pickup location

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by fishhed, Jan 14, 2009.

  1. fishhed

    fishhed Guest

    Aug 18, 2006
    I am installing pickups on a new bass and have heard you should pick a location where the harmonics are strong to locate the pickups. Does this mean I should assemble the bass, string it, and then listen for the harmonics and mark the spot for the neck and bridge pickups? It is a 35" 5 string bass.

    I tried searching for an hour but could not find any real guidelines.

    Thanks for the help.

  2. ZolkoW

    ZolkoW Guest

    May 8, 2006
    Hungary, EU
    I think it's the best way, you can even set the intonation, and THEN search the harmonics. of course, pickups work not at a single point, but a wider area, so some millimeters s won't ruin your sound :)
    measure some instruments, there are many well-known locations, like 36th, 48th fret, 30th fret (I think, that's the JB neck pickup's place), and so on.. recently I made a jig that holds the pickup ABOVE the strings, while I can play the instrument, so I can test the locations before I cut into the body.
  3. pilotjones


    Nov 8, 2001
    That's just a thing that people repeat. Consider:
    - As you fret, all the harmonics change their positions
    - placing a pickup at a "harmonic point" means it is placed at a point where there is no string movement for that harmonic (a node), so you effectively have zero output for the frequency in question--the opposite of what is supposedly being accomplished
  4. T2W

    T2W Guest

    Feb 24, 2007
    Montreal, Canada.
    +1 on what Pete just said
  5. ZolkoW

    ZolkoW Guest

    May 8, 2006
    Hungary, EU
    we don't place the pickup at the 24th fret, because we'd like to hear that harmonic, but maybe because we don't want it - get it? ;-)
    every position has it's own "sound profile", that's all...
  6. ctmullins

    ctmullins Dominated Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    For an open string, the fundamental is strongest in amplitude at the mid-point of the string, or the twelfth fret. For the first harmonic (an octave higher), the strongest point is at half this distance, or halfway between the twelfth fret and the bridge, or at the 24th fret. Higher harmonics simply divide this string length into more and more equally-sized waves.

    Man, I'm lousy at explaining this. Look at Wikipedia's page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibrating_string
    The first image on the page illustrates what I'm getting at.

    Anyway, you can tell that the closer the pickup is to the extreme end of this string, the more it will sense the higher-order harmonics relative to the fundamental, and the "brighter" it will sound.

    This is all complicated the moment you fret the string. The theory is the same, but then the effective length of the string has changed, and the frequencies of the standing waves become higher. In other words, the illustration becomes "squished" from left to right. So the pickup would ideally have to be moved a tiny bit closer to the bridge to sense the higher harmonics in exactly the same way.

    Of course, this is impractical, so pickups have been designed with an aperture, or an "opening" through which they sense string vibration. A narrow pickup (like a J) will have a narrow aperture, perhaps an inch, while a wider pickup (like a MM) will have a wider aperture, maybe a couple of inches. This compensates for the slightly different points along the string for which the various fretted note overtones are prominent.

    This also explains why pickups placed nearer to the neck sound "fatter" - they pick up a higher proportion of the fundamental and lower harmonics.

    Sorry for my early-morning layman explanation, but hope this helps.
  7. Dirk Diggler

    Dirk Diggler Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Anytown USA
    I agree 100% with Pete (pilotjones) on this. That harmonic concept would be great if you always played with open strings.

    Just put the pickup where you want it. IMHO it doesn't make any difference at all including pickups at a slant like I have done several times in my fan fret builds.

    Now if you are considering tone that's another discussion, for instance the closer you put 2 pickups together the more Music man-like it will sound. Also the closer to the bridge the more bridge tone it will sound. Alright that was a badly described sentence but I think you get what I'm saying.
    Good Luck,
  8. Going fishing for harmonics-plucking the strings while muting, is completely worthless. Those will of course move around depending on where you fret. But those aren't the important ones. The naturally occurring harmonics are, and they create the tone in the first place. Move the pickups on a Jazz-it no longer sounds like a Jazz. I can assure you, this bass sounds a lot different depending where the pickup is located. Location is everything.
  9. Nerotic

    Nerotic Guest

    Sep 17, 2008
    Haven't seen that one before. Great idea! :hyper:

  10. daveman50

    daveman50 Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2007
    Albany NY
    Yeah, and very nice wood selection on that Westone Rail. Maybe this will spark further debate on what woods are best for bass bodies.... :)

    Oddly enough though, it's all wood except for the steel bars and bridge. And actually plays/sounds really nice. You can get a killer Jazz bass 'burp' from it.
  12. fishhed

    fishhed Guest

    Aug 18, 2006
    So to sum it up it sounds like its OK to be somewhat arbitrary on placement of pickups, greater spread (neck near neck, bridge near bridge) gives greater variance in tonal combinations.

    Maybe on guitar open string harmonics makes a difference (lots of open strings on some chords - read something like this in the Hitchkock book) but on bass once you fret a string it all changes anyway.

    I will post pix once I get it routed and installed.

  13. No. Absolutely not true at all.
  14. dblbass

    dblbass Commercial User

    Mar 24, 2007
    Beacon, NY
    Owner of MBJ guitars, Maker of fine sawdust for Carl Thompson Guitars
    Yes. Kinda true.

    I think you should place the pickups where you find it most comfortable for you. In my opinion where you pluck the string has more to do with the sound then where the pickup is.

    If you want your bass to sound a certain way dont move pickups around or use mahagony rather than walnut or a brass bridge rather than aluminum or whatever. practise...

    i've heard two good quotes on practising.

    "practise doesn't make perfect, practise makes better"

    "practise doesn't make perfect, perfect practise makes perfect"

    not sure which one i like more but they are both good. im gunna go take my advise.
  15. tbone409

    tbone409 Guest

    Feb 17, 2007
    kenosha, wi
    i posted in another thread about putting pickups at harmonic nodes, i wasn't saying this was right or wrong, just how Leo did it, and they give easily found pickup locations regardless of scale, but by no means are they the be all of end all of where to place your pickups