You are here

Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

For all things relating to guitars, basses, amps, pedals & accessories.

Moderator: Moderators

Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

Postby seriousnewbie » Sun Nov 22, 2020 1:01 am

So the full question is, is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup in a guitar that formerly had passive pickups? Do active pickups pack the punch that it is said they do? I am aware that if I wanted to install an Active pickup I would have to make an area for the battery to go, right?

This is a single humbucker pickup guitar with a tone and volume nob. I primarily play rock, and it might go to harder rock every once and awhile. let me know if I am forgetting any other vital information. Thanks for reading, and thanks for helping me out if you decide too!

Also if anyone has any suggestions for pickups that would be great, my budget (I just want 1 pickup) is $100
seriousnewbie
Poster
Posts: 44
Joined: Thu Sep 03, 2020 7:20 pm

Re: Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

Postby zenguitar » Sun Nov 22, 2020 1:38 am

As always with these questions, there are no easy answers.

There are plenty of active pick-ups on the market. However, there are a number of approaches. Some are designed to sound as close to possible as traditional passive pick-ups, some are designed to do things that aren't possible with passives, and some fall in-between.

If we look at actives that claim to pack a punch; we can confidently say, some may achieve it, some may not, "that's not what I would call punch", "that's a bit over the top if you ask me".

If you are working in a specific genre, look at players who use guitars with similar woods and construction to your guitar and actually seek out those guitars and try them in your local, friendly, guitar shop (once any lock-downs and restrictions are completed). See for yourself what you think.

Is it worth the work, effort and expense to make a modification that in part is irreversible in some respects? Maybe, but it's your call. My view is that you need to think critically about what you feel is lacking in the current set up. Pick-ups do NOT have a sound, they have a transfer characteristic.

And in simple terms that means that they can only reproduce what is already there. If your sound lacks punch the first places you should be looking at is your technique, your strings, your FX and your amp and settings.

Andy :beamup:
User avatar
zenguitar
Moderator
Posts: 11068
Joined: Thu Dec 05, 2002 1:00 am
Location: Devon
liberté, frivolité et vanité

Re: Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

Postby Murray B » Sun Nov 22, 2020 12:58 pm

All of what Andy said...

A potential advantage I can see is if you are going for very high gain / distortion settings then you might benefit from the lower noise produced by an active pickup.

Depending on the preamp system you pick then you might get some more flexible control of the tone on the guitar itself - my bass has an active pickup and a 3 band eq and it's really handy for tweaking the sound when playing but I'm not sure if you'd want to install lots of new controls as well as the pickup... thinking about it three tone controls on a 6 string guitar may seem a little over the top.

Fitting one could involve some surgery on the guitar though depending on how big the cavity for the controls is as things stand.

I'm not sure how to define punch in guitar tone, but my gut feeling is that this is more about overall tone, gain levels, compression levels and technique than any specific pickup (most guitar players with a distinctive sound seem to sound like themselves irrespective of the guitar they are playing)

Having said all of the above - I love messing with this kind of stuff. Researching what to get, working out how to fit it, doing the work and then convincing myself that everything sounds better now I've made the changes is a very enjoyable hobby for me.

So if you want to try it - give it a go...

You'll learn from doing it but it won't necessarily create a revolution in your playing or guitar sound :D
User avatar
Murray B
Regular
Posts: 98
Joined: Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:00 am
Location: Staffordshire

Re: Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Nov 22, 2020 1:36 pm

+1 to all above but, from a personal PoV I'd say don't bother unless it's because you fancy having a go. FWIW I play (amongst other things) blues and rock but don't really stray into heavy rock and definitely not metal so not genres that typically use actives.

Also if the guitar is precious to you or in any way valuable I'd leave it well alone or at least only do mods that are reversible (and hang on to all the original bits). When I was young(er), impulsive and impoverished I decided it was a good idea to put toggle switches for phase and coil taps in my Les Paul Custom 'cos I couldn't afford push/pull pots (stuff like that only came from the States and wasn't cheap back in the early '80s). They don't do very much that is useful and just make the guitar sound weak. They also devalued the guitar significantly as it is no longer 'original'.
User avatar
Sam Spoons
Jedi Poster
Posts: 14601
Joined: Thu Jan 23, 2003 1:00 am
Location: Manchester UK
Still taking this recording lark seriously (and trying to record my Gypsy Jazz CD)........

Re: Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

Postby Murray B » Sun Nov 22, 2020 3:57 pm

+1 on not making permanent changes to a valuable guitar.

I mess with £100 - £200 guitars for fun, but I leave my fancy Strat and Axis well alone.
User avatar
Murray B
Regular
Posts: 98
Joined: Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:00 am
Location: Staffordshire

Re: Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

Postby al_diablo » Thu Nov 26, 2020 9:33 am

I only know this about EMGs and other active pickups may be different, but are you aware of the need to change the pots and jack as well as making space for the battery?

My current main guitar had the EMG 57/66 set in when I bought it and it sounds fine, but mainly because the pickups dont really sound like actives. I had a 7 string with the 81/707 combo and I couldnt get on with the sound of it at all.

Personally I wouldn't go to the trouble unless you are playing super extreme gainy stuff.
al_diablo
Regular
Posts: 183
Joined: Thu Jul 24, 2003 12:00 am

Re: Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

Postby Wonks » Thu Dec 03, 2020 12:16 am

Active pickups don't necessarily give more output volume. I had a Strat style with an 85/SA/SA set of EMGs on, and the output wasn't really any greater than a standard passive set of pickups. I've certainly now got guitars with passive pickups that have outputs way above what the EMGs put out, even with the mid boost turned up (I also had the presence boost fitted, which was useful).

They can be very clean sounding pickups, I with less character I'd say than good passives , but very low noise, so are good in high gain applications and they also work well with pedals. As the output is active and low impedance, you can use long lengths of cable without loosing treble - also a benefit over passive pickups if all your pedals are true bypass and they are sometimes all off.

Magnetic pull is normally less than with passives, so sustain will be a bit better (or alternatively you can set the pickups a bit closer to the strings for a stronger output).

You'll need 25k pots as a TRS jack to switch the battery, but they are typically mini pots, which means that you can often find enough room in the control cavity to fit a battery (wrap it in foam so that it doesn't short out any signals). Battery drain is low, so you'll get 200+ hours of use and you won't be removing the control cover that often to change it, so you don't really need to rout out for a separate battery compartment if you can fit the battery in with the pots.

Current EMGs have quick-fit connections which make assembling things pretty easy.

If you veer towards the more heavy rock/metal side of things and have an amp or pedal rig to match, then it would probably be worth trying out an EMG equipped guitar with your rig before you make any decisions. Any friends with an EMG equipped guitar you could borrow, or else take your amp and pedalboard to their place (and annoy their neighbours)?
User avatar
Wonks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 11086
Joined: Thu May 29, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Reading, UK
Correcting mistakes on the internet since 1853

Re: Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

Postby 4TrackMadman » Thu Dec 03, 2020 3:26 am

seriousnewbie wrote:
Also if anyone has any suggestions for pickups that would be great, my budget (I just want 1 pickup) is $100

I'd suggest you just pick up a better passive, as an active pickup in this situation will most likely not work as good on genres that are not heavy rock and you have one pickup.

I'd possibly suggest a Tonezone by Dimarzio, which is a very good and versatile humbucker, or just get a regular PAF either from Dimarzio or Seymour Duncan. Might change the pot to better quality if you feel like soldering.

You didn't specify the brand and wood type of guitar?

Usually the abovementioned are a safe choice in pretty much anything.
User avatar
4TrackMadman
Frequent Poster
Posts: 1125
Joined: Wed Oct 30, 2002 1:00 am
http://www.scrollkeeper.net

Re: Is it worth it for me to go through the work of installing an active pickup?

Postby Wonks » Thu Dec 03, 2020 10:42 am

The more powerful the passive pickup, the greater the inductance of the pickup, normally through a mixture of more powerful magnets and a greater number of windings. The greater the inductance, the lower the resonant peak of the pickup is, so it generally has less treble and more mids than a lower powered pickup.

Ceramic magnets do give a brighter sound than the more powerful types of Alnico, despite being more powerful magnets than Alnico, but this is normally countered by the manufacturer also using more windings.

Note that once you start to add more windings, you quickly need to swap down to a thinner wire, from 42AWG to 43AWG or even 44AWG on some multi-blade type pickups. Each drop in wire size adds on average around 27% more resistance for the same length of wire, so if you go by the DCR value for the pickup to give a measure of output, you do need to know the wire gauge used. E.g. an 8k 42AWG pickup will have (given the same magnets) the same basic output as a 10.16k 43 AWG pickup as it will have the same number of winding turns, but if you saw the second one advertised as having a DCR of 10.2k without knowing that, you'd think it was a lot more powerful than the first pickup.

So almost all powerful passive pickups will sound quite dull when played cleanly, relying on the extra harmonics generated by distortion to brighten up the sound. Which is why I've never been a fan of the popular SD JB bridge pickup. Good if you always play with a lot of gain, but if you play a lot of clean or with light gain, it just sounds too muddy for me.

This is one other area where active pickups can provide benefits, giving much brighter sounds for a given output compared to a passive pickup. Though the pickup manufacturer has to voice their pickups to be so, and not to match that of an equivalent power passive pickup. But brightness in itself doesn't equate to a good tone, which is something that only you can decide on by listening.
User avatar
Wonks
Jedi Poster
Posts: 11086
Joined: Thu May 29, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Reading, UK
Correcting mistakes on the internet since 1853