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Replacing stock pickups in a cheap bass - how much will your tone improve?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Thunder Pulse, Jun 4, 2007.

  1. Thunder Pulse

    Thunder Pulse

    May 12, 2007
    First let me define cheap. I don't mean the lowest of the low, the brand names you can't remember that you see on eBay that sell for $40 brand new. Not those.

    I mean the cheap basses from well known manufacturers, like Fender's cheapest P-bass as compared to their top of the line MIA P-bass, or Ibanez's entry level Soundgear as compared to their most expensive ones. What makes the entry level versions of these basses 'inferior' to their more expensive big brothers? Is it the wood? The hardware? The electronics? Probably a combination of all of them, but which plays the biggest part?

    Let me get specific. I have an Ibanez CT series 4-string. I think they only made these for a couple years back in '92-93 and I really don't know much about them. They seem kind of like a poor man's Soundgear. I'm the original owner. It stays in tune, it looks nice, it feels nice, it plays nice.... but sounds very blah. It has a P/J pickup configuration, with Ibanez XP1 & XJ1 pickups. Mine is black like the one pictured at the top but with pickups like the ones on the red & white basses at the bottom.


    How much of an improvement in sound would I get if I replaced the stock pickups with something pretty nice? Some of you may recognize the name Sean Andrews. I found him by accident on YouTube but I've seen his name mentioned on these forums a few times as well. He has a Soundgear SR506 with Bartolini MK1 pickups, and the sound on his clips in my opinion is fantastic, there's just a lot of authority and solidness to his low notes on the E & A strings. Listen to the beginning of Rush's 'Circumstances' to hear what I mean:


    The funny thing is, as good as I think his tone is, I've actually read some negative opinions of the MK1 pickups, saying they're nothing special and not even Bartolinis, but "Bartolini licensed". I sent him a message through YouTube to see if he's using the stock pickups or if he replaced them with "real" Bartolinis but I haven't heard back from him yet.

    In the meantime, what do you think?
  2. WingKL


    May 12, 2007
    I find strings can affect tone more than pickups. If you haven't tried other strings, adjusted your pickup heights and tried other amps/cabs, you may want to do that before taking your bass apart. You'd be surprised how good a blah sounding bass can get with the right strings, setup and amplification. A lot of amps out there suck.
  3. Dang. I've been refurbishing guitars for a little while now and I find pick ups can breath new life into lesser priced equipment. I recently repainted and restored a trashed out guitar (Yamaha) that was probably worth $200 new. The thing just roars now - and looks like an expensive one.

    The key is to find a pick up that suits your style and the perceived sound you're looking for. Be particular about the wiring and you'll kill any interference. Read the manufactures websites and recommendations. Different pick ups have different purposes - you don't need to be technical - they'll say deep low end, soft high etc. Look at your style and go for it.

    If you don't want to risk the money on new pick ups, try the music shop - look for guitars with the pick ups that interest you and give them a whirl.
  4. ack

    ack Why Can't We All Get Along?

    Nov 19, 2006
    Somewhere near Raleigh
    I am just now completing a project very similar to what you're talking about. This was my first attempt at anything like this.

    I took a Brownsville 4-string that has a great feel but a less than mediocre performance and replaced (in order): the pickups, pots, bridge, tuners and finally strings.

    I really wanted to see what the bass was producing at each stage. I recorded the original sound through a Zoom 4-track prior to cannibalizing this $150 bass so I could compare apples-to-apples.

    I swapped out the stock Brownsville p/j passive set with new EMG Select p/j passive pickups. Not high-end stuff, but I put the same strings back on (Rotosound 77's) and noticed a distinct difference . Much cleaner sound and more responsive to my mediocre playing.

    I changed out the P pickup pot with a new 250k pot. Most of the crackling and static was now gone. At this point, it sounded like a different bass. Like I said before, this bass is inexpensive, but has a great feel/weight to it, and the neck is a perfect fit for me.

    I put on a Schaller roller bridge and didn't notice too much of a difference in the sound, but the saddles are very stable compared to the original and the Schaller has a removable
    1/8" shim plate that allowed me to lower the action...and it's chrome (instead of the black original) and it looks a million times better.

    I also replaced the orig black (plastic/metal) sealed tuners with chrome grover tuners. Believe it or not, I noticed a real difference in the sustain after this change out. The sound was still great, but it seemed to ring differently.

    I then put on a set of GHS Bass Boomers and other than a few odds and ends (strap locks, chrome knobs, etc), I was done. I cannot put this bass down now. I love it. I haven't touched my G&L in 2 weeks.

    I do need to replace the other 3 pots and the output jack - I had only done the neck pickup Volume pot because I was a bit worried about ruining everything with my soldering capabilities.

    Hope this helps a bit,

  5. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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