low string has a VERY weak output compared to the other three. In coming here to try and figure out why the guitar pickups aren't working like I hoped, I realized through reading that I would probably be happier with the stock pickups and an onboard preamp. An 18 volt preamp is what the PRS has, and since it can be operated passively, the pickups mus not be active, but passive pickups with an active preamp. So, I assume I would want an 18 volt preamp for the LP.

    Which brings my book to a close, with my actual question, LOL... What specific preamp would be most likely to give me the tone and volume boost I am looking for, and allow me a master volume and three band boost/cut EQ controls without stacked knobs, allowing me to utilize the existing 3 way toggle for pickup selection? (I may end up changing out the toggle for a blend knob if I need to, but I'd prefer to maintain the traditional look of the LP...)

    Conversely, are there different pickups available that are guitar humbucker sized, but designed for bass? (Either active or passive?)

    Thanks for taking the time to read my diatribe, LOL... and thanks in advance for an suggestions!
  2. Grissle


    May 17, 2009
    First stop would be here: http://www.thunderbuckerranch.com/
    Wonderful pickups! And they've a few choices these days. These pickups are good enough on their own and definitely don't need preamps, but if your set on active there are A LOT of choices. So we'll have to help you whittle it down.
    Are you trying to get the LP to sound just like the PRS or different but just as nice?
  3. generation zero

    generation zero

    Jul 24, 2012
    Thanks for the reply... I'll check out that site in more depth later, but I think the pickups aren't as much the solution as a preamp is. Installing a preamp will make the setup basically the same as the PRS, which should be a good starting point... if I still need tonal improvement at that point, I'll look at new pickups then.

    As for the second question, I don't really expect (or want) the two basses to sound exactly the same, but I do need the Les Paul to sound more like the PRS than it does now. Mainly in volume and in fullness of tone... the PRS has that almost piano-like quality of clarity, I'd like to get some of that into the Paul if possible.

    Again, my main criteria is maintaining the existing 4 knob (no stacked pots) and toggle switch layout, possibly swapping the toggle out for a blend pot if needed. I think that just the toggle will provide enough options, with a master volume and lo, mid, and hi EQ knobs. That's where I'd like to start, anyway. Maybe a push/pull on the volume for a preamp bypass, but that's not absolutely necessary. Would like to go 18 volt, same as the PRS. Does that help narrow down the options any? What are the strong favorites around here for preamps?
  4. Try a Radial Bassbone. You can plug two insturments into it, control the level of each, and also shape the tone. It has a DI so the tone you shape is what is sent to the house or recording board.
  5. generation zero

    generation zero

    Jul 24, 2012
    David, I use a wireless with two transmitters and a shared receiver live, so that probably wouldn't be the best solution for my application... I thought about something like the 3 channel programmable SansAmp DI pedal, but I'd rather not start getting into running a bunch of pedals on the stage... Looking for an onboard preamp for the Paul for now, but I'll keep that in mind as an option though, thanks!