By Dave Eichenberger
In electric basses, there are basically (haha) three different ways to design a pickup system. You can go with passive pickups, passive pickups with a preamp, and full-on active pickups. All are valid ways of doing things, and while bassists may argue the merits of each system, the good news is that we have choices. While most basses produced have passive pickups and a passive tone network installed, a growing number include active systems, from traditional four strings to those new-fangled extended-range instruments. Modern music has different tonal requirements which can benefit from active pickups and/or an active EQ system installed in you Jazz bass. This article is a rundown of our active Jazz bass pickups and preamps.
What Means Active?
The idea of passive pickups is easy: they don’t require a power supply. Passive systems rely on a simple LPF (low pass filter) tone control system, which passively (without power) rolls off the high end with the tone control. In passive pickups, the tone ultimately comes down to the design of the pickups themselves. Basses have been made this way for well over 60 years, and you hear the passive bass sound in most of the music released during that time. It is the sound of a bass we all know and love, and seems to work in all but the most modern of music styles.
An active preamp can boost the signal of a passive pickup. This can hit the amp harder, for a harder sound, and overdrive the input of many amps in a pleasing way. But a preamp doesn’t stop there: an active preamp with passive pickups act like active tone controls. You can boost OR cut your highs, mids, and bass independently. Think of it as a graphic EQ added to your bass sound. While a passive bass can only take away treble, a passive bass with an active EQ can boost the bass and mids while reducing treble for a more sculpted sound.
Active pickups are designed with a neutral clean & clear sound from the beginning, and benefit from having an active EQ and preamp to help shape the sound. The active pickup senses the best, clearest signal directly from the strings, which can be further manipulated by the active EQ and preamp.
Of course, active systems need a power source. Usually this is in the form of 1 (or 2, in some cases) standard 9 volt batteries.
Blackouts Bass Preamp
The Blackouts Bass Preamp was originally developed for use with the Blackouts for Bass pickups, but makes a versatile 2-band preamp for any passive pickups. Including all of the electronics you need to replace the wiring on your bass, it can be ordered with a concentric bass/treble pot or with separate pots to give any bass added volume and tonal range. You can add some of that active sound with the pickups you already own, expanding the tonal range of the pickups you already love. We also offer this system using a concentric pot, so no drilling is needed. We even include the knobs.
Active Bass Preamp
Seymour Duncan’s Active Bass Preamp is designed to work with already-active pickups. A 5-knob system (1 concentric pot) gives you the power you need for the active pickups, and includes bass, mid, treble controls, a blend knob, and master volume. It also includes a ‘slap switch’ which shifts the EQ for slap playing. This Slap Switch is activated via a push/pull volume control, while 2 trim pots on the circuit board can fine tune the EQ for your particular bass. The whole system will work with any active pickups in an instrument that can fit the 4 knobs, PC board and battery. An additional battery can be added for extra headroom for a strong sounding 18 volt signal! Passive bass fans need not be left out, as this entire system has been adapted for use for you, too. The Active Bass Preamp is also available in a 2 band version. The Active Bass System for Passive is perfect for any passive bass that can benefit from these expanded EQ tweaks. We also offer an Active Bass System for passive basses using a 2 band EQ.
Steve Bailey Active Preamp
Steve Bailey is one of the world’s biggest ambassadors of 6-string fretless bass playing. We worked hard with Steve to come up with the Steve Bailey Active Preamp. This preamp was especially voiced for fretless basses, and gives a low noise, high headroom boost to already active basses. It includes a special Frequency Contour Switch which is perfect for letting harmonics jump out of your bass, and can also add midrange punch via a 2 small trimpots on the circuit board. The Steve Bailey Active Preamp is available in a 3 band EQ version, as well as 2 and 3 band versions for passive fretless basses, so they don’t miss out on the fun.
Like your Jazz to look stock but want a little extra power under the hood? The Lightnin’ Rods Jazz Bass pickups are for you. These active coils look stock, but have a little more power to give you the edge in a dense mix. If you love vintage Jazz tone, but want a little more, the Lightnin’ Rods keep the attack and smooth tone you are used to. They are available in a set, as well as a PJ set, for those that love those hybrid tones. The sets contain everything you need to convert your passive vass into an active one: pots, jack, and battery clip.
Pro-Active Jazz Bass
A true modern-sounding, active bridge pickup, the Pro Active Jazz Bass has wonderfully pronounced low-mids, like the most-used position of our old ‘microswitch’ pickups. You get a modern look with no poles showing, as well as e
xpanded low and high end over passive pickups. This pickup is also available as a set for your Jazz, or as a PJ set for those who like that other kind of bass, too. Like our other active sets, our Pro Active Jazz Bass sets come with pots, output jack, and battery clip.
Active 5 String
Five string players aren’t left out of the active game. The Active Five String neck and bridge models deliver the expanded output and EQ to down to your low B. These pickups have a sleek black cover, and can even be used for 4-strings with wider string spacing with no dropouts at all due to their use of blades rather than poles. They feature a balanced EQ across all of the strings, and come ready for your preamp of choice, although we love our 3- Band Active preamp.
Have you tried any active bass pickups? What bassist gets your favorite tone?