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Passive vs active???

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by mixmastermike, Dec 4, 2011.

  1. mixmastermike


    Jan 6, 2010
    I'm playing an 01 mim jazz passive and I feel I get a pretty nice tone out of it but I have an instructor that keeps trying to talk me into "upgrading" to an active bass. I'm pretty ignorant to all this electronics stuff as far as basses go ( I'm an electrician at my real job) so guess I'm just looking for some discussion on this. Is there a pedal that can essentially do the same thing as an inboard preamp? Lie I said I don't know much about this aspect of playing bass.
    Thanks in advance

    P.s. I know that the right thing to do is go play some basses but the closest musical store is a couple hundred miles away
  2. If you like the tone you're getting from your MIM, pay no attention. He's just trying to force his personal preferences on you, which is a huge mistake on his part. Unless and until you can actually try an active bass out and decide for yourself whether you will like it or not, and you like the way your current bass sounds, you can safely ignore him. What he likes may not work for you. There's plenty of good players out there who don't bother with active basses and pre-amps.
    EDIT: I just wanted to add, Please don't misunderstand, I'm not saying you wouldn't absolutely love an active bass or a pre-amp pedal, I'm just saying, don't just do it because someone tells you you should. Again, what works for them may or may not work for you. I know it's not easy for you to try stuff out, but this is one of those things that you absolutely must try out first. Until then, stick with what you know and like.
  3. Yes and no.
    The feature most people recognize on preamps is the equalization. You can get that anywhere- onboard preamps, pedals, amps, rack gear, whatever. Some prefer it on their bass for the convenience. Preamps and buffers also do a number of other things. Some boost the gain, which is another feature you can get from equipment in any format. However, almost all preamps provide a constant input impedance and lowered output impedance. It's really not the same to run a bass into an outboard preamp, since you will be susceptible to the parasitic capacitance of your cable, as the signal travels to the outboard gear, and the impedance against the pickups is subject to change with different things you plug the bass into. (The actual effects of this are up for debate, but there are indeed variables, which can be more extreme in some cases than others.)

    A much less common feature of onboard preamps is to provide multiple buffered inputs that allow multiple pickups of any impedance and output level to be combined without loading directly against each other. This requires an onboard preamp/buffer.

    Having active components does not necessarily mean the tone of a bass will be any different. Some prefer totally transparent preamps/buffers that don't affect the tone at all. What exactly were you hoping to gain from an onboard preamp? If you just want EQ, it seems that many people are happy with outboard preamps.
  4. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    While that's true in essence, I can't think of too many preamps made that way. The vast majority have a single buffered input, and most do that after the pickups are blended.

    Some do have buffered blends, which is the best way to do it.

    So the OP understands what buffering does; the controls and cable impart a tone on your pickup by rolling off some high end and lowering the resonant peak of the pickup. When you combine two pickups, they also interact with each other. Buffering allows the true sound of the pickup to be produced. And a buffered blend stops the pickups from interacting.

    Because people are used to the tones of passive basses, and often want to emulate that tone, many people like passive better. For players that want a clearer brighter tone, and with on the fly tone shaping capabilities, they go for active.
  5. That's why I said it was much less common.:hyper:
  6. mixmastermike


    Jan 6, 2010
    I guess I don't really know what I should expect a preamp to for me. More sensitive pickups possibly for subtle things at low volumes like dead notes and such. It would be nice to hear what others use and why. I'm gonna be in the market for a new bass here before too long and just testing the waters trying to learn some.
  7. It's a matter of personal preference. I started out on active basses and have gone all passive. I prefer the simplicity. I can tweak my EQ at the amp and don't have to worry about a battery dying in the middle of a set. Some of the greatest bassists of all time have recorded and performed live on passive basses while some bass players I know prefer active. Don't let your instructor "up sell" you into an active bass unless you decide for yourself that that's what you want and prefer.
  8. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    You sure did. I missed that. That's what happens when you skim posts. Sorry. :D
  9. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    OK, I currently have a 2-band Musicman preamp clone in my Ibanez 5 string. The way I use it is to change my tone for certain songs, along with changing the pickup mix.

    That's probably the most used aspect of an onboard preamp.

    I set my amp up to match the room I'm playing, while in using a fairy flat setting on the bass. Then I change the tone from the bass and never touch the amp.

    If you use the same tone for everything than you don't need a preamp. If you would like a wider pallet of tones then a preamp would be the ticket.
  10. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    You can get a broader tonal range from a preamp but then many people are fond of the tone you get from a passive circuit and a preamp may not emulate that very well. My Fender Active Jazz has no passive tone control and neither does any other active bass I have looked. Not a problem in my opinion but this is one area where opinions are varied and strongly held.

    An active bass will have a lower output impedance which will be better for driving long cable runs like you might be faced with if you play in a worship band at the front of a large auditorium which has a mixing console at the back, for example. There are other solutions like DI boxes or external preamps of course. Shorter cables like the ones between your bass and an on stage amp are much less likely to cause tonal or noise pickup problems that a on bass preamp would fix. So I think it really comes down to personal preference. Do you value having the preamp controls on your bass or not?

    To me it sounds like you do not at present. So I would not bother over a preamp right now. You can add one anytime to any bass if you decide you want one badly enough. You can get an external preamp too and it is possible that your bass amp has a 3 band EQ built in for that matter if you want to play with the tonal possibilities. If you decide to buy a new bass you will have to revisit the issue then.

  11. TapyTap


    Apr 26, 2005
    Awww Yeah...

  12. passive vs active...

    As what been stated already, some guys like passive, some like active. Active gives you more options at your finger tips but some guys view that as inferior to using a dedicated out board preamp.

    If you like the sound of your bass passive and you want to experiment a good way to go is with an out board preamp DI.

    GT Brick
    and many others that are well loved here on TB.

    You can also shape the tone of your bass at the amp. This won't change your tone out front through a mixer,
    unless you mic the cab or take a line out of your amp (post eq). You could go with one of the before mentioned
    bass DI preamps and they will impart their particular coloration to your bass sound.

    A preamp DI is pretty useful for recording and live.
  13. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    Yes, by all means, "upgrade" by running your signal through 42¢ worth of 9V battery operated electronics selected for lowest cost and current draw. :rollno:

    Does that make sense to you?

    Actives are a convenience for live use -- if you must twiddle with stuff to fairly surreal tonal extremes, don't care about adding noise and are too busy to go to to your amp -- but otherwise I just can't see it. If you are recording, any processing will be better done by the hugely higher quality studio electronics and VSTs and by the producer and engineer who are responsible for the sound of the track and mix (not you).

    If you're not playing out nor recording, do whatever you want because it doesn't matter.

    I regret every active bass I own, and I own a bunch of them.
    lowdownnotes and Evil Undead like this.
  14. Kentucky Ryan

    Kentucky Ryan

    Feb 12, 2012
    very interesting thread, for this new bassist to read. my current bass i active and the only thing i dont like is having to change batteries.
  15. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Which is how often? I don't understand why people make a big deal out of this.

    How often do you change your strings? Change the battery at the same time, unless you never change your strings. Then check it every month or so.
  16. I definitely prefer the simplicity of passive basses.
    If you want to beef up your tone or just have more control over it, there are much cheaper options than switching to active. Plenty of EQ boxes, rack mounts, as well as the EQ built into your amp.
    lowdownnotes likes this.
  17. dontay


    Aug 29, 2011
    Play what you like and buy what you like...its that simple. I use to listen to others then I just stopped and did my own thing.
  18. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    I don't see how some of those are cheaper options.

    The beauty of an onboard preamp is you can make changes to your tone on the fly. You can't do that with foot pedals or going back to your amp or racks.

    In the end though, just play what you like. But there are benefits to active basses that a lot of people prefer. I like them both ways.
  19. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    Basically since you are using an amplifier all basses are active, the only difference is where the preamp circuits are located. They can be in the bass (which people term an active bass) or in an outboard preamp, or built into the amp.

    What I like about passive basses:
    They don't add noise.
    They have a certain tone that is nice.
    They are simple.
    They don't need batteries.

    What I don't like about passive basses:
    They don't drive long cables well which rolls off highs.
    The "toy" tone control is all the EQ you have on the bass.
    They have rather limited tonal range about the usual tone.

    What I like about Active basses.
    They have a large range of EQ available.
    Things like a mid control on a Deluxe Jazz bass gives it tones no passive jazz has.
    I like when they also have a passive mode so you get best of both worlds.
    I like controls right on bass so you can change tone while playing.
    I like the EQ on the bass so when you play through DI you don't loose all control of your tone.

    What I don't like about active basses.
    They add noise (usually hiss which is especially noticeable with treble up and cab with tweeter)
    They take batteries which can and do fail.
    They have more pots and crap to go bad.
    Because circuits need to run from batteries they are much cheaper (and hence noisier than those in outboard preamps or the front end of your amp.

    Both have their place.
    Grumpynuts and FenderB like this.
  20. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Well said! And I agree.