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Pickups-The most important tonal contributer in a bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by tekhna, Dec 13, 2004.

  1. tekhna


    Nov 7, 2004
    It really seems like the pickups can determine in a huge way the sound of a bass, whether it is pickup config, actual choice of pickup (P vs J vs MM, etc...), distance from the string, output level and so on.
    Of course there are a ton of contributing factors to the tonal output of a bass (Hang on, I feel the ton is in the fingers horde coming on), but good pickups can make or break a bass.
    I hope this is OK in the regular bass section, instead of the pickup section, as I was hoping this would be a more general discussion.
  2. flea claypool

    flea claypool

    Jun 27, 2004

    but if you put into account that woods play a mayjor factor to the sound ie "the sound of wood" with warwicks like is it just me or has anyone noticed the huge difference between mec and emg on warwicks?
  3. tekhna


    Nov 7, 2004

    I really am not convinced the wood makes as large a difference in tone as some claim, after a local luthier made 6 identical basses, only difference was body wood (He used ash, alder, basswood, mahagony, walnut and maple), and no one could accurately tell the difference when listening to recordings. I know many people claim all basses are different, even when made from the same wood, but I just didn't hear it, and neither did many other players. I need to dig up those recordings for you guys
  4. O.K-- Let me take a stab at this. Answer-- no. I mean--yes, maybe? (my head hurts). I think the thing that most influences the tone of a particular bass is the final material composition of the bass. Meaning-- the wood, fret configuration, scale etc. Even though no doubt pickups can make or break the sound of a bass, they can be changed without "creating a new bass". (see you knew it was a trick answer!). The skill or technique of a given player may greatly influence the tonal values you hear as an audience, but doesn't change the tone of the bass. Strings pickups etc will effect the tonal qualities you get out of the bass, but I vote that the tone is "deep within the bass". :cool:
  5. metron

    metron Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2003
    Yeah its all about the pickups. Take a p bass, route and install jazz pickups and it will sound like a jazz bass.

    To make a useless quantification :rolleyes: :D , I think pickups make about 75% contribution to overall sound and everything else is the other 25%.
  6. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    Have any of you ever changed pickups in a particular bass, only to find out that the overall sound really didn't change that much?
    My analogy is like this: The pickups are microphones, the strings are the sound source, the bass itself is the "room".
    As all sound guys know, how and where you place a microphone to a sound source determines a LOT of what sound you get. The wood of the bass is like that environment. If it's bright and reflective maple, for instance, the pickups "hear" those strings ringing brightly. If the wood is softer and mellower, the pickups "hear" those strings with certain freuencies muted by being absorbed through the wood. Pickups can't "create" the sound (at least not passive ones), they only transmit it.
    If you could A/B quickly two pickups in the same bass, it would be like hearing the same sound in two different rooms.
    Sound technicians, don't cruicify me on this analogy, I know very well that pickups are NOT microphones... that's why it's called an ANALOGY. And it works in my mind, at least.
  7. MichaelScott


    Jul 27, 2004
    Moorpark CA
    I want someone to do this with the fingerboard- not the body.
  8. Yeah, but to a large extent a J bass IS a P bass. I exaggerate, but they're made the same way, out of the same materials, with the same hardware. It's not a meaningful comparison--it's like switching PUs between two Js.

    A more meaningful comparison would be to take, say, an active neck-thru Fodera, then swap its electronics with those of a passive bolt-on J--and then see how much the Fodera sounds like the original J.

    I'd be the last person to say PUs/electronics have no effect--I think they have a very important effect. But I personally would distrust your 75/25 quantification. I think the totality of how an instrument is put together--not just woods, not just hardware, not just construction method, not just scale, but everything--has at least as much to do with the sound as the electronics. Just my $0.02.
  9. The most important factor to how a bass sounds is not the pickups, it's where the pickups are installed in relation to the scale length. The MM sweet spot, the J spots, etc.

    You put jazz pickups on a Pbass and it'll sound like a Pbass until you move the bridge pickup back to where a bridge pickup goes.

    All the other options are subtleties (single coil, hum, 42vs43 ga wire, etc etc) that can effect your sound, but don't create the overall sound your bass makes. It's all about how much of the string resonates on either side of the pickup that determines the tonal characteristic.
  10. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    ... like mic placement.
  11. Hey, I like the analogy!

    But what I think you've left out is that many if not most pickups are not particularly accurate "microphones." IOW, they have characteristic colorations. And you take these colorations with you when you move the PUs to a different instrument. It's indeed true that PUs don't really create sound; they just transmit it. However, they can transmit it selectively, or partially, or with over- or underemphasis--and thus, in that sense, could loosely be said to "create" a sound that differs from the original sound of the bass.
  12. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    .... Absolutely correct.
    Just like a good condenser mic as oppposed to an old SM-57... they all "color" the sound their own ways, which is GREAT....
  13. Yeah, your post wasn't there yet when I posted mine.
  14. No, I disagree. Sort of, anyway. The reason is that the relation of pickup placement to the string changes whenever you fret a note. The scale length is not the point--the *vibrating* or speaking length of the string is the point. For example, a PU that is at the equivalent of the 24th fret is 1/4th of the way away from the bridge along the vibrating length of the string *for an open note.* But once you fret a note at, say, the 8th fret, *the PU is no longer 1/4 of the way from the bridge.* The amouint of the string resonating on either side of the PU has changed. Thus, so has the tone. However, if you also have a PU at the equivalent of where the 32nd fret would be, THAT pickup would now be 1/4 of the way from the bridge for a note fretted at the 8th fret. And thus would have, by the reckoning you mentioned, a similar tone to a 24th fret PU reproducing an open string.

    So you simply can't say that a PU at a given placement always has a specific sound that is distinct from a PU placed at any other location. It's more the case that it has a set of different sounds, and a PU somewhere else has a somewhat different set of sounds, and there is a nontrivial amount of intersection between the two.

    BTW, there is most definitely a difference between a J PU and P PU at the same position on the same bass. I know this from direct experience.
  15. You're correct, didn't really think about it properly to phrase it better. I should have said scale length in relation to how close it is (with the resonating string) to a terminator or cut off point (ie, the nut, or the fret, or mainly the bridge) - but then it would't be as easy to say. The relationship between the spacing of the pickup to all of those factors (nut/fret, mainly bridge IMO) is more important than other factors, again, IMO.

    I've both disassembled and wired my own pickups and I don't really think there's much of a noteworthy difference between a P bass or J bass pickup. Yeah, you have more or less windings, or stronger magnets.. but again, those influence the sound (think darker or lighter shades of red), not 'create' the sound (red vs. sky blue).

    $.02, whateva..
  16. Offbase


    Mar 9, 2000
    It's the wood, overall mass structure of the body/neck, etc., more than the pups (although pups obviously DO change the sound, often drastically). Any musician worth his salt should be easily able to tell the dif between an ash or alder bodied P-Bass, and the same is generally true for a Jazz Bass.
  17. tekhna


    Nov 7, 2004

    Not true at all (IMHO). I would really love to get my hands on the recordings (maybe I will when I am home for break), but the only difference most musicians could discern reliably was when mahogany and maple were played back to back, the other four blended in completely, and ash/maple or ash/mahogany, no one could reliably tell the difference.
  18. Eldermike


    Jul 27, 2004
    IMHO, it's the neck first (including the nut), body second (including the bridge) and pickup last. A pickup should do it's job and turn the vibrations into electrical signals. If the vibrations are not true then the pickup can't fix that. If a string is moving it's being influenced by sympathetic movements of the wood, mostly in the neck. I think this is where the tone color comes from. A pickup should not color the sound it should just hear it.
  19. quallabone


    Aug 2, 2003
    Your hands are the most important tonal contributer.
  20. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    That's true if you're talking about style, but I disagree when it comes to tone. My tone differs depending on which bass I'm playing... particularly when I switch between, say, a passive Fender and an active Modulus.