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Pickup Placement??

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by John Ruiz, Apr 21, 2002.

  1. John Ruiz

    John Ruiz

    Oct 9, 2000
    Plano, Tx
    Hi, I am building a bass and I am trying to learn more about the difference in tone due to pickup placement, etc... Any info on this or any good books about it would be much appreciated!! :) I am going to be using a Bartolini 3 way 18V passive/active preamp w/2 bart quad coil pups.
  2. i've been wondering that too. i know closer to the end of the string gives more of a 'treble' sound with more harmonics and less fundamental, while closer to the center gives more fundamental, and a more boomy sound.

    but how do you choose where to put them? are there 'standard' locations? is it measured by where a certain fret would be, if the frets ran all the way up the strings?
  3. Chambers


    Apr 9, 2002
    Vancouver, WA
    There is no exact place to put a pickup. Keep in mind that if you found some place that was "physical perfect" when playing, as soon as your fretted a note it would no longer be in the perfect place. Most the basses out there use pickups in roughly the same location, i.e. not right up against the bridge, not right up against the neck.

    The biggest thing to keep in mind (IMHO) is the variance between the tone of the two pickups. If there is enough difference in the sound, you get lots of options in your final tone. If the two pickups sound the same, there's no reason to have multiple pickups.

    Long story short: being a little off in pickup placement won't be an issue, so long as you are in the ballpark. Check out factory basses of the appropriate scale length to get a rough idea where they should be, and adjust as you see fit.
  4. I have been running around NY shops lately with my micrometer measuring everything from string spacing to pick up placement vs. the bridge and comparing tones.

    Then I found a modified P bass that has a J near the bridge (close to std spot) and another J very near the neck. This helped alot in understanding the various tones and pick up placements.

    Here are my personal findings.

    The closer you get to the center of the bass the cleaner and more even the tone is across the range of the bass. Good example of position is a std p bass.

    Towards the neck things get deeper quickly, and the tone looses articulation although you can mess around by fingering closer to the bridge.

    The bridge area carried more cutting tones, but never gave me the depth I wanted without some help from another pick up.

    MM positioning seems to vary by builder but most seem to sit about 2 to 2.5 inches from the bridge saddles (measured at the A string)

    Once you get done with this experiment then you move into the one I am in now which is what pickups to I want to use in these places, there are alot of differently voiced pickups that range in tone from an underwater tuba to a razor blade. with volumes from near nothing to almost distortion levels

    The way I am taking my project is using very close to standard placements and then messing around with various types of pickups in those places.

    Glad Ebay is around or I might have to pay full price for all the pickups I might go through.
  5. notduane


    Nov 24, 2000
    Here's a neat article by Donald Tillman -- click .

    A little heavy on the math, but good info.
  6. heavy on math is good. it shows a deep understanding, and leaves no doubt or question unanswered.
  7. the best news in that article is that for the most part I understood the theorys and the supporting data. I have to believe it if only because I can't dispute it and the physics makes sense overall.

    This should be a poll to all builders. How many of them use this sort of data in designing new basses?

    Thats a great bit of research that person did.
  8. pilotjones


    Nov 8, 2001
    If you go near the bottom of the page, to the second Reference, there is a Java applet you can use to simulate the response of different positions. It's interesting if you put in the position for a J bridge vs. a P position - the P gives a more even low end, with the first response dip occurring around 250 Hz, where you might expect.

    You can get pickup positions from Bruce Gavin's page. Download the "Musician's Reference Spreadsheet."
  9. That article is interesting, but I'm not sure how valuable it is in real world terms, because as far as I can tell, it fails to take any account of what happens when you fret strings. The guy just made plots for an open E string, right?

    From my empirical dicking around with this stuff--without the help of a science degree, I admit--it seems to me that the fundamental tonal issue with respect to pickup positioning is not so much where the PU is in relation to the scale length (i.e., the full length of the string) but where it is in relation to the *vibrating,* or speaking, length.

    My experience is that generally, the closer a PU is to the middle of the vibrating length, the mellower and louder it is. If you play mostly in the lower positions, the neck PU will almost always be closer to the middle of the vibrating length as well as the middle of the total string length, so my point is a distinction without a difference.

    But I've noticed that if you play higher up on the neck, the situation can change, because as you move up the neck (i.e., past, say, fret 12 to 15), your neck PU can effectively move past the vibrating string's midpoint and actually start moving away from it again. If you play on the very last fret, for example, your neck PU may actually be farther from the middle of the vibrating length than your bridge PU is, and it may therefore sound more like what we think of as bridge PU tone.

    I've done admittedly crude experiments with a Strat in which I fretted the guitar on the 20th fret, then tried the sound with different PUs. In this context, the middle PU sounded warmer than the neck PU--the opposite of what you normally expect. The reason, as far as I can make out, is that simply in this setting, the middle PU is closer to the middle of the vibrating string length than the neck PU is.

    Elias86 likes this.
  10. SoComSurfing

    SoComSurfing Mercedes Benz Superdome. S 127. R 22. S 12-13.

    Feb 15, 2002
    Mobile, Al
    Originally posted by notduane
    Here's a neat article by Donald Tillman -- click .

    A little heavy on the math, but good info.

    Oh geez...I just finished up my semester in Calculus with Business Applications. I don't want to even try to understand all that!! :D
  11. Luke Sheridan

    Luke Sheridan Commercial User

    Dec 30, 2004
    Yonkers, NY
    I build guitars and sell them. Strings, too
    Bruce Gavin has allowed me to mirror the download of his incredibly informative Musician's Reference Spreadsheet. Thanks for following up, Pilot!!
    You can download it from his site: http://www.ofgb.org
    or from my mirror... http://www.digiviews.com/MusiciansReference.zip
    Spherical Cube likes this.
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