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Pickups for Upright Bass:
Pickups for Upright Bass:
Pickups for Upright Bass:
Pickups: Making Sense of Your Many Choices (A 'Buyer's Guide')
Gollihur Buyer's Guide
Choosing a Pickup for Your Bass
A Special "Buyer's Guide"
So, you've come looking for a pickup for your upright bass. And now you're here, and...
The good news is: there are lots of choices.
The BAD news is: HOLY COW, there are LOTS of choices!
So, with dozens of pickups, packages, and mixing and matching options available, what the heck should you get?
It's best to start at the beginning; knowing what you're shooting at will help you aim. Consider (and try your best to come up with answers to) the following questions:
As you can see, that's quite a list. And those are just the questions; the answers are complex too -- once you have an idea what you're looking for, you need to factor in the character of each pickup, its ease/difficulty of installation, and combinations, preamps, etc... Whew.
- Volume: How loud do you need to get? Are you just looking for "a little reinforcement" (like in a dinner club) or is the pickup's output going to be your primary "sound" in the audience?
- Genre: What style of music do you play? Do you want a very natural, open tone, or something with a little "bite" or a specific "character?"
- Group Dynamics: Do you play in a large group or a small duo/trio? Perhaps would a sound that has more "cut" through a dense mix of instruments (rather than a more wooly, bassy sound) be to your advantage?
- Amplifier/Gear: What will you be plugged into... A bass guitar amp? An acoustic amp? A Mixing Board? Something else (or a combination?)
- The Bass: Do you own or rent your bass? Can you (or will you) make minor modifications to the bridge in order to accommodate the pickup? Does it have adjusters, or is it a fixed bridge? Are you comfortable with possibly removing the bridge from the bass to install the pickup?
- Removability: Can the pickup stay on the bass when you're not using it? Or do you need something that can be easily removed when not in use?
- Strings: What kind of strings do you use?
- Budget: Oh yeah... how much can you/are you willing to spend?
I'd practically have to write a doctoral dissertation to cover all the variables. Considering all the pickup choices we have, it seems clear that I couldn't possibly give you enough real information on one page to help you narrow it completely down.
If you're already feeling overwhelmed, here might a good place to stop.
If you've come up with some answers to the above questions, why not just give us a call or send us an email; we'll ask you a lot of these questions, and some other ones, and break down the choices into more manageable pieces for you.
We have experience with every pickup we sell; we know first-hand how they're installed, we know how they sound, we've spoken with lots of customers who use them, and we even helped design/develop some of them. So ask!
Still forging on? That's cool, I'd hate to think I typed all this for nothing. So let's talk about some of the differences in pickups.
We carry a variety of pickups, which generally use one of three different technologies to produce sound.
- Piezo-Electric: These pickups use "piezos"; shorthand for small transducers containing crystaline materials which react to pressure or vibration by generating an electrical signal. Your amp then turns that signal into sound. Most of the pickups for upright bass use this technology, since an upright bass creates plenty of vibration. The majority of pickups are either under, on, inside or otherwise attached to the bridge, since that's the "conduit" that takes the vibration energy of the strings to the resonant body of the bass. Common pickups of this type are the K&K Bass Max and Double Big Twin, The various Realist pickups by David Gage, the Schatten Design Pickups, and Fishman's offerings. A piezo-based pickup will often benefit (tonally speaking) from the use of a preamplifier, which can "buffer" the impedance of the output as well as enhance its gain structure - but one is not required to use such a pickup.
- Magnetic: Like you'd find on an electric bass guitar, magnetic upright bass pickups mount directly under the strings (usually at the bottom of the fingerboard) and take the energy produced when the strings vibrate within their magnetic field, translating it into electrical signals for your amp to turn into sound. Since they are getting all of their information directly from the strings themselves -- and thereby taking almost none of the "wood" into the equation -- magnetic pickups tend to sound very "electric," almost like a very large electric bass. While some people actually do have a preference for this sound, others (usually those playing in very loud bands) consider magnetic pickups to be a "weapon of last resort" in the fight against feedback, since magnetic pickups are about as close to "immune" from feedback as one can get. So, for some, the trade-off for less "acoustic" tone is worth it. The Krivo humbucker and the venerable Schaller chrome pickup are two common choices for magnetic pickups.
- Other/Hybrid: This could be a variety of other pickup types, experimental, combining technologies, etc. For instance, the Ehrlund EAP is said to be a combination of microphone and piezo technologies, blending them to create a product that has the sound of a microphone, but the ease of use (and feedback resistance) of a pickup.
For What Type of Music?
People often ask for "a pickup that's good for jazz" or "a blugrass pickup." While players often prefer a particular timbre for specific genres of music, pickups generally (with a couple exceptions) aren't necessarily made specifically to suit a particular genre.
The popular K&K Sound Bass Master Rockabilly System is a notable exception; it was co-designed by our own Bob Gollihur, with K&K Sound, to provide a gutsy sound while capturing the characteristic "click" sound that rockabilly slap players favor.
It's fair to assume that the goal of the pickup manufacturers is to create the sound of your bass, only louder. And the various manufacturers all do acheive that with varying levels of success. Where they miss the mark, so to speak, is what sets their pickup apart, tonally.
And yes, many jazz players may prefer a more "detailed" sound, where the distinct sound of their finger plucks gives them a little "push" in the mix of instruments - perhaps a Double Big Twin or Full Circle would be a good choice "for jazz." And often, bluegrassers like a warm, wooly bottom end - perhaps with less "detail" - for a bit more of an "old-timey" bass tone that suits their genre better; a Bass Max or a Realist LifeLine pickup is probably a good option.
But not everyone has the same idea of what "jazz bass" or "bluegrass bass" (or any other genre-specific bass) should sound like. What's important is what YOU like. So try to describe the sound you hear in your head, using the genre you play as a secondary sort of description. Because even though you might play bluegrass, that Double Big Twin I suggested for jazz might just be exactly what you think your bluegrass bass should sound like.
Where and How
The placement of the pickup on the bass is also important; the bass has different vibration characteristics at different points on the instrument - and even at different points on the bridge. I like to suggest the "Stethoscope Test" - meaning, imagine taking an old doctor's stethoscope (like the one to the right) and holding the element against a spot on the bass. What would it sound like at different spots on the bass? If you were holding it on the belly of the bass, you'd probably hear a warm, deep tone, but not a lot of detail. If you put it near the top of the bridge, right up next to the strings, you'd hear a lot more string detail; the pluck of the fingers, the scratch of the bow...
And how the pickup is installed also can make a difference. A pickup that is under pressure (squeezed into a bridge wing, under the foot, between the adjuster wheel and the wood of the bridge) will usually have more output, and thus often a different tonal character, than a pickup that is adhered or clamped to the surface of the bridge or bass body.
Other variables, like pickup alignment relative to the strings, pickup size, material, etc. probably also play a role, but this is a buyer's guide, not a science project. While it's helpful to know some of the "whys" for some guidance, it is possible to get too brainy about it. Ultimately it's our ears that matter.
Since different pickups (in different locations, with different methods of application) can have different characters, it's not unusual to see a bass sporting two pickups, which are then blended to create the "perfect" sound. For instance, K&K Sound makes the Bass Master Pro; a package that combines the previously mentioned Bass Max and Double Big Twin pickups, using a two-channel preamp (included) to EQ and blend them.
It's no different, really, than a two-pickup electric bass guitar - think of the Bass Max as the "neck pickup" and the Double Big Twin as the "bridge pickup" - you dial in enough of each to get the desired amount of bite, sizzle, tenderness -- whatever crazy steak-based descriptive terms you prefer. But it opens up your options considerably, providing far more variables for players who like to twiddle knobs.
And you can certainly put together a dual-pickup setup by selecting the pickups you like, à la carte. (Another food reference? I mut be getting hungry or something.) Anyway, we have several two-channel preamps available, and you can mix and match the various pickup and preamp brands with reckless abandon.
We Are Here to HELP.
So, even though there's a lot of information above, you may not be any more sure now than you were before you started. That's okay, it's complicated. And since it's expensive and impractical (at best) for you to try every pickup on your bass, your best bet is to talk to someone who knows the character of each pickup, and who can narrow down the field to 1 or 2 good options for you.
Again, we're quite well acquainted with the pickups we sell. We're not a guitar store, we're not a brass store. What we know, play, and sell is upright bass. We're not going to just steer you to the most expensive pickup and tell you it's "the best." We will help you decide which one is best. For you.
So give us a call, email us, send up a smoke signal, whatever. We DO reply, and we're happy to answer your questions.
(Though we're not sure we actually can interpret smoke signals, so you might want to stick to the phone or email.)
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Check Out the FAQ Resources That Apply to This Product:
PICKUPS and MICROPHONES: Should I get a Pickup or a Mic?
PICKUPS: What Should a Double Bass Sound Like When Amplified?
David Gage Realist LifeLine Upright Bass Pickup
The David Gage Realist Lifeline is the newest pickup in the Realist line, and with an open, full-bodied sound, could well be my favorite option for a bass that is equipped with an adjustable bridge. In fact, this is the pickup that is on my own bass! And we include the FREE BONUS Gollihur Music Jack Mount Kit, to simplify and improve the jack mounting on your tailpiece.
K&K Sound Bass Max Upright Bass Pickup
The Bass Max is a compact, dual-transducer pickup unit that is wedged into the wing opening on the side of your bridge. It has a big sound, with plenty of gain, and is particularly feedback-resistant. Available in a package with a small preamplifier, or just get the pickup by itself and roll with it -- it's one of the friendliest, no-fuss pickups around.
K&K Sound Double Big Twin Upright Bass Pickup
The Double Big Twin was the pickup that brought Bob and K&K Sound together; its big, punchy, string-oriented sound can be just the ticket for modern jazz play. Do you favor a detailed tone with plenty of the fingerboard interaction that brings out "growl?" Here's your pickup. Easy to install, a preamp is strongly recommended for this pickup (and we offer a package deal to make it easy!)
Fishman Full Circle Upright Bass Pickup
Installed by replacing the stock adjusters on your adjustable bridge, the Full Circle delivers a natural sound with a nice mix of body and string. It has often been described as "microphone-like," which might be a touch overstated, but I understand the description; it's got a good mix of fullness and openness that lends itself to a pretty natural sound. A longtime best-seller!
David Gage Realist Pickup for Double Bass (Original and Wood Version)
The David Gage Realist pickup is a very popular choice, used by a number of top bassists for many years. It particularly excels on basses with resonant carved tops. It's well-known for its full, woody tone; it doesn't have a lot of high end response, due to it being against the bass top. Depending on your needs, this may be a very good thing. It's available in the newer "Woodtone" as well as the original "Copperhead" versions. INCLUDES FREE BONUS - Gollihur Jack Mount Kit...
Ehrlund Acoustic Pickup (EAP) Linear Microphone (for Upright Bass)
The EAP (Ehrlund Acoustic Pickup) is a specially designed "linear microphone" which attaches to your bass top, and produces an incredibly realistic, mic-like sound - but with the convenience (and feedback resistance) of a pickup. It truly is one of those things that you think is "too good to be true" -- until you try it. It's a complete system that includes a small battery-powered preamp. BONUS: We INCLUDE a free Gollihur "Jack Replacement Kit" to modify the output plug to a jack configuration.
K&K Sound Bass Master Rockabilly PLUS Upright Bass Pickup System
Bob developed this -- the original pickup system specifically designed for Rockabilly bassists -- over 15 years ago with the folks at K&K Sound. And it's still a best seller, being used by hundreds of players worldwide. This dual-pickup system gets "the sound" using two dedicated pickups - one for the bass tone, and one for the "slap" - and with the included two-channel blending preamp/EQ, you can truly custom-tailor your sound.
K&K Sound Bass Master Pro Upright Bass Pickup System
For the ultimate in flexibility, use two pickups with distinctly different strengths, and then blend them to your liking. The Bass Master Pro Combo thusly combines the K&K Bass Max and Double Big Twin pickups, allowing you to separately EQ and then mix them using the included two-channel preamplifier. Analogy: kind of like the bridge pickup and neck pickup on a bass guitar. Yeah, it's kind of like that. Full package features everything you need to get rolling.
Golden Trinity Microphone/Pickup COMBINATION Systems by K&K Sound
Blend the realism of a mic with the direct sound and dependability of a pickup! The Golden Trinity Systems combine the Golden Bullet Condenser Mic with a Bass Max, Double Big Twin, or most any other pickup of your choice, using a small 2-channel blending preamp with individual EQ and gain controls. A full-featured, yet highly compact and uncomplicated system. You literally get the best of both worlds!
Fishman BP-100 Upright Bass Pickup
Back when dark and tubby bass ruled the world, along came the BP-100 from Fishman. While not perfect for every player (if such a pickup existed, it would be the only one I carried) it opened our eyes to what bass could sound like: clear, full-bodied... not wimpy! The key to getting great sound with the BP-100 is using it with a buffering preamp, so I strongly recommend you have or get one; but it's very easy to install, and can be on and off the bass in a minute or so with no tools.
Krivo Humbucking Magnetic Upright Bass Pickup (new smaller model, includes free Jack Mount)
The Krivo pickup is hand-made in Oregon. It's a specially-designed magnetic pickup in a (New for 2016 - SMALLER) wooden casing, which has been engineered to provide a more "acoustic-like" sound despite getting its input solely from the strings. For players in high-volume (Rockabilly?) situations, magnetic is the way to go to avoid feedback - and this quiet humbucker is the best option I've found. Its low-key looks and great sound really make magnetic pickups practical!
Schaller Magnetic Upright Bass Pickup
If this isn't the classic magnetic upright bass pickup I don't know what is! Single coil, shiny deco look... yep, it's the Schaller magnetic pickup. Mounts to the end of the fingerboard using two tiny wood screws, and features a volume knob. Adjustable polepieces, too!
Bass Master Rockabilly Upgrade System
So, you already have a single pickup on your bass (or want something specific, like a magnetic pickup), but wish to add a blend-able Rockabilly "Clicky" pickup to your setup for that killer slap tone? No worries -- at Mark's request, K&K now provides everything you need, in one package! The Bass Master Rockabilly Upgrade kit provides you with the clicky pickup, two-channel preamp, and a plug to integrate your pickup. Clean, smart, and ready-to-go!
Schatten Design RB-1 and RB-1A Player Upright Bass Pickups
The RB-1 Bass Pickup from Schatten Design is similar in concept to other popular "wing-mount" options, and does a good job -- at a lower price point than most. It is also available with or without a small on-board preamp, which can provide gain and buffering for the best interfacing with your other stage gear, and is compact and easy to use.
Schatten Design RB-2 and RB-2A Rockabilly Upright Bass Pickups
The RB-2 Bass Pickup is Schatten's take on the Rockabilly Setups offered by several manufacturers; with a main bridge pickup and a clicky pickup for the back for the fingerboard, it does a very good job at a nice price. You can get it with or without the on-board preamp, which is tiny -- but effective.
David Gage Realist SoundClip Upright Bass Pickup
A traveling bassist's dream, the David Gage Realist SoundClip can help bring your sound to each and every bass you play. The unique transport-ability and high quality, variable sound makes it a must-have if you have to borrow or rent basses while on tour. The ability to quickly clamp it on most any bass without modification makes it almost one-of-a-kind. Solid, durable, and dependable, it even comes with its own mini carrying case. Don't leave town without it.