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Solid mounted bass pickup?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by bassdude51, Aug 27, 2012.

  1. bassdude51

    bassdude51 Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    How do I ask this question?.................On bass guitars, pickups are usually mounted loosely with screws, sponge foam or wire springs so that they can be adjusted for height, right?

    When we pinch the pickup with our fingers, it can be wiggled quite easily.

    What would be the sonic effect if the bass pickups could be solidly mounted into the body of the bass? I mean like wrenched down solid and tight?

    The reason why I ask is because with turntable tone arms and needles/cartridges (which is also a pickup), they are recommended to be extremely tightly bolted down to the tone arm for THE BEST PERFORMANCE! This is an audiophile fact!

    Wouldn't a bolted down rock solid bass guitar pickup also work best?

    Would love to hear some expert comments!
  2. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    Audiophile fact? That's a good one. Here listen to this clip and tell me how much oxygen is in this copper....

    I am sure that if a phono cartridge is very loosely mounted to the tone arm there will be issues. But a tone arm is so light weight and so well balanced on low friction pivots that calling the mounting of a phono cartridge "rock solid" is nonsense. When it comes to sensing the vibrations produced by the grooves in a record the only thing the little pickup lever that holds the needle is working against is the inertial mass of the rest of the pickup and tone arm. The tone arm itself is exceedingly free moving, as it must be to follow the undulations in the record and to track the groove in the record.

    The standard mounting of a guitar pickup is very much closer to "rock solid" than a phono pickup arm is. Even so I would think that true believers in "tone woods" would rigidly mount their guitar pickups because it is the relative motion between string and pickup that ultimately produces the tone of the guitar. Interposing a piece of foam rubber between the body vibrations produced by your precious tone wood and the pickup is a tonal disaster, one would think. I mean it is a compliant and lossy material made for a completely different purpose and probably purchased from the lowest bidder. At least I have yet to hear any bass owner or manufacturer singing the praises of their "tone foam". A bad piece of foam should totally negate any beneficial effect of tone woods and there is no reason to think that random bits of window insulating foam would have good tonal effects on a guitar pickup.

    So, I suspect that even though the mounting system could potentially be a disaster, the vibrations carried through the body of the guitar to the pickup location are too small to make that an issue. And therefore most likely all the tone wood does for you is look pretty. Unless you paint it.

    Ken :bag:
  3. TheEmptyCell

    TheEmptyCell Bearded Dingwall Enthusiast Banned SUSPENDED

    If your pickups are properly potted, they should be sealed against micro phonics, so they won't be picking up anything but the vibration of your metal strings. If you had some extra metal bits installed in the body for whatever reason (some audiophile bulls**t maybe), then I could see epoxying your pickups into place.

    The only reason I'd put anything more solid than springs, foam or surgical tubing under the pickups is if you found the absolute, perfect height for the pickups, and wanted them to never, ever move.

    For fun, take your pickups out of your bass and hold them over your strings, same height was it would be if it was under your strings. Then dangle from a rope. Then a piece of twine. Try several types. Then use some floss. Build a complex stainless steel thingamajig to hold them there if you'd like. As long as the distance from pickup to string doesn't change, they'll sound the same.
  4. iJazz


    Jan 9, 2012
    Sussex, WI
    Seems to me that you have perhaps misinterpreted the OP's point. I read it that he is suggesting that a cartridge shell is always solid to the tone arm itself, not the mounting of the arm to the base. Energy loss would occur with a loose mount at the point of contact between the cart and the arm.

    Loving your logic regarding tone wood and pup mounting. I think, though, that the tone wood advocates would say that the vibe value of the wood affects the strings through the bridge saddle and nut contact points of the string, not in affecting how the pup takes vibration energy through its mounting point to the body.

    The tone arm analogy is an interesting idea though. Is the material the arm is made of generally held by snooty audiophiles to affect the reproduced tonal value by any means other than absolute rigidity, weight, and/or tracking accuracy? Is there a discernible difference in a turntable with different arm materials, all else being equal?

    iJazz - Waiting for "ToneFoam" to show up on eBay any day now.
  5. bassdude51

    bassdude51 Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    Wow! I didn't mean to pose myself as an "audiophile, turntable, tone arm, needle cartridge snob".

    Much to my surprise, I've read several articles on how energy and fidelity can be lost when a cartridge is not firmly mounted down to a phono arm. I simply wanted to know if the same might be true with bass guitar pickups (One high end cartridge maker makes a 3 point mount instead of the typical 2 Which I could never afford to buy!)

    I think that we all know that magnets can effect string vibration. I mean like if a guitar or bass has too many pickups, the pull of the magnets can affect sustain or (I've read.) intonation. I guess this can happen if the pickup is too close to the strings too.

    So, if the magnets can effect the strings then maybe the strings also can vibrate the whole mounted pickup assembly and cause energy loss to a loosely mounted pickup.

    I don't know! That's why I posted this question on TB. Snotty remarks so far, geeezzzsss!

    Yeah, I'd like to experiment with solidly mounting a bass pickup so that it is firmly against wood (after finding the correct height). Maybe it'll make a 5% difference in sound. What's wrong with that? Many of us have no problem spending over $2 grand for a boutique bass for about 5% to 10% better sound.

    Perhaps I should not have compared a bass pickup to to an audiophile tonearm and cartridge. Is there any difference between an audiophile and bassaphile?

    By the way, my 1966 Fender P Bass sounds just fine with it's "tone foam" but could it sound better?

  6. A phono pickup is as much a mechanical device as electrical. So yes, mechanics count in a phono pickup.
    To answer the question, I've done it and it made no difference that I could discern.
  7. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Theoretically, yes, a solid immovable mount will more faithfully capture and transmit the string's motion.

    In practice, it's really not an issue. And even if it were, it would be impossible to quantify, given all of the other factors in play (body/neck joint, wood resonances, pickup non-linearities, bridge/nut grooves, etc.)
  8. theretheyare


    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification
    I think it is a good question - in fact, I have a bass (a Linc, it's the one in my avatar) that is constructed as you describe (as I understand it). The pickups are mounted directly on top of wood, and therefore are not supposed to be adjusted in height. I can say my bass is a very good sounding bass - while passive, the sound is very alive and full-bodied. http://lincluthier.net/bass2.html . But to what extent that pickup mounting contributes to the tone, I can't say - (it would require testing on the exact same instrument)
  9. mech

    mech Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2008
    Meridian, MS, USA
    Being somewhat of an audiophile back in the day I agree that the tone arm and cartridge mounting system should introduce the lowest amount of vibration as possible into the system. Any tone arm or cartridge vibration that acts on the needle as it vibrates while tracking the grooves will create resultants that degrade reproduction of the sound.

    As far as bass pickups, there are many other variables that will affect the sound more while playing unless the PUs are flopping around.

  10. bassdude51

    bassdude51 Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    Thank-you so much for your comment. I'd love to hear a Linc! Says something if their pickups are solidly mounted and in a permanet way, non-adjustable. Cheers!
  11. bassdude51

    bassdude51 Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    Direct comment from Linc Luthier's website about their basses...................."Pickups are mounted directly to the body of the instrument to aid in transferring all of the sound"
  12. FunkMetalBass


    Aug 5, 2005
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses
    No offense to luthiers, but often their word comes from folklore and misinformation passed down from their mentors and not from scientific evidence. Take their words on the materials sciences with a grain or two of salt.

    That being said, while this is probably true (some response above even mentioned it), the difference is quite likely very negligible if your pickup is properly potted and sealed.
  13. preside


    Aug 7, 2010
    Scottsdale Az
    Bassdude , if you want to try this out why not build some wood shims that fit your p/u cavity.
    That should give you some idea as to how well the idea works. Oh yea and Luthiers , the guys that actually build the instruments we play, don't trust em (sarcasam intended) everyone knows rose wood and maple boards sound the same (warning more sarcasm)
  14. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    No, not at all. I am just pointing out that no matter how rigidly the cartridge is screwed into the tone arm it is still remarkably free to move around in space. Certainly you want the cartridge to be attached tightly to the tone arm because differential movement between them could cause trouble. But extremely tight? I don't think it is even possible to get extremely tight out of screws as small as those in a tone arm.

    Tone wood advocates say all kinds of things, as do luthiers trying to sell you on their product, as do articles found in magazines or on the web. Unless someone can explain the physics to me and has measurements to prove that it is as significant as they say it is, I just file it all in the "probably not true" category until more evidence comes in. I also look for inconsistencies in the claims. Everyone makes all kinds of claims about how string energy is transmitted to various and sundry parts of the bass and from there all kinds of conclusions are asserted. But hardly a one acknowledges that it is only the differential motion between pickup and string that generates the signal that actually leaves the output jack. If any of them actually had this fundamental fact clearly planted in their understanding we would already be regaled with claims and counter claims about tone foams, and tight versus extremely tight, versus ultra-tight solid mounting schemes, etc. Since we do not have that I do not believe that any of them really knows what they are talking about.

    Furthermore every bass that is ever used is subjected to the indignity of being held against a variety of beer bellies, and fretted by a variety of sausage like fingers. The human body has all the resonant finesse of a bean bag chair. None of these people ever acknowledge that these interactions with the human being could ever have even the slightest effect on their tone woods. But people who actually have to design real resonant devices know that the mounting and housing details are supremely important. If there were any real resonance going on things like the shape of the body and the locations of the strap buttons would be critical. But somehow it is only the wood and the secret mojo sauce that the luthier puts into the bass that matters.

    But you don't have to trust my opinion. Next time you play your bass pluck an open string, any one will do. Now lightly hold a finger of your fretting hand against that string and keep plucking it as you move that finger up and down the string. Notice any difference? Almost all of you already know what I am talking about. A guitar string is a truly resonant system like many others found in music, science, and engineering. It is very sensitive to the effects of a human finger which is a very effective damper. Sometimes it damps out every sound but if it is in the right location it will allow the open string harmonic with a motional node at that location to ring through and very purely since the odd order modes are damped. But somehow, magically, none of this happens with tone woods??

    If tone woods had very much effect on the final tone then how you hold the bass would have as much effect as how you hold your finger against an open string. Take your tone wood bass, pluck an open string while holding the palm of your fretting hand against the back of the neck and moving it up and down the neck. Any change? Pluck an open string and while it sustains hold your plucking hand against the body and move it around. Any change? This is the kind of evidence I would need to believe that tone woods matter. And if tone woods don't matter then there is probably no reason to believe that the pickup mounting method matters either. I don't consider the tone wood arguments to be disproved, just unproved, so show me the evidence.

  15. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    I agree. Pickups work by sensing the movement of the strings. There should be no transference of mechanical vibrations. That would mean your pickups are microphonic.

    If the pickups are able to vibrate, either by not having enough foam under them, or with guitar humbuckers by being lose in the mounting ring, that can cause feedback and squealing, and it's possible that if the pickup is moving from the vibration of the strings, it might be moving in the opposite direction. That might cause a loss of some tone because of phase differences.

    A pickup does not need to be mounted to the bass at all. If you hold one over the strings it will sound exactly the same as screwed to the body.
  16. theretheyare


    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification
    I'll be recording with it this weekend -maybe i'll post something if it turns out nice. In the meantime, this recorded tone to me sounds pretty typical of what a linc sounds like (i have no idea who this is, but he plays great) ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&NR=1&v=mksJtawPnVE
  17. ddnidd1

    ddnidd1 Supporting Member

    It also 'says something' that almost nobody else mounts pickups this way.
  18. TheEmptyCell

    TheEmptyCell Bearded Dingwall Enthusiast Banned SUSPENDED

    I'm confuse what a %-based 'improvement' in tone is. How do you quantify something personal and unquantifiable with a percent? *** does that honestly mean? Do you honestly think, "Wow, my <insert high end luthier bass> sounds <#>% better than my old SX?"

    Tone is not quantifiable like this. It's moot to even argue about the % difference in tone between one thing and another.
  19. FunkMetalBass


    Aug 5, 2005
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses
    It could be quantifiable, but would be extremely convoluted (having to consider every frequency and response). For example, the crux of my ideal tone consists of a 2dB peak at 650Hz, and my old pickups only produce a 0.5 dB peak there. My new pickups produce a 0.75 dB peak at 650Hz, so I would call that a 50%* improvement in tone.

    *note: improvement is based off of a linear scale, not a logarithmic scale, in an attempt order to confuse others
  20. ddnidd1

    ddnidd1 Supporting Member

    If that very narrow criterion is all it takes to get a significant, quantifiable improvement in tone, then rather than swapping out pickups buy a bargain basement parametric equalizer.

    Linear scale or not.

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