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Going passive after years of Active

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Bass., Mar 12, 2016.

  1. Bass.


    Jan 23, 2006
    San Diego
    I've almost always had active basses, my first bass was passive but since then they've almost always been active. I've tried a couple times to go to a jazz bass but I always find myself not enjoying the sound I'm getting. I find the basses to be lacking in bass and punch. I don't miss the flexibility of active because I feel like I get enough variability from the passive Jazz but I miss the starting tone.

    Should my amp be doing more work? When I play my 55-94 I almost never touch the amp so I may not have the amp experience I need get the oomph out of a passive Jazz.

    I did some searching and found a lot of people who wanted to go passive after years of active but very few went into detail as to why, maybe someone could help me find some of the mysteries of passive
  2. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    I played a passive P bass for nearly 25 years until the mid 90's when I went active. I did that to get more tone options. I went back to passive when I bought my Lull PJ5 5 years ago. My Lull has no shortage of either bass or punch. I've been playing a fantastic active Lakland 55-94 for 13 years and I love that bass, but the Lull is my go to instrument.

    So what is the bass you're not happy with?
  3. dabbler


    Aug 17, 2007
    Bowie, MD
    For me, a mainly passive player, it's kind of like going between acoustic guitar and electric guitar. The electric had more range, but when you want acoustic tone, you need an acoustic. The passive bass won't give you that active punch, but the same thing that gives the active bass that punch makes its tone sound "pushed", or exaggerated. It's a more "manufactured" tone.

    Now before people jump all over me, yes, I know that the more accurate analogy to an acoustic guitar is an upright bass, and tonally, the passive bass sits between the upright and active, but it's a similar kind of difference to me.

    I do play actives too, but I like passive tone better. Each has their place, and yes, you can play anything with either, but I prefer passive.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2016
    petrus61, steamthief and stacker like this.
  4. wvbass

    wvbass Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2004
    West Virginia
    There's your problem. You've got a really nice bass. You can't really trade up from there.
    Bass. and 40Hz like this.
  5. stacker

    stacker Banned

    Feb 24, 2010
    I ran with active from '83 until around the turn of the century. By then I'd had a couple of Jazzes in the armoury and much preferred digging in and letting the pups do the work rather than the electronics.

    The only actives I have left are two Steiny Ls and a Levinson Blade. Nice as they are, they lie in the shadow of the Jazzes.
  6. Brian D

    Brian D

    Dec 2, 2004
    Dublin, Ireland
    I've done it and couldn't be happier.
  7. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    I was big on active at one point. When Alembic first introduced active basses I was one of those kids who wired up one those little FET preamps and stuck one in a Jazz bass. And I loved how it sounded. But it never stayed in for long. I think three or four months was the longest I ever steadily used a bass modded that way before I'd roll it back. Same goes for active basses I've since bought. I've kept one purely to have an active sounding instrument available. Anything else with a preamp in it has one solely for a piezo pickup. If that bass also has a mag pup, that pup's signal path is completely passive.

    Although it's taken me many years, I've reluctantly concluded I just don't like active basses all that much despite my repeated attempts to convince myself otherwise.

    In my case., I think it may have something to do with how you're stacking gain stages with an active bass. You've got the preamp on your guitar going into the preamp stage on your amplifier.

    I've noticed whenever you stack gain stages, the sound becomes somehow increasingly 'electronic' or 'processed' sounding. At least to my ears. And I think our brain subconsciously detects it as being something not quite right since that kind of sound doesn't occur in nature. Sort of like what you encounter when you hear a synth bass line. You immediately notice it's strange sonic quality. Which is one (of several) reasons why a synth bass tends to cuts through a mix the way it does.

    Maybe if they'd do an input channel on an amp specifically engineered for an active bass that does more than just pad the signal level down it might work better. That or include a switch to completely cut out the tone stack (since setting it flat isn't truly 'flat' on most amps) and let the bass's controls do the heavy lifting tone-wise. And have that same switch cut the preamp down to a fixed minimal boost that's just enough to guarantee there's sufficient signal for the power amp stage to work with. Or whatever.

    I'm of the "as little in the chain as possible to get the sound you want" school of thought. I'd prefer to let each element do its job - and make its contribution - with minimal (or no) overlap whenever possible. But I grew up in an entirely analog world where the you had to do that to minimize unwanted distortion…so maybe that's not as big an issue as it used to be. Or maybe people's ears have just learned to hear things differently now that so many have grown up listening to digital sound.

    But for whatever reasons, I think I generally just don't care for the sound of active basses. Or at least the ones I've owned and played.

    YMMV. :cool:
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2016
  8. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music.

    May 3, 2009
    N.E Illinois
    The last passive basses that I had were two washburn Tauruses.
    Twelve years ago.

    I again have two Washburn Tauruses.
    And they are both passive. Snapshot_20160124_3.JPG Snapshot_20160308_2.JPG
    RicoTheBassMan and stacker like this.
  9. Pocket4

    Pocket4 Supporting Member

    Dec 9, 2013
    New Hampshire
    Thanks 40Hz, I especially like the " sound doesn't occur in nature". My first active Jazz Bass was all that, and I loved it for a while. I don't remember what moved me to ditch the active guts and install a set of passive pickups, but the "nature" was immediate and I would not consider playing an active bass. I do understand some of the recording benefits to onboard active, but it's not for me.
  10. Bass.


    Jan 23, 2006
    San Diego
    I've been using a JO4 and a DJ4, and they both play great. I've spent so much time with active basses that it may be that I want to just grab a "mid" knob to adjust the mids instead of adjusting my attack or pickup balance. I'm also less familiar with the nuances of using two volume knobs to achieve a variety of tones because I've always used a blend pot.

    I found some threads talking about knob settings for their jazz basses which gave me a few ideas. I put a couple hours last night into experimenting with using the volume knobs as "tone" knobs and I started to find some familiar sounds. I was able to find a little more of the sound I was looking and I feel like I may be starting to tap into some more tonal variations. Is "pup volume for tone" a typical sentiment for passive jazz users?
  11. I've only had one active bass and I've tried a bunch, but I prefer to stay passive. The funny thing is that I think I hear something in the active tone that I don't like, but when I'm in the audience at a gig my ear doesn't differentiate between bass players playing a passive bass and one playing an active bass! I think I also have an unreasonable fear of my 9 volt battery dying during a gig. Anyway, I have a J-style and a PJ and I'm happy with them.
    Suncat likes this.
  12. steamthief


    Jan 25, 2006
    Mentone Beach
    I have two P/J basses, a passive Fender and active Spector Euro. As mentioned above, the active Spector tone sounds more "processed" to me as well, but what a gloriously growly processed tone! As much as I think the Euro's playability is superior, I prefer the Fender's tone. For lack of better terminology, "pure" and "raw" will have to suffice.
    jmattbassplaya likes this.
  13. stonewall


    Jun 14, 2010
    I own 2 active and 2 passive basses i like all 4 basses the same.But honestly i see no advantage to active basses.My most recent bass is a 13 Dimension its active yet it sounds best to me with the tone controls set flat.My love of my basses has nothing to do with being actice or passive.But given a choice i will choose passive.
  14. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    I use & like Active basses. Recent gig with a sound man who complemented the sound and output of the bass.
    I'm spoiled by them.
    finfrocka likes this.
  15. Suncat


    Jul 28, 2004
    I was just about to do some searching on this very topic here on TB and TADA! here it is. I've recently been going back and forth with the idea of getting a P bass for the styles of music I do and I prefer that tone over the Ibby I just got. The five string I have has Bartolini MK1 pickups and the standard Ibanez preamp. I barely use the B string and the preamp is not satisfying. I'm at the point where I don't want to keep messing with the preamp each time I play. It was much simpler to use one tone knob to dial in what I needed.

    I already knew what I needed to do, but this was just posted to justify it. lol Thank you for starting this thread and I also thank everyone that chimed in on their own experiences it does help a lot on my end.
    Bass. likes this.
  16. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    I'd always suggest an active P bass is a waste of a preamp. A passive P bass is what that sound is all about.

    After rediscovering passive basses with my Precision I bought a passive Fender Am Std Jazz V which I was trialling with the aim of replacing my active Lakland 55-94. But while the Fender sounds nice the dynamics and tones available in the Lakland means that the Fender has rarely made it to a gig.

    I'm not sure my aim of going totally passive for all my instruments was a realistic one. Anyway, for me, there's a place for both types.
    R Upsomegrub likes this.

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