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humbuckers vs. single coil vs. split-coil vs. . . . (and growl?)?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by craigb, Apr 25, 2001.

  1. craigb

    craigb G&L churnmeister Supporting Member

    I've been pondering pickups lately. I reread parts of "Guitar Electronics for Musicians" paying closer attention to the pickup info. They state (mainly for guitar pickups, I think) that single coils give greater clarity and brightness while humbuckers give more low end and mids (my poor paraphrase from memory). They also talk about humbuckers having potential to be muddy. Thinking about it this seems to apply fairly well to bass pickups as well (after all the electronics & physics are the same, just different frequencies).

    For example my L-2000 has serial-parallel switching capability so I can compare those humbucker configurations. I can definitely hear the difference. Serial is louder, has greater lows/mids and reduced highs. The clarity seems pretty good to me. Parallel is lower output with less lows and more highs with more clarity. Now the G&L pickups are voiced with plenty of lows and highs to start with (since the eq controls are passive cut-only) so even the parallel mode has plenty of lows.

    Then if I bring my Ibanez Musician (which I'm still working on selling) into the picture I notice some other things. It's pickups seem to work/be a P-J set even though the packaging is a little different. I'm wondering if the J is even single coil as it gets some hum from a monitor. The bridge pickup on the Musician is "snappier" than I can get the G&L to be. When I pop (which I don't do often, and not well) it is crisp and snappy. I can get close with the G&L by doing serial and active w/treble boost. Pickup difference? Probably some.

    I had for a while a G&L SB-1 which has a P-style G&L pickup. When I think about how that compared with the G&L humbucker on the L-2000 there were some serious differences (the Ibanez neck pickup seems too different from the G&Ls to compare very profitably). That SB-1 had the "clearest" sound of any bass I've had. It probably had a maple body which contributed to the brightness but the P-style MFD definitely had a different voice from the MFD humbucker in the L-2000. It also had some more "warmth" (talk about your nebulous terms). I'd love to compare an SB-1 or 2 with the same body wood (alder) as my L-2000. I wonder if I could get the same type of neck pickup growl from the SB as I do from the L-2000 with additional clarity.

    And bridge pickups. Well unless it's in a Stingray-sweetspot position they just don't do much for me. I sometimes use the L-2000 bridge pickup to add some additional bite/growl to the neck pickup but with the switched combination (instead of blend) the phase cancellation can bug me. I also don't find the bridge pickup sound when soloed to be particular pleasing (I actually find it to be obnoxious to my ear). I wonder if a series neck pickup blended with a series/single coil bridge pickup would be a better combo.

    Well I have a G&L Climax (single sweetspot humbucker) on the way so I'll get to experiment with that style again. I ended up trading in a Stingray (a couple of years ago) after getting fed up with it's glassy highs and boomy lows (an exaggeration - the Stingray is an awesome bass but not quite "it" for me).

    The Jazz setup (2 single coils) is not something I've ever been particularly attracted to. I guess I'm afraid of (hate) noise. But stacked or side-by-side humbuckers would avoid that. Maybe I need to get some time in on a Jazz-setup and see if that configuration gives the clarity, cut and deep growl I like. So many things to try, so little time and money. One problem I have is that I have to live with something for a while (months) before I can get a really good idea of what I like and don't like about it. I need to try it out in practice at home, band practice and gigs to get a real feel for it.

    So I didn't have any particular questions in this post. Just some thoughts on pickups and I'm hoping that some other people can chime in with their thoughts. Do single coils give clarity and cut - are they the pickup of choice for dealing with Marshall stacks and LPs? Do you always find humbuckers to sound muddy to you? Do you swear by a P-J setup?

    I guess I've just had some bad-ear days with my L-2000 and the Musician has educated me to the shortcomings (in my ear) of the L-2000 bridge pickup. And that's when I start looking for the next "ultimate bass". I think I need to resolve myself to the fact that there is no "ultimate" but a bunch of different axes with their own individual quirks. And rather than try to find "the one" RIGHT NOW be patient, keep the good 'uns (or good 'un) I've located so far and when time and funds allow look around for what's out there that might be complementary or even better (i.e. I don't need to go through a lifetime's worth of instruments in a few years). A lot of it ties into the "what does the audience care" aspect - they don't so should I?

    I guess it's part of the search for the "ultimate tone". I sometimes think about building a warmoth beast with a "bathtub route" from J-neck to J-bridge and put in some kind of system to allow pickup experimentation. Cover it all with a pickguard and you've got a semi-hollow body ;)

    Actually it's time to stop worring about the "ultimate tone" and get back to the woodshed - but stuff can give immediate gratification while skill takes time and effort
  2. What a post! It's nice to empty the old noggin once in a while, and see who's listening. Anyway to keep this on the short side, I used to like single coils, but, I really like humbuckers now. Singles are crisper most of the time, but, with today's amps, and a good roundwound string, almost any humbucker will give you its inherent fullness and bottom, while the roundwounds will preempt any muddiness. I now have D'Addario slow wounds on my Jack Casady. These are very conservative roundwounds, and when combined with the Casady's humbucker give a really full and balanced, but not overly bright sound. The single coils on my Jazz hum and I can't stand it. Look for the advantages that single coils used to offer no more, for they are " Gone with the Windings. "

    Mike J.
  3. I play an RB5 and find the ability to switch between single-series-parallel one of the nicest features of this rig.

    Last night, I was running neck-solo, series, and the tone way down trying to get close to a phat P tone. All in all, I was pretty pleased with it. I run GHS rounds, so won't ever get a real P unless I go to flats...

    Your observations about series vs parallel are the same as what I see on the RB5.
  4. craigb

    craigb G&L churnmeister Supporting Member

    Well it was late and I was in the midst of some deliberations on what to keep, what to sell, what are my ideals in an instrument, etc. The deeper I get into things and the more I learn, the more I realize all the things I don't know and haven't tried yet. It's always helped me work through my thoughts if I write them down - it makes me organize them and think them through (and now with Talkbass I can launch them into the net for your amusement).

    The Climax arrived and it definitely gets some different sounds from my L2000. The narrower neck is great in mid-upper positions (but maybe a little small in the lower positions). The electronics have some issues so I'll get to play repair tech for a while to get them straightened out. It's all fun.

    So many basses, so little money and time. I also find that almost everything sounds good alone or in a shop, the real test is living with it for a period of time.
    PawleeP likes this.
  5. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    I've grown to like active humbuckers. I don't like the buzzing and thin sound of single coils.
  6. EMG P, PJ, or J pickups (the low-Z ones) are a good way to get brightness without noise. Their P does give truly lardaceous bottom, which may be too much for some tastes. Play and see.

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