When buying a new bass guitar, there are a lot of things to consider, such as the brand, model, and age of the instrument, playability, and neck feel, but some bassists have a more pedestrian question. You’ll often see basses listed online as having either “passive” or “active” pickups, and many bassists don’t know what the difference is between the two, or which if either, is a better choice for their playing style.
Here’s a look at the major differences between active and passive bass guitar pickups.
Power – The most obvious difference between active and passive pickups is how they’re powered. Active pickups use one or two 9 volt batteries to power the signal of the bass guitar through a preamp before sending the signal out of the bass to your amplifier, while passive pickups send the sound directly out. The obvious disadvantage of active pickups is that you’ve always got to have some 9 volt batteries around, especially when playing shows–otherwise, the sound of your bass could suddenly cut out mid performance! Nine volt batteries are fairly expensive, but they should last for quite a while, depending on how much you play your bass, anywhere up to a year on some models.
Sound- Since the passive pickups send sound directly out, they typically use larger magnets to capture the sound of the bass, and this results in a warmer, punchier tone than many active pickups provide. However, they also pick up more–you’re more likely to get noise on passive pickups, so if they’re exposed, clean them regularly with an oxidizing agent to avoid rust build up, and take good care of your bass to avoid noise problems.
Active pickups send the sound to a preamp on the bass, so you’ll likely have more control over your tone than simply a bass and treble knob. On high-end basses, you can get a ton of options, so if you’re a freak about your tone, an active pickup can give you more freedom.
Some basses offer an active-passive system. They basically have bigger magnets, but also the option to send the bass through an onboard preamp for more control of the signal. Regardless of whether you opt for an active pickup system, a passive pickup system, or a combination, the quality of the tone will depend on the bass itself, so play as many basses as you can when you go bass shopping to try to get an idea of what you prefer.
Do you have any questions about the differences between active and passive bass pickups? Post in our comments section below.