Talk me out of Active Pickups

ukepicker

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So even the SA is also similar to the 81 and 85?

I really dislike a lot of PAF-type pickups in the neck position, so I was always curious as to if the 60 would work more for my liking, because I prefer a humbucker that's closer to sounding like a Strat single coil.

How would you say that the 60 and SA differ from one another?

Hey Keith,
The P60 is like an SA on steriods. Think P60:SA::p90:Strat single coil. It doesn't sound or respond like a strat pickup (or even the SA), but it's certainly much more single-coily than the 81 or 85.

I'm sorry for being ambiguous or unclear in my previous post. Let me try to explain it better:
If I've understood what I've read correctly, each of the EMG active pickups has a specifically-voiced preamp built in to the pickup. What I mean by "character" has more to do with the response and feel, not the EQ voicing of the output. I would not be surprised at all to find out that the P60 has a slightly different preamp circuit (and, again, I'm not talking about the voicing).

I wish I could speak your language better! Maybe it's like the difference between a JFET and an opamp boost. They do the same thing, but there's just something a little different about how they feel and respond. That's how the P60 seems to differ from the others.

The output is pretty different between the P60 and PSA. Not sure about pairing with a standard humbucker, but height adjustment works really well and I'm fairly sure you could get them into the sweet spot.

A quick look at their webpage - the EMG strat pickup sound can probably be gotten with the HA, HAX and HX. I'm also interested in comparing the 60A, 60X and 60AX.

Also, remember that 24V makes a big difference.
I'm thinking about changing over another guitar to EMG. And maybe one of my acoustics. If I do that, I'll have to make an input box for my pedalboard to send the voltage up a TRS cable. Bonus - that means no batteries!
 

alex1fly

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I understand wanting to eliminate microphonics but going active is many steps too far IMO. To me for most guitar based applications, actives fall short. Too accurate. Too pristine. Little character that I enjoy personally - they just don't offer a classic guitar sound and feel. They'll claim to, and they get close, but it's the equivalent of playing through a DI instead of an amp. And there are mannny ways to get hum-free, beautiful, lush, clear tones without doing active electronics. I've been through probably 10 different active pickup setups on 5 different instruments and have done all kinds of home recording and gigging with them. The downsides simply outweigh the benefits. Worrying about batteries and unplugging your guitar and carrying extra batteries and testing batteries is lame. Having to disassemble your instrument (to varying degrees... best case scenario is the battery is easy to get to but Strats and the like have the battery under the pickguard which is a nightmare to get to in the middle of a song) mid-music to change a battery is lame. Fussy electronics with teeny tiny wires is lame. Paying a premium for pickups that achieve very little that a little signal chain massaging won't do is lame. Plus even if you love the on-board boosts and EQ sweeps and whatnot, you're limited to using that on that single instrument; whereas you can do the same tone tweaking on a pedalboard or FX processor and do it with any instrument. And no, I never got hundreds of hours of playtime on a battery despite following best practices - maybe 100 hours. Maybe.

I wanted to like actives. I really did. Really really did. But I don't. Not for gigging, not for home use, not for blues, not for high-powered metal, none of it. The only purpose they served well for me was "novelty" because they feel different (flat) than passives. I've been playing a long time in many scenarios and IMO they're a solution in search of a problem but market themselves as a solution for everybody.

YMMV
 
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czech-one-2

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I understand wanting to eliminate microphonics but going active is many steps too far IMO. To me for most guitar based applications, actives fall short. Too accurate. Too pristine. Little character that I enjoy personally - they just don't offer a classic guitar sound and feel. They'll claim to, and they get close, but it's the equivalent of playing through a DI instead of an amp. And there are mannny ways to get hum-free, beautiful, lush, clear tones without doing active electronics. I've been through probably 10 different active pickup setups on 5 different instruments and have done all kinds of home recording and gigging with them. The downsides simply outweigh the benefits. Worrying about batteries and unplugging your guitar and carrying extra batteries and testing batteries is lame. Having to disassemble your instrument (to varying degrees... best case scenario is the battery is easy to get to but Strats and the like have the battery under the pickguard which is a nightmare to get to in the middle of a song) mid-music to change a battery is lame. Fussy electronics with teeny tiny wires is lame. Paying a premium for pickups that achieve very little that a little signal chain massaging won't do is lame. Plus even if you love the on-board boosts and EQ sweeps and whatnot, you're limited to using that on that single instrument; whereas you can do the same tone tweaking on a pedalboard or FX processor and do it with any instrument. And no, I never got hundreds of hours of playtime on a battery despite following best practices - maybe 100 hours. Maybe.

I wanted to like actives. I really did. Really really did. But I don't. Not for gigging, not for home use, not for blues, not for high-powered metal, none of it. The only purpose they served well for me was "novelty" because they feel different (flat) than passives. I've been playing a long time in many scenarios and IMO they're a solution in search of a problem but market themselves as a solution for everybody.

YMMV
Man, I get at least a year of weekly gigging out of one 9v if I dont leave my guitar plugged in over night repeatedly. Change the battery between songs? Never happend in 20 years. Did have a battery come un-snapped once on a strat. Since then, I wrap them in electrical tape after snapping to prevent that. [also shields it from other components].
I don't like using batteries, but recycle them if you use em'!
 
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ukepicker

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The P60 is like an SA on steriods. Think P60:SA::p90:Strat single coil. It doesn't sound or respond like a strat pickup (or even the SA), but it's certainly much more single-coily than the 81 or 85.
Sorry about the autocorrect. I typically avoid emojis when have a rational conversation with intelligent humans.

should read "the P60 is to the SA, as the P90 is the strat single coil."
 

11 Gauge

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Hey Keith,
The P60 is like an SA on steriods. Think P60:SA::p90:Strat single coil. It doesn't sound or respond like a strat pickup (or even the SA), but it's certainly much more single-coily than the 81 or 85.

I'm sorry for being ambiguous or unclear in my previous post. Let me try to explain it better:
If I've understood what I've read correctly, each of the EMG active pickups has a specifically-voiced preamp built in to the pickup. What I mean by "character" has more to do with the response and feel, not the EQ voicing of the output. I would not be surprised at all to find out that the P60 has a slightly different preamp circuit (and, again, I'm not talking about the voicing).

I wish I could speak your language better! Maybe it's like the difference between a JFET and an opamp boost. They do the same thing, but there's just something a little different about how they feel and respond. That's how the P60 seems to differ from the others.

The output is pretty different between the P60 and PSA. Not sure about pairing with a standard humbucker, but height adjustment works really well and I'm fairly sure you could get them into the sweet spot.

A quick look at their webpage - the EMG strat pickup sound can probably be gotten with the HA, HAX and HX. I'm also interested in comparing the 60A, 60X and 60AX.

Also, remember that 24V makes a big difference.
I'm thinking about changing over another guitar to EMG. And maybe one of my acoustics. If I do that, I'll have to make an input box for my pedalboard to send the voltage up a TRS cable. Bonus - that means no batteries!
Thanks for all the detail.

I think I get what you're saying about differences in response and feel. They can probably do all of that simply with changes of op amp circuitry. It's probably fine-tuned and interrelated with how they're simulating a resonant peak for each different model, too. And since they're active, they also have control over the amplitude of the resonant peak.

This all makes me realize that 'putting a preamp right at the source' really does at least theoretically make a lot more sense than a passive pickup does, because it offers the designer so much more control over what the final product ends up being, and is capable of. It's like the difference between fuel injection and a carburetor.
 

ukepicker

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Thanks for all the detail.

I think I get what you're saying about differences in response and feel. They can probably do all of that simply with changes of op amp circuitry. It's probably fine-tuned and interrelated with how they're simulating a resonant peak for each different model, too. And since they're active, they also have control over the amplitude of the resonant peak.

This all makes me realize that 'putting a preamp right at the source' really does at least theoretically make a lot more sense than a passive pickup does, because it offers the designer so much more control over what the final product ends up being, and is capable of. It's like the difference between fuel injection and a carburetor.

For me, the jury is still out about putting the preamp right at the source.
I mean, on one hand, the designer has much more control over voicing.
On the other hand, what comes out of the output of the pickup has already been monkeyed with and may not be what you want at all.

The good news is: EMG pickups are fairly reasonably priced, there are lots of flavors, and (once the controls in the guitar have been upgraded) they are easily and quickly switched out. I can change both of mine in less than three minutes. And never have to wait for the soldering iron to heat up.

I heard an interview with Rob Turner where he said that one of his visions was having all of the pickups be plug-n-play and easily swappable. You know, like you're jamming at a friend's house and he's got a few pickups in his drawer that you'd like to try out. No problem.

Collect all 59. Trade'em like baseball cards.
 

wraub

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I like them for studio use, but not for live use. I try to minimize possible failure points when playing live.
 

alex1fly

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For me, the jury is still out about putting the preamp right at the source.
I mean, on one hand, the designer has much more control over voicing.
On the other hand, what comes out of the output of the pickup has already been monkeyed with and may not be what you want at all.

The good news is: EMG pickups are fairly reasonably priced, there are lots of flavors, and (once the controls in the guitar have been upgraded) they are easily and quickly switched out. I can change both of mine in less than three minutes. And never have to wait for the soldering iron to heat up.

I heard an interview with Rob Turner where he said that one of his visions was having all of the pickups be plug-n-play and easily swappable. You know, like you're jamming at a friend's house and he's got a few pickups in his drawer that you'd like to try out. No problem.

Collect all 59. Trade'em like baseball cards.
Easily swappable pickups have been talked about the entire time I've been swapping pickups - since 2005. Nobody has figured out a way to do it. It would be cool, though, and would increase pickup sales like mad!
 

alex1fly

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Thanks for all the detail.

I think I get what you're saying about differences in response and feel. They can probably do all of that simply with changes of op amp circuitry. It's probably fine-tuned and interrelated with how they're simulating a resonant peak for each different model, too. And since they're active, they also have control over the amplitude of the resonant peak.

This all makes me realize that 'putting a preamp right at the source' really does at least theoretically make a lot more sense than a passive pickup does, because it offers the designer so much more control over what the final product ends up being, and is capable of. It's like the difference between fuel injection and a carburetor.
The preamp is there to boost the signal. Active pickups themselves are extremely low output - you can't hear them without a preamp. So they add a preamp onboard to boost the signal to make them as loud as passive pickups. And since there's a preamp already there, you have the option of doing EQ boosts on the instrument. Passive pickup makers have considerable control over resonant peak, too, but without a battery on the instrument you can only wire in EQ cuts.

Really though all jargon aside the only thing to do is use 'em if you like them, don't use them if you don't :)
 

Happy Enchilada

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Bootstrap makes some mighty fine "Gibson-style" P90s. They're affordable enough to try. And I've never had a bad experience with Bootstrap on any level.

Oh, and EMGs are so ... '80s. And not in a good way. And who wants to worry about batteries?
 

wraub

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A couple of my basses have active pickups, but the controls are vol/tone/blend. They definitely have a sound and served me well for over a decade, but these days they're more for recording.
 

Grateful Ape

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Bootstrap makes some mighty fine "Gibson-style" P90s. They're affordable enough to try. And I've never had a bad experience with Bootstrap on any level.

Oh, and EMGs are so ... '80s. And not in a good way. And who wants to worry about batteries?
If you play a lot...or leave it plugged in..you might have to change battery twice a year. Normal use...maybe once.
 

ukepicker

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I like them for studio use, but not for live use. I try to minimize possible failure points when playing live.
Well said.

and after reading through it again, I'd like to apologize for the stream-of-consciousness nature of the following:

I usually play at home. But everyone in my life has been encouraging me to play at the local wine bar (it's kind of like the local pub in our tiny town). So that's my new trajectory. And I'd like to use electric and acoustic guitars, ukulele and maybe banjo. Three hours of listening to one dude play the same guitar is a loooooooong time.

So, for the electrics: I like the sound (and noiseless reliability) I'm getting and I'm working to simplify things.

I've been using a 24v feed from my pedalboard's power supply. No worries about batteries and it sounds MUCH better than at 9v. Frankly, why this isn't the norm in the business is kinda confusing to me.

But that's just at home. The problem is that it requires two cables to the guitar: one for the signal, one for power to the pickups.

I'm working out the best option (for me) to send both via a TRS. I'm going to buy a voltage doubler anyway and all I'd need after that is a simple box to plug into.

I'm also looking into EMGs for another guitar and dual pickups in my acoustic - all of that would make a TRS cable worth it as well as any effort I spend making "the box".

(In fact, I might make the box capable of switching between active and mixing two acoustic signals. Oh yeah, and a kill switch. . . And I still feel like I need a buffer with my EMGs (bummer). But I could build a couple into the box and that would make the two acoustic signals very mixable. . . . )

But none of this is making music. It's just goofing with the tools.

Guaranteed: For live performance, a decent PA is worth more than all of these silly little tweaks I'm worrying with. I'm focusing now on making the best of the tools I have. Isn't that the artist's way? I mean, I always kinda liked Daniel Johnson's chord organ songs. . . .
 

Happy Enchilada

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Every time I go to a small bar or club with live acoustic music, I wait for a pause in the action and yell "Free Bird!" Always gets a laugh. 🤡

But seriously - playing live - especially solo - takes thick skin and balls like King Kong. Not to mention a healthy sense of humor. That's why I'm currently seeking someone to partner with and do an acoustic duo like I did back when the air was clean and sex was dirty. Good luck!
 

11 Gauge

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Passive pickup makers have considerable control over resonant peak, too, but without a battery on the instrument you can only wire in EQ cuts.
IMO, if all you can do is 'wire in EQ cuts', then that doesn't really translate to being 'considerable control'.

...That's not to say that you need considerable control to make something like a guitar pickup sound good, especially given the overall simplicity of many of them. And this is witnessed by the primary way that makers exercise this control - IMO, it's primarily done with the # of turns of wire, and gauge of wire, that's wrapped on the bobbin. To be clear, I'm primarily talking about like Strat and Tele pickups, although it could probably be extended to like P90s and other stuff.

But if I was starting today, deciding to build my own pickups, w/o any attachment to how it's been primarily done going back to its conception (e.g. just starting to research things in 2022), I really think I'd prefer to be unbridled in how I'd design something for all aspects of frequency response and output. IOW, I don't think I'd be content just experimenting with wraps around a bobbin, primarily.
 

chris m.

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IMO, if all you can do is 'wire in EQ cuts', then that doesn't really translate to being 'considerable control'.

...That's not to say that you need considerable control to make something like a guitar pickup sound good, especially given the overall simplicity of many of them. And this is witnessed by the primary way that makers exercise this control - IMO, it's primarily done with the # of turns of wire, and gauge of wire, that's wrapped on the bobbin. To be clear, I'm primarily talking about like Strat and Tele pickups, although it could probably be extended to like P90s and other stuff.

But if I was starting today, deciding to build my own pickups, w/o any attachment to how it's been primarily done going back to its conception (e.g. just starting to research things in 2022), I really think I'd prefer to be unbridled in how I'd design something for all aspects of frequency response and output. IOW, I don't think I'd be content just experimenting with wraps around a bobbin, primarily.
I think most folks are attached to how it's primarily been done in the past. Distortion, mid-focused-- the classic tone of the electric guitar is a happy accident created by the limitations of the original technology. A more "pure", high fidelity signal doesn't sound like the electric guitar we hear in our heads. I kind of shake my head at the hipsters who want super lo-fi-- nasty, ancient fuzz boxes, gold foil pickups in battered old Harmony guitars, crap-tastic old Supro or Silvertone amps, but I get it. If you really want that sound that's the way to get it.
 
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11 Gauge

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I kind of shake my head at the hipsters who want super lo-fi-- nasty, ancient fuzz boxes, gold foil pickups in battered old Harmony guitars, crap-tastic old Supro Silvertone amps, but I get it. If you really want that sound that's the way to get it.
Yeah, I get it too, but I'm definitely not part of that group.

Funny thing worth noting - my first guitar was a Harmony Rocket H54 with gold foils (mine was exactly like in the pic below, although it isn't mine). My very first amp was actually a really old reel-to-reel with a 1/4" input plug. And my first dirt pedal was an old triangle Big Muff. I absolutely want nothing to do with that kind of tone ever again!

y1aebfxq7sgiftb5tsyl.jpg
 

chris m.

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Yeah, I get it too, but I'm definitely not part of that group.

Funny thing worth noting - my first guitar was a Harmony Rocket H54 with gold foils (mine was exactly like in the pic below, although it isn't mine). My very first amp was actually a really old reel-to-reel with a 1/4" input plug. And my first dirt pedal was an old triangle Big Muff. I absolutely want nothing to do with that kind of tone ever again!

y1aebfxq7sgiftb5tsyl.jpg
Looks like you have some nice hipster suitcases, tho'
 




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