Pickup height and tone.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Outbush, Jun 9, 2019.

  1. Yes

    3 vote(s)
  2. No

    23 vote(s)
  3. Other things have a greater impact.

    0 vote(s)
  4. Don't know, I never adjust the height.

    2 vote(s)
  5. Go back and tend to your carrot patch, you're talking through your hat.

    1 vote(s)
  6. Carrots. (For the purists).

    4 vote(s)
  1. Outbush


    Nov 6, 2016
    I know there are plenty of more experienced people here than me, but when I hear about "weak" sounding basses I know there will be discussion on strings and changing out pickups and pre-amps coming up. I'd like to hear that discussion about adjusting pickup height.

    Its because I don't really GAS, but I do tinker. I have the action of my bass where I want it and I keep the intonation right on, that's fine. Also, I don't want to be swapping out strings willy-nilly as here in Australia they're pretty expensive. I use Elixirs, a habit I got into in Cairns, Qld because they were ok in the humidity (and I was perpetually broke), but I'm not crash-hot on the tone for the first few months (ideally they stay on for 2 - 3 years).

    So I play with my pickup heights and I think to myself, "Woah, doesn't that make a difference!" Right now they about the middle of the Fender recommended height, but a while back they were a bit above the minimum recommended height and I really liked the sound and attack in the mix, but it was too harsh in the living room.

    Currently I'm liking it "conservative", but they'll keep moving (probably up a half millimetre soon) till that magical day when they'll sit for a while until...

    From the collective experience,
    How much tone comes from pickup height?
    Can changing pickup height have a greater influence on tone than changing strings?
    How much "hotter" can a bass become with pickups closer to the strings?
    Can changes in pickup height change a "good" sounding bass into a bad one?
  2. user362432

    user362432 Guest

    Dec 27, 2002
    Strange enough, I think there is a sweet spot, for every set of pickups between "sounds good" and "signal too low", especially with some of the pickups. Going with factory settings does not give the best result in every case. I never get good sound when pickups are too close to the strings.
  3. Jonithen


    Dec 3, 2012
    Seacoast NH
    It influences the sound but I wouldn't say it does so greater than any other given factor.

    Optimize for tone not output, and use your amp's dials for volume.
    dkelley and M.R. Ogle like this.
  4. dr doofie

    dr doofie

    Jul 6, 2017
    Type of strings excluded, take into account your style of playing. If you use a pick as opposed to your fingers you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
    I use my fingers almost exclusively, and I have an aggressive attack, so I keep the pickups lower on the bass side and a little higher on the treble... the beauty is they’re very versatile in relation to angle as well as height (Pbass anyway).
  5. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Well, I voted "carrots", thanks; but, my answer to the question is - depends on what you mean by "influence". If you mean something like "make my rounds sound like flats", or "make my flats sound like poopie", then my answer would be - No, probably not. If you mean "make my bass sound like poopie?" Then my answer would be - most definitely yes. If the pickups are too low? Depending on how hot they are, you'll get little to nothing out of them, if they're low enough. The pickups in my '73 Rick 4001 - which were not exactly high output when they were new - will fade away to almost nothing, if I crank them all the way down. Which certainly qualifies as "influence" in my book. OTOH, pickups that are too close to the strings can give you weird clangy noises when the strings hit them; and often, really annoying squeal-y/chime-y noises when they're so close to the strings that they get overloaded. My Gretsch Broadkaster loves to do that. Sadly, unlike lots of other basses, the sweet spot between "Squeal like a pig" and "almost nuthin" is very, very small on that bass. And that "too high" overload also qualifies as "influence" AFAIC...
    However... if your pickup's height is set in that sweet spot? Then, no; other than being whatever brand/type pickup it is, it's the strings that determine your tone...:cool:
    CTBassGuy likes this.
  6. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    I notice a difference in volume and tone when changing pickup height.

    I notice a difference using different string sets.

    The two work together but I wouldn't expect to get a roundwound stainless tone with nylon tapewounds.
    CTBassGuy likes this.
  7. CTBassGuy


    Feb 3, 2018
    Danbury, CT
    I voted no, but with a caveat. Strings have more influence, IME, but pickup height certainly has an effect.

    I have had GHS Pressurewounds on my Carvin LB90 fretless forever. Last year I took it to a local luthier to have it refreshed, fretboard sanded smooth, and properly set up. When I got it back, it felt great, but sounded really dark. I realized after playing for a short time, that the pickups were lower than I had them before I took it to him. I raised them back to where I was used to and, voila, sounded right again.

    I also picked up a fretted brother to the LB90 fretless recently (same year, same model, same pickups , etc.) and I think it has Fender roundwounds on it. I did a basic set up myself and set the pickups where I liked them on my fretless, but it sounded very different (minus the fretted/fretless obvious difference). Of course the Koa wood may be part of the difference, but that’s a whole other series of threads that no one wants to revisit... :D
  8. I think strings influence tone more than pickup height.
    Both can have a lot of influence and they need to work together.
    Between the two there can be a million tiny variations that
    make it interesting.
    It's all part of the joy of chasing that sound you hear in your head.
  9. Bboopbennie


    Jun 16, 2019
    Yeah get the mud out of the E string and balance the rest.... Done Now find those strings that make you Happy
    A screwdriver is your friend. :)
  10. project_c


    May 8, 2008
    London, UK
    String choice for tone, pickup height for the intensity and richness of that tone. You can't fundamentally alter the main characteristics of the tone by raising or dropping pickups as far as I can tell. But none of that has as much impact as technique and hand placement in my experience. If your tone is weak, turn up the gain, drop the action and experiment with how how and where you hit the strings.

    Some people get great tone from basses with just one tiny passive pickup wedged deep into the body, high action and dead strings. Depends on what tone you like and how you play.
  11. David Heath

    David Heath

    Apr 7, 2017
    I'm interested in your observations. What does near, middle and far away do to the tone in your view?
  12. BassLaird


    Apr 4, 2015
    Savannah, GA
    Having round or flat strings changes the tone the most. About pickup height, I used a little screwdriver and tweaked the height until both my stage basses were about the same volume. So then I don't have to adjust my amp.
  13. JIO

    JIO Be seeing you. Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    The Mission SF/CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    At least for the E string, if it's too close to the pu pole it will get a woofy response around the 10-12th fret area. (slight feedback) I adjust it just above that.
  14. fourstringbliss

    fourstringbliss Supporting Member

    Oct 5, 2003
    Puyallup, WA
    I voted no, but pickup height definitely affects the tone on a lot of pickups. Every time I've owned a G&L L2000 I've buried the pickups into the body to get the right tone for me. My P/J has Dimarzio Model P/J pups and I have them quite close to the strings. In both cases I'm using the same brand of flatwounds.