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Pickup Height

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Vendele197, Sep 22, 2009.

  1. I tried doing a search on this, but couldn't find an answer out of the thousands of hits I got.

    Currently I am playing a Schecter Stiletto Custom-4 with the stock EMGs. My question is a three part one: A) How much of a difference does pickup height make in tone/volume/etc.? I've played around with my pickup height a bit, but am having a hard time discerning any noticeable difference. B) Is there an "optimal" or "preferred" pickup height? And finally, C) Is it more or less understood that both pickups should be the same height, or are there advantages to having one higher than the other?

    Just like all TBers, I'm on a quest for that "perfect tone" and am trying to understand what all goes into acquiring it, including, as you've probably already guessed, pickup height.

  2. EMGs have pre-amps built in and so are different to other (i.e. passive) pickups in that you can put them as close to the strings as you want without any of the ill effects you get with passive pickups getting being set too high - double notes,tuning problems and a harsher tone. In fact, the paperwork that comes with an EMG (if you buy them separately) recommends you raise them as high as you can you to maximise the output!!.

    But to answer your questions:

    A) The higher the pickup the higher the output and the tone can get "harder". If you move the pickup away from the strings you get a smoother tone and less output.

    B) The "optimal" or "preferred" pickup height is the one that gives you the sound you like - see A).

    C) No, you can do what you like to get the sound you want, but I would say you should set the pickup heights so that both give roughly the same Output level. I have an EMG P-J combination on my fretless (and a DiMarzio P-J on my fretted bass) this means the Bridge pup is set as high as I can get away with and the neck pup considerably lower. So I can go from a pure Precision sound to a Jazz-Bass-neck-pup only sound (think Jaco) - and anything in between - without having to adjust for huge changes in volume/output and, in a live situation, this makes life a lot easier!!.

    I've been looking for the perfect Tone since 1971 - I'll let you know when I find it.
  3. I just bought myself a jazz bass fiver. I noticed that the pups were pretty close to the strings and there was a massive output but also this weird "attack" like compressed sound but with not equally loud sustain. The sound seems to die rather quickly thouhg it doesn't really... It's just because the string attack is too loud. Would you say that this is a pup height issue? Strings are brand new...
  4. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    I'm about to save you a lot of time, money and aggravation.

    Pay close attention now 'cause I'm only going to say this once...

    Here it is...you ready?

    There is no such thing as the "perfect tone" for everything.

    Got it?



    That being said I've found that pickup height with some instrument/pickup combinations can have a dramatic effect on tone and volume, such as on a single coil P bass, but on some others...not so much.

    I've used EMGs (and other pickups) for decades and I've found that I can place EMGs a bit closer to the strings than I can most passive pickups and being closer seems to effect the dynamic range considerably and boosts clarity. If I sink the EMGs into the body I get lower output (as expected), less dynamic range (bummer for me) and the low end can become more dominant.

    It's striking a balance between the tones available to find something you like to work with that's the challenge.

    Have fun.
  5. cloclo


    Dec 13, 2009
    Antwerp, Belgium
    my 2 cents (bear in mind i use a precision bass):

    * the closer the pickup to the string the louder the volume of that string will be
    * you could also adjust individual poles of a pickup (as in this guitar example: http://www.gilmourish.com/wp-content/images/blog_pickups2.jpg)
    * when i put my pickups closer to my strings on my precision it will start to 'fart' earlier (that is a good thing for me, it is kind of a mild overdrive thing). it allows me to control the moment when i want dig in. if i hit the strings harder it will be noticeable in the sound.
    * if sometimes you push your string against your pickup-poles while playing (because they are that close or because you use thin strings maybe) you get a painful 'clacky' sound. to avoid this you can put some gaffer tape over the pickup so the metal of the strings does not come in contact with the pickup.

    * they say you will have longer sustain if the pickup is farter away from the strings. i haven't really noticed that.

    have fun!
  6. BassLife77


    Nov 13, 2009
    San Diego
    pickups with large magnets will affect the intonation. my StingRay and OLP basses have huge magnets so I have to back them off the strings. the magnets were pulling on the strings and I could never get the B string calibrated right until I lowered the pickup a little. I get a fuller tone with the pickup this way
  7. St Drogo

    St Drogo

    Oct 9, 2009
    Hey man, I'm on a quest for awesome. That is all.
  8. Start with a 1/8" clearance.....adjust up and down on your gear from that. YMMV.

    On my Corvette $$, I hear a harsh shift in tone when I get too close, like harmonic distortion. It is louder though. Also, my B string will stick to the pole momentarily if too close which really wakes you up with a metal schtook sound when u least expect it.
  9. 4Mal

    4Mal Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2002
    Columbia River Gorge
    1/8th would be too close for me. I run about double that. For the most part, on my J's the tone get's more even and string to string balance improves. Output goes down but - I have an amp - why do I care what my bass outputs other than clean, clean tone ? there is plenty enough signal to drive my pedal board (Pitch Black, Sonic Stomp, Mini TQ, Carbon Copy, ParaDriver) - so what possible advantage would more output from my bass provide ?

    Too close to the strings and the magnetic attraction of the pickups influences the way that the strings themselves vibrate. That tends to emphaisze dead spots, wolf tones, etc. Weird artifacts in your sound ? Back off the pickup height a little and crank up the inut gain just a smidge to make up for it. That solves more issues than you might imagine.
  10. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    Could be. A Passive jazz 5 B string should be about 3.5-4 mm from the PU. The G side can be a little closer.
  11. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Strings ring louder when you pluck them in the middle area rather than the extremes. To compensate for that, the bridge pickup should be closer to the strings than the neck pickup. My basses are all set the same way: 5/32" from the top of the neck pickup polepieces to the bottom of the strings and 4/32" (1/8") from the top of the bridge pickup polepieces to the bottom of the strings. After that, and having previously set the action for all strings to 3/32" from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the strings, I lower the G string action by 1/64" and raise the B string action by the same amount.
  12. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    It depends a lot of the design of the pickup. If you have round rod magnets, like on a traditional Jazz pickup, they exert a much stronger pull on the strings than steel poles charged from a bar magnet, or blade pole pieces. This is one reason they didn't put the poles directly under the string, but instead have two magnets to each side of the string.

    Pickups like EMG have blade pole pieces, unless it's one of the vintage exposed pole designs. Blades spread out the magnetic field more and exert far less pull on the strings, even when using very strong magnets like neodymium.

    The preamps in the EMG don't effect that much, as EMG HZ pickups are pretty much the same as the actives, without the preamp.

    I like to put my pickups as close as I can without the strings hitting them, and then lower the pickup under the bass strings a little more. But that doesn't always work with exposed pole pickups.

    Whatever works for you, is the right distance from the strings.