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Noob query on humbucker basses?


barrycreed

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Hi all. Looking around online, I am curious about humbucker bass guitars. Double humbucker or single humbucker basses. Why would you choose one over a p or jp or j config? is it more output? Different genres? e.g. a bass with a humbucker in the same position as a p bass will most likely sound very different as will a neck humnbucker v a neck j pickup.

I can hear the difference in single coil v humbucker clearly with guitars most of the time. You would think more rock bass would be played on humbuckers but the p or j config seems to be quite popular still in that genre. Are they muddy sounding usually? 

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The P bass pickup is a humbucker just with two coils in separate units. Gibson bass humbuckers have a reputation for lacking definition and top end and were dubbed ‘mudbuckers’. Active electronics then came along in the 70s and big MusicMan or soap bar pickups offered a wider more full range sound, although these typically use two coils so are technically humbuckers.

Edited by cytania
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Humbucker may be a double coil with a 1coil tap. Then it can be switched to a series/parallel humbucker or a single coil.

The output level can be whatever, so the discussion about levels is a bit complicated. (If you have a switchable humbucker, I would suggest ser/par, or ser/single setting. Single/par are not so different from each other.)

Yes, different pickups sound different, but as there is so big variety of pickups available, sounds can be described in a basic level only. Details have to be studied individually. There are already so many J's that sound very different from each other, and some of them are actually humbuckers (stacked, parallel etc.).

You can also adjust the sound with preamps, but maybe the biggest advantage is the bucking of the hum.

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For me, they have their own sound which is what I prefer to P or J so that’s why I play them. Granted, the audience don’t care I guess!

MM humbucker is massively distinct. Nothing sounds like one to my ears. The BTB here has USA Barts which are as good as humbuckers get IMHO. The Fender Dimension sounds like a Dimension.... not P or J, it’s own thing. But, also gives you single coil options too. Best bass I’ve ever owned by far. 

460F4212-C9C6-4DD7-9304-C8C0F2D299D0.jpeg

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It’s pretty much as everyone says above, it will come down to a visual preference and sound preference. Amongst all configurations there are differences between all the pick ups. If you lean towards one sound naturally and visually then that is for you, and you can then mess about with changing pick ups as you see fit.

Careful of some basses that store a non soap bar pick up in a soap bar casing, there is nothing wrong with them but - for example The Sandberg 48 has a spilt coil in the neck, not a soap bar under the casing. Nothing wrong with this, but you may not get the preferred sound you were thinking of

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17 hours ago, barrycreed said:

Hi all. Looking around online, I am curious about humbucker bass guitars. Double humbucker or single humbucker basses. Why would you choose one over a p or jp or j config? is it more output? Different genres? e.g. a bass with a humbucker in the same position as a p bass will most likely sound very different as will a neck humnbucker v a neck j pickup.

I can hear the difference in single coil v humbucker clearly with guitars most of the time. You would think more rock bass would be played on humbuckers but the p or j config seems to be quite popular still in that genre. Are they muddy sounding usually? 

 

To be honest, I don't choose a bass because it has certain pickups so that it fits with a particular sound... I just look at a bass and if it does the sounds I like, that works. This means that I have P, PJ, JJ, Jazz, MM, double MM, P/MM... It's not about output, but the combination of a type of pickup and its position just gives a certain type of sound, and with so many variants it's hard not to succumb to GAS and acquire a few different ones.

A bass with a MM at the same position as the Precision pickup does not sound like a P, but it does have some of the vibe as I found out. So you can think of basses like that as variants of the Precision sound, some of which you may like more and some less than a Precision.

You're right, single coil vs humbucker is super easy to tell apart on guitars. On bass it's not quite as clear cut, but sometimes it's very obvious, with the single coils generally having a treble profile that's quite telling... but there are exceptions, it's hard to make a hard and fast rule.

Humbuckers are not muddy, you can make them muddy, but they don't have to be, it depends on the actual circuitry.

 

 

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1 hour ago, moley6knipe said:

The Fender Dimension sounds like a Dimension.... not P or J, it’s own thing. But, also gives you single coil options too. Best bass I’ve ever owned by far. 

Care to elaborate?  I'm intrigued 🤔

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IME the main difference in sound isn’t the style or type of pickup but more where the pickup is located. I mean everything comes into play but that’s what makes it difficult to generalise and why we must all own lots of basses 🤔

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13 hours ago, bloke_zero said:

Care to elaborate?  I'm intrigued 🤔

Well. I’m hopeless at describing sounds and YMMV but... As a generalisation it’s a more “modern” take on Fender sounds to my ears. Position 5 is “sort of a precision”. It’s driving and thick but not as midrange focused - more of an even push across the spectrum.  Posn 4 and 2 are kinda like both J pickups together... but the very subtle diff between 60s and 70s spacing. Posn 3 is Jazz on steroids. Posn 1 is ballpark Stingray... but not quite as hi-mid burpy - I prefer this to my ACTUAL Ray tbh.

Personally, I love the 5 way blade switching - much ‘simpler’ than a pot blend and nails the fundamental tones quicker than panning for me.  The 3 band EQ works beautifully with the selector - for example Posn 1 with bass rolled up gives enough of the classic bridge pickup honk but with proper balls behind it.

What I do know for certain is that I love the Dimension so very, very much 😍

82B97AFE-2D82-4433-8527-7DD01E5CDBE4.jpeg

Edited by moley6knipe
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This is one of those can of worms topics I think you could have two of the same bass made on the same day in the same factory with the same basic parts and they sound and feel totally different. You can use pickup type/placement as a general guide know the rough characteristics you prefer then try as many instruments that you think will fit the sound you are looking for till you find the one that stands out.

Hindsight is real git at times I wished I kept basses I have moved on that I felt didn't fit the bill at the time but really they were more tan the sum of their parts and sounded great each style has its place be it single/split/bucke/ active or passive just find a bass you gel with and play it as much as you can.

 

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14 hours ago, moley6knipe said:

Well. I’m hopeless at describing sounds and YMMV but... As a generalisation it’s a more “modern” take on Fender sounds to my ears. Position 5 is “sort of a precision”. It’s driving and thick but not as midrange focused - more of an even push across the spectrum.  Posn 4 and 2 are kinda like both J pickups together... but the very subtle diff between 60s and 70s spacing. Posn 3 is Jazz on steroids. Posn 1 is ballpark Stingray... but not quite as hi-mid burpy - I prefer this to my ACTUAL Ray tbh.

Personally, I love the 5 way blade switching - much ‘simpler’ than a pot blend and nails the fundamental tones quicker than panning for me.  The 3 band EQ works beautifully with the selector - for example Posn 1 with bass rolled up gives enough of the classic bridge pickup honk but with proper balls behind it.

What I do know for certain is that I love the Dimension so very, very much 😍

82B97AFE-2D82-4433-8527-7DD01E5CDBE4.jpeg

 

The Dimension was the first real novel bass Fender has come up with in ages... and they discontinued it :facepalm:

How could they?

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4 hours ago, mcnach said:

The Dimension was the first real novel bass Fender has come up with in ages... and they discontinued it :facepalm:

Novel? In pickup options, it looks strangely similar to an HH Stingray to me.  How does it sound?  Stingray like or quite different?

Edited by NickA
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My Ray is an H and my Dimension is HH so not a direct comparison (and I’ve never played an HH Ray sadly) but nah, the bridge pickups don’t sound alike to me  you can get near to a Ray sound but not identical.

A Ray sounds like a ray.... and other basses don’t sound like a Ray. 

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14 hours ago, NickA said:

Novel? In pickup options, it looks strangely similar to an HH Stingray to me.  How does it sound?  Stingray like or quite different?

 

More like a fat Jazz with additional options, given the position of the pickups. I think it's the single pickup version that can sound a bit more Stingrayish, with its pickup farther from the bridge than in the HH version. But yeah, it's the first decent new shape they offer that's not a direct version of an older design, with a range of sound options not found in other Fender instruments. For Fender, that's not just novel, it's positively groundbreakingly futuristic! :D

 

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On 23/07/2020 at 21:55, cytania said:

The P bass pickup is a humbucker just with two coils in separate units. 

They do "buck hum" in the same way by having two coils in opposite polarities, plus the magnets for each coil are also opposite. This gives the same polarity signal from the string moving, as that's from coil + magnet, and two opposites end up the same, but it gives opposite polarity signals for any background hum as that's picked up by the coil alone, so they cancel.  They are different though, as the two halves of a split coil are under different pairs of strings, so for any given string signal is coming from one single coil. A humbucker has both coils & magnets under all the strings, so (in series or paralle, so it's actual bucking hum) it will be generating signal from both coils for any given string, and they're in slightly different positions as well. That's why you get a "fatter" sound. I think that's one reason humbuckers are popular near the bridge, where the fattened up version of a naturally more trebly sound can work really well.

Edited by adamg67
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My "Jazz bass" type bass has standard "single coil" shaped Jazz pickup that are actually humbuckers. 

Two coils wound in different directions but only one set around the magnetic poles; so no hum when using just one pickup (it works, they're silent) but still the narrow aperture that gives the less fat sound and clearer harmonics. 

Mine are Delano, but I think they are quite common - I remember Kent Armstrong (the man himself) offering me a set in 1983 when all I could afford was a re-wind.

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19 minutes ago, NickA said:

My "Jazz bass" type bass has standard "single coil" shaped Jazz pickup that are actually humbuckers. 

Two coils wound in different directions but only one set around the magnetic poles; so no hum when using just one pickup (it works, they're silent) but still the narrow aperture that gives the less fat sound and clearer harmonics. 

Mine are Delano, but I think they are quite common - I remember Kent Armstrong (the man himself) offering me a set in 1983 when all I could afford was a re-wind.

I've always wondered how they work. If the magnets are the same way and the coils are opposite, how come the signal you want doesn't cancel out as well as the hum?

Just re-read properly, one coil with magnets one without.

Edited by adamg67
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On 26/07/2020 at 09:37, mcnach said:

For Fender, that's not just novel, it's positively groundbreakingly futuristic!

They did that Rosco Beck one with HH pickups too.  Same thing as the dimension in a different package?

Fat Jazz bass as you say; they sound really good (in a Fender plus sort of way).  Fender dumped that one too.  To quote someone on talkbass:

"No matter how good a new bass design is from Fender, they have a real uphill battle to get acceptance. People don't typically look at Fender when they want something different than the "normal".

The bass that Mr Beck really wanted Fender to make was this one:

slant5-1.jpg

Much too radical for Fender.

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On 27/07/2020 at 15:30, adamg67 said:

Just re-read properly, one coil with magnets one without.

I'm not taking my Delanos apart to confirm that!  But the "no magnets" coil must still pick up a bit of the magnetic field from the "got magnets" coil as they are stacked one on top of the other; so there will be a bit of signal cancellation as well as the near total noise cancellation .. but the output is still pretty high and they work fine in a passive bass.

My Warwick has a single MEC active J-type pickup at the neck and a double version (humbucker) at the bridge.   That bass is also silent in any of the six pickup combinations (neck, neck and 2x bridge, neck and 1x bridge, 2x bridge 1x bridge) - probably has similar winding inside each coil to the Delanos ... the output is much lower though and needs the active electronics to bring it up to a useful level.

Edited by NickA
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On 27/07/2020 at 16:41, adamg67 said:

The other thing that people do is a single coil that's really a split coil but with the two halves lined up, like Nordstrand big splits

That is likely the truth about the Delanos and the MECs in my Warwick ... doesn't leave much space between the (fat) pole pieces to fit in two lots of windings; but if you put in big enough magnets you don't need so many turns of wire!

Kent A told me his were stacked ... but seriously, who knows without a destructive examination!

Wal's pickups have a separate winding around each of the 8 (or 10,  or 12!) pole pieces, then the four in each row are added in series.  One row is reversed compared to the other so could be added in series or parallel - always series I think on custom/mk1/mk2/mk3 active basses - and still buck the hum.  They "could" have reversed the phase half way along each row (on 4s and 6s anyway) and provided a single coil output that was still noise free.... may suggest that to Paul Herman ... but seriously, those basses have quite enough knobs and sounds already!

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