Last week, we began our multi-part feature on worthwhile bass upgrades for improved tone, taking a look at various pickups made to give your sound some added quality. This week, we're moving on to the next natural step: electronics. While making any changes to the inside wiring of an instrument might seem a bit intimidating to players that are not accustomed to wiring systems, it's not nearly as tough as it might seem and the potential benefits make it at least worth a look. In several cases, you don't even need a soldering iron to completely upgrade your instrument's wiring as several manufacturers sell easy install kits that require nothing more than a screwdriver. And even if you do, most electrical setups are pretty straight forward and there are plenty of guides online to help you along the way.
Active pickups require extra power via batteries in order to give it its signature boost in power and plenty of active pickup manufacturers make wiring systems that compliment them, sometimes selling the pickups and wiring as one entire unit. EMG is a leader in active bass pickup systems, creating numerous offerings for various bass designs, including P-bass, J-bass, Mexican-made J-bass (which uses two of the same sized pickups instead of the traditional short and long variations) and PJ pickup configurations. And best of all, they offer several sets that feature their Quick Connect wiring system, making installation extremely easy.
If you're happy with the sound of your passive pickups but are looking to add the power and EQ control of an active setup, an onboard preamp system is a perfect upgrade. The main draw of an active preamp system is their ability to allow you to better shape the sound of your pickups. Not only can you boost your signal at various frequency ranges (usually at the standard Bass, Mid and Treble ranges) but you can also cut them as well. Many onboard preamps come in kits with all the necessary wiring, pots and switches included, making installing fairly easy. Bartolini's TCT preamp system is a popular choice that can give your bass a very wide range of boost or attenuation to the Bass, Midrange and Treble regions of your sound. Aguilar's OBP-3TK onboard preamp is another great choice that offers a similarly wide amount of EQ control but also Includes a stacked Treble/Bass push/pull pot, Mid pot and black mini-toggle switch for midrange frequency selection.
Pots and Switches
Another common type of electrical upgrade is switching between the 250K and 500K pots. While the tonal difference you can achieve between a 250K and a 500K pot are more subtle than between humbuckers and single-coils, they play an important role in the balancing of frequencies as well as creating the signature sound of a guitar or bass.
The next popular type of upgrade is installing a push/pull pot. A push/pull pot works in a similar way to a normal pot used for volume or tone but it uses a two-way switch, essentially acting as two knobs in one. The switch is moved into one of its two possible positions by pulling the pot’s knob out and away from the guitar, or pushing it back in again. The pot and the switch are completely separate electrically, and there is no need for the functions of the two settings to be related in any way. Push/pull pots are regularly used for active-passive switching as well as EQ/tone control. Another type of control is the mini-toggle. Electrically, it serves a similar purpose as the push/pull pot, allowing you to select different wiring setups or allow for various frequency boosts or cuts.
Although we've gone over the pickups and electronics of the bass, there's still a lot more to cover. Come back next week when we'll be taking a look at the various types of bass strings and their affects on bass tone!
Your Turn to Sound Off!
Have you ever upgraded your instrument's electronics? If not, what's held you back?
Sound off in the comment section below!