The subject of pickups is a bigone and it would be foolish for me to state this as final or completeguide to choosing the right pickup for your bass. Pickups areimportant to the sound of a bass, ranked right up there with stringsas a way of defining your sound. They probably have more effect onyour final sound than whatever combination of woods you choose forthat perfect tone. To complicate the issue, a pickup can give quitedifferent results on different basses. Changing strings will effect apickup's response as well. Here is an alphabetical overview of thepickups I use regularly.
"MXY" (wide aperture) and "AXY" (narrow aperture). Usingceramic magnets and a low impedance, humcancelling winding, Alembicpickups must be combined with their active system to boost the signalsufficiently. There are two control options; either "Q" control (asweeping, narrow band boost) or bass & treble controls. Uses 9V-48V power supply.)
Available in all known shapes and sizes. Bartolini is set upto make virtually any possible configuration. Generally ceramictype.
"vertical hum-canceling" AKA "stacked" (lower output for use withactive preamps),
"linear"*, i.e., "split", "quadraphonic", "pentaphonic","hexaphonic" etc. (A separate coil and magnet under each string orpair of strings. *These pickups cannot be mixed with other types orsome strings will be out of phase, also, these pickups must be builtto the exact string spacing of the instrument or the strings won't beover their respective magnets and volume will be uneven).
"Dual coil", a traditional humbucker which can be wired in severalways to alter the tone.
"Triple coil" is a refinement of dual coil where a dummy coil (nomagnetic structure) sits between the regular coils to cancel out humwhen only one of the coils is used.
4 string: "Jazz", "Precision", "P+J" combo, "VJ","35J", "35P4","35P", "DC35"
All EMG pickups are active and require a 9V battery. All useceramic magnets except the 4 string "VJ" which uses alnico V magnets.Some models use ceramic magnets and iron cores to warm up thetone.
It seems people either love orhate the EMG sound. I like it. These pickups always sound good to me.What's more they record well and engineers love them. If I had themin my bass I would probably hate them because they always soundexactly the same. They do pick up string movement in 2 axis which isimportant for slappers. They seem best suited to good old rock androll and not much else because they are not very dynamic and don'thave the extended lows of some passive models. They don't work whenthe battery dies. They are quiet and hum free, the "DC" line beingthe quietest of the bunch. I used to think the LJ5's had a nice lowend but it's hard to say now for sure.
Fender Lace Sensor / Actodyne4 string: "Jazz", "Precision", "P + J combo".
Lace sensors are passive and use flexible magnet material.
Lindy Fralen4 String "Precision" and "Jazz" with alnico V magnets orceramic magnets and steel pole pieces.
4 String: "JC", "M3.5W", "M3.5hb" "MMdv"
All with ceramic magnets, "MM" denotes Music Man, SB" denotes soapbar, "W" denotes wide aperture, "HB" denotes humbucking, "dv" denotesdual voice.
"I found Lane Poor Pickups get me a nice clear, warm and punchysound. Just what I was looking for. You should consider making thesethe default pickups in all your basses." Manfred Kromer.
4 string: Vintage Jazz, Vintage Precision, Hot"J", Hot"P", active"J" with EQ., Active "P" with EQ., 1/4 pounder "P", 1/4 pounder "J","Music Man"
Many different versions are available using alnico II, alnico V andceramic magnets some with iron cores or pole pieces. "Basslines" isthe name of the company's bass division headed by Kevin Beller. Theyhave some money for R & D and they seem to be doing thingsright. The passive pickups boast a "big" sound that's hot, aggressiveand a little bit "dirty". Their active pickups are more conservative,something between an EMG and a Bartolini. (They've even told meso). Not quite sterile, fine slapping tone, very tight sounding whenplayed aggressively, almost warm sounding when fondled but neverreally dark sounding. Not too hot for passive inputs. There is still aman behind the name and if you are big on vintage Fender sound then MrDuncan himself will hand wind a pair of Jazz or Precision pickups withformvar wire on alnico II magnets and then personally "age" them bybeating them with some blunt objects, ask for the "Antiquity" seriesat your Seymour.
Outside commentary: "I have a set of Basslines "Active five stringfor Jazz" (AJB-55 SET) that came stock in my Hamer Cruisebass Five.No preamp other than the one inside the pickups themselves - passivecontrols. These are the nicest pickups I've ever heard in myrelatively brief five years on bass." -Kraig Olmstead
Dave King underwrites the BGRA and is an editor and contributor.
This feature article is © 2001 by David King
Reprinted by the BGRA with permission