To gain more control over our sound, should we turn to onboard active electronics or simply rely on our amps to do the job instead?
Fig. 1 Comparing passive highfrequency roll-off (indicated by the colored resonance peaks) with the cut-and-boost fl exibility of an active 4-band EQ (black)
Last month, we learned how passive tone controls offer limited possibilities for altering a bass guitar’s sound [“PassiveTone Controls,” June 2012]. This raises a question: To gain more control over our sound, should we turn to onboard active electronics or simply rely on our amps to do the job instead?
In the ’80s, active tone controls became widely popular among bass players—particularly those who came up in the ’70s, when the bass began to take a more prominent role in popular music. (Interestingly, guitarists didn’t embrace active electronics with as much enthusiasm during this time.) As with all fashions, the trend to “go active” later went back to passive, and now bass design swings back and forth between these two camps.
Forums are filled with flame wars between proponents of each approach. Some in the pro-active camp paint the passive bassist as a nature boy gripping an oiled-finished, natural-wood bass. Not to be outdone, many pro-passive players characterize active bassists as nerdy knob-addicts whose technical interests keep them from practicing. Let’s see if we can cut through some of the noise and look at the facts.
Fundamentally, a passive system is one that doesn’t require any additional electric power. The components are passive parts like resistors and capacitors. By contrast, active components are transistors, op amps, or other integrated circuitry—all of which require external power to operate. While passive tone controls can only cut a specific frequency (and this is typically limited to high-frequency roll-off ), an active tone control can cut and boost several frequencies at a time. This is determined by the number of frequency bands in a given system. The most common are 2- or 3-band systems with controls for bass, treble, and usually mids.
More elaborate active systems offer low- and high-mid controls or even parametric EQ, where you can sweep through a wider frequency range. Fig. 1 shows a frequency chart with a 4-band active EQ superimposed on the passive curves we looked at last month. Admittedly, this is just a rough overlay and the comparison is a bit unfair, but hopefully, you get the idea of the extended possibilities provided by an active EQ system.
The main argument for having an active system is tonal flexibility, but there’s another benefit: Passive circuits possess a high impedance, which basically means that any load (like a cable) you put after them alters the tone. This weakens the signal and sucks up the treble and even some midrange. Also, plugging a high-impedance device into an amp’s mismatched input just makes your bass sound bad.
Active circuits have a buffer that lowers the output impedance and essentially isolates the system from such loading effects. In practice, this means that you can use long cables or pass your signal through several pedals without losing much of the original signal. And plugging an active circuit into a mismatched amp input doesn’t have much influence on the signal. With an active circuit, the signal usually sounds and feels stronger, cleaner, and more detailed.
Given these properties, shouldn’t everybody have active EQ in their instruments?
Yes, because buffering and tonal flexibility can be a huge advantage. Imagine being able to play in different venues through different amps, yet your familiar tone is always right at your fingertips—and there’s no extra luggage to carry around. It’s pure comfort. And when you need to cut through the band or mix, you always have the ability to boost the midrange just a bit.
No, because you love your sweet, passive tone and nothing is missing. You hate to deal with batteries. You always use the same amp or outboard preamp and your rig offers plenty of EQ and tone-sculpting options. You like to keep all the electronics outside your instrument because that makes it easy to experiment with your sound and make changes in your signal path.
Once again, we realize the ultimate answer doesn’t exist! I see active preamps as an affordable luxury. First of all, don’t even think about putting an active circuit into a bad-sounding passive bass. Active electronics are designed for flexibility, not sound repair. If your bass is sounding too thin or weak, take a closer look at your amp and instrument. Active circuits are often called preamps, but real amplification is not their job. As with everything in your signal chain, the weakest part ruins it all. The advertising always claims product X is the most dynamic, flexible, power-saving, and quiet unit available. Learn to interpret the numbers and stay skeptical.
Because active circuits use batteries, make replacing them easier by having a quick-swap housing that requires no extra tools. Also, shop for circuits that indicate a low-battery condition hours before the cell actually dies. And remember, a true-bypass switch that lets you go passive is a musthave. If your favorite circuit doesn’t come with this, any simple 2-way (DTDP) switch does the job.
Ultimately, the passive-versus-active discussion comes down to this: You must start with a good passive tone. Depending on your needs, you either end there or go beyond by enhancing the passive tone with an active circuit. But remember, you don’t need active pickups in an active tone system. Active pickups have an internal buffer or preamp, and this gives them a low-impedance output —which may be just what you want. But you can combine any active and passive pickup or circuit, and we’ll explore this when we focus on pickups.
Heiko Hoepfinger is a German physicist and long-time bassist, classical guitarist, and motorcycle enthusiast. His work on fuel cells for the European orbital glider Hermes got him deeply into modern materials and physical acoustics, and led him to form BassLab (basslab.de)—a manufacturer of monocoque guitars and basses. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
Belltone P-90 Foil-Tron Pickup
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.