It is hard to believe that there was a time before the electric bass. But just about 70 years ago, the Dark Ages were upon us as bassists were still using upright basses for new forms of dance music becoming popular with teenage audiences. These bassists were still packing their oversized violas in the Family Truckster, dragging it up on the bandstand and swaying from side-to-side while thumping on an instrument that no one but the guy playing it would ever hear.
Leo Fender wasn’t the first person to design an electric bass, but his ideas certainly stuck the hardest. Named ‘Precision’ because the use of frets, it allowed a guitarist to learn to use it quickly. Precision Basses also had an important feature that electric bassists take for granted now: sustain. No longer did they just play percussive thumps that doubled as kick drum, nor did they have to perfect their French bowing technique. Suddenly whole notes actually rang out for 4 beats, and, as amplification got more bass-specific, it actually mattered what notes were played.
P-Basses evolved since their introduction in 1951, and by about 1957, they settled down into a passive pickup design they still use today. This article will explain the various pickup options available to to modern P-bassist who still dig the sound of a passive P-bass pickup.
Like They Used to Make ‘Em
After the first single-coil Precision Bass pickups, Fender settled on a split design that was actually humbucking. This strange, split look actually had a function, and that was to eliminate the hum found in the first P-Bass pickup. All of Seymour Duncan’s split coil designs are hum-cancelling, like the originals. The coils are wound opposite of each other, and they have opposite magnetic polarity (one coil is rw/rp of the other), so they ‘hear’ the signal from the strings, yet cancel out the hum. The pickups below aren’t just for P-basses either, but can be used in any bass that uses a split-coil passive P-Bass-type pickup.
Vintage for P-Bass
The Vintage P-Bass pickup is the standard production version of the pickup that used to be made back in 1957. With a balanced sound, vintage output and Alnico V magnets, it is the sound heard on thousands of recordings. This sound is the reason the electric bass was called ‘the Fender bass’ at studio sessions in the 60s and 70s. If you want the pure thump you grew up with, this is the pickup to start with.
The Antiquity P-Bass pickup is produced in our Custom Shop, and looks, sounds, smells, and tastes* like an authentic pickup from the late 1950s. Using materials and manufacturing techniques only available 65 years ago, the Antiquity P-Bass pickup uses slightly degaussed Alnico II magnets that simulate how a pickup sounds after six decades. With a brass bottom plate, and cloth push-back wire, the Antiquity P-Bass pickup can make any P-Bass sound like your Grand Uncle’s 1958 you hope he wills to you. Also available in a model with raised A-string poles, like they made that one year, because, you know, we like to be accurate like that.
*pickups are really bad for fillings
Antiquity II P-Bass
Just as the 1950s has a specific electric bass sound, the 1960s introduced something different into the mix. Alnico V magnets are bigger and bolder, which give the Antiquity II P-Bass pickups the correct voice for everything from Motown to classic rock. Built using the construction and tone of the best 60’s bass pickups, it even looks like it is 50 years old. It has a little bit of a scooped response, and is made in our Custom Shop the exact same way pickups were made back then.
Hot for P-Bass
Do you like mids? The Hot P-Bass has got ‘em! If you play heavier music and want more out of a pickup, the Hot P-Bass pushes the output up, adding more punch while still retaining some qualities of a standard pickup. Perfect for playing with fingers or a pick into a distorted amp, this pickup has enough power to even drive the input of a clean amp. It is also wax potted for squeal-free performance.
Steve Harris P-Bass
If there is any bassist that deserves signature pickups, it is Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris. Steve’s powerful galloping bass lines have been powering the music of the beast since their debut in 1980. The Steve Harris P-Bass pickup has a special low mid punch with a clear high end, so it can cut through a band with three guitarists yet you can still hear every single note. Rarely does a bass player define the sound of a band, but we can’t imagine Iron Maiden sounding any other way. Steve worked with us to get this pickup perfect, although we can only hope to write as many classic metal albums as he did. Read our interview with Steve here.
Quarter Pound P-Bass
For a massive low end with a lot of power behind it, the Quarter Pound P-Bass pickup will supercharge any passive bass with the power of an active pickup. The larger polepieces let you know that something is definitely different about this pickup, but they actually serve a purpose: they expand the magnetic field to sense more frequencies. The results are higher highs and lower lows, and a boosted sound that sounds nothing like a vintage pickup. Still handmade in California (like all of our pickups), the Quarter Pound is also available in a 5-string version, as well as in a PJ Set
What is your favorite recording with a P-Bass? Who are your favorite P-Bass players?