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How importnant is a pick up configuration?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Thomas Kievit, Nov 4, 2012.

  1. Thomas Kievit

    Thomas Kievit Guest

    May 19, 2012
    Ever since I saw some video's from master luthier Michael Tobias from MTD basses, I started to look different to pick ups.

    He said at several video's that wood makes the bass a bass, so he's seeying it as an acoustic instrument at all time.

    As he stated : ''The only thing that makes the sound different, is the way the wood makes the string vibrate. You can have the same strings, same pick ups, same preamp on 2 basses, but a piece of mahogany makes the strings vibrate different then a piece of ash does. So I'm using the same kind of pickups for most basses. It's just moving electrons, it's not like they have tones.''

    Mostly on his hand build basses, he uses custom wired Bartolini soapbars. His cheaper import models, have some different configurations : MM / J, a single MM humbucker or a single P/style pick up. In his opion, pick ups just tranlate ''the language of the wood.''

    This made me think of how far a pick up matters, when it comes to the translating. Of course each pick up sounds different then others, but how can you find out, what kind of pick up works for you?
  2. Consider me a skeptic.. I think a P sounds quite a bit different from a J, even if they have the same wood, preamp and strings. There's no denying it. Different pickups have more influence than different woods, in my opinion. Your's may differ, and that's fine with me.
  3. Pickups have an extremely significant impact on tone. Consider that they are the transducers that convert the energy of the movement of the string to electric energy. Depending on the shape and arrangement of magnets and the nature of the coil impedance, and even the placement of the pickup, the entire frequency response and dynamics are affected. That much should be obvious when comparing pickups in different positions, or basses with different types of pickups. A P pickup sounds nothing like a J neck, for instance, and you can clearly hear differences in tone when blending the two pickups on a J. If you've ever played around with coil splits or series/parallel switching, you can hear great differences there, too.
  4. Thecomedian


    Aug 16, 2012
    Im also skeptical of how much "wood" matters. The definitive test would be someone using identical pickups in intruments made of different woods, hooked into the same amp, with the same internal electronic circuitry. In other words, a scientific study.

    String vibrates -> pickup translates that vibration into sound. Where does the wood come in? possibly when holding down the string at a fret, and the wood changes the vibration ever so subtly, but then the nut and the bridge hold the string in place otherwise.

    Wood means a lot more when it's the translation of the vibration through the wood of the base into a hollow body's cavity to affect the air.

    As far as his claim that the pickups don't have tones, its really about electric signal and how much.

    How many windings of the wire around the pickup magnet? What is the length and depth of the magnet? So on. Saying a pickup doesn't have a distinctive tone by it's production, without backing proof, is pretty facile.
  5. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Put me in this camp as well. Yes, woods will vary the tone somewhat. But I can swap out pickups in the same bass and the tone is night and day. If every pickup just sounded like a P bass, there would be no need for anything but a split P pickup.
  6. Thomas Kievit

    Thomas Kievit Guest

    May 19, 2012
    Yes I agree there. But I still think wood matters too. Of course pick ups give a huge impact as well. I mean, if you have for example a MM / J configuration, it will sound different then a MM/P configuration. Same with soapbars, singlecoils and such. But here's my question about it : He claims that he uses the same pick ups most time and some very now and then uses something else.. I wonder if he then actually used other configurations, like it's import models...
  7. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    Better pickups for your bass = better microphone for your singer.

    Different pickups can emphasize ot de-emphasize certain frequencies, but the bass will (basically) sound like the same bass.
  8. meatwad


    Apr 9, 2008
    Smallville, USA
    I find in an electric bass, strings are most important to tone, with pickups coming in a close 2nd place. Then, other factors complete the equation, with wood being lower on the list. But, I'm not Michael Tobias either, so what do I know.