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P-Bass: Split coil or early 1950s single coil:

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by MovingPitchers, Jul 6, 2014.

  1. I'm really interested in the differences. Does the single coil create less fat tone than the split-coil?
  2. One Drop

    One Drop

    Oct 10, 2004
    Swiss Alps
    To my ears the SC is wider sounding with bigger lows an slightly extended highs, and the Split Coil has a bit more low mids and midrange complexity, with more punch.
  3. Splods


    Oct 7, 2012
    Adelaide, SA
    The single coil reminds me of an overwound jazz pickup. Then again, every case is different.
  4. lpdeluxe

    lpdeluxe Still rockin'

    Nov 22, 2004
    Deep E Texas
    I have both. When I was playing in a steady-gigging country band, the other guys would not let me play anything other than my Classic '50s split-coil (see avatar). The last couple of years I've been playing '30s and '40s pop standards with a small combo and the Classic '51 gets the nod.

    Here are the differences: the single coil has a fast attack and a quick decay, making it the Thump King if you play it aggressively. it has a more hi-fi sound, with less sonic signature than the split-coil. It sounds really good when you are in a low-volume situation. If you turn it up, expect hum and a little harshness. At lower levels, it has a warm presence with a lot of note definition.

    The split-coil shines in a loud ensemble setting. The pickup has a softer attack with more sustain, and a prominent lower-mid-range hump that really cuts through a loud band. It sounds really good in legato passages, where the single-coil sounds a bit stuttery on that kind of material.

    Overall, if I'm playing at lower volumes, I pull out the '51. When things get loud, I prefer the Classic '50s. If the music is aggressive, I switch over to my SR5.:D
    LanEvo likes this.
  5. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    All I know is that I prefer the single coil P.
  6. Ric Vice

    Ric Vice Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2005
    Olivette, Missouri
    When I was in college, I had a chance to play a 51 Precison, a 56 precision, and a 59 precision side by side, for several weeks, all of them were for sale by the same owner. I kept the 1959 and still have it. I liked the clarity of the split coil bass, the neck profile, and the offset contoured body. In retrospect, I should have browed some money bought all three. Just my take. ;)

  7. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    That's as good a description of it as any.
    Also fits in with the reasoning behind the switch to the split pickup. The single coil with one large magnet under each string gives a stronger attack. So strong it was blowing speakers when it was new. The split P pickup has two smaller magnets under each string, making for a slightly different initial attack envelope as the string swings through the magnetic field(s).

    I have one of each and like both for different applications.
    bluesdogblues likes this.
  8. lpdeluxe

    lpdeluxe Still rockin'

    Nov 22, 2004
    Deep E Texas
    Leo simply modified the Tele pickup for the Precision. The sharp attack led to a lot of warranty returns for the Bassman amp, since the 15" speakers of the era could not handle the transients -- even at the relatively low wattage of the era. Ever pragmatic, Leo went after both the bass and the amplifier sides of the problem: the new P split-coil had the pole pieces doubled and placed on each side of the strings rather than right below them, and while he was at it he incorporated the humbucking principle and also found that sweet spot of tone the later Ps are famous for; and he changed the Bassman to a 4x10 configuration. The change to the pickups gave the bass a smoother attack, with more sustain (which also altered the sound of bass in popular music from then on) and the new amplifier design made the electric bass a practical tool for all kinds of music, and perhaps led to the ever-escalating noise levels of modern life.:D

    Here's an ironic thing: I bought my '51 RI in '06 just because I loved the look, and it has taken a few years for me to really appreciate it. Played through an Ampeg B15N, it sings.

    grrg63 likes this.
  9. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    The early single coil P (and later Telecaster) aren't just too terribly different from a Jazz bass set to neck only pickup choice.
    A little broader, more even frequency response, with more open treble.

    The split coil P mutes top end a bit, and focuses low mids more.
  10. Oh because I was thinking the early 50s single coil was the same as the jazz bass neck-only pickup but I guess tonally, the single coil 50s P is a lot more aggressive than the jazz bass with only its neck pickup?

    Does it hum like a bee's nest, the single coil 50s P pickup? I would think it does..?
  11. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    I would not go as far as to say a single coil P is a lot more aggressive than a single coil J.
    They're much more alike than different; IMO.

    Sure it hums, under some circumstances, just like any single coil.

  12. Well, Chef, I'll take your word for it! I have yet to see for myself the differences but I do love the split-coils on the modern p-bass because of its signature tone and sound.....itching to try that Custom Shop version at my music store but I'm scared if I ding it, I'll have to buy it.

    And I can't afford it
  13. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    The initial attack transient is a bit different, what with the single magnet vs most Jazz pickups having two per string, and it's in a slightly different place, but those are relatively minor differences.

    There's a much clearer difference between the sound of the split-P pickup and either kind of single coil than there is between the 51P and the J neck pickup soloed.
  14. lpdeluxe

    lpdeluxe Still rockin'

    Nov 22, 2004
    Deep E Texas
    The J pickup is only superficially "the same" as the early '50s single coil. Leo designed it a couple of years after he came up with the two-pole-piece-per-string idea he used on the split-coil, so he incorporated that along with other things he had learned about the differences that bobbin size and the number of wire wraps had on the sound of the pickup.

    I think the '50s single-coil is more aggressive than the J because it doesn't incorporate the later concepts. As I noted above, the early pickup has a faster attack and a faster decay, which gives it a "snap" the later pickups don't have.

    It would be interesting to know to what extent Leo was trying to emulate the thump of the upright.:D
  15. bluesdogblues


    Nov 13, 2007
    All good explanations above...
    I'd just wanna add my opinion with my simple language,..
    I have a Sting Signature Fender Precision Bass (MIJ) - Single Coil and a 1978 Fender Precision Bass (MIA) - Split Coil.. both strung by LaBella Deep Talkin Jamerson Flats 52-110.
    IMHO the Split coil is more 'versatile' P-Bass sounds while the Single coil is different animal, 'harsher' & 'twangier' although uniquely vintage sounding (perhaps like an old 50s P-Bass should :D ).
    Personally & generally I prefer my 1978 split coil. But the single coil has it's own 'identity' which is useful for some type of song.

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