Whether you're looking to give an old, worn-out bass a much needed tuneup or breath new life into your perfectly good instrument, the following upgrades are some of the best ways to easily and effectively get better tone quality and give your bass a fresh new feel. Today, we're starting off with the big one - pickups. If your bass is anything less than professional-grade, you owe it to yourself and your instrument to pop in a set of aftermarket pickups. While the pickups that come with most of today's bass guitars are pretty good, the sheer number of pickup manufacturers and the tonal options available should make you give this upgrade heavy consideration, especially if your still equipped with a stock set and are interested new tones. Whether your bass accepts humbuckers, single-coils or even soapbars, there are a wide range of pickups available to you in several tonal styles.
Types Of Bass Pickups
Starting off with J-bass style single-coils, Seymour Duncan offers a good number of pickups with a wide variety of tonal options. If your a fan of the 60s style Jazz Bass and its signature old school funk tones, Duncan's Antiquity series is a perfect place to start. If hotter, thicker tones are more your thing, their Quarter-Pound series feature fat pole pieces that provide higher output, great for a more aggressive style of bass. And just because your bass is made for single-coils doesn't mean you cant have the signature sound of a humbucker; Duncan's Classic Stack fits a full humbucker in the dimensions of a single-coil, giving your single-coil bass the signature thicker tone without the hum.
While there are a great number of J-bass pickups out there, P-bass humbuckers have just as many options. Aguilar and Lindy Fralin both make some outstanding P-bass pickups designed to provided the famous, big round tone of the Fender Precision Bass, a sound found in almost every hit song from the '60s, often times while adding some modern flair. Aguilar's AG-4P for example are designed with the classic Precision Bass tone in mind but overwound and use bigger pole pieces in order to eliminate the infamous P-bass honk. If you're looking for a more specific P-bass sound, there are several signature sets available as well. EMG's Geezer Butler set offers the deep, tight low end bass tone that you can hear on Black Sabbath's “Iron Man”, “War Pigs”, and “Paranoid.”
If your bass takes soapbars, there are plenty of manufacturers that cater to your type of pickup. A soapbar is more of a description of the housing, which looks like a wider version of a J-bass pickup, meaning they can come in both single-coil and humbucking varieties. They also tend to be cast in epoxy to remove unwanted feedback and microphonics. Bartolini and EMG are two that feature a ton of great quality soapbar pickups. If you're looking for a set that features an extended, more resonant frequency range with powerful lows and low-mids as well as bright treble, the Bartolini M34CBC M3 set is a perfect choice. The EMG-35HZ is another popular choice, featuring the punch and fullness of their older passive designs along with added brightness for a better defined tone. It also features EMG's exclusive 5-wire quik-connect output allowing any number of wiring combinations which are fully shielded for a minimum of noise.
Despite taking a specific type of design, there are no shortage of pickup options for Music Man basses. If you're a fan of the signature '90s Ernie Ball Music Man era, Duncan's SMB-4D pickups capture the punch and aggressiveness that made the sound legendary. Features a tight, articulate tone along with the solid low end for which Music Man basses are so well know for. If you're looking for something a little different without sacrificing the the key tonal components of your Music Man's sound, check out Aguilar's AG-4M pickup. The AG-4M keeps the classic feel while adding all of the characteristics that Aguilar pickups are known for – excellent string-to-string balance, consistency of tone and rich harmonic content.
And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Come back next week when we'll be continuing our bass upgrades feature by taking a look at wiring and electronics! In the mean time, you can check out our entire selection of bass pickups for a closer look at all of the options available.
Your Turn to Sound Off!
What's you favorite non-stock, aftermarket bass pickup?