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When is pickup height just TOO low?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by andyjevans, Jul 19, 2017.

  1. andyjevans


    Jul 18, 2010
    Just got a nice Hohner B-Bass and clearly I'll have to take off the pickups and put in some new foam. But this got me to wondering just when pickup height becomes too low to function properly. I mean, the guy who sold me the bass played it for years with the pickups between 5mm and 7mm from the strings. That's 3/16ths to over 1/4". So at what height do low pickups seriously start affecting the sound?
  2. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    That depends on the pickup. Each has its own magnet field strength. It's too low when you don't like the sound it's making or the signal is uneven because the string is moving beyond the magnetic field when vibrating. Listen to your ears.

    My 50's P bass pickup is quite close (in my world) 4mm. My jack casady is about double that because it is HOT.
    RSBBass and Gorn like this.
  3. andyjevans


    Jul 18, 2010
    Ah - that's useful information. I've been reading some set-up threads and what I'm getting is that bridge pickup is around 3.2mm (.125", 1/8th") while neck is around 4mm (.15, 5/32nd"). Those seem to be useful ballpark figures. I believe the pickups on a Hohner B Bass are EMG Select - at least the bridge one is marked that. They're just generic Jazz style PUs so I'm guessing they're pretty typical output and not "hot", and are usually described as "decent" or "average stock". One used did say "The tone just ain't very sweet, but they are fairly high output with some good low end." But another said "Not too bad if you set them really close to the strings". I guess being a Jazz type they're single coil - one user said "Humbucker is Ok in a middy sort of way, but also a bit muddy and indistinct. The Single coils are pretty dreadful". Another post says "The Selects are passive and low output.". My bass actually has active EQ. Another post "they're just weak and dull, nothing like real EMGs."

    Some conflicting info, but the majority seem to be saying "weak and dull" so I guess I can go as high as a typical Jazz pickup.
  4. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    As stated above, depends on the pickups. And, how much the magnet pulls on the strings. I find alnico magnet pickups need to be closer to the strings to get a good sound, and with ceramic the magnetic pull is very strong so more distance between the strings and pickup.

    Also, depends on your picking technique and how you attack the strings. Some people press down on the string when they attack, where the string vibrates up and down in a oblique patter over the pole pieces. Others attack horizontal with the pickup where strings vibrate side to side over the pole pieces. And, the aggressiveness of the attack, or how hard you attack will also determine where the pickup height will have the optimal sound and tone.

    Factory specs for pickup height is just a foundation to work from. The more you experiment the better you'll know what's the best for your bass.
  5. lefty1979


    Mar 30, 2008
    DFW, texas
    I've had a pickup so high that the pull from the magnets made the strings sound out of tune. That's an extreme example, but a real possibility. In normal use, I'd say when the strings don't sound balanced, or you hear a click or thump from either the string or your fingers hitting the pickup, it's too high. There's no magic number. Jason from Fodera did a great series of setup videos. The one on pickup height is very informative. Check them out here:
    How to Set Up Your Fodera

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