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Replace preamp or pups first?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Ben Heard, Nov 14, 2010.

  1. ive got an ibanez sr500 and im looking to up the electronics on it (from the bartolini mk1 pups and pre) and eventually ill upgrade the pre and pups but i dont have the money now, so i want to know which i should start with. ive heard that the mk1 pups are good by themselves with a new pre so im leaning towards that, plus ill save money. i was thinking either an aguilar obp-3 or a bartolini ntmb for the pre and bartolini mk4cbcs for the pups. opinions?
  2. eastcoasteddie


    Mar 24, 2006
    I would go with a preamp first, that's what gives most of your tone in an active bass.
    I personally prefer Bartolini preamps over the aguilar, however most on here prefer aguilar...but it really is up to you on what sound you like.
    If you sort of like what your bass sounds like with the MK1 electronics, it might be a safer bet wo go with the NTMB preamp.
  3. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    Preamp first. Decide what tone centers you want for the bass and treble. And if getting 3 band also the tone center you want for it, if not getting sweepable mid control. Base your preamp purchase on who offers the center freq's you want.
  4. by tone center do you mean hertz? not familiar with the term. ive been leaning towards ntmb (bartolini) because as eddie said i like the sound of the bartolini pre in there now. do you know the difference tonally between an aguilar obp 3 and the bart ntmb? i heard aguilars more agressive and barts more earthy, is that right?


    Nov 25, 2007
    Change the pickups first because that's the first place your signal goes thru.
  6. I'm sorry but this couldn't be more wrong. In ANY bass, guitar or other instrument that requires pickups to produce a sound a reasonably audible (as in you dont have to press your ear to the instrument), the pickups create the majority of the tone that you hear, passive or active. Yes, preamps are all voiced differently but unless there's something really different about it, it won't have nearly the same impact on your tone as changing your pickups.

    The rule I go by is that if you want to change your sound, change the pickups. If you want to be able to tweak your sound more effectively, change the preamp.
  7. Every preamp sounds a little different and will sound a little different in every bass. Basing preamp choice on frequency centers won't do much for you because no one can tell you what a boost at XHz on a Bartolini NTMB would sound like versus a boost at that same frequency on a Aguilar OBP-3. Additionally a boost at certain frequencies on one bass may sound totally different on another. The treble on a Glockenklang bass preamp is set at 18kHz, higher than any treble center frequency I've ever heard of on a bass but they sound amazing in the right bass with or without using the treble control. My Fender has the same preamp and pickups as a Brubaker that I played but boosting the mids at 250Hz on my Fender sounds muddy while boosting them on the Brubaker sounds fantastic. Just pick what you think you will like the most and is within your budget. You really can't go wrong with any aftermarket preamp coming from the Bartolini MK1s anyway.

    Whenever you do swap out the preamp on your bass my vote goes to the Bartolini NTMB. They're relatively inexpensive, sound great and you can get a variety of configurations all prewired.
  8. danomite64


    Nov 16, 2004
    Tampa, Florida
    What exactly is wrong with the stock pickups/preamp? Tell me that, and it might help me understand what you're missing. Also, what amp are you using?
  9. Hugh Jass

    Hugh Jass

    Oct 10, 2008
    Canada eh
    I had a SR700 for a while (same electronics) and while I would usually agree with Kwesi regarding pups first, this pre is a bit different. I found that it had an extremely small range of adjustment where it didn't sound rubbish. If you got it just right it was a decent sounding bass but as soon as you started twiddling it would be thin and anemic, toneless and boomy or a harsh clank fest. I would say that the mids were shelved way too high. I have never played a bass which could sound harsh so easily. Couldn't warm up to the sound, it was just missing something. Sounded pretty good slapped though.

    I recall doing a search about MK1 electronics and the general consensus from those who had fiddled with them was that the pre should go first.

    The overall tone (pickups) seemed quite transparent but I (and others) found string to string volume balance to be an issue.

    My plan was to put Nordstrand big singles (direct drop in) and an aggie pre as the bass had superb build quality. Instead I ended up selling it to buy a new acoustic guitar.....
  10. Thunderthumbs73


    May 5, 2008
    You could play ANY bass of any price point, with any mods through a low-fi, bedroom use type of amp, and it's never going to sound even remotely as good as my $99 stock OLP through my nice amp. The point is that there may be nothing wrong with the pickups and electronics in your bass as-is that wouldn't sound infinitely better through a better amp. And conversely no modded bass, no matter how much you sink into it, is going to override the sonic limits of the amp it's running through. Look at your amp first!!!
  11. Hugh Jass

    Hugh Jass

    Oct 10, 2008
    Canada eh
    Played mine through an Ampeg SVT3-pro with Ampeg 410 HLF, Peavey VB-2 with SWR henry 8x10 and my practice amp (SWR Workingpro 12) and it just wasn't cutting it no matter what (for me).

    Keep in mind that the SR700 was maple VS mahogany for the 500. Logic would dictate that the maple probably upped that harshness a bit. YMMV and all that.
  12. A very good point. I can now say that the first "frikken sweet" piece of gear a bassist obtains should, without a doubt, be the amp especially if you're actively gigging.
  13. my amps great, its a peavey tnt115, its not a stack or anything as im not doing gigs that require anything too big but i dig its tone, plus i dont have the money for a new amp :ninja: i find the pickups/pre can sound too harsh too easily, and the lows are too muddy and loud, mids are nice/ok but the highs are too twangy and thin sounding. they dont seem to be that balanced (lows,mids,highs) as far as the volume spectrum goes. also it seems to be that most of what ive read about the mk1 electronics say the pre is the weak point, plus ill save money. bartolini ntmb would be my pick for the pre. plus i heard a few stories saying that somebody replaced the pups on a bass, the pups were bart mk5s, and they were sounding muddy and bad and that he needed to replace the pre because his stock pre wasnt "up to par" with the pups. opinions on the mk1 pups alone with a new pre?
  14. FunkMetalBass


    Aug 5, 2005
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses
    Only in the case of EMG-HZs do I ever recommend changing the pickups before the preamp.

    If you're lacking tonal variety, you wish you had a 3-band preamp, or you don't like the frequency centers of the preamp, change the preamp first.
    If you think the preamp is fine and works well, change the pickups.

    8 times out of 10, somebody with an active bass will be in the first category, which is why I recommend a preamp change first.

    However, I'm not a Bartolini fan, so I'd probably recommend you change all of it.
  15. Thunderthumbs73


    May 5, 2008
    Hmmm, a bass that just doesn't sound good through a bunch of different amps? I believe you. Really. Might have to find one of these, somehow, and see if I (not talking about my playing/ability versus yours) can get a good sound out of one of these from my gear. I kinda like the challenge, but little $$$ to throw around at the moment.

  16. stiles72


    Mar 20, 2009
    Albany IL
    I'd leave it as is -

    Or else wait until a $100 - $200 Japanese SR-800 with the vari-mid comes up on Ebay to steal the Vari-mid Preamp from.
  17. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    Yes diff preamps have their own voice. Its same thing with high end audio speakers. B&W, Theil, Monitor Audio, etc with the same cd played thru them will sound a little diff thru each. However there is specific frequency ranges which have diff effect on a sounds qaulity. For example theres a specific area of the midrange which when accented causes what ussually referred to s nassally sound. Just as theres a part of the bass spectrum that most gives that thumpy boomy muddy qaulity to bass. Accent or diminish an area of upper treble and human voices thru a speaker system will sound more lifelike in person there. Or less so because of overtones seldom heard thru low end budget speakers. Theres also a part of the treble range humans are specifically very sensitive to which when boosted creates annoyance and irritating treblyness. Take a 20 band eq and play full spectrum orchestra music that includes a prog rock band. With care you can make the mid budget speaker system sound more like high end audio one. And you can also learn what the various areas of bass, midrange, and treble effect. On indiviudal instruments and common traits held by various instruments found within a given range of frequencies. The ideal is to use a bass whose woods and pups create a great voice for you passive. The active eq just is added for two things.

    1. That change to the sound created by conversion to HiZ is a desired one. Tone controls left at flat, no boost, no cut.
    2. Your bass control either helps you dial out room booomyness, or something else boosted or cut useful to you because of how that freq, say 40hz is nicer center for you rather then 120 hz. Even when your playing the D or G string. Your mid control might be to add in some nassallyness if your into that, or to cut thru the mix better cause well after all that is the common midrange freq specified for that. Or you prefer a part of the midrange to boost now and then that more relates to growl. Treble cause you either want to use it for benefit to sound in overly hard venues that accent that treble range (2k-4k that humans are extra sensitive to) which annoys easilly when dominate. Or to accent or cut that higher area of treble for reason. This reason might relate to a part of the human voice overtone range that ussually helps you tell wether your listening to a person in person, or simply over a common speaker system. Which also has an interesting effect on bass guitar voice btw. Or perhaps your going for something else related to overtone content. With the glocks really high treble center your more doing the former. With my own preferred lower setting of 6khz I'm useing the same part of the sound spectrum Id use with synthesizer piano to give it more acoustic piano type overtone accent.

    Heres a useful freq chart. It can help one learn what areas of sound spectrum for example cause various things. http://www.independentrecording.net/irn/resources/freqchart/main_display.htm
  18. I'm not discrediting the ability for a preamp to tailor tone to a specific situation but how many "Average-Joe" bassists do you know actually take that much info into account. Would it be helpful? Absolutely! But, realistically people are more likely to choose what they like the sound of as opposed to what might work for them in a more "scientific" sense. Besides with a 3 band on-board EQ you can't hope to change the world and you shouldn't have to. The way I see it, on-board EQs should be left to do small tone tweaks to fit the music better, not shape your sound to match the room. Most people would do that with the EQ on their amp or some other kind of more powerful, more capable EQ. All that said most on-boards stick around the similar center frequencies anyway.
  19. MNAirHead

    MNAirHead Supporting Member

    In my meager experience.. preamps dial in the sound more than the pickups.. this assumes the pickups were quality to begin with.

    I've done swaps many times.. the preamp first is always the way I'd go.. 90% of the time this is the missing piece.
  20. ArmyHawk


    Jul 20, 2009
    New England
    Hey I recently swapped out the electronics on my '09 SR600 which used to have the Mk1 setup that you have. I also have a Peavy TNT115 amp so my sound is pretty much identical to what you're working with.

    Mk1 Pickups are far from lousy, but they are also not the same as US made barts. I did a little research on this and other forums and found that the Mk1 pickups are essentially a licensed Ibanez knockoff. They're purposely made a little different so they aren't as hot as regular barts.

    I ended up going with bartolini Mk5 soap bars and the bart NTBM 3 band EQ. (Bestbassgear.com has everything you need.) In terms of tone I can tell you that it was like night and day over the stock setup. However, I did both at the same time so IDK if it was the preamp, the pickups, or both that made the difference.

    Anyways, this was my first guitar electronics project so I learned quite a bit... if you have any questions I'd be happy to help.

    So yeah, feel free to post or pm me any questions about the project.

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