BGRA: Dave King on Pickups
All about pickups

David King, Bass Guitar Systems


Introduction

      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.


Alembic

"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.)


      Alembic pickups are "hand" woundby the Wickersham grandparents in California and are supposed toreproduce the "acoustic" sound of the bass with no coloration.Because these pickups are low impedance they require a speciallydesigned preamp circuit from Alembic, these circuits are modular indesign with solderless connectors. (Meaning you can keep adding tonemodules a la Series II.) The circuits use the best componentsavailable and are extremely quiet. That said, the basic setup doesn'tdo much for me. It is very easy to work with and get what you needbut don't expect to be blown away on the first try. Some folks sayit's bass shy...


Bartolini:

Available in all known shapes and sizes. Bartolini is set upto make virtually any possible configuration. Generally ceramictype.


       Bill and Pat Bartolini have beenwinding pickups for a lot longer than I have been playing bass. Theyknow what they're doing. With hundreds of different pickup models inthousands of permutations you might have to wait a while for your owncustom wound Bartolinis. It's difficult to generalize the "Bartolinisound" except to say that they sound nice with the sharper edges inthe sound slightly rounded over, smooth, clean, fast response withlots of midrange definition. There are two winding options availableon most of their pickups; "Bright" or "Deep". Most people will findthe the "Bright" pickups midrangy and bass shy though they excel atgiving a voice-like quality to solo bass and can give a verypercussive attack and "growl". The "Deep" pickups have great low midsbut still won't go as deep as the the deepest. (This is generally anasset when mixing bass in large venues with boomy or difficultsound). Slappers seem happy with the compromise between slap tone andfingerstyle warmth.
"These Bartolinis (M4 dual coils) would be excellent in a hard rockband, they remind me always of a typical punchy Fender Precisionsound and cut through a Marshall full stack like a knife." -ManfredKromer.
      Bill has a new ceramic magnetstructure, known as "CX", which gives an extended range similar tothe Lane Poor pickups. This pickup should fill the gap for thoseplayers who seek a true full range pickup with the low noise that theBartolinis are renowned for.
       Hum-cancellation comes in fourconfigurations;

"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.


EMG:

4 string: "Jazz", "Precision", "P+J" combo, "VJ","35J", "35P4","35P", "DC35"
5 string: "LJ5", "40P5", "40J5", "DC40",
6 string: "45J", "45P", "DC45".

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 / Actodyne

4 string: "Jazz", "Precision", "P + J combo".
Lace sensors are passive and use flexible magnet material.


      These are a very interestingpassive pickup, quite unique in design with the single coil on theinside and the magnets on the outside. They can sound greatconsidering the limitations of the old Fender shells but are not humfree as advertised despite attempts to shield the coil from RF andbuzz. I like the strong, sweet, tight low end however the flexiblemagnetic tape may have something to do with the absence of extendedhighs.


Lindy Fralen

4 String "Precision" and "Jazz" with alnico V magnets orceramic magnets and steel pole pieces.


      Lindy Fralen is a custom pickupwinder in Richmond, VA. His specialty has been "vintage" stratocasterpickups for which he is world renowned. He has since startedmanufacturing replacements for Precision and Jazz basses. If you arelooking for a top of the line Fender type pickup these are the onesto start with. Lindy will wind them hot if need be. The alnico Vmagnets are warmer, smoother and higher output, the steel/ ceramicones are "clangier" but feature adjustable pole pieces to balancestring volumes.


Lane Poor
(Note: Lane Poor hasceased operations, very limited stock.)

4 String: "JC", "M3.5W", "M3.5hb" "MMdv"
5 string: "JL", SB3.950, SB4.250, "M4.0W", "MM5".
6 string: "JXL", "SB4.650", "M4.5W",
7 string: "SB 5.0", "M5.0"

All with ceramic magnets, "MM" denotes Music Man, SB" denotes soapbar, "W" denotes wide aperture, "HB" denotes humbucking, "dv" denotesdual voice.


      Ahh Lane Poor, the savior of themodern bass luthier. This guy was production manager at Monstercables in S.F. and then went on eventually to design and produce anungainly and short lived line of 4 and 5 string headless basses.Eventually he found his true calling. These pickups are quiteremarkable as they seem to combine some of the best features ofseveral of my favorite pickups. They are available in 16 replacementsizes and with a backlog of only 2 weeks. I prefer the "wideaperture" and humbucking models for all around rock and roll. Thesepickups are pretty neutral, they let the bass speak in it's ownvoice. They also sound incredibly clean and accurate. The low end istight and full at the same time with quick response. The low mids arevery audible so you know what note you're playing on a noisy stage.The mids aren't barky or annoying but you can coax a good growl withsome eq. These guys pick up beautifully in the vertical axis, yourslap sound is balanced and matches the volume of your fingerstyleplaying (a minor miracle.) The Music Man shell can hold any 2 of thepickup units; narrow, wide and or humbucking. When connected inseries mode the sound rivals any pickup on the planet for fatness.They look sharp with their little holographic disk logo. Some peoplehave experienced RF noise problems in certain situations, the "hb"are quietest.

"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.


Seymour Duncan

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"
5 & 6 string: active, humbucking soap bar. "Music Man" 5, "J 5","M4", "M5"

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