Guitars

The Best Pickups for Bass Guitars

If you are looking to make a change to your guitar, a new set of pickups can do the trick.

Pickups tend to be one of the first things a guitarist thinks to upgrade, since guitars are generally pretty similar a pickup can make a significant change to your output.

Before you start shopping, you need to consider what sound you are shooting for, then you can start your research to see what set of pickups will deliver that sound.

Bass pickups tend to all perform the same duties; however, their makeup and how they perform their job can have varying results on the tone you get from your bass guitar.

Having been a musician for the past thirty years, I know from experience that accessories are a vital part of your instrument to help you create new sounds and tones.

Here are a few tips on what to look for in a set of pickups, and a few reviews to help you start shopping.

Top Pick: Nordstrand Big Split Soapbar Bass

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Can be used on 4, 5 and 6-string bass guitars, and this is the ideal pickup to get that awesome jazz bass tone with an awesomely powerful punch.

Choosing a Pickup

If you are going to spend money on a new accessory, you should have a firm idea of what sound and tone you are aiming for to help you make an informed buying decision.

It is always best to go to the store and play a few of your pickup options to really know what sound you are going to get out of them.

Hearing the differences will help you understand which pickups will work for the sound that you ultimately want.

J Pickups

A J pickup is also known as a jazz pickup, and it is part of the magnetic pickup category.

Magnetic pickups are known by the magnetic pole pieces that are placed in precise alignment under the bass guitar strings where they are able to obtain the sound through the air.

They capture the signal using their magnetic fields and then transmit them out of the instrument through a cable and then the sound is amplified.

You will get a bright sound from a J pickup that is sometimes aggressive sounding, so it is a good choice for rock or metal music.

They are also popular with jazz bassists. J pickups are used as a pair with one pickup placed on the bridge and the other on the neck. The neck pickup is usually wider with the bridge pick more punchy and tight.

There is a knob that bass instrument use for the dual J pickup configuration that mixes the signal that comes from each of the pickups, and it lets them send in the right mix of sounds that are coming from the two different sources.

P Pickups

P pickups are also called precision pickups, and they have a heavier and deeper sound that is used for music that requires a deeper bottom end like rock, metal and funk styles of music.

The P pickup is also used as a pair with one pickup on the higher strings and the other on the lower two strings. They are set up in a staggered configuration, and they can also be used as a dual coil humbucker setup.

Piezoelectric Pickups

Piezoelectric pickups are used most commonly on acoustic bass guitars to amplify their signal, but they will also be seen sometimes on an electric bass guitar.

Unlike the magnetic pickups that read a signal through the air, the piezoelectric bass pickups can feel the vibration of the strings through its contact with the string on the bridge.

This type of pickup can eliminate the buzz and hum that happens when you use a magnetic pickup, they can sometimes sound weaker and thinner than the magnetic pickups.

To avoid this problem, some guitarists will use both magnetic and piezoelectric pickups to use the benefits of both the pickups when they play.

Bladed Pickups

Bladed pickups are good for you when you bend strings a lot since it pulls the strings away from the pickup top pole style.

Since pickups with a magnetic field extend beyond the metal head, your standard pickup should work just as well.

Those guitarists that do a lot of string bending normally buy a higher output pickup anyway, so any benefits from a bladed pickup are voided.

Passive Vs. Active Pickups

Passive pickups are made up of magnets under the strings of the guitar. As the string vibrates, the magnet creates an electronic field that translates into sound.

Active pickups have a nine-volt battery that creates an electric field, and they often come with a preamp. Passive pickups tend to have a plucky sound due to their extra windings, and their poles give you a limited but strong sound.

The magnets are really what affect the sound quality, and steel magnets are generally used for lower-end pickups.

AlNiCo magnets are a mix of cobalt and aluminum, and they give you some of the best sounds. You will see them in different level ranging from I to V, with II and III used as softer sounds, and IV and V using more treble for a “hotter” sound.

II specifically is often used for a vintage sound. Ceramic magnets are somewhat the same as A1NiCo, but they have less of a smooth sound, and they will have more of a screechier sound than the AlNiCo V’s.

Since there are fewer windings on active pickups, you will find that they have a larger response range that can give you more tone clarity. Active pickups can interpret a larger tone range, and they can give you a preamp providing more control of your guitar.

Best Pickups for Country, Metal or Rock

It is hard to say that a pickup is specifically for any music genre as guitarists tend to use a lot of different pickups all across the genres. You want to make sure you do your homework, and find the best pickup for you.

One thing to determine early is how much distortion you want to use. High-output pickups give you more distortion than a moderate-output pickup will.

You can also get distortion from a moderate-output pickup, it’s just that a high-output pickup will get you there that much more quickly.

Coils Size

Single coil pickups were the only option for many years with one magnet placed under each string. Single coils are unfortunately known for pickup up radio frequencies and “humming.”

The dual coil setup of a humbucker has a set of right-hand wrapped pickups, and a set of left-hand wrapped pickups. Radio interference is canceled out by the two oppositely wrapped poles.

Keep in mind that single coils have a brighter tone, and they are better for single-string plucking, while double coils have more of a darker and full tone.

Parts of the String

It will sound brighter if you play the guitar near the neck, while it will sound darker if you play down toward the base.

Sometimes you will see a humbucker that is mismatched because a brighter sounding pickup is placed near the base and the darker sounding pickup is put on the neck and the tone is balanced out.

Top Pick: Nordstrand Big Split Soapbar Bass

The Nordstrand Big Split gives you the same large, full tone that you get with the Nordstrand Big Single, but in a split coil version. One of the big differences is the Big Split has hum canceling features.

There is the same type of magnet layout as the Big Single, and the big coil in the Big Split is similar to any single coil pickup that you will find on the market. If you are jazz bass tone traditionalist, this is the ideal pickup for you.

This is a popular choice among a diverse assortment of bass guitarists including Dean Bernardini, Andy Cichon, and Owen Biddle. Professional bass guitarists have enjoyed using these pickups to achieve their tone, covering a large spectrum of music genres.

The Big Split can be used on 4, 5 and 6-string bass guitars, and, if you like to crank you bass to the limit, this is the ideal pickup to get that awesome jazz bass tone.

It is available in either the EMG or Bartolini designs, and they give your bass tone an awesomely powerful punch. the Nordstrand Big Split Soapba Bass Pickup is available in the mid $200 range.

Pros

Rich and full tone
Great punchy sound
Great round and complex tone

Cons

A little on the expensive side

Other Products to Consider:

Seymour Duncan SMB4A Bass

Credit: Amazon.com

The Seymour Duncan SMB4A Bass pickup features the Alnico magnets that work together with unique coil windings giving you the effect of increasing the frequency spectrum on both ends that go out beyond the ceramic magnet variety.

So, the Alnico version of pickup gives you a warmer bottom and a more detailed top, plus it comes with a four-conductor hookup cable and a logo cover.

The Seymour Duncan SMB4A is a bit more specific than other pickups that can work with a wide variety of instruments. The SMB4A is created to be used with the stock Music Man pre-amp and the selector switch that was created for a 3-coil system.

You will find that the Alnico magnets are wired together to give you a distinct setup that increases the frequency spectrum that is much larger than what you would see with the pickup if it were the ceramic magnet version. Your end result is a more detailed and articulate high end and a warmer low end.

If you are into blues, funk, rock, or music that needs a little more grit, you will really enjoy the midrange that has a little more of a bite. This results in a warmer low end and more articulate and detailed high end. The Seymour Duncan SMB4A is available for around $100.

Pros

Great lows, mids, and highs
Excellent tone, makes your guitar come alive
Clear and crisp sound

Cons

A little on the large side

Lace USAB Ultra Slim Acoustic Bass

The Lace USAB Ultra Slim Acoustic Bass Pickup Black was created specifically for the bass guitar, and it has a slimmer profile that has a height of 5/16th”. Its height lets you have almost limitless uses for either the acoustic bass or the solid body bass.

The Lace USAB single design works for either 4 or 5 string bass guitars, and the USAB Sensor can be mounted onto the surface with either mar resistant 3M adhesive tape or wood screws that come with the pickup, and it can be mounted permanently if you desire.

The pickup has easy installation by simply sliding the pickup under the strings. Included with the USAB is a high-quality cable and a female end pin jack.

The USAB is a humbucker design that offers no noise operation, and it includes 2 Lace Sensor Micro Matrix Comb bobbins, plus a triple ceramic 8 magnets in the new design. Even though it has a passive design, it can still be easily used with an active pre amp.

The Lace Sensor USAB Ultra Slim bass humbucker pickup is very versatile, and it works both solid body and acoustic basses. It is also very adaptable, and it is easy to install with no cutting or routing needed.

The pickup has a sensitive nature that guarantees the signal will certainly be increased, and those bass guitars that are outfitted with the Lace Sensor USAB will have a clean and clear ton, plus a very punchy midrange.

The Lace Sensor USAB is available for around $100.

Pros

Easy to install and works really well
Powerful and a nice addition to my acoustic guitar
Great output and a lot of variation

Cons

Produces a buzzing or feedback sound

DiMarzio Will Power DP145 Bass

The DiMarzio Will Power DP145 Bass Pickup has been used by extensively by Billy Sheehan when he was playing with Mr. Big, David Lee Roth, and Steve Vai.

Due to the demands Billy has on his guitar, DiMarzio made a lot of adjustment to their existing models to keep up with his demand. The DP145 is the very pickups that Billy uses with his signature Yamaha basses that have a deep sound with an awesome low-end definition.

It has the same dimensions as the Model One that is louder and fatter, plus the pole piece spacing is a little bigger for easier string alignment for those long-scale basses.

The DP145 is a humbucker that has 4 conductor wiring, and the tone you can get can only be called larger and beefier. The low end is boisterous and thick, the mids are incredibly intensified, and the high end has a pumped up frequency range.

The DP145 is available at the $100 price point.

Pros

Allows for several tone variations
Excellent adjustment capabilities
t makes quite an improvement over the factory unit in sound quality

Cons

Requires a slight enlargement of the original pickup opening

Seymour Duncan SPB-1 Vintage Precision Bass Pickup Set

The Seymour Duncan SPB-1 Vintage Precision Bass Pickup Set is a great replica of the Leo Fender 1957 dual-coil pickup design. It has the same hand-fabricated bobbins, plain enamel wire, and the same sand-cast magnets.

The Seymour SPB-1 has a great warm and woody tone, and it comes with non-logo covers and a waxed cloth hookup cable and non-logo covers. The Seymour Duncan’s SPB-1 will definitely take you back to the 1950’s in sound and appearance.

They have a punchy and warm sound that gives you that distinctively smooth low-end on those lower frequencies. The Seymour Duncan SPB-1 is available for only $75.

Pros

Great classic tone
Has an even EQ curve, and it nicely mimics the vintage P-bass tones
Has the right balance of a solid bottom, and sweet mids and highs

Cons

Not enough of a change from the stock pickups to be worth it

EMG Geezer Butler Signature PJ

The EMG Geezer Butler Signature PJ Bass Pickup Set gives you that classic sound from back during Black Sabbath’s early days. This is a passive bass guitar pickup set that is constructed with Alnico 5 magnets.

You definitely get those vintage tones void of the noise and hum that you generally get with single-coil pickups. You will also appreciate the deep and tight sound of the tight low end, and all of the output and sound you get from this pickup is even and balanced.

Geezer Butler and EMG did a great job harnessing the powerful tones of early Black Sabbath that gives you driving punch and output that makes it perfect for any type of music that likes a little extra bite on the low end.

They are fully shielded, so they will operate without noise to clutter up the signal. The EMG Geezer Butler Signature PJ Bass Pickup is available in the mid $100 range.

Pros

Vintage sound, great for all styles of music
Easy to install, have amazing amount of versatility
Very balanced tone

Cons

Shafts are solid and are a bit bigger than many knobs

Fender Custom Shop 62 P

The Fender Custom Shop 62 P Bass Pickups has cleverly reproduced their classic 1962 Precision Bass split-coil pickup.

It’s offered with flush-mount alnico 5 magnets, cloth covered output wires, and enamel-coated magnet wire to give you that full and booming sound in the low end, a clear high end, and a punchy midrange.

It also has flush mount pole pieces on these pickups that have been created to pull and even response from your bass strings. No matter if your bass guitar has flat wound or round wound strings, the Custom Shop ’62 Bass pickups will give you improved stock sound and completely transform your tone.

All the mounting hardware is included. The Fender Custom Shop ’62 Bass pickups are available in the low $100 range.

Pros

Great sound, improved tone
Excellent old school pickup
Makes a major difference in tone

Cons

Have a relatively hot output

DiMarzio DP127 Split P Replacement

DiMarzio DP127 Split P Replacement Pickup have a special double blade making it a true humbucker. This pickup expands your bass guitar’s range with EQ and increasing you high and low-end response that allows you to get a wider contemporary sound from the midrange.

It also has a nice snap for a crisp attack, and it increases your cool overtones giving you a large and smooth tone.

The Split P is very sensitive to finger and pick due to the blade pole pieces. The notes appear to sound louder in the high frequencies and allow you to hear every articulation your make.

These are the best pickups if you want a booming low end and a strong attack. The DiMarzio DP127 Split P Replacement Pickup is available just under $100.

Pros

Gives your guitar a punchier sound
Your playing has lot more character
Lets you set the volume of each string

Cons

Too high of an output

Fender Custom Shop Custom 60s Jazz Bass

The Fender Custom Shop Custom 60s Jazz Bass Pickups are modeled after vintage 60’s pickups, but they have been overwound making them punchier in the midrange and low end.

They use Alnico 5 magnets and formvar magnet wire that help to create a sound that has extra thump and growl.

The flush-mount magnets guarantee that your string response is balanced across the board making them top notch pickups that you have to hear to believe. They are easy to install and are available in around $150.

Pros

Sound great with an active EQ
Have that great classic Fender sound
Have a nice full and punchy sound

Cons

There is some hum when you play

EMG JVX Bass Pickup Set Black

The EMG JVX set of pickups has a mix of the new and old design ideas that were used to provide that classic tone as well as the look of your traditional Jazz Bass.

The EMG JVX set still has the “faded” attack that the offset pole pieces use mixed with the EMG’s lowest-noise preamp that they have. The EMG JVX bass pickup has a retro appeal, and the coil and electronic design will persuade you to seriously consider this as a replacement to your stock pickup.

It also gives you more headroom that gives voice to the open and organic tone, and it is still able to maintain the response and clarity that EMG’s are known for.

They are able to bridge the gap between active and passive tones, and they have over 1,000 hours of battery life. They are easy to install, and they give you a tight low end with punchier mids, and highs that have a glittery sheen.

They add a lot to your overall picture, but they definitely do not add any hum or noise. The EMG JVX Bass Pickup set is available for just under $200.

Pros

Quiet and powerful set
No soldering needed to install and they sound great
Have a great, clean tone

Cons

Not a lot of room for the battery, and they have some weird wiring

DiMarzio Ultra Jazz Bass Neck/Bridge Set

 

The DiMarzio’s Ultra Jazz pickups are a great choice for those bassists that want to increase their jazz bass sound.

When you use these pickups, you get a wider range of harmonic tone that would normally just lay inactive in their stock pickups. There is a tighter, thump like low end, and a nice additional punch in the mid-range.

The Ultra Jazz pickups get rid of the hum that you normally hear with single coils, and you get improved sensitivity that is great for any playing style. The DiMarzio Ultra Jazz pickups are available for just over $100.

Pros

Clean and articulate sound
Provide an amazing range of sound
Perfect tone and bright sound

Cons

Weak on the bass side

Fender Pure Vintage 74 Jazz

The Fender Pure Vintage 74 Jazz Bass Pickup Set has the vintage bobbin construction with original-era cloth wiring.

All Fender Pure Vintage pickups have the authentic, traditional Fender sound thanks to precise specifications, plus the versatile vintage voice give you a warm and full low-end and a very distinct midrange.

The Fender’s Pure Vintage ’74 single-coil Jazz Bass pickups are perfect for those that like to play with soulful fingerstyle, slap-style funk, and the pickups are definitely aggressive.

The electronics are driven by flush mount pole pieces, Enamel-coated magnet wire, and cloth output bobbin and wire construction that is correct for the period.

When you combine all of these factors, you get a very precise, vintage sound. The pickups also capture dynamics that are more enhanced, and it has even and clear string response.

This pickup set will definitely take you back to that classic era of sound. The Fender Pure Vintage 74 Jazz Bass Pickup Set is available for just over $100.

Pros

Easy to install, wiring guide is included
Awesome vintage sound
Beautiful and clean sound

Cons

A little long for some guitar so you will need to make some adjustments

Sources

You Tell Us: What’s the difference in sound between a "P" and a "J" pickup?

Piezo Vs. Magnetic Pickups

What’s the Difference Between Active & Passive Guitar Pickups?

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