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PUP Characteristics?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Fenwick, Jan 2, 2013.

  1. Fenwick


    Dec 9, 2012
    OK, so I've been playing bass for awhile, but I've slept on PUP knowledge til recently. I'm looking for some basic sonic characteristics of PUPs I'm less familiar with. I'll start with what little I think I know and hopefully you guys can correct me and/or fill in the blanks. I realize preamps and placement will complicate sonic qualities so lets just stick with the PUPs themselves.

    Single coil - (the Jazz pup) adjs like thin, nasal, and honky come to mind. It has more of a upper mid freq focus.

    Split coil - (the Precision pup) adjs like round, fat, thick and warm come to mind. Focused in the lower-mid range.

    Alright, here is where I think my knowledge is really lacking -

    Humbucking -I understand that it cancels the hum associated with single coils, but what about the sonic characteristics? Is this even a type of pickup unto itself, or is it a function that can be applied to any style of pickup?

    Dual coil - ???

    Peizo - I know they are usually fixed in the bridge, so I'm thinking they tend to have a thinner, more nasal sound comparable to a single coil, but I'm just reaching here...

    Anything else I'm missing? Please & thanks!
  2. All humcancelling pickups are dual coil.

    It is very difficult to generalize a humbucker, because all it means is that there are two coils. That could be of any winding, wire, magnets, pole piece configuration, aperture, etc.
  3. Fenwick


    Dec 9, 2012
    So I've identified and characterized all the (common) types of pickups accurately and am confused about DCs then?

    Do you mean that a DC could have either a J or a P-type sound?
    Tell me how winding effects the PUP's sound please!
    Exposed pole pieces make the PUPs more... sensitive??
  4. Dual coil just means absolutely any type of magnetic pickup with two coils.

    Exposing or covering the pole pieces does not influence the magnetic field unless you are using a ferrous metal cover, in which case, people usually say the tone is warmer with a cover. With plastic and many types of wood, there is no difference, though there are two factors to consider. Firstly, if the cover is thick, the coils and magnets may be further away from the strings, with the pickup at the same height. Second, some players hit the pole pieces when they play, and that causes noises in exposed-pole pickups that you don't hear with covered-pole pickups.
  5. Fenwick


    Dec 9, 2012
    Thanks for that, I'd heard issues about 'clicking' with exposed pole pieces, but chalk that up to technique.

    So essentially, there are only really two identifiable sonic characteristics for PUPs, one being the J (and its variations) and the other a P (and its variations)? The other factors mentioned (pole pieces, winding) seem less fundamental than the configuration of coils.
  6. The common configurations are single coil, dual coil and split coil. Nearly all magnetic pickups fit into one of these categories, but less commonly you will find other things like quad coil pickups. I would say that other factors make a bigger difference than this. (Except for the issue of humcancellation.) For instance, many pickup manufacturers are offering split coil J pickups voiced to sound like vintage single coils.
  7. Fenwick


    Dec 9, 2012
    Damn, frustrating/confusing. But thanks for the info!
  8. dave2


    Feb 10, 2007
    Interesting thread as I am considering replacing the MEC J style pickups on a Warwick Thumb 5 string. I am thinking I might buy Delano or Nordstrands but not which manufacture or which of their many choices.

    Can someone discuss split coil pickups? I saw these on the Nordstrand site. What about their pickups that are wired in series or in parallel?

    Thanks in advance and happy new year!

  9. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Now the reason for the difference in tone between the two is the coil shape, and the amount of wire wound on each one.

    A Jazz bass pickup is tall and rather thin. A P bass has wide squat coils, and a lot more wire wound on it.

    Guild used to make a bass with single coils that looked a lot like one half of a P bass pickup. And they had a fatter tone than a J.

    All humbuckers, and hum canceling pickups are dual coil pickups. You need two coils to cancel the hum. What differs is the coil arrangement.

    The most common is like a guitar humbucker, or Musicman, or any number of dual coil soapbars. There are two parallel coils under the strings. Because the strings are sensed by both coils, the tone is usually fatter, and some of the top end is canceled out. Very low wind humbuckers can sound very bright though, but not as bright as a single coil.

    The next kind is the split coil, like a P bass, or like some hum canceling Js. They have the two coils next to each other in a row, to the strings are only sensed by one coil, and never both. They can sound just like a single coil, but often have higher inductance from having two coils in series, and are sometimes fatter sounding.

    The third most common type is the stacked humbucker. Here you have one coil on top of the other. The top coil senses the strings, and the bottom coil mostly just cancels hum. But it also senses the low frequencies of the strings, and cancels out low end. So there are often over wound to stop them from sounding thin and weak.

    A less common type of humbucker, that's becoming more common, is the sidewinder. Here the two coils are laying on their side facing each other. There is only a single set of poles or a blade in the middle, so it senses strings just like a single coil. They have a little less output, but otherwise sound like single coils.

    The last one, piezo transducers are crystals that when flexed produce voltage. You see them used in disposable lighters. They are also used for tweeters.

    They sit under the bridge and pick up the vibrations of the strings. They have a very high impedance, so they need to be pre-amped or they sound thin and honky.
  10. abemo


    Feb 27, 2012
    Arvada, co
    The other thing that has a major effect on tone is whether the coils are wired in series or parallel. Wiring in series basically means both coils have a hot and a ground which both send signals to the output jack, so you have two independant signals which are blended together through the wiring. Series wiring means the hot from one coil is tied to the ground of the other. This essentially ties both coils together to be used as a single unit.

    Generally speaking, j-style pups are wired in series, and blended with either two independant volume knobs or a single blend knob. This tends to sound thinner, with clearer highs. An s-1 switch (which switches the pups from series wiring to parallel and back again) is a common mod for these, and produces a fatter, deeper tone.

    P-style, or classic split coil pups are generally wired in series, which contributes to the thicker, fatter sound.

    Dual-coils (humbuckers) can be wired either way, and often have coil selector switches so a player can use several wiring layouts. Musicman humbuckers (if I recall) are generally speaking wired parallel. They are also set up with two coils, each coil has its own magnet and pole pieces (this goes for any humbucker that has two rows of polepieces. mudbuckers (gibson sidewinders) are usually in series (double check me on that, I've never gotten too deeply into mudbuckers), and are set up with two coils using the same magnet and polepieces. Most humbuckers have options to switch from series to parallel or even turn off one coil to make them singles, especially if two humbuckers are used.
  11. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    You have those backwards. J pickups are wired in parallel, which is when both coils have their own ground and hot connection.

    You can make two humbuckers, one wired up in series, and one in parallel, and make them sound the same. It all depends on how much wire you wind on each coil. So series or parallel connections don't affect the tone directly.

    Same with wiring the two pickups on a Jazz in series. If you wind them with half the amount of windings as usual, and then wire them in series, they will sound very close if not identical to two parallel pickups.
  12. Fenwick


    Dec 9, 2012
    That helps big time. Thanks guys!