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when a preamp or pickup replacement alone is sufficient?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Dincrest, Feb 28, 2005.


  1. Dincrest

    Dincrest

    Sep 27, 2004
    New Jersey
    Firstly, I apologize if this topic has been covered already. I tried doing a search, but came out with little since, well, I seem to be rather awful at picking the proper search terms.

    Anyway, here's the question: Many folks replace the pickups in their basses to EMG, Bartolini, Duncan, Fralin, etc. to improve the bass's tone right? Many folks may also switch out the preamp for an Aguilar, Demeter, Sadowsky, etc.

    I hear sometimes that in many cases the stock pickups on a bass are fine, but could benefit from a different preamp. Or I sometimes hear that a particular stock preamp may be a poor match with the stock pickups. For example, I've heard people say that the MEC pickups in Warwicks are killer when mated to a different preamp than the Warwick stock one, hence one may not need to replace everything.

    In a nutshell, sometimes juse replacing ONE of the two elements (pickups OR preamp) is what will really bring out the beauty in the bass. There are many who say, for example, that replacing the pickups may only have a marginal effect on your bass's sound, but a preamp is what makes a bigger difference.

    So my question is this: Are there any hints to keep in mind as to whether it's the preamp in the bass that's fine and that it could work better with different pickups, or vice versa (where the pickups are fine, but a different preamp is what will do the trick?)

    While I would think something like this might help those with the general query and different basses, I'll give the skinny on my bass:

    It's a Samick Fairlane 6, alder body, maple neck, rosewood board. The pickups are stock soapbars and the preamp is blend, volume, bass, treble. I'm able to coax nice warm, fat, vintagey tones from the bass, but no matter what I do, I can't really get more modern, hi-fi tones. My housemate has a Yamaha BB fiver with dual stock soapbars, 2 band active EQ (stock preamp), same woods (alder body, maple neck, rosewood board) and I'm able to coax a nice modern hi-fi tone out of that one. Oh yeah, amp is an Ashdown MagC210 combo.
     
  2. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    I'd generally try and get pickups that get as close as possible to the tone I want , and have a preamp to take me the rest of the way. I want the basic tone to be as good as possible

    So, assuming you have an active / passive bypass put it in passive mode and play with the sound. What do you like about it? What don't you like about it? The difference in tone may be as simple as different strings.

    Pickup sound characteristics vary between mfr/make etc. Also, playing style, strings etc. For example, the most common bart jazz pickups have a somewhat muted high end. Now, if you want more high end you could add treble on the preamp but chances are that won't sound as good as choosing a pickup which has a more open high end in the first place.

    If you like the sound of your pickups in passive mode, but can't make adjustments in active mode to get a sound you want, then think about what is missing from your preamp? Is the boost too benign/too much? Is it 2 band where you want 3 band? Or vice versa. Does the treble boost sound harsh?

    Once you've done those things, you have a better idea of what you want to change. Then you can start narrowing down the range of pickups / preamps.

    I can't offer too many specifics on your actual bass, but maybe your friend has active pickups and you have passive pickups? EMG active pickups are generally considered to give a more hifi tone. Are you using the same strings? i.e is he using steels and you're using nickels?
     
  3. JPJ

    JPJ

    Apr 21, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    David makes some very good points...as usual. :D

    Both pickups and the preamp will impact the tone of your bass, but there are simply too many varriables to try to conclusively determine which has more of an impact in any given scenario or for any given model or make of bass. However, the pickups tend to color tone more, which is really their function, even though that might not have been the original intent. While a pickup is truely a utilitarian tool....to convert string vibration to a signal that can be amplified, it also serves to color that signal in a way that is pleasing to the ear.

    A preamp, on the other hand, is really a tone-shaping "tool" and not somuch a creator of tone...in most instances (and in my opinion). With some exceptions (and it important to understand that there are preamps that to heavily color and impact tone), most preamp manufacturers try to develop preamps that are as neutral as possible. The preamp is there to allow you to boost and/or cut specificfrequencies, or a range of frequencies, to suit your playing style, the sound or dymanics of the room, etc. For the most part, the preamp isn't a primary contributor to tone (like pickups, wood, etc.), it's more of a secondary contributor....more to shape, mold, etc. In more instances, and on most basses, I think that you would notice more of a tonal impact by changing pickups than you would by changing preamps. That's not to minimalize the impact of a preamp on tone, but more to quantify it.
     
  4. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    Yup, Jay, that's what I was trying to say (only you said it better).
     
  5. JPJ

    JPJ

    Apr 21, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    :D

    Judging by the length of our posts, I'm sure we've said it , whatever it is! :p
     
  6. Funky Doctor

    Funky Doctor

    Aug 28, 2003
    Australia
    OK, having said that, how do you think Bartolini pickups (G6 in particular) would go for a slap tone paired up with an NTMB preamp? I am looking to get a killer slap tone out of my Yamaha TRB6-P but the stock preamp is honestly poo, seriously, the crappest thing ever, and the Lane Poor pickups in it seem to midrangey to get a good slap tone. What do you think?
     
  7. msquared

    msquared

    Sep 19, 2004
    Kansas City
    If you're getting what you think are good vintage tones, my guess is that you need a different preamp. I generally play in passive mode, but my bass has got a Bart NTMB-918F pre installed. I can't say it's the best since my experience with (and care for) preamps is somewhat limited, but it works well for me when I need it. Regardless of what you get, make sure you shoot for a preamp that will do 18v. The difference is remarkable.

    Regarding midrangey tone: It could be that your bass is set up to work well primarily in a live situation. Mid boosting tends to be what gets you to cut through. So don't forget that the fantastic mid-scooped slap tone you dial in outside of practice isn't going to necessarily translate well in a full band setting.
     
  8. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    I have no experience with Bart g6 pickups, sorry. Bart do all sorts of different windings, the J's are a bit high end shy by default, the quad coil soapbars more open sounding.
     
  9. Dincrest

    Dincrest

    Sep 27, 2004
    New Jersey
    Thanks for the responses, all, and now I have some food for thought to think about when I play.

    My bass does not have a passive bypass. I generally play with the blend centered and the EQ flat. I usually play through my amp with the amp's EQ bypassed, but tweak it to fit the room. Though, at heart, I'm something of a low-maint guy who doesn't really like tweaking tons of knobs. And I do like the flexibility of onboard EQ on my bass.

    That "default" tone I get has a good bottom and great mids. I like mids. It's a tone I can "feel" and different touches (i.e. whether I use straight fingerstyle or thumbstyle, or play closer to the neck) elicit great variations on that default sound.

    When I dial in the bridge pickup alone, it gets too honky for my tastes. The neck pickup alone with bass boost gives me some serious reggae-fied booty. It's a phat bottom I can feel, but clarity suffers. Fun tone, though. My treble boost doesn't seem to do much, but even fully boosted there's no hiss/noise. And I don't notice much of a tonal difference whether I have my neck pickup full on or whether my blend is centered. The neck pickup alone does have some thicker lows.

    My higher strings also seem to get a tad peaky when amplified.

    EDIT: Either way, I still find it amazing that two basses (mine and my housemate's) with the same woods, same construction (bolt on), same kind of electronics (soapbars, 2 band EQ) can sound so different.
     
  10. Funky Doctor

    Funky Doctor

    Aug 28, 2003
    Australia
    So how do you reckon the Bart preamp would go at shaping a slappy sound?
     
  11. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    well, eq for a slap sound is usually boosting highs and lows, and cutting high mids. So, IN GENERAL, If you get an ntmb with switchable mid frequencies you should be able to do this no problem.
    I've done this before in basses with bart 3 band preamps, and got good slap sounds that way.