Best Bass Pickups
Bass pickups may be the unsung heroes in the world of bassists. While other factors such as the type of bass guitar, strings, and amplifiers obviously all make a significant impact on the sound and tone of the instrument, the type of pickups used play a much more subtle yet no less important role in the end result. By capturing and processing the vibration of the bass guitar strings and routing that signal so it can be processed, amplified, and heard by the human ear, these small devices are an undeniably crucial component of the signal flow. There are quite a few options available on the market for bassists looking to purchase bass pickups, so we’ve outlined some important factors to keep in mind in our buyer’s guide below.
Seymour Duncan SPB-1 Vintage Precision Bass Pickup Set
EMG Geezer Butler Signature PJ Bass Pickup Set
Fender Custom Shop 62 P Bass Pickups
DiMarzio DP127 Split P Replacement Pickup
EMG P-X Active Bass Pickup Set
Fender Custom Shop Custom ‘60s Jazz Bass Pickups
EMG JVX Bass Pickup Set Black
DiMarzio Ultra Jazz Bass pickup neck/bridge set
Fender Pure Vintage 74 Jazz Bass Pickup Set
Aguilar AG 4J-60 4-String Jazz Bass Pickup Set
Nordstrand Big Split Soapbar Bass Pickup
Seymour Duncan SMB4A Bass Pickup
DiMarzio Will Power DP145 Bass Pickup
DiMarzio DP120 Model One Bass Humbucker Pickup
Lace USAB Ultra Slim Acoustic Bass Pickup Black
Seymour Duncan’s SPB-1 Vintage Precision Bass pickups were made to instantly take your tone back to the 1950s. These pickups were designed to faithfully reproduce the sound of Leo Fender’s 1957 dual-coil pickup configuration. To that end, these pickups feature the same hand-fabricated forbon bobbins, plain enamel wire, and hand-ground, sand-cast magnets of the original, but the proof isn’t in the look of these things it’s in the sound. These pickups will make your bass sound warm and punchy, with a distinct amount of smooth low-end to hold down the lower frequencies with ease.
What do incredible Black Sabbath songs like Iron Man, War Pigs, and Paranoid have in common? One definitive element that made this band such an influential force in the worlds of heavy rock and metal was the deep, tight low end, courtesy of Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler. EMG decided to channel the sound of this rock legend by giving the man his own signature P Bass pickup set, and now players are able to harness that powerful tone themselves. These pickups offer a driving output and punch that makes them ideal for any style of music that needs that extra bite on the low end. These pickups are fully shielded, which means that they operate with very little noise to clutter the signal.
Fender’s Custom Shop ’62 P Bass pickups have been designed to respectfully reproduce the classic sounds of the 1962 Precision Bass split-coil pickup arrangement. The end result is a set of electronics that offer the best of all worlds; full-sounding, rumbling lows, a punchy midrange, and a clear and articulate high end. The flush-mount pole pieces of these pickups have been designed to draw an even response from all of the bass strings. Whether your instrument is strung with flatwound or round wound strings, these pickups can truly transform your tone and are a marked improvement of the stock sounds in most P-basses.
DiMarzio’s Split P bass pickups provide players with a way to widen the sound of their instrument, thanks to their distinct double-blade design. Each half is in fact a complete humbucker that extends the high- and low-end response. The pickups’ blade pole pieces are also sensitive to finger and pick attack, which is ideal for players who want to capture every articulation of their playing style. Because of this heightened sensitivity, notes will appear to resonate longer as the pickup captures the decay of a note till it’s practically inaudible. If you’re seeking a strong attack and booming low end, these are definitely the pickups to check out for your precision bass.
Bassists are always looking for that certain “X” factor to take their playing to new heights, and the answer may very well be here. The increased headroom offered by the EMG PX bass pickups make them ideal for players who want access to a wide range of classic and modern bass tones. All areas of the frequency range are heightened here, from the powerful low end to the punchy midrange and clear high-end. These pickups feature ceramic magnets and short, squat coils to provide a distinct warmth and clarity that has made it the go-to choice for pro bassists everywhere. The PXes also come with a battery clip set and output jack for easy use/application.
Fender’s Jazz Bass already has a distinct sound that earned it a spot in the hearts of bassists since the instrument was unleashed in the 1960s. But with the company’s Custom Shop Custom ‘60s Jazz Bass pickups, everything gets turned up a notch and the results are something that have to be heard to be believed. These pickups are over-wound to provide more punch, midrange, bass, and output. Special Alnico 5 magnets and Formvar magnet wire help coax out a sound that contains extra growl and thump. The flush-mount magnets for these pickups ensure that the string response is even across the board. These pickups also come with installation hardware so that you can easily put them onto your bass guitar yourself.
EMG have long been innovators in transforming and improving the sounds that modern bassists have been able to coax out of their instruments. The company’s JVX Jazz Bass pickups bring to the table increased headroom and more sensitive approach to picking up signal. Because these are active pickups, they do require battery change, but luckily they offer approximately 1,000 hours of battery life. Installing these replacement pickups will make your low end get tighter, while the mids will become punchier and the highs have a bit more of a shimmery sheen. The JVXs certainly add a lot to the overall picture, but what is equally notable is what they don’t add as you can use the single pickups without worrying about any hum, and any ground noise has also been eliminated from the mix.
DiMarzio’s Ultra Jazz pickups are a great option for bassists looking to expand the sound of their jazz bass. Using these pickups definitely helps to bring out a greater range of harmonic tone that otherwise would lay dormant with stock pickups. The low end has a tighter, more thump-like aesthetic while the mid range gets a nice additional punch. These pickups also serve to eliminate any hum that might typically be associated with single coils. The increased sensitivity that the Ultra Jazz pickups offer is also great for any playing style; whether you’re finger picking or using a pick, the intricacies of your performance are sure to shine through.
The sound of the Fender American Vintage ’74 Jazz Bass is one that is still actively pursued by bassists. That low-end warmth and notable midrange definitely earned the instrument a special place in the hearts of bassists, particularly those who utilized slap-style funk and other expressive forms of playing. That sound has been rekindled and is able to be harnessed today with Fender’s Pure Vintage ’74 Jazz Bass pickup set. These electronics are powered by Enamel coated magnet wire, flush mount pole pieces, and cloth output wire and bobbin construction that is period correct; all of these factors combine to provide a vintage, precise sound. The dynamics captured by these pickups are more enhanced, and the string response is even and clear. There’s no need for a time machine when you’ve got these pickups, because your sound will instantly be taken back to a classic era of sound.
Aguilar’s AG 4J-60 Jazz Bass pickups are modeled after a set of mid-60’s single-coil pickups. The proprietary winding in these pickups, which utilize Heavy Formvar wire, provides excellent string-to-string consistency. The hum that can sometimes be associated with single coil pickups is eliminated here too. What isn’t eliminated is the fat low-end sound that those pickups of yesteryear brought to the mix. The highs are well-defined as well.
A diverse range of bassists have brought Nordstrand’s Big Split bass humbucker pickup into their rig – everyone from Andy Cichon (Billy Joel, Shania Twain) to Dean Bernardini (Chevelle) to Owen Biddle (the Roots, John Legend) have all used these pickups to attain their tone. When you have such a broad spectrum of music covered by a single piece of gear, you know that they’re doing something right. The Big Split has units that are applicable to 4, 5 and 6-string bass guitars, and have been called the ultimate pickup for those looking to sport a jazz bass tone that’s cranked to the limit. Available in both Bartolini and EMG designs, these pickups offer some seriously powerful punch to your bass tone.
While many bass humbucker pickups are able to work with a wide range of instruments, Seymour Duncan’s Music Man SMB4As are a bit more specific. These pickups are designed for use with the stock Music Man pre-amp and selector switch intended for a 3-coil system. The Alnico magnets are wired together with a distinct setup that extends the frequency spectrum, much greater than what you would get with a ceramic magnet version of the pickup. This results in a warmer low end and more articulate and detailed high end. The midrange also has more of a bite that makes it ideal for funk, blues, rock, and other styles that need to have some grit but not get too harsh.
Billy Sheehan provided the powerful low-end for rock acts such as David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Steve Vai, and countless others. DiMarzio’s Will Power bass humbucker pickups have been designed to fit the bass legend’s exact specifications. Everything these pickups do to your tone can be categorized under “bigger and beefier.” The high end of the frequency range gets pumped up, the midrange is intensified, and the low end is thick and boisterous as you might expect from the type of sounds that Sheehan has created throughout his career. Both of the pickups in the Will Power set feature 4-conductor wiring.
DiMarzio’s Model One bass humbucker pickups were originally created to be replacements for the neck pickups in the Gibson EB series. Since then, these thick-sounding electronics have found a new life in a wide range of bass guitars, and have also been implemented in various configurations and not just the neck. The ceramic magnet and 4 conductor wiring help these pickups to produce a floor-shaking rumble that still manages to be clear and articulate, with highs that can really stand out in a mix. Some players like to use the Model On alongside other DiMarzio models, while others choose to just use the Model Ones on their own to define their bass sound. Bassists such as Billy Sheehan and John Conte are fans of what the Model Ones can do, so if you’re seeking pickups that can really bring the rock out of your bass sound, look no further.
The Lace Sensor USAB Ultra Slim bass humbucker pickup is one of the more versatile of its kind. It is able to work with both solid body and acoustic basses. Beyond that, it is also adaptable to 4 or 5 string bass guitars. Because of its humbucking design, this pickup operates with very little unwanted noise. Installation is easy, with no routing or cutting necessary. The sensitive nature of this pickup ensures that the signal will definitely be boosted. Bass guitars equipped with the Lace Sensor USAB show a clear and clean tone with an extra punchy midrange.
Bass Pickups Buyers Guide
Although all bass pickups essentially perform the same task, differences in the make-up and execution of the process can alter the sound and end result of your bass guitar tone. Having a firm idea of what type of sound and style you’re aiming for will enable you to make a more informed decision about what bass pickup is best for you. Of course, there’s no better learning experience than actually playing instruments which utilize different bass pickups and hearing the difference for yourself, so it’s always advisable to try before you buy. Nonetheless, even if you’re not able to do this, these are some concepts that will help you in selecting the right choice.
Also known as jazz pickups, J pickups fall under the category of a magnetic pickup. Magnetic pickups are characterized by their magnetic pole pieces placed in exact alignment underneath the strings of a bass guitar where they capture the sound through the air. Using their magnetic fields, the signal is captured and transmitted out of the instrument, through the connected cable, and then amplified.
The sound of a J pickup is bright and often-times aggressive, so it’s most often favored for rock music and other “in-your-face” styles. Of course, as the name indicates, they are also popular amongst jazz bassists.
Most J pickups are configured in a pair, with one pickup located in the bridge position and the other in the neck position. The neck position is usually wide whereas the bridge is a bit tighter and more punchy. Bass instruments utilizing the dual J pickup configuration provide a knob allowing bassists to mix the signal coming from each pickup, allowing them to dial in the right combination of sounds coming from the two separate sources.
P pickups (or precision pickups) have a deeper and heavier sound preferred for funk music, heavier types of rock, and anything requiring a deeper bottom-end. The configuration of a P pickup bass is also split into a pair, with one pickup covering the lower two strings and the other capturing the sound of the higher strings. These two pickups are set up in a staggered form and also can be referred to as a dual coil humbucker setup.
In contrast to magnetic pickups, piezoelectric pickups are most commonly used to amplify the signal of acoustic bass guitars; they can be occasionally found on electric bass guitars as well. Rather than reading the signal through the air as the magnetic pickup does, piezoelectric bass pickups sense the vibration of the string through contact with the string at the bridge.
Although this kind of pickup has the advantage of completely dodging some of the hum and buzz which sometimes occurs when using magnetic pickups, the downside is they sometimes sound thin and weak compared to magnetic counterparts. To work around this factor, some bass guitar setups combine both magnetic and piezoelectric pickups in an effort to deliver a sound whichcaptures the best of both worlds.