New Pickups in My Basses Kick Ass

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A few weeks back, I bought new pickups for my basses and I finally got around to installing them this past weekend. They sound unreal. It is hard to imagine pickups making that significant of a difference, but these have.

Throughout my years playing the bass, I have always preferred active electronics like EMG’s to passive pickups in my basses. The only exception probably is vintage Fender J-basses because they have such warmth, but that is the only exception.

Bass, unlike guitar, really needs to be even across all strings and produce smooth sounds from low to high. The best way to control that is through active electronics because they are less suseptible to changes and more likely to sound the same from one set to the next.

I’ve tried other pickup brands like Bartolini, but I always come back to EMG. Bartolini’s sound very good but they are much thinner overall than EMG’s. That makes them perfect for jazz or R&B, but, for rock, you gotta have some balls behind your pickups.

So, I went with the EMG J-set (as seen above). I was a little concerned about installing them myself. I’m ok with a soldering iron, but there were modifications to the wiring that had to be made to accommodate my Warwick’s.

First off, I had to use the jack on my basses because EMG sends their pickups packaged with a small Fender-style jack. Most importantly, I wanted to keep the wiring in my Warwick’s entact to preserve the volume/pan/tone configuration.

EMG’s come wired standard for volume/volume/tone. This configuration has never been my favorite because you cannot turn the volume down quickly with two knobs. You also can’t do thinks like volume fades and can’t make easy on-the-fly changes to volume settings. The volume/pan/tone configuration makes that possible.

I wired my fretted first knowing I would be off from rehersal with orange is in for about a week and I don’t play fretted with Slapshifter. The installation went smooth and easy and my bass kicked ass instantly.

At this point, it was like 1am, but I wanted to do the fretless since the fretted was so easy. The fretless didn’t work as well. There are metal springs behind the pickups to push them up towards the strings against the tension of the mounting screws. Well, on the fretted, they didn’t pose any problems for the small wiring clips on the back of the pickups, but, on the fretless, they did big time.

In fact, I was able to fix the neck pickup by putting foam in between the bottom of the pickup and the strings, but the pots still sound scratchy and that is most likely due to the fact that I haven’t done the same thing yet for the bridge.

What is best of all is how they sounded through my big rig. The thing that amazed me first was the volume level. I literally went from being almost always on 4 or 5 to now not being able to go above 3 without blasting everyone.

Even better was how smooth everything sounded. I had to make EQ adjustments (not a surprise), but the overall tone was just amazing. Really warm and round and every string and note seemed to be at the same volume level, which is important on any bass, but particularly on fretless.

The most interesting thing was how it actually made my amp work better. The passive pickups caused the limiter circuit on my amp to kick in rather often. I’m not a fan of limiters and compressors that I cannot control because of how they effect the sound. This was no exception. But, with the EMG’s, the limiter did not come on ONCE despite the fact that these pickups have FAR greater output than the passive one’s I had previously.

I think the fact that they are so even across the board makes them easier for the amp to handle. Fewer transients mean less clipping and no need for the limiter.

Bottom line: I’m really pleased with the new pickups. Next up is Christmas with the Ampeg SVP BSP.

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