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MM-pickup, Basslines, BassCulture, Villex?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by mrelwood, Dec 19, 2004.

  1. mrelwood


    Dec 15, 2004

    I tried reading every thread concerning MM pickups or MM-basses in general, but didn't find a solution for my question. I'm building a custom bass with a local luthier, and I need pickups. Bass specs:

    -Ash body with cavities and a (no-flame) maple top.
    -Maple neck and fretboard, 24 frets, 35".
    -MM/J -pickups, passive electronics.

    People keep talking how the alnico Nordstrand is so perfect, smooth and soft etc. After trying one in my friend's bass, my prejudice ended being right: Nothing that I want near my new bass. A Bartolini CB was a lot better (but a Lakland w/ other Bartolinis weren't). What I want when I turn on the MM is aggressive energy, anger and power (ash and maple, isn't it obvious? ;). Testing a S.U.B. I get all that, quite well actually. Is it so that what I need is a MM-pickup with ceramic magnets? I'm not familiar with the sound differences between Sterling and Stingray.

    Someone said that the Basslines SMB doesn't sound that MM-ish. Don't know which model he was referring to, but since he didn't mention, I suppose it was the regular ceramic. What I need is a pickup that I could use for the aggressive modern MM-sound. The S.U.B. sound, if I may. What would that be?

    I'll put a sample to my homedirectory that I think has the modern MM sound as I hear it. Or am I completely out of the track? The bassist in the tracks did use a Stingray 4, don't know if it was new or old. He uses Wal nowadays. The bass sound in the sample track is not the best, but it is closest to the sound I'm after. From a passive bass? Yes, as strange as it sounds.


  2. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    Just curious, how was the Nordstrand pickup wired? A classic MM pickup is wired in parallel, wired in series it'll give you a more agressive, midrange focused sound. You can hardwire it either way, or make it switchable - they're very different sounds. I'd say the Nordstrand is more of a classic Alnico MM pup, which is exactly what it's designed to be.
    I liked the Basslines Alnico MM pickup a lot also, again that's switchable between series/parallel.

    There can be exceptions, but in general Alnico MM pickups have sounded warmer to my ears than ceramic MM pickups.
  3. elros


    Apr 24, 2004
    Proprietor, Helland Musikk Teknologi
    You mentioned BassCulture. I have two neodymium BassCulture MM-style dual-coil pickups in my new bass: [​IMG]
    I really like the way they sound, they do have quite an agressive sort of sound to them - compared to the EMGs in my fretless. I haven't really played a MM (or SUB or bongo or Lakland...) enough to compare it with mine (and also my bass is totally passive) so I can't comment on how it sounds compared to that.
    But I do have a little sound clip of it: http://hallgeir.no/bass/listerud/ferdig-mp3.mp3 There are three tracks of bass, but I can't remember which are with the pickups in humbucking mode an which are single-coil mode..... hope it helps?
  4. mrelwood


    Dec 15, 2004

    They were both parallel, 'cos I believe it's closer to the sound I'm after. The aggressiveness I'm after is more in the higher frequency area. The Nordstrand was just way too dark. I will have a switch for series/parallel/singlecoil, but I believe the parallel will be most used.
    How would You describe the Basslines Alnico compared to Nordstrand, brighter, darker, thicker, ...?


    I actually listened to the clip of Yours when I found it in another thread. The pickup has a very nice sound indeed, and there is some brightness, but I think I would want more. Quite a bit more. Though if You used both pickups on, the sound will naturally be very different. BassCulture pickups are available in neodyme or ceramic, so I suppose the ceramic would be my choice here also.

    So ceramic it will be, I suppose. From Basslines, BassCulture, Villex, ...? Oh yes, there is the J I have to think about too, I would prefer it to be from the same manufacturer, but since the spacing is a lot less than a regular J5, I'm afraid it has to be custom made. BassCulture, Villex, ... Aero?

  5. todd 4ta

    todd 4ta

    Apr 3, 2003
    Aero makes MM pickups, and he may be willing to fine tune it to your specific needs. And then you get a matching J pickup at the same time.
  6. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    ok, and that's why it's tough to make recommendations sometimes. I think of agressiveness as the midrange cutting through, and not the treble.
    If you're after more treble, then maybe you should look into ceramic MM pickups? Again, there's so many variables - woods, pickups, preamp, fingers, where you play, strings etc. But the stock MM pickup is ceramic these days, and that has plenty of high end.
  7. Another thought is the G&L MFD pickup from an L1500, which is a MM/SR/Sterling ancestor. My L1500 is snarling hot and aggressive.

    You can probably buy MFD pickups from Buffalo Brothers.
  8. mrelwood


    Dec 15, 2004

    I bet it would be great, but since I'm after the MM sound, I'm not sure if the G&L pickup will deliver. Villex has a design I surely would like to try, but then again, "as close to the MM as possible", I'm not that sure about that either.

  9. elros


    Apr 24, 2004
    Proprietor, Helland Musikk Teknologi
    Perhaps you could tell Christoph Dolf of BassCulture that you'd like a pickup that sounds the way you describe.... He would probably know how to achieve your desired results.
    But also, don't underestimate the importance of the MM electronics to the MM sound. (not that I know very much about that, either)
  10. Carey


    Jan 18, 2002
    Redlands, CA
    OK, I have to pop in here.
    I can't believe that my pickup sounded too dark. I have one in a Sterling and it has plenty of top end. Too much actually for my taste.
    Also, my pickup is an exact copy of an early 80's Alnico MM. Same size and type of magnets, same kind of wire, same coil height, same DC resistance...
    Also, I listened to your mp3's and I believe that with a little work (in recording), my pickup can cop all those sounds.
    I'm honestly not trying to sell a pickup here, I'm just trying to understand your perceptions of it.
    What kind of bass was it installed in? Did it have new strings? Steel or nickel?
  11. A9X


    Dec 27, 2003
    Sinny, Oztraya
    I emailled William a while back and he wasn't keen on making parallel or splittable coils because he didn't believe it was best for sound quality.
  12. mrelwood


    Dec 15, 2004
    Carey, nice to see You participating!

    EDIT: Hi Mika! Thanks for filling in, I didn't remember all the facts. We played through my cab using my AMP BH420 and a Trace tube-amp (Quadra-something). We used parallel mode the most, as I thought we would, but what I didn't remember was the fact that the balance pot definitely darkened the sound in parallel mode.

    Anyway, the Nordstrand sounded good, but for the sound I'm after it needed a good deal of boost at 2k and higher frequencies. Also, a slight boost at 130Hz wasn't bad. The pickup itself sounded very even, flat and true, perhaps a bit hifi-like, but since I'm definitely looking for a "hyped" sound, I wish for something else. It would've been a good choice for a one pickup bass, but I'll blend in the J from the neck position of my future bass for more peaceful moments.

    The Bartolini ClassicBass had more of the higher bass (100-150Hz), and more treble. It suited my taste better, but didn't quite nail "the one" statement for me.

    You know S.U.B.? I'm aware that body woods make a significant difference, but the passive pickup in a S.U.B. is very close to the sound I'm after. It sounded overly harsh in a bigger system, but for a 2x10" +tw I find some exaggeration welcomed. And I don't mind using the tone control.

    Carey wrote:
    > Also, I listened to your mp3's and I believe that with a little work
    > (in recording), my pickup can cop all those sounds.

    Definitely. But I was trying to find samples that would show what I'd like the bass to sound like naturally, before any enhancements. I could tweak a decent sound from an OLP in a recording situation, but I'm more of a live player and that sample is closest to the sound I want in a live situation. With minimum or no tweaking.

    I have played with a neck-thru "gentleman" bass for 4 years now, and I'm really tired of the politeness of the bass. I want my bass to bark when I tell her to. My future bass will be very hyped, radical, unpleasant, anarchist, provokative, ... Basicly, I don't want it to sound sweet, fat, warm, vintage, "million-dollars", etc. So I guess I'm not looking for a "good" pickup.

    So Villex is out of the game also. William is surpisingly sure of his product, since he answered my e-mails saying "I am sure that they are exactly what you need". I bet it is a good product, people seem very enthusiastic about them too, but obviously it's not what I need.

  13. todd 4ta

    todd 4ta

    Apr 3, 2003
    I have a Nordstrand MM pickup in my '79 Stingray with an original '79 preamp. It replaces the Ernie Ball alnico that was in there before. I also had a SUB 2-band for a backup, and I agree they sound really good for such an affordable bass.

    My '79 with the Nordstrand pickup is exactly what I want from a pre-EB Stingray. This bass was a restoration project, and I didn't have the original pickup so I've tried several of the available pickups. The bartolini's are just too polite and even for me. I've never been able to get an agressive fingerstyle tone out of any bass that had a Bart MM pickup (including the couple of Lakland's I had). The Basslines ceramic pickup was nice, but didn't have the bite I was looking for. The Basslines alnico was probably my second favorite to the Nordstrand.

    I agree with David. When I think of 'aggressive tone', this '79 Stingray with original preamp and a Nordstrand pickup pretty much nails it. I've had around 10 pre-EB Stingrays, and at least 10 EB Stingrays, and none has been more aggressive than this one.

    If you are basing your evaluations on the pickups in the Warwick Thumb, you may have a very difficult time selecting the perfect pickup for your bass. The pickup placement alone (closer to the neck) will not give you the classic stingray tone (probably darker and more P-bass as Mika said). If I took my pickup and preamp out and put it in that bass, it's very possible I wouldn't like the end result (even though it is perfect in my Stingray). Also, it sounds like the preamp may have had some effect, even in passive bypass mode. If I just put my pickup in that bass with its preamp, I will bet that I couldn't even tell it was the same pickup. You may have been able to compare the difference between pickups, but I don't think you would be able to find the real tone you are looking for. A better test would probably have been to try the various pickups in the SUB bass.

    It would be a shame if the Nordstrand (or Basslines alnico or Bart or whatever) was actually the perfect pickup for your new bass, but you ruled it out based on some inherent differences in your test setup.

    In your first post, what did you mean about "my prejudice ended being right"? Did you have a preconceived feeling that the Nordstrand 'wasn't all it is cracked up to be'? You said that "What I want when I turn on the MM is aggressive energy, anger and power", and I would describe my '79 w/Nordstrand exactly that way. The other pickups you are considering (bart or basslines or MM ceramic) I would classify as warm and sweet and snuggly compared to my setup.

    I haven't played every MM pickup out there, but here is how I rank them (and I like aggressive energy, anger & power with an ash/maple Stingray).

    1. Nordstrand alnico 2-coil
    2. Basslines alnico
    3. Ernie Ball MM alnico

    (I haven't tried an Aero MM, but I'm guessing it would be in the top 4 if I did)

    5. Ernie Ball MM ceramic
    6. Basslines ceramic
    20. All Bart MM pickups
  14. mrelwood


    Dec 15, 2004
    Todd, thank You very much for the comments.
    I completely agree. I have tried a Lakland with Barts, and it really didn't wake anything in me. However, I've understood that this new ClassicBass -series is actually quite non-bartolinish. The Warwick test made me think that even more.
    I'm afraid I have run to a few language problems here. How would You define bite? Pleasant sharpness of the treble frequencies?
    This surprised me. MM alnico pickups from any brand has usually been described as warm and punchy, both of which I thought were describing the strength and presence of low-mid frequencies. I'm starting to think if I hear "aggressiveness" differently, or if I just can't find right words for my thoughts.
    True, I know. The meaning of the test was to get some idea of the differences that can be found between the pickups we had available for the test. Also, it was the only instrument with a MM pickup available for test. Thanks again, Mika! If I had had a S.U.B. for test, it would've been more revealing for my situation.

    I don't think the pickup position was that different. Then again, I guess even half an inch will make a huge difference.
    No, not at all! What I thought was that it would be an incredibly true pickup to a 70's original, smooth, and transparent enough to let the woods of the instrument be heard. All of those are qualities of a quality pickup, but none of them is what I want from a pickup for this bass.
    I thought that those (and harshness) are typical qualities of the original EB MM ceramic pu that many people are trying to get rid of when replacing the pu with an alnico one. This is a typical comment on a Nordstrand MM PU: "Nordstrand P/U noticeably sound warmer than the stock. In general, I prefer a warmer and fatter sound."

    This is really getting difficult. I think I have to go spend some more time in a local MusicMan dealer. New Stingray 4 has alnico, SR5, Sterling and SUB has ceramic magnets, correct? Is the difference in EB alnico/ceramic reminiscent of the difference in Basslines alnico/ceramic?
    I suppose You haven't tested the Bartolini ClassicBass? I think it would get a different kind of verdict.

  15. mgmadian


    Feb 4, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Thanks for the summary, very helpful... don't mean to derail the thread, but I'm wondering if you've ever had occasion to try out Carey's pickup in a new, EB Stingray. I've been toying with the idea of trying to do a poor-man's pre-EB Ray by picking up a 2-band EB Ray and changing the pup and possibly the pre.

    If so, any thoughts on how it compared to the stock EB Ray? To your '79 pre-EB Ray with Carey's pup?
  16. todd 4ta

    todd 4ta

    Apr 3, 2003
    I was heading in that direction with my SUB 4. I was going to put in a Nordstrand pickup and a spare pre-EB preamp I have, but then I sold the SUB 4. It was going to be my 'pre-EB SUB'....

    The preamp you want is the EB model 'M05400', which is the replacement for a 2-band pre-EB. These seem to be different than the current 2-band preamps, but I don't know for certain. To my ears, it has the low end warmth and high end sizzle that the '76-'78 preamps have. However, I believe you can only get one if you send in a non-working pre-EB preamp.