Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category:

Acoustic Bass Pickups

(All pickups reviewed in this section have been personally tried by myself and my clients and are available through the shop)

This is a deep topic with many opinions. As a bassist with many years of experience I can only share what I have learned through trial and error and through the process of amplifying my clients’ basses.

The majority of pickups on the market today are based on the piezo element. This method of producing a signal can be used in all stringed instruments. The piezo element is subjected to pressure and a small electrical signal is produced. This signal can then be run through an amplifier to produce a louder sound. The interface between the instrument, pickup element and amplifier include many variables, all of which contribute to the quality of the sound generated. I will discuss the pickups I have had the best success with and their proper application.

Fishman Products

There are two bass pickups from Fishman that I like, the BP100 and the Full Circle. First, the BP100:

This was one of the first pickups developed by Fishman. It is designed to clip two piezo elements onto the bridge of the bass, using two metal clips to apply the required pressure. The output jack then clips to the strings behind the bridge. When this pickup was introduced, many players had problems with achieving the best possible tone and the pickup developed an undeserved bad reputation. This was entirely due to mis-application and improper usage. I was using one myself and through experimentation achieved a great tone and sound. I still use this pick up today on my classical bass when I need to amplify it. The keys to a successful sound with this pickup are to fit the elements carefully to the front of the bridge and to use the proper pre-amp. Most bridges on double basses are curved slightly across the front which prevents the element from full contact, which is critical. By flattening the face of the bridge beneath each element, full contact and signal can be obtained. Once that is done, running out to a Fishman BA2 or a Pro-Platinum EQ pre-amp will provide a full rich sound that is great for pizzicato playing.

The Fishman Full Circle, developed within the last few years, was a breakthrough in double bass pickup design. Most basses are fitted with adjustment wheels in the bridge which allow the player to raise or lower the action of the strings. Fishman incorporates the pickup element within the adjusting wheel body and the result is a rich, full warm tone, especially good for arco playing. It can be used without a pre-amp, although using one will improve both tone and flexibility of sound. The only downside to this pickup, if it can be considered one, is that it requires taking down the bridge in order to remove it. Most players choose to leave it in place; the effect on the sound of the un-amplified bass is minimal.

K&K Pickups

K&K is a small company out of Coos Bay, Oregon. They started out in Germany making a pickup system for vibraphone, a daunting task. They manufacture a full line of pickups for all acoustic instruments. For bass, I like the Bass Max. It is a very simple pickup that slides into the bridge wing. This does require fitting to be sure of receiving a full signal and some bridges will not work with the Bass Max. However, the simplicity of design and the ease with which it can be installed and removed, as well as it’s good sound, has made it a very popular pickup indeed. It can be used without a pre-amp, although, once again, it is always better with one. K&K offers a line of pre-amps for use with all their pickups. Another notable K&K bass product is the Bass Master RB, a system designed for Rockabilly and Bluegrass players. This system incorporates an additional pickup element that is attached to the back of the fingerboard allowing amplification of the “slap” part of the rockabilly playing style. By using the K&K pre-amp with this system, one can dial in the right amount of slap tone and volume. This pickup is used by many prominent players, most notably Zack Schafer of “Sawyer Family” and is featured on King Double Bass models. All K&K products are able to be combined in many configurations, allowing for easy customizing.