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Pickups confuse me (help a newbie)

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by wRaith, Sep 1, 2005.


  1. wRaith

    wRaith

    Aug 22, 2005
    Sydney, Australia
    I don't understand the difference between humbuckers, P-type pickups and J-type pickups. What are single-coil and double-coil? My bass has 2 pickups, a single-coil and a split single-coil. What does all of this mean?

    Sorry for all the questions, I tried searching but didn't find any threads that answered me properly. THanks guys.
     
  2. A lot of what you mentioned is in fact the same thing;

    P-type = split single coil = single coil pickup in two seperate pieces, like on a standard Precision bass.

    J-type = single coil in one unit, like on a standard Jazz bass.

    double coil = two single coils in one unit = humbucker. Humbuckers use a special electronic technique that rejects noise while allowing the instrument signal to pass - hence "bucking the hum" > humbucker.
     

  3. If they're so similar, why is it that P basses sound growlier? Are the individual magnets bigger?

    These are prrobably really dumb question but in the 7 years I've played I've never been into the technical side of things til now.
     
  4. wRaith

    wRaith

    Aug 22, 2005
    Sydney, Australia
    So which is better for what type of music, or does it not work that way? As I said, my bass has both J- and P-types, with individual volumes for each. Which should be used for different types of music? What are the different types of sound from each of the 3 types?
     
  5. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I know there will be a world of pickup freaks on here who will disagree, but I don't care. It's more the placement of the pickups than the actual design that makes the difference in sound. The P pickup is under the 2 fattest strings closer to the neck and under the two skinniest strings closer to the bridge, which makes a world of difference in the tone compared to the J pickup, which is basically in the middle of where a P pickup would be and picks up the strings at the same point under all strings.

    I have no idea why it sounds "growlier" with just a P pickup, nor do I agree with you about that. "Growl" is such a subjective term that you could ask 5 people what it is and get 5 different answers. To me, growl is the sound of the strings vibrating against the frets. So let's forget that question.

    And you are right about what pickup works best for what music...it doesn't work that way. The sound that works best for the particular style of music comes from the way you play, not the bass or pickups. Of course, this is another thing that people on here will no doubt disagree with it, because I've found that there are too many equipment junkies on here that think the bass they play dictates what style of music they play. I do a ton of different styles in my bands, often in the same night, and I almost always do them on one bass. Nobody ever complains that my bass isn't suited for a particular style.
     
  6. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    Placement is ,of course, crucial - the Stingray, P and Jazz basses are prime examples of that.

    But design is just as important. A P in bridge position will sound different from single coil J in bridge position. A P in neck position sounds different than a single coil J in neck position. A series humbucker will sound different than a parallel humbucker.

    Also, different designs of the same type of pickup can have small but crucial differences. In my old thumb 5, the stock MEC pickups died. I tried Barts as replacements, they sounded awful - IMO since they roll off some of the high end which didn't work with the Thumb woods. By your logic, I should have been able to restore that missing natural high end with my fingers. It doesn't work that way, and I ended up with EMG's in there which sounded great.
     
  7. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    This may surprise you David, but I think of Barts as overpriced and overrated, for pretty much the same reason as you replaced them. While I think pickups don't really do a whole lot for changing the sound of a bass, they do have different EQ points and I can't stand Bart EQ points. Too dark and too hi-fi. But I would also caution people who want to replace pickups not to expect miracles.

    As for the design vs. placement issue, of course P's sound different from J's...the polepieces will hit the strings in different places and pick up vibrations in different areas of the string. At least that's how I feel about them. Having never done any testing of this theory (or having no idea how to test it because testing it would require carving up a bass and I'm not about to rout big holes in any of my basses), I can't say for sure, but I will say that when I tap on the polepieces, P's and J's sound pretty well identical ;)
     
  8. While I basically agree with you... just a couple of observations:

    1) Of course, the key is technique, taste, sense of time, etc. in defining a good bass player and also a 'good sound'. However... a particular bass and to a smaller extent, particular pickups can have a huge effect on sound.... while you can get a pretty good Duck Dunn type sound on a Jazz Bass with roundwounds, if that's your thing... a PBass does it even better. And... it's easier to get a true old school sizzly round wound Marcus type funk sound on a J Bass with 70's pickup placement, etc. So... I don't see any downside to trying to optimize your bass, pickups, etc. to the sound you really like (realizing that you can then vary that sound with good technique, experience, etc.... I never bring more than one bass to a gig, but if it's primarily a jazz gig, I'll probably bring a different bass than if it's a 70's funk cover gig... and I usually get at least a couple of comments on my tone 'appropriateness' on most gigs.

    2) Remember... this part of the site IS gear oriented. I'm a huge gear head, and love the heck out of this stuff.... and this is a wonderfully appropriate venue to talk about gear. Be careful assuming people that are into gear either can't play are aren't totally into the most important part of playing bass... being competent and musical, with taste and good time... I just don't talk about that in a 'pickup forum' :)
     
  9. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    Jimmy,
    I fully agree with you here. It might surprise you to know that 5 of my 6 basses are totally stock :)
    The only one that's not 100% stock, a Daryl Jones 4, has Nordstrand humbucking J's, they sound great and very single coil like (only without the hum)

    I also fully agree that people should worry about their technique and playing style far more than they worry about pickups. I think you should generally try and buy basses that sound good the way are, rather than buying with an eye to immediate pickup modding.
    One exception there is with lower end basses, where new pickups can be a reasonably priced way to upgrade.
     
  10. conceptually similar, but very different in construction, components and placement.

    timbre is subjective. There's no right or wrong here, just use what sounds good to your ears.

    An audiophool might try to tell you that every pickup sounds different - even ones made in the same way by the same guy on the same machine on the same day.

    Alas, there are no words that adequately and resoundingly describe timbre. You just have to try them for yourself to know the difference.

    I mean, if I say a P-type sounds brown and meaty, does that make any sense to you? Of course not. You're just having flash backs of the goo you fed to your dog/cat this morning!

    Go find a shop with lots of fenders and A/B the standard p bass with a standard jazz for a while. Then, pickup a music man or a p bass deluxe and dial in the humbucker. You'll soon find that, even though a stingray and a p bass deluxe both have humbuckers, the sounds they produce are almost uncomparable.