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Setting pickup height drives me mad!

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by JimmyM, Mar 29, 2013.


  1. JimmyM

    JimmyM

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Whenever I get a new bass, install new P pickups, or change string gauges (just recently did all of these), it always takes me a month to get the heights set to where the notes all have equal amounts of volume and oomph. Until then, I find myself adjusting the heights during breaks in the action on gigs until I get it just right. The process ends up taking me about a month to get the pickups just right. I start with the typical pickup heights Fender ships their basses with, but it never works out quite right.

    So what am I missing here? What am I doing wrong to make this such a long process? What can I do to shorten it? Any tricks of the trade anyone would like to share?
     
  2. I plug my bass to a PC with Nuendo or Protools and check the G and E volume signal. In general E is louder, so i set the E side of the pup lower. I usually get balance aprox with 1 to 1.5 mm of difference, for example 3 mm of gap for the G string and 4.4 mm for the E...
     
  3. JimmyM

    JimmyM

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I should do that. I just worry that it'll scope out one way and sound completely different in a mix. But it's a good idea that I'll surely try later today...thanks!
     
  4. Toptube

    Toptube

    Feb 9, 2009
    Jimmy, do you also have trouble learning songs by ear? I'm just wondering because it seems like you might have a problem with connecting the sounds you hear, with the tangible object in front of you.

    maybe not, though.

    For me, setting pickup height usually takes about ten minutes. and that's accounting for wildly adjusting a new pickup, just to hear the tonal changes. Getting balanced sound at any given height isn't a big deal for me at all. :ninja:
     
  5. JimmyM

    JimmyM

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    The one thing I do better than most anyone I know is learning songs by ear ;) Up until it started deteriorating with age, I had perfect pitch. It just drives me nuts when one string is consistently not as loud or louder than the others, and it seems to take forever for me to make it click just right.
     
  6. bassbenj

    bassbenj

    Aug 11, 2009
    I think you already HAVE the "magic formula", Boomie. The problem as I find it is that to tweak something in you need to "live with it" for a while. I don't know what it is but you can try to adjust something perfect the first time and use every trick you know and it can sound just great to you at the time. But invariably after you've left it way for a while you start to get this feeling... no... that still isn't quite it! It really needs to go this way or that and the cycle starts over. How many cycles it takes just depends and how finely you want it all tuned.

    It's not just pickup height but many things seem to need to go through these cycles to get them right. It's like if you do too much adjusting your brain or ear gets fatigue and you don't hear the differences anymore. But after you ignore the whole thing for a while, you start to notice them again.
     
  7. JimmyM

    JimmyM

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Exactly right, Bongo. That's how it works for me.
     
  8. I agree, takes experience on the gig. I am not sure perfect balance of volume between strings, as measured by line level (i.e. using meter or nuendo, etc) is really what you want.

    Before trying to use nuendo or a meter/gauge through a recording interface, check another bass that you've already dialed in and see exactly if the strings really are perfectly balanced in output or not.

    I mean we all know that lower frequencies need more power to be "equal" in volume (apparent loudness), so it may mean that the lower strings actually need to be louder. On the other hand, higher strings will have to deal with more competition and masking from the rest of the band. Also, how do you use the higher register? Do you want upper-fret work to pop out of the mix more than the "money" range, or would you rather use the high notes as quieter options for tender passages in a song? So I see this as a bit of a tricky problem.
     
  9. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    I have the same issue as you, Jimmy. But in order to stop driving myself nuts I have implemented what I call an OCD-breaker. I limit myself to the initial setup plus three more adjustments (tweaks), then I force myself to forget about it.

    In my case I suspect part of the variability comes from my technique - I'm pretty consistent on how much I dig in on the E and A but less consistent on how much I dig in on the D and G. This may be the result of years of playing weak-G StingRays before I switched back to P basses. On the single-piece Ray pickup, when I adjusted the E and G to be equivalent volumes, the D was then way too loud. I took to balancing the E, A and D and then digging in harder on the G. When I switched to P bass, I at first tended to adjust the pickups so my G was quieter to compensate for my StingRay technique. After not playing the Ray for the past 5 years, I don't dig in on the G as much as I used to, but think I still have more variability on the thin strings than I do on the thick ones.

    Three adjustments and then force yourself to leave it alone! The amount you have to compensate through technique will be miniscule compared to what StingRay players do!

    IMHO, YMMV, etc.
     
  10. Technotitclan

    Technotitclan Lurking TB from work

    Mar 1, 2012
    Rochester, NY
    It drives me nuts too. Takes me about a week to two weeks though. However you may be pickier than I.
     
  11. I adjust periodically until I'm happy...which, sometimes is never.
    That said, it drives me nuts to realize the string volumes are not equal during a gig, and will adjust how I am playing to compensate but then forget to adjust it back home and at the next gig I'm cursing myself for not adjusting it at home.
     
  12. JimmyM

    JimmyM

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Good point. And yes, I want the upper notes to pop out. Or be a quieter option for tender passages in a song. I see no reason I can't have it all ;)

    I think maybe what I should do is combine your idea and maturanesa's idea and find a song or two without bass in it and cut a track for it, and then I can sit here and listen to it without distraction. And then at least if it works in here, then I can know for sure it's room modes or boundaries playing mind games with me on gigs. That's another major thing to consider. That totally used to drive me crazy in one joint I play a lot until I learned what they are and how to fix them.
     
  13. giacomini

    giacomini

    Dec 14, 2008
    Florianopolis - Brazil
    Endorsing: Copetti Guitars
    I've got the string balance OCD too.

    It takes me a while to get it where I like. Seems like when I get D and G right, E and A end up too weak. Then I think I fixed it and the "problem" goes the other way 'round. Usually I get to the perfect balance in a few days.

    I even swapped pickups once for DiMarzio Model P's just because they have adjustable pole pieces. [drooling Homer Simpson: hmmmmm, adjustable pole pieces...]
     
  14. pacojas

    pacojas "FYYA BUN"

    Oct 11, 2009
    MEXICANADAMERICA
    yeah JimmyM,.. i'm like that with string height! grrrrrrr...
     
  15. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    Advice: get some feeler gauges. When you get your string heights set exactly where you like them, measure them and write them down. While you're at it, capo your strings at the first fret, hold them down at the last fret, and measure and record the neck relief on the lowest and highest string. This will make it easier to perform a setup the next time you change strings. Even if your next set of strings are of different gauges, the neck relief and string height you prefer will stay the same. Intonation and pickup heights will change, of course.
     
  16. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    What I do is press the strings down on the last fret, and then adjust the pickups fairly close on the treble side, and a little lower on the bass side. Depending on the type of pickup, I set them as close as I can without the strings hitting them. I also set the neck pickup lower than the bridge.

    For Fender types I set them a little lower because of the pull of the magnets.

    But I just do it by eye. Then I listen to the bass plugged in and see if I have to lower of raise the bass side to get them more even. The whole thing takes me no more than 20 minutes tops.
     
  17. Ian_Flash

    Ian_Flash

    Jan 17, 2013
    Best rule for string height is: "Follow The Radius!" Make yourself a Radius Gauge out if plastic or similar material. Especially important with FB's of 12" Radius or less. Set your high string to the height you like using feeler gauges (as Scottbass said), then set the low string to your preference the same way. THEN: set your middle strings (2, 3, 4 etc.) so that all strings lightly touch the gauge when you rest it over or under the strings. Surprising how much too low or too high they feel w/o following the radius. We set or basses "Standard Action" at 5/64" High string and 1/8" low string... then go up or down from there. THEN: do the "Capo" thing to measure and record your relief. Remember too that big differences in relief could rais or lower the string height as well. As for PICKUPS? You can use Pro Tools, Vu-Meters and ears to get a good start... but variables in string height will change this as will different string gauges, construction and materials. If you play live.... don't forget that room acoustics can strengthen or attenuate frequencies REGARDLESS of their actual output. PATIENCE, MY SON!!
     
  18. Ian_Flash

    Ian_Flash

    Jan 17, 2013
    P.S. ADJUSTABLE POLE PIECES RULE!!!!!
     
  19. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Personally I have always found them to be next to useless. On pickups with adjustable poles, I keep them flush with the top of the pickup, or put a slight radius in.

    I think blades rule! ;)
     
  20. Ian_Flash

    Ian_Flash

    Jan 17, 2013
    Slight radius to follow the bridge radius is good. Flush is also good if string-to-string output is OK. As for blades??? Excellent for fixing or eliminating string-spacing alignment issues. I used to use the Joe Barden blade humbuckers.... still got one in an SG. KILLER!
     

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