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passive basses

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by nonsqtr, Aug 13, 2004.

  1. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Hi all, very curious to get some input from the masses on this one. Rumor has it that right around the same time Ron Wickersham was creating the first few active basses (Alembic) for Casady and Lesh and others, there was an old guy working at MusicMan who was doing basically the same thing. Some old fart named Leo that used to work at Fender. It just took him a while to push his design out to the market.

    Over the years, active instruments have become very popular 'cause they have some big advantages (relatively hum free, able to push very long cables across big stages, ability to get boost "and" cut out of the active tone controls, that kind of thing). Some people still seem to prefer passive instruments though.

    I can think of two big advantages to a passive instrument. One is, that you can leave the cable plugged in when you're not playing the bass. Two is, that you don't have to change the battery every six months or so.

    Aside from tone, can anyone think of any other advantages for a passive instrument?

    (I say "aside from tone", 'cause my contention is that a properly designed active preamp shouldn't change your sound "at all").
  2. Passive sounds better through a vintage tube amp.
  3. JPJ


    Apr 21, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    About the only advantage that I can think of, other than those that you've already mentioned, would be the cost. Not that a preamp or an active electronics package is all that expensive (in your average bass), it is a non-tone factor that might be an advantage for going passive.

    On another note, happy 1000th post for me. Woo Hoo!!! :hyper: :D
  4. phatcactus


    Apr 2, 2004
    Chicago, IL
    If something goes wrong with your passive bass, you can simply replace the faulty pot or switch or jack. Active electronics aren't always so easy to fix.
  5. MMiller28


    Apr 27, 2003
    these are all pretty small advantages compared to the tone-shaping abilites of active basses. sorry for being a party-pooper. ;)
  6. The Jack's are harder to replace on a lot of active basses.

    And...loose battery jacks, and more stuff to get loose causes the possibility for stuff to go wrong.
  7. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA

    I hear you. But, we want to avoid religious wars here. Let's not turn this into a "which one is better" thread. I'm trying to compile a list of the "good things" about passive basses.

    Like, this one:

    "Passive sounds better through a vintage tube amp."

    That's an interesting one. I'll grant the point, sometimes that can be very true. Why do you think that is? I mean, at the technical level. Is that an impedance thing?

    Also, we have the suggestions of cost, and simplicity. Both good points.

    Anything else?
  8. Adam Barkley

    Adam Barkley Mayday!

    Aug 26, 2003
    Jackson, MS
    Not better, but different. I have played very few active basses that I enjoyed the sound of*. The Peavey Cirrus is the only one that has really done it for me. Mainly because it sounds great with the controls flat.

    While with a passive bass I know exactly how to alter the sound.

    Also in defense of passive basses, I would rather change my plucking position/style to alter my sound than fiddle with some of the larger (6-8 knobs) setups.

    In defense of active electronics, some truly have a million tones, while others have a single tone.

    *Granted I have only played average-mid level instruments, as such I can't comment on 3500 dollar Smiths or MTDs.
  9. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Ah... another good point. There's "internal" simplicity, and there's "functional" simplicity. Those are probably two different things. (Unless you're one of those who fixes or modifies - or builds - your own basses).
  10. quallabone


    Aug 2, 2003
    I've had a bunch of active basses in the past. I now have only 1. And it doesn't get played a lot.

    Due to the insane numbers of knobs and switches it was a real pain in the studio to remember what tone you used for a song if you have to punch in. My fury's have 4 controls : 3 way P/U, Coil tap, Volume, Tone. Complete simplicity. All tones sound good and they're all different so it's easy to reproduce something you did in the past. I've been told that a couple of settings on my basses sound quite "activish."

    +1 on the sounding great through a tube amp comment.
  11. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Active basses typically have superior frequency response, but that isn't desirable for those who prefer traditional passive bass tones. So as noted above, it's a matter of "different" and not "better".

    Me, I love active and passive tones, so I will always have active and passive basses in my collection... and some that can do both.
  12. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    I might have a solution for that one: detented pots. You can find those with up to 50 detents, so when you write down your settings you can do 38-24-36 and stuff like that. I put detents in one of my F basses. Actually, that reminds me of something. I once saw a bass where a guy had marked his settings with a soldering iron or a woodburning device, there will little pinholes all around the tone controls. Trouble was, he'd apparently used it quite a bit in the studio, so there were "lots" of pinholes around each control. That probably got to be confusing too, after a while. :) You can find detented pots at most electronics supply places, like mouser.com and alliedelec.com, and if not there's a place right here in Burbank (Switching Devices) that can get 'em for very good prices.
  13. quallabone


    Aug 2, 2003
    Not a problem now. I only have 1 active and it will never see the studio. I honestly don't even write down settings during a session. I can listen to myself for 2 seconds and know exactly where to find that sound on my Fury's.

  14. Could'nt agree more. I can't even play my SR5 through my Fender Bassman set up, because it absolutely flattens the input valves into distortion due of it's super hot output.
    With my passive Precision bass however, it's a different story.
    Sounds gorgeous! So there's another reason for passive basses; equipment compatibility. ;)
  15. PasdaBeer


    Nov 2, 2002
    Santa Rosa California
    SandStorm Designs
    the pure phatness level of a passive

    personaly i ike active, seems to cut threw better, and i like having more extreme tone shaping available at my hands, more so then just changing picking techinque
  16. hey all,

    had to chime in on this one.

    for what I do and my sound, it's passive to the point of absurdity. I don't even want tone controls on my basses!

    without any of the bells and whistles I've had to really refine my technique and focus on the tone I want from my hands and the woods in the bass. active electronics (and midi, piezos, et cetera..) give you so many ways to color the tone!

    other factors in my decision? no batteries crapping out in the middle of a gig (or a song!), slightly less weight in my already colossal basses, less cost in construction (I'll save where I can!), and easier maintenance when I turn my axes over to my tech.

    I certainly don't want to espouse the "everyone should do this" point of view, but this is my rationale and I'm pretty happy with the results.

    at the same time, most of my friends who are players and most of the players I listen to are active bassers*. go figure!

    from the lows,


    * the two notable exceptions, Steuart Liebig and Anthony Jackson, are such great stylists, though... whew!
  17. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA

    Excellent input, thanks. The thought that the simplicity of a passive bass really allows (or maybe even encourages) one to focus on one's playing, as distinct from one's tone, is something I never even thought of. I can see some operational value in that. Something along the lines of, it's easier to get to know your instrument that way. And the weight factor is another good one. Thanks.
  18. any time, man!

    from the lows.

  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    With as many exceptions as there are to this point, I couldn't agree less.

    If you don't overdrive the input stage (unless that's what you want to do) of a vintage amp with an active bass... what's the problem?

    Not really. I've seen $200 active basses and $12K passive ones.

    All things being equal... all things aren't;)

    This fear of something electrical breaking thing is pretty interesting, can't say I actually understand it.

    Woodwinds, anyone?
  20. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Yeah, certainly true. I think the poster was alluding to something specific though. All active preamps have low impedance outputs. There's a different "loading" of the signal relative to the amp, with a high impedance pickup. And that "does" affect the tone, although in what way I'm not always sure. As you say, it would be highly dependent on the particular type of passive pickup, and the input impedance of the amp, and so on. Tube amps usually have a high input impedance (on the order of 1 meg, sometimes more), while solid state amps are typically on the order of 50k or so. "In theory", if you have a 100 ohm source, that difference should be insignificant. But if you have a 100k source, it would probably be noticeable in terms of the sound. Just my guess about the poster's intended meaning though.

    Good point. You can always just turn down the volume control of an active instrument, if it's too hot. That should take care of the overdriving issue. I suspect that's operational though, in the heat of a gig one usually doesn't have time to find a specific setting on the volume control, one usually just cranks it all the way open, or to some intermediate level that's probably not very precisely defined. The volume control is probably one control that people "should" become very comfortable with. :)

    S**t happens. You've never had an instrument flake on you in the middle of a gig? I have. It sucks. It's relatively rare, but it does happen. That would be one of the drawbacks of an active instrument, having the battery die on you in the middle of a gig. Some instruments are more graceful than others in that regard.

    By the way, I'm a huge fan of active instruments. In this particular thread though, I'd like to find out what people think are the "good" points of passive instruments. I have both, I just got a Mike Lull P5 (passive) that's a very nice instrument, it has a nice sound. Also the obligatory Jazz bass, which I'm supposedly bass-sitting for a guy I haven't seen in several years (so for all practical purposes, it's "mine"). Also have Roscoes, MTDs, F basses, Alembics, and the like, all active.

    Anyway, keep it comin' folks, and thanks for the input!