Understanding Bass Guitar Pickups
Whether you play the acoustic or the electric bass, the piece of equipment that is going to ensure that your sound is heard in combination with the rest of the instruments is your bass guitar pickups. In fact, most acoustic bass players who play along with a band find that it is almost impossible to hear their bass over the other instruments without the aid of a pickup and amplification system, even though the other instruments being used are acoustic as well.
Single Coil/ Dual Coil
The coiling on bass guitar pickups refers to the number of magnets that the pickup uses to catch the electric field and send it out to the amplification system. Single coil pickups for basses are comprised of one magnet coiled by a copper wire, while dual coil pickups have two magnets. Dual coil are also known as humbuckers, as they negate the humming feedback which is created with a single coil model.
Types of Bass Pickups
There are several types of bass pickups. The most basic categories are magnetic and piezoelectric. Magnetic coils work along the mechanisms described above, generating pickups through the magnetic field. Piezoelectric guitar pickups use crystals to generate the electricity that is then picked up and sent to the amplifier. All pickups will use one or the other basic generating mechanisms, and some work in combination. They then fall into one of several other categories.
J Pickups are the basses answer to the hexagonic pickups found for some guitars, in that they lie underneath all four of the strings of the bass. These pickups are wired opposite to each other, so even though they are generally single-coil, the hum generated is greatly reduced.
P Pickups are the original style of pickup found in the first widely popular bass designed by Leo Fender back in the '70s. These bass guitar pickups are two halves of one single coil pickup, and each half is placed underneath two of the bass' strings. Like the J pickups, they are wired in opposite directions to reduce the hum.
Humbuckers, like the same model for guitars, use a dual coil system to eliminate hum. They are the same shape as the J pickups, but in order to incorporate both magnet systems they are much wider.
People commonly refer to soapbox pickups as a distinct variety, but in fact they are merely housing. Soapbox pickups may contain any one of the three types of pickup used in basses. Further, many bass players use several types of pickup in conjunction in order to round out the sound that they want. The placement of the pickup on the guitar will greatly contribute to the musical effects of the instrument. Having a pickup higher up on the guitar, such as at the neck, will allow the lower sounds to be amplified, maximizing the bass effects. Locating the pickups at the bridge will pick up the tones at the treble end of the scale.
Bass guitar pickups are essential for the sound that you want to generate on your bass. Not only the type, but also the placement of the pickup will influence the sound you are creating. Trying different methods and trying them in combination, along with a good understanding of bass guitar amps, will mean that you can modify your sound to exactly what you want to produce.
George Schmingy is an avid musician and writer of musical instrument related materials. To learn more about how bass guitar pickups work
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