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I don't understand the deal

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Serac, Jun 18, 2005.


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  1. Serac

    Serac

    May 29, 2005
    with pickups. They, to me, don't seem taht useful. I mean you need them to get sound, but there doesn't really seem to be too much of a difference between okay and awesome ones... Kind of like headphones, either works, obviously the expensive kind is better, but whichever one you get you get used to and are satisfied eventually with them... So i don't see why you should invest 90$ on awesome pickups...

    yet people here seem to give much strife over pickups, can someone explain to me why my thinking is flawed?
     
  2. rllefebv

    rllefebv

    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    To some people, your thinking is entirely logical... To others, you're a nutcase who should be getting fitted for a straightjacket! :D

    I fall somewhere in the middle... To me, a pickup is a means to amplify the string and nothing more... However, like microphones, there is a great deal of subjective opinion involved...

    I believe that a great unamplified bass will sound even better with a nice pickup... In my way of thinking, the tone chain is woods, string, pickup, amp... Others will undoubtedly disagree. For instance, in this month's BP, Tim Commerford basically says the opposite, with pickups first... Is either of us wrong?? Matter of opinion.

    I have had sub-standard basses improved by a pickup swap, but not to the point of amazement. Better? Yes, but more in the vein of the 'Polished Turd'... I've had great basses sound great with stock, run-of-the-mill pickups... My '96 P chief among these. At other times, I have had cheesy basses with weird pickups sound killer... My Danelectro has a masonite/plywood body with lipstick-tube pickups, yet it roars with such authority...

    Bottom line, it's all a crapshoot :D

    -robert
     
  3. abngourmet

    abngourmet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 11, 2004
    USA
    My view is that woods/materials are probably more important than the pickups. I only say this because I think that if it doesn't sound good without being plugged in, it's probably not going to sound good when it is. Of course, there's always exceptions, but it's been my experience that at least 90% of the time, that's true. I'm sure others wouldn't agree, but that just my take.

    This being said, I've found that newer Gibson pickups just plain suck (the TB Ceramic Plus are particularly bad). The newer Fenders aren't too bad, and the one's on my Bongo are great. I think that Rick pickups are unique, and IMHO that's what makes the sound - I can't even get my Alembics to sound like a Rick. Alembics - well, not everyone's cup of tea, but the pickups are rock solid and extremely quiet in my experience.

    I dropped Seymour Duncan stacks in my '73 Jazz, and they deliver the sound I was looking for. I guess it all really boils down to what works for you.
     
  4. 6-3-2

    6-3-2

    Sep 20, 2003
    While I mostly agree, I think the sound of a Rickenbacker comes much more from the construction than from the pickups.
     
  5. luknfur

    luknfur

    Jan 14, 2004
    DIXIE
    FWIW:

    my experience in running some 75 sets of pups in the same and different basses is that pups can change tone dramatically, much more so overall than any other variable within the bass itself. Caps can dramatically alter tone as well but it's a one dimensional alteraton - probably the most efficient means however (cheapest and easiest for the change derived).

    IN GENERAL you get what you pay for but there are plenty of cheap pups that to me put out better tone than some high dollar overthecounter pups.

    From what I can tell there is a relatively fine line between a quality pup and a killer pup. And that can have a lot do simply with a pair of pups being just the right match for the acoustic properties of the bass - not withstanding external variables like rigging etc.

    However that fine line makes a MAJOR difference in getting just the right tone you want for the music you play and once you get it, you won't settle for less.

    For guys that play music on 11 and in bands you can only distinguish the vocal from "the band," different pups or basically anything else won't matter.
     
  6. paintandsk8

    paintandsk8 Pushin' my soul through the wire...

    May 12, 2003
    West Lafayette, IN

    I just have to laugh right now because I just finished playing my bass with EMG Dual J's, while listening to it with my sennheiser HD-280 pro headphones. :D
     
  7. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    Your thinking is flawed, IMO because like luknfur I have done many many pickup changes / comparisons. More so than preamps, I find that changing pickups makes by FAR the biggest tonal differences to a bass. The same bass can sound vastly different with DM ultra jazz pickups than it would with say, SD quarter pounders.

    As to why to spend '$90 on awesome pickups', would you buy a BMW and then put a cheap engine in it? If you take your argument to it's conclusion, why spend $1000 on a great amp?
    The answer is, because if it gets you the sound you want, it's worth it to you. If you're happy with $40 Mighty Mite pickups, which are perfectly functional if nothing special, that's great. But the amp can only work with the tone it has to start with.

    To get the sound I want, I want the best possible sounds source - and that would be the pickups. Now, as luknfur said, that best source might come from a pair of $300 pickups or a pair of $60 pickups.

    So, now I've said my piece. Let me turn it around ask you, what experiements have you done to come to your conclusion?
     
  8. Forrest_bass

    Forrest_bass Your gonna hurt that thing, or break it off....

    Jun 18, 2005
    Plano, TX
    I agree with everyone and I disagree with everyone... How's that for being on the fence.....

    The pure tone quality and shape of the wave will come from the construct of the instument. That's what give a hollow body a different sound that a solid body. That's not a real secret. But it's how those pieces are put together. Layered wood, angles the wood are set, type of wood, length/width/depth of the instument, etc... This isn't just the body it's the whole construct of the instument. a bolt on neck will produce a differnt wave shape than a neck through design. Different bridges, top nuts, tuners, and strings can all affect the resulting wave formation. So, what I'm saying is that the whole make up of the instrument working in tandem, is the base for it's wave formation.

    So, where does that leave the pickups. It's sole job is to interpret these waves into electronic pulses that can be amplified. Again, so real secret. But, the location on the instrument, type of windings, distance from stings, type of setting the pup is in and how it's mounted affect the performance of the pup and it's interpretation. Some pups do not react well when place too close to the neck, some don't like the bridge, some don't like black instruments on Wednesday. That's why a "cheap" pup may sound good in one instument, then like a tin can in another (assuming you not looking for a tin can sound), or an "expensive" pup sounds great in one and is unresponsive in another. Something to remember, the pups get it's sound interpretation from the whole instrument, not just the strings vibration above them.
    But, some pups will use the waves coming from all directions, while others are more confined to one direction (string side up).

    You have to pay special attention when changing pups. Usually, the manufacture has spent some amount of R&D money finding a correct arrangement for the instrument. When changing your configuration, you too need to research the instruments makeup to determine it's practiality. There's a reason the manufacturers put the pups they chose in the instruments. If you can find that "reason", it will help you prepare the instrument for whatever the pup you choose. It may be based on cost, or it may be that the wood/design used is highly responsive and has natural sustaining characteristics, or maybe not.

    Wow, this got long in a hurry, If you read it all, then I hoped it helped. As for as the cost difference.. and it's worth.. That's a tough call. For some, it's a name thing, for others it's a quality sound thing. And there the "look" issue.. 'don't this look goooood in my guitar?' ... basically, it's your money and you can/can't spend it how you want... But, the "expensive" pups are priced that way for a reason. Some of these reason may or may not be valid to consumers, but as long as ther'ye bought, the price ain't gonna change.
     
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Serac, for what it's worth, I'm a pro musician with almost 30 years experience and I agree with you. Pickups can have different EQ schemes and give the illusion of drastic sound changes, but in the end, all any of them do is amplify the sound of the string from a certain point in the string length. Moving the pickup affects the tone more. That's why a J neck pickup sounds different from the J bridge pickup.

    Of course, you can argue until you're blue in the face with this lot about how pickups affect your sound, but if pickups affect your sound that much, why doesn't the basic character of the sound change with new pickups? Couldn't you make a P bass sound more like an Alembic if you have Alembic pickups on it? Of course you can't! Michael Tobias once said, "Put the world's best pickups on a 2" x 4" and it'll sound like an amplified 2" x 4"." I tend to agree more with one of the world's greatest electric bass luthiers than I do guys on Talkbass.

    :bag:
     
  10. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    I don't think anyone is saying that you can make a P bass sound like an Alembic by changing pickups.
    However, I know from first hand experience, that the pickup in the bass can make a large difference in the sound coming out. Can it fundamentally change the sound? No, it'll be another flavor of the underlying sound of the bass - influenced by woods, playing, strings, pickup number / location, type etc.

    But I've heard the same set of pickups sound 'right' to me in one bass, but not in another. I agree that you can't polish a turd however.

    I also agree with broadly Mike Tobias statement, however different pickups will give a different sounding 2*4. I believe his statement was more about the wood being a large component in the sound. I don't disagree with that at all.

    However, if Mike didn't think the pickups are important, why does he have custom made Bartolini pickups and electronics in every MTD american bass he makes?
     
  11. r379

    r379

    Jul 28, 2004
    Dallas, Texas
    Jimmy, it's not about altering the character of the sound so much as changing the flavor of a bass's character. Changing pickups will accomplish that. A Jazz bass is gonna sound like a Jazz bass but different pickups will alter it's tone but not it's cahacter. Don't think so? I've tried different pickups in one of my Jazz basses and the differences are easy to hear.
     
  12. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Oh sure, you can hear the different EQ schemes acting on the string, but in the end, what goes in is what comes out. If you have a string buzz or a weak acoustic fundamental, pickups will do nothing to change that.

    i would, however, not hesitate to replace bad pickups with good pickups. The character doesn't change, but the noise level and volume will.

    And the 2 x 4 wouldn't sound like a different 2 x 4 with a pickup change. It would sound like the same 2 x 4 put through a different EQ.
     
  13. r379

    r379

    Jul 28, 2004
    Dallas, Texas
    And that's the point of changing pickups.
     
  14. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    I didn't say it would sound like a different 2*4, but I said it would sound different. So, in other words, we agree ;)
     
  15. luknfur

    luknfur

    Jan 14, 2004
    DIXIE
    FWIW:

    bottom line is you have to draw your own conclusions based on your own experience, not what somebody else says.

    I basically think the same way about discussions over wood as you do discussion over pickups. But I have my selection of basses that I'm satisfied with and there won't be any more so that's primarily just entertainment. Even totally changing my thoughts about wood theory is not going to change my bass collection and send me bass searching again. Been there/done that. What I've got is good enough for me.

    And apparently your pickups are good enough for you.
     
  16. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    OBTW, Michael Tobias uses Bartolinis in his basses because he can. And because he can add at least double their retail value to the cost of building his basses and people will pay it.

    Ken Smith's probably thinking, "Double? Hell, try quadruple!"

    :bag: Just kidding with you, Ken!
     
  17. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    You seem pretty keen to speak on Mr Tobias behalf
     
  18. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Ya, because it really takes someone who knows Michael Tobias inside and out to figure out that one.
     
  19. r379

    r379

    Jul 28, 2004
    Dallas, Texas
    Whatever that means.
     
  20. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    I think it does actually. Unless you do know him, or have some interview material to back it up, it's just an opinion. Would you say what you said to his face?
     



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