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Passive Is Massive - Nordstrand/Fralin/Fender content

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by testing1two, Apr 27, 2010.

  1. testing1two

    testing1two Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Southern California
    This is my experience converting from active to passive electronics in a jazz bass. The bass: my 98 American Deluxe Jazz bass (alder/rosewood, script logo noiseless pickups & 3 band preamp). Here's the story:

    I had been debating replacing the stock 3 band preamp in this bass for quite some time since it did not facilitate active/passive switching and it had rather low output for an active bass . So I did some research and decided on a Nordstrand 3 band preamp (concentric vol/vol, tone control with push-pull for passive, concentric bass treble controls, and mid control w/push-pull frequency selector). Wanting to maintain the vintage cosmetic I ordered black plastic knobs directly from Nordstrand (he makes them in house by modifying All Parts knobs) since I don't like metal knobs on jazz basses. On a whim I also ordered a set of Fralin hum canceling jazz pickups to complete the overhaul.

    So I installed the preamp and the pickups with relative ease. The Nordstrand is pre-wired for the most part but it does require extending the ground wire from the preamp circuitboard to the battery compartment for everything to fit properly. With everything installed I plug the bass into my B-15R for some tests. First impression: what a great preamp. Very uncolored when compared to passive mode and the adjustable 10db of preamp output gain on the circuit board is something all preamps should have IMO. I gave all the eq bands a quick workout and they are well chosen and very musical. The treble cut and passive tone control work well together although I wish the tone control went a bit darker (perhaps using a vintage spec .1uf capacitor instead of the .047uf). All in all, I thought I was in heaven until...I put all the knobs on. And then it hit me, literally: the concentric vol/vol pot is really tall, easy to bump and looked rather obtrusive.

    So I did some measurements. A stock full size volume knob is .60" tall. The concentric knob stack is 1" tall. As a point of comparison I also measured the stock Fender concentric knobs at .75" tall. It doesn't look like much of a difference when you compare them on a flat surface, but for me it was just enough to get in the way and really annoy me (please bear in mind I am easily annoyed) to the point that I couldn't continue to play it this way. I liked the way the original knobs looked better but sadly Fender used a concentric pot with smaller shaft diameters and then made custom knobs to fit. They also use a 100k pot for the bass/treble controls where Nordstrand and most preamp manufacturers use 50k or even 25k so cannibalizing the original preamp would not work either.

    At this point I was getting frustrated because it sounded good but looked and felt awkward. So I vowed to hunt down some shorter concentric pots if it was the last thing I did. In the meantime I decided to wire up a simple passive harness so I could at least dig into the Fralins. I used 250k audio taper pots and a .1 Hovland paper-in-oil cap wired vol/vol/tone with Evidence Audio Monorail cable.

    The results: pure awesome! The sound is big, punchy and responsive in a way that makes me grin like an idiot. The tone control is absolutely brilliant and virtually the entire travel of the pot is useful. This was never a bad sounding bass, but now it's a great sounding bass.

    The moral(s) of the story: Fralin pickups are pure delicious goodness; Nordstrand preamp sounds great, just be sure you plan the installation carefully and take into consideration the size & placement of the controls; a good .1uf tone cap works wonders.

    Sorry for the long thread. Passive sounds massive!
  2. coronado3

    coronado3 Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2008
    Indiana, USA
    were the fralins wound stock or overwound?
  3. NicJimBass

    NicJimBass Flossin'? I thought your name was Munson! Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2004
    Lancaster, OH
    64 Audio · DR Strings · Source Audio · Hipshot
    Had a Lakland Skyline JO5 with Fralins, and they were awesome. Best sounding pickups I think I've ever heard!
  4. coronado3

    coronado3 Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2008
    Indiana, USA
    I have a fralin split coil in my "sting" bass and it is awesome! fat, but with the original single coil sparkle - just no hum!
  5. Nedmundo

    Nedmundo Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2005
    I have Fralin Split-Jazz in my 2003 American Series, and they are massive indeed. I love these pickups, which contribute to that J's number one status. I recently got Nordstrand NJ5FS for my 2008 Jazz V, which have the same split-coil design, and they're great too. They sound real close to the Fralins at home practice volume, but at rock band rehearsal volume they take on a different, slightly more modern texture.

    With such great noiseless pickups, I feel no need for a pre. There's plenty of tone sculpting available from the volume knobs, with no hum.
  6. testing1two

    testing1two Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Southern California
  7. I did the same thing with my Warmoth Jazz, but with Delano JMVC4 FE/M2 pups. They sounded amazing through the Nordstrand pre, and massive when running passive. I ended up building the Nordy 3 band into a pedal so I can utilize it with my other passive basses too.
  8. did you ever find good knobs? I'm on a quest also :)
  9. testing1two

    testing1two Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Southern California
    I am actually working on modifying the pots or finding pots that will fit the Fender Deluxe concentric knobs. I've found that the standard concentric pots are just too tall regardless of what knobs I use. The problem is that the bass sounds really good passive so I'm not in a hurry to tackle this project.
  10. did not realize you were the same guy who posted in my thread. Thanks!

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