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Ricky Rioli

The tone of the Reverse P: when is it a Good Thing? when is it not?

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I was reading about a recent Jackson Dave Ellefson signature model. Mr E said this

"I went back in time with the P/J setup. The very first Jackson basses that I got back in the day had that configuration, because I noticed that if you flipped the P pickup to the reverse position it got rid of an annoying low-mid frequency that just doesn’t work in a metal setting, because it gets the bass right down inside the kick drum."

Which sounds very much like a good thing; when, then, would a reverse P not be wanted?

From what he's saying I'm guessing that when a P is reversed, the two halves swap positions on the string. Is this always the case, or are there instances when one half stays in place and the other half gets moved to the other side of it?

(True fact: Dave Ellefson was born and raised in a town called Jackson)

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Edited by Ricky Rioli
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1 hour ago, Ricky Rioli said:

Also, when a P is reversed, do the two halves swap positions on the string, or does one half stay in place and the other half get moved to the other side, or is there no rule?

I think different manufacturers/brands approach this differently, which is why I dispute when people make blanket statements like “a reverse P is better!”

There is an obvious tonal difference between doing one and the other but it doesn’t seem to be standardised.

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5 minutes ago, CameronJ said:

I think different manufacturers/brands approach this differently, which is why I dispute when people make blanket statements like “a reverse P is better!”

There is an obvious tonal difference between doing one and the other but it doesn’t seem to be standardised.

Exactly this - if your reversed P top split coil is on exactly the same place as the standard - it will sound pretty much the same and you have been sold snake oil just on appearances and hubris without Due diligence.

Something with a single J type pick up (which could of course be dual coil and humbucking) slanted either way would give a similar sound as you would expect.

How about an M type humbucker - you could have a Quadcoil in there and depending on how it’s wired flip between a standard and reverse setting or a straight up jazz.

I think a proper reverse P bringing it closer to the bridge is great in a PJ PM setting as it just tightens everything up just a tad to allow a great blend between the 2 as you wish

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Well if he’s saying reverse PU reduces the low mids, then I guess you’d want it the other way for when you need those low mids. In funk and Disco the bass often occupies those frequencies to cut through and be pronounced as it has an important role in that music. 
 

The reverse P on Lee sklar’s P bass sounds epic but I imagine that’s more to do with his playing than the bass itself.

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The conventional P bass tone is, to my ears mid scooped. A good convention P (or P?/J solo'd on the P of course) bass has a unique sound and one that I love. Earthy, woody and sort of hollowed out. It makes me feel good. I'll play the bass and smile.

The only P I own at present is my Yamaha BBPH with the reverse P. The difference isn't subtle. More balanced mids and a different beast entirely. Clarity, sustain and bite are omnipresent. It isn't really a P bass at all.

Given modern electronics and cut and boost EQs a lot can be achieved but the instruments core tone is still important methinks. 

I have a P bass 'in the wings ;)'

Peter

 

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Motown as well maybe, again low end & low mids make those great bass lines flow.

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It's not standardised but it is possible to give an idea of what's going on which covers a substantial part of what different manufacturers are doing and remove much of the speculation. Personally, I find the reverse P more comfortable to play, for a start. There's also something very pleasing about that mixed PJ sound which isn't quite there with a traditionally positioned split P and J. But first, let's do some measuring.

I don't have a Fender P, the closest I have is an old Japanese Yamaha BB1100S. Other traditional P types are a Bass Collection SB311 and an Ibanez SB900. Measuring the distance from the 19th fret to the leading edge of the pickup, we find:

 image.png.9fb99088f9b5e6e5295cb0abe9e9f399.png

From what I could find digging around, it looks like the Fender P has the leading edge of the E-A coil positioned round 12.5cm from the 19th fret, which would put the D-G coil at around 15.5cm back. Someone be a dear and measure, if you have one. It would be interesting to see if Fender themselves are consistent across USA, Japanese and Mexican models.

Anyway, looking at the reverse P types to hand we see this:

image.png.376946099a1c485a6563546f0ae52e89.png

 

The Charvel appears to be closest to the traditional Fender position but with the coils swapped around. The famous Warwick growl is coming from the pickups being much closer to the bridge than "standard" and the Warwick E string is read almost 5cm closer to the bridge than the Yamaha. It's a much greater difference than, for example, the 60's and 70's Jazz bridge pickup positions. If you think that makes a difference then surely there's more than snake oil?

As for disco and funk, you can do a comparison by listening to the first Chic album, recorded on a P, and the subsequent albums recorded on a Stringray. The leading edge of the Stringray pickup is, what, a little over 17cm from the 19th fret, so the E and A string is being read from even closer to the bridge than a Warwick SS1. Which tone stands out more?

 

 

 

Edited by Doctor J
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5 minutes ago, GreeneKing said:

The conventional P bass tone is, to my ears mid scooped.

It's actually the other way around. The two coils are wired in series, which gives the P its mid-honkiness. Series wiring emphasises the low mids. The reason P basses work so well is that they're not overly low-end heavy. They tend to cut through because the emphasis isn't on low end or high.

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4 minutes ago, Doctor J said:

It's not standardised but it is possible to give an idea of what's going on which covers a substantial part of what different manufacturers are doing and remove much of the speculation. Personally, I find the reverse P more comfortable to play, for a start. There's also something very pleasing about that mixed PJ sound which isn't quite there with a traditionally positioned split P and J. But first, let's do some measuring.

I don't have a Fender P, the closest I have is an old Japanese Yamaha BB1100S. Other traditional P types are a Bass Collection SB311 and an Ibanez SB900. Measuring the distance from the 19th fret to the leading edge of the pickup, we find:

 image.png.9fb99088f9b5e6e5295cb0abe9e9f399.png

From what I could find digging around, it looks like the Fender P has the leading edge of the E-A coil positioned round 12.5cm from the 19th fret, which would put the D-G coil at around 15.5cm back. Someone be a dear and measure, if you have one. It would be interesting to see if Fender themselves are consistent across USA, Japanese and Mexican models.

Anyway, looking at the reverse P types to hand we see this:

image.png.376946099a1c485a6563546f0ae52e89.png

 

The Charvel appears to be closest to the traditional Fender position but with the coils swapped around. The famous Warwick growl is coming from the pickups being much closer to the bridge than "standard" and the Warwick E string is read almost 5cm closer to the bridge than the Yamaha. It's a much greater difference than, for example, the 60's and 70's Jazz bridge pickup positions. If you think that makes a difference then surely there's more than snake oil?

As for disco and funk, you can do a comparison by listening to the first Chic album, recorded on a P, and the subsequent albums recorded on a Stringray. The leading edge of the Stringray pickup is, what, a little over 17cm from the 19th fret, so the E and A string is being read from even closer to the bridge than a Warwick SS1. Which tone stands out more?

 

 

 

Illustrates exactly what is going on - for reference my snake oil point was if someone reverses the appearance but leaves the pick up in the same place and tries to sell it as a true reverse which would be positional change as well

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7 minutes ago, Doctor J said:

It's actually the other way around. The two coils are wired in series, which gives the P its mid-honkiness. Series wiring emphasises the low mids. The reason P basses work so well is that they're not overly low-end heavy. They tend to cut through because the emphasis isn't on low end or high.

That makes sense thank you. P bass aside I tend raise the mids. I was struggling with that preference and my love of P bass tone so now all is well :) Ears eh!

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36 minutes ago, Doctor J said:

This really, badly, desperately needs an ebony fretboard 😂

You're right, but it isn't at the right price point for ebony

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42 minutes ago, Cuzzie said:

Illustrates exactly what is going on - for reference my snake oil point was if someone reverses the appearance but leaves the pick up in the same place and tries to sell it as a true reverse which would be positional change as well

 When you reverse a split pick up either (a) the EA half moves a lot or (b) the DG half moves a lot or (c) both halves move a bit. Which of these is snake oil? They're all going to affect the tone to a degree.

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Shall I try an experiment... I have a Warwick SSI that has what we are calling the 'reverse' P and I have the same model (a ltd 5th Anniversary bass) but with the standard non-reverse P pup (I'll measure the leading edge).  Point of note is that for some reason Warwick decided to slightly angle the pups... maybe they knew it would through up debates in years to come.  :)  

Only problem is that though the two models are Streamers they aren't the same bass nor will they have the same strings, hence all things aren't really equal in a test. 

1e1BbsO1Wg2CkYETkTUtnr5QIJFrTSQqYJm9e67PWdHD5y5CUNtfsQmhTJR5-U86UaBB_Vld1FRNT23PN1_ZOBzcHfM9uDJPXRYSz80PDqIWaMMtMCwVf-VLoVCvlrs5Zex6_5MK_CGTpmaAk0FGsulGCWQPp4SorQRNHLgF1yFVvnKpB5Pltp98F9GW_KBquS0VsvPEzpN4F-472Qf8iQoUyWBbr_Evt6atRCovJWBwkkwyGXowBBLzM_k17LFivDK3QHsg0BUEzPQlZkbZ8H6wVeU3ddVcn3HcAD19YWgtwMgW_yMTYkPdOirlXEshPwBiqeIjP7QWNIKqrenM8awH7zRjtJlfwvUVNBQiQiE9aVRi9Zb8N8Irpl7ZLElsiclhKBprZ3QYmCr60_wRXhUSll5dI7MRsmKChgSJdMgKJK7_3BoEOORcAyRTkwzHh_U9_NSvHvLqDNvGnyZkZ5GZ_bASqAP0Z_zWpLTk3KLZaT1uuvnevZ_5a21-3SUesafo4uDs0Z5x3Nk7aw9MLDH9zLN-jz7NCOwk2TrYCOI8ZKCVqQDzwU11RpZ6NcvuCFI4_5EH1AFkbm7pia7yMwNSAHTeQ7_U3iqqA_22KCFdKBailc8oIp-w5of_BPEYmySkB_cKc6qOu1IKRJKMZinK3QqNqzLnureQwedx8-uDwomgB0CCK2ajFEjTRQ=w876-h657-no?authuser=0  

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20 minutes ago, Ricky Rioli said:

 When you reverse a split pick up either (a) the EA half moves a lot or (b) the DG half moves a lot or (c) both halves move a bit. Which of these is snake oil? They're all going to affect the tone to a degree.

Typically it will be ‘sold’ as having a tighter lower end on the EA, so i am more referring to the EA staying static and you are right the DG will shift moving more towards the ‘fuller’ end of the spectrum. 

As you say there will be a variance across the spectrum depending on what is being moved. With a reverse type line up you are making the DG sound a bit more like a 51P type bass

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5 minutes ago, warwickhunt said:

Shall I try an experiment... I have a Warwick SSI that has what we are calling the 'reverse' P and I have the same model (a ltd 5th Anniversary bass) but with the standard non-reverse P pup (I'll measure the leading edge).  Point of note is that for some reason Warwick decided to slightly angle the pups... maybe they knew it would through up debates in years to come.  :)  

Only problem is that though the two models are Streamers they aren't the same bass nor will they have the same strings, hence all things aren't really equal in a test. 

1e1BbsO1Wg2CkYETkTUtnr5QIJFrTSQqYJm9e67PWdHD5y5CUNtfsQmhTJR5-U86UaBB_Vld1FRNT23PN1_ZOBzcHfM9uDJPXRYSz80PDqIWaMMtMCwVf-VLoVCvlrs5Zex6_5MK_CGTpmaAk0FGsulGCWQPp4SorQRNHLgF1yFVvnKpB5Pltp98F9GW_KBquS0VsvPEzpN4F-472Qf8iQoUyWBbr_Evt6atRCovJWBwkkwyGXowBBLzM_k17LFivDK3QHsg0BUEzPQlZkbZ8H6wVeU3ddVcn3HcAD19YWgtwMgW_yMTYkPdOirlXEshPwBiqeIjP7QWNIKqrenM8awH7zRjtJlfwvUVNBQiQiE9aVRi9Zb8N8Irpl7ZLElsiclhKBprZ3QYmCr60_wRXhUSll5dI7MRsmKChgSJdMgKJK7_3BoEOORcAyRTkwzHh_U9_NSvHvLqDNvGnyZkZ5GZ_bASqAP0Z_zWpLTk3KLZaT1uuvnevZ_5a21-3SUesafo4uDs0Z5x3Nk7aw9MLDH9zLN-jz7NCOwk2TrYCOI8ZKCVqQDzwU11RpZ6NcvuCFI4_5EH1AFkbm7pia7yMwNSAHTeQ7_U3iqqA_22KCFdKBailc8oIp-w5of_BPEYmySkB_cKc6qOu1IKRJKMZinK3QqNqzLnureQwedx8-uDwomgB0CCK2ajFEjTRQ=w876-h657-no?authuser=0  

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They probably had me doing the routing that day.......

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I imagine that Warwick may well have been having the same debates when they routed for my 5th Anniversary bass.  Twisting them on the axis like that 'might' get you half way between that trad P bass tone and the 'W' growl.  Caveat - comparing a NT SSI and a BO P bass is NOT scientific!  LOL

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I have (had... it's for sale) a Sandberg VM5 which has a reverse P, with each coil swapped place with the other.  It had a lot of clarity in the lows; perhaps too much for me (because I wanted it to sound just like a normal P bass).  I'm not sure whether to attribute that entirely to the reverse P, or just the overall character of that bass; it's the only Sandberg 'V' series I've ever played.  In particular, I'd have liked to compare it to a Sandberg VS5, which has the normal P position.

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3 hours ago, Ricky Rioli said:

(True fact: Dave Ellefson was born and raised in a town called Jackson)

:laugh1: Life is full of such delights.

I think you need near identical pickups, scale length, and strings to do a fair comparison. I can hear (or think I can anyway) the difference between neck position and bridge position on basses even with  OD etc. so I guess it should be fairly apparent P vs. reverse P of the same or near identical pickups.

I was reminded of this. a fairly subtle move seems to cause a massive shift in tone.

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What's worth considering also is, if you play by anchoring your thumb on the pickup, like I do, where you strike the string can also change quite dramatically as a result of where the pickup is which will also affect the sound of what comes out of the speaker.

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I’ve never had a bass with a reverse P pickup but to me it makes so much sense, tighter more focused sound on the thicker bassier strings, more lows on the thinner twangier strings.

Interestingly we did a blind Precision bass shootout a few years back at the Herts Bass Bash, with the overall and runaway winner being a Mark Hoppus Sig Precision with reverse P pickup. It was up against some seriously expensive instruments but with a room full of bassists voting with their ears only it trounced the others.

Edited by Lozz196
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Very interesting to read this topic as I’ve always been a jazz pup person. I recently made a single ‘P’ pickup bass guitar (not a ‘P’ bass replica) and reversing the pickups position was something that was proposed many years ago as I’d wondered why that pickup was placed where it is by Fender. I tend to think there was no real science back in the darker ages of bass guitar manufacture and that jazz and precision pickup placement was made simply because they sounded different to each other in those positions and looked good there ... possibly! So some tracks have a wonderful P bass sound and others not as good......maybe the player, the amp, the recording quality, the actual song or size of band trying to be recorded? My thoughts for a new bass focussed on best pickup placement for a single pickup bass for recording and live,  giving a tighter note off the E and A and hopefully matching the ‘bass’ tone given off by the D and G. Sound pretty good too with it’s Bartolini offset poles ‘P’ pickup but I’m putting in a Nordstrand one (bought on Basschat) as the bar magnets will straddle under the strings better....the problem with moving the pickups is the pole pieces don’t quite line up under the strings, something I never thought of, you learn all the time, but they still sound great!

BA1D32DC-1209-4801-B40C-5820EAFD9D00.thumb.jpeg.8f16d61bf840bb28719fcf6cec5b973b.jpeg

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3 hours ago, GreeneKing said:

The conventional P bass tone is, to my ears mid scooped. 

God, I hope not. I’ll have to put all mine in the bin 😄

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35 minutes ago, mybass said:

Very interesting to read this topic as I’ve always been a jazz pup person. I recently made a single ‘P’ pickup bass guitar (not a ‘P’ bass replica) and reversing the pickups position was something that was proposed many years ago as I’d wondered why that pickup was placed where it is by Fender. I tend to think there was no real science back in the darker ages of bass guitar manufacture and that jazz and precision pickup placement was made simply because they sounded different to each other in those positions and looked good there ... possibly! So some tracks have a wonderful P bass sound and others not as good......maybe the player, the amp, the recording quality, the actual song or size of band trying to be recorded? My thoughts for a new bass focussed on best pickup placement for a single pickup bass for recording and live,  giving a tighter note off the E and A and hopefully matching the ‘bass’ tone given off by the D and G. Sound pretty good too with it’s Bartolini offset poles ‘P’ pickup but I’m putting in a Nordstrand one (bought on Basschat) as the bar magnets will straddle under the strings better....the problem with moving the pickups is the pole pieces don’t quite line up under the strings, something I never thought of, you learn all the time, but they still sound great!

BA1D32DC-1209-4801-B40C-5820EAFD9D00.thumb.jpeg.8f16d61bf840bb28719fcf6cec5b973b.jpeg

Looks groovy. Tasteful timber.

I think the single coil P bass was always about mass production, keeping it simple. The split P was a cheaper way to get a hum-cancelling pickup than two four string sized coils. I suspect the prototypes ('51 and '57 styles) were trying to get a more upright thumb plucked tone, judging by the "tug bar".

elbb7xfnuzhpy4zee73n.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

I can get a decent variety of tone with my hands by plucking at various locations along the string, as mentioned by @Doctor J. Floating thumb technique (or moving anchor) gives you more freedom than any fixed anchored position. Having a bridge pickup opens up the possibilities hugely, no doubt PJ or PM PMM or any dual pickup bass (except a dual neck pickup setup like a 'cavern' Höfner lol) is much easier to get those tones that are mostly or exclusively 'bridge pickup' tones.

Edited by PlungerModerno
PMM not PM lol
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29 minutes ago, mybass said:

I tend to think there was no real science back in the darker ages of bass guitar manufacture and that jazz and precision pickup placement was made simply because they sounded different to each other in those positions and looked good there ... possibly!

The pickup positions Leo Fender chose are actually very carefully thought out, they're exactly at harmonic knots of the open strings. They don't call it the sweet spot for nothing :)

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