Why do Ps and Js sound different?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Tusec, Feb 18, 2010.

  1. Tusec


    Jan 10, 2010
    I just bought an 80s Squier Precision to go with my MIM RI60s Jazz and am impressed with how much chunkier the P sounds (I've been playing bass for about two months now so these kinds of things are still new to me).

    I had been thinking the P sound must be the result of its pickup placement -- i.e. that it was picking up an especially fat sounding set of overtones that could only be picked up at that spot.

    But then I pulled out the measuring tape, and lo and behold both the P and J neck pickups are located at the exact same spot -- both have their polepieces sitting 11 inches below the 12th fret (measuring the E/A side of the P pickup). This means they're both reading the string in the exact same way.

    So it must come down to the pickup. The P pickup is just bigger and fatter sounding.

    Does this sound right to you guys?

    And of course the interesting conclusion is you ought to be able to make a J sound just like a P (or at least darn close) with the right neck pickup.
  2. YL_Bass


    Dec 3, 2009
    Langley, BC
    Oh this is going to be fun. :)

    I'm sorry I have nothing constructive to say.
  3. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Well, the P is a split coil, J is a single coil...

    Now, I wonder if you could get closer to the P sound with a humbucker in a single coil enclosure?
  4. Matt R.

    Matt R.

    Jul 18, 2007
    Huntsville AL
    Oh boy. :eyebrow:
  5. nostatic


    Jun 18, 2004
    Lompoc, CA
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    because they are 6 apart. You have to sound different if you're 6 apart.
  6. one makes a puh sound and the other makes juh sound.
    if they sounded the same kids would love jeanut butter and pelly just as much as peanut butter and jelly
  7. Tusec


    Jan 10, 2010
    That's what I'm thinking.

    And getting the right pickup should be all it takes. Nut width and body shape have a trivial effect on tone, and everything else is the same. Same body woods, same hardware, same bolt-on construction, same neck materials.

    So it's gotta be the pickup.
  8. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    I will keep collecting until I have 40 basses
    The p-bass pickup is a series humbucker. This gives it a fatter midrange growl.

    The jass has 2 reverse wound single coil pickups that become a parallel humbuckes when the volumes are equal.
  9. Haha, all jokings aside, folks :p

    A P-bass has that deeper punchier sound because the pickup is a split-coil that acts much like a humbucker. It also is seated closer to the neck, where the vibrating path of the strings is wider and produces a deeper tone (much like how a low-frequency soundwave has a wider and less-frequent wavelenght than a high-frequency soundwave). I think the fact that it's not having to share the voltage with a second pickup might have something to do with it's punch, but I'm not sure on that one. P-basses are the favorites of alot of funk bassists, since the punch the pickup provides is enhanced with slap techniques.

    A J-bass has two single-coil pickups that are non-humbucking by themselves, and like strat pickups, have a bit more clarity and treble bite to them. The addition of the bridge pickup also picks up the string at a vibrating path that is more narrow and frequent and therefore produces a brighter tone (that's why harmonics are easier to speak on a J-bass than on a P-bass). Using both pickups on a J-bass also give it humbucking capabilities, though they don't quite pack the same amount of punch as a P-bass, but the definition is a bit more pronounced.

    I personally like the P+J combination since it gives you the best of both worlds, but you can't go wrong with a standard P- or J-bass setup either way. There's a reason they're the most copied and recorded basses in history :D
  10. Tusec


    Jan 10, 2010
    Actually, according to my tape measure the P pickup is in the same location as the J neck pickup -- both are centered 11 inches from the 12th fret.

    This surprised the heck out of me. I thought for sure the P sound was the result of the P pickup geometry and that a J could never cop the P tone without having to do major surgery to reposition the neck pickup. But that turns out not to be the case. It's just the pickup itself, apparently.
  11. Mike19


    Aug 11, 2009
    Tallahassee, Fla
    I played a '58 P in a club band in the mid '60s and a '79 J in a club band in the early '80s.

    I loved both basses, but found the P better for rock and the J better for pop. However, with good amplification and speakers, I think both the P and J are good all around basses.

    Problem is, the new ones (and even the used ones) are too expensive. There are other brands (Schecter and Ibanez to name just a few) that make comparable basses for hundreds of $$$ less.
  12. not_jason


    Aug 4, 2004
    I just put my Jazz and my Precision face to face, matched up at the nut and saddles, and was surprised to find that if anything, the jazz neck pickup is closer to the neck than the p one is. If nothing else, the poles are certainly further forward, even on the E and A strings. Like everyone else has said, though, I think it's in the pickup itself more than anything. The split-coil design is much different than a Jazz single coil. Even with both pickups turned on, a Jazz Bass is pulling half the tone from the bridge pickup, which of course is going to inject a whole lot more treble than a P-Bass has.
  13. Tusec


    Jan 10, 2010
    You're right -- the Jazz neck pickup is actually 1/8" closer to the neck. It's 10 7/8" from the 12th fret versus 11" for the Precision. I rounded it before figuring it was just manufacturing tolerances or imprecise measuring but if we're both seeing that, it's probably right. So if anything the Jazz should sound a little bassier according to pickup position (though 1/8" probably doesn't matter much). Kind of unexpected.
  14. Bootzilla


    May 4, 2009
    A jazz pickup has narrow windings and a P pickup has wider windings. That's part of the difference. Also the jazz has a different circuit after the pickup which could change it's sound a bit.
  15. dabbler


    Aug 17, 2007
    Bowie, MD
    A large part of the P sound is, in fact, the pickup. If you've ever played with pups and series/parallel combinations of coils you would understand that coils in series produce more punch (as well as output) than coils in parallel.

    But the P is not the sound of a typical Humbucking bass pickup, (like say a music man) because there is only ONE coil picking up each string. It has a low-mid response bump that makes it prominent, but it's not muddy.

    I don't know how long Leo worked on this design, but behind his amps, and the solid-body bolt-neck guitar, I think the P pup is his third great legacy to music! :hyper:
  16. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    It's the headstock decal.

    Switch the decals and see what happens.

  17. Dark Horse

    Dark Horse Supporting Member

    Jul 31, 2008
    Austin, TX
    Coil shape, height, and overall pickup design account for the majority of sound differences...plus the placement of the bridge pickup on the J Bass adds treble bite. Add to that a (usually) larger (more mass) neck on the P Bass, and that outlines the primary tonal differences.

    Think about this - you can have 2 humbucking guitar pickups that look identical to the naked eye, but when put into a guitar they sound completely different.

    That is because they are MADE to sound different - much like a Precision Bass pickup is MADE to sound different than a Jazz Bass pickup.

    When winding pickups, you typically wind with a specific goal in mind. Coil height, magnet type, wire type (and coating), tension, Mv, DCR, etc all affect how the pickup will sound in the end.
  18. They sound different because they come form different sources (and not Fullerton, California or Mexico or Korea) The first Precision Bass was brought down from a mountain by Moses after a meeting with God, but the first Jazz Bass was spewed out of the bowels of Hell during a volcanic eruption.
  19. FromTheBassMent

    FromTheBassMent Those who can, play bass.

    Jan 19, 2010
    Providence, RI
    I would agree that the pickup is the main factor in the different sounds. But I would not discount neck dimensions as a factor as well. It's a commonplace of physics that the density/length/width/acoustic resonance of the material over which a string is tensioned will affect the way in which that string vibrates, including sustain, dominant harmonic frequencies, etc. The chunkier P neck is contributing something to the distinctive sound of that bass. We Warwick players accept this as a sort of religious tenet (which is why we suffer with those monstrous necks!).

    Same can be said of body material/size/weight, although I suspect there's not much difference in these between a regular production P and J. But if you ever get a chance to do a side-by-side comparison of, for instance, a J with a swamp ash body and a J with an alder (or mahogany or koa or whatever) body, do so... it's quite an illuminating experience.
  20. colcifer

    colcifer Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    1) js have more mass (warmer)
    2) js have an additional bridge pickup (clearer sound)
    3) js have single coils (less thump, more growl)
    4) js have a more tapered neck