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pickup height

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Joe Nerve, Mar 28, 2015.

  1. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Was surprised that there wasn't already a thread with this title.

    I must admit that I don't give a whole lot of thought to my pickup height. I generally treat them as thumb rests, adjust them to what's comfortable, and them raise them wee a bit towards the G string for more output on the thinner strings.

    On my recent P purchase I noticed the factory setup had the pickup angled like this ^. The split pickup was raised considerably towards the A-D string, and it was setup the same on another fresh out of the box P I also tried. Which got me wondering...

    What does pickup height have to do with actual sound, and the way the pickup interacts with the strings? Does closer to the string mean it actually WILL be louder, or does it affect the sound in a different way? I've been assuming they work like microphones, but realize with just a little thought that something very different is going on here.

    Can somebody, in lay-mans terms (I barely know how to use a soldering iron) exactly what's going on regarding pickup height, and how it affects our sound? Also, on certain Gibson basses pickup heights seems to have everything to do with a chorus effect the basses can produce. And many people claim there's a height that is a sort of sweet spot where the chorus completely disappears. I've yet to find it. What's going on with that?

    Help me better understand pickups please. Thanks.
  2. Fatboy 2015

    Fatboy 2015

    Mar 13, 2015
    0322151905. My understanding is that the closer your pickup is to the string, the more it accentuates its sound, buy "PLAYING" with differnt heights, like the spilt inverted V setup you discribe, you can pretune youre initial sound, and finnish of with tone pots and EQ settings. I have a similar setup on my split P, still fiddeling with it to find that perfect spot.be aware on some pickups with strong magnets, you can get the pickup so close that the magnet can sometimes begin to atract the string and kill some of your sustain...or so I have been told, never experience it myself......on the thumb rest issue I build my own from 1/2" square poplar stock, and mount them with a conviently located pickguard screw I replace with a 1" long "4 screw to compensate for the added material.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2015
  3. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    The closer the string is to the pickup, the louder it will be because the string will be vibrating in a larger and stronger magnetic field, which produces a hotter signal in the coil. A pickup set to close to the strings can tend to get a bit muddy and less articulate, as well as having a stronger magnetic drag on the strings. Lowering the pickup will loose some output, but will also make for a more articulate pickup with more perceived high end and more balanced tone. The disadvantage to having an extremely low set pickup is that your bass can sound a bit thin and anemic.

    I usually set them between 3/16 to 1/4 inch below the strings. This gives a good balance of output, low end, and high end clarity as well as letting you dig in without the strings hitting the poles.
    SteveCS and Fatboy 2015 like this.
  4. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    what @Hopkins said.

    closer is louder, just like with microphones, and as such that steepled P-pickup adjustment is appropriate for following the string radius.

    too close and you get boomy or uneven, and risk the chorus-y warbly thing from the magnets pulling the strings out of an even vibration pattern. too far and it sounds weak, and you need to boost the signal more downstream, maybe adding to the noise floor.

    i like 'em close, but i also like to have the magnets on F-style pickups properly "surround" each string rather than be right under it, and that reduces the peakiness and the magnet pull.

    the ideal distance (aside from personal taste) is also affected by how much pull the pickup has and by where it is along the string; EMGs have barely any magnet pull and can be adjusted right up there, as close as you can get without the strings hitting it.

    stingray pickups by contrast have lots of pull, and need to be further away, especially on the bass side.

    the closer you get to the bridge, the less string movement there is and therefore the less signal, but also the less the string will get affected by magnet pull; together, that all means you can and should set bridge pickups closer than middle or especially neck pickups.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2015
    SteveCS likes this.
  5. I had a '78 P-bass. When I bought it, the pickup was set totally parallel to the body, less than 1/8" off the top. After I later found out about the ins and out of adjusting the pickup heights in Dan Erlewine's book, I followed his instructions and it made a hugely noticeable and positive difference in both and volume. So yeah, IME, pickup height can make a difference.
    monodark likes this.
  6. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    You're right. It's strange to think about how little the topic of pickup height shows up on the forum considering how a slight adjustment can fix problems like uneven output, too much output, not enough output, chorusey warbling, and strings hitting poles, making loud noises.

    I prefer my pickups as high as possible without causing magnetic influence on the strings and string/pickup impacts.
  7. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Thanks everyone. Going to start playin around with my pickup height.
  8. Yeah, the first thing I think of when I hear folks complaining about how their bass sounds anemic or thin or the like, is "have you tried adjusting the pickup height?"
    That may not be the answer in every case, but it's certainly something to consider.
  9. It makes a huge difference with my bass. I can't adjust the pickup height but i can adjust the poles. Oddly enough with my set up (ti flats, guild starfire, bisonic pickups) the pole heights are all over the place, but thats how I like it or have it set to reach the response I want from each string. I believe the pole furthest from the strings is the G string. It can be piercingly loud if too close.
  10. BeerSuds


    Oct 21, 2012
    Foxboro, MA
    Split P pups are set like you described because the A and D strings are higher because of the FB radius.

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