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Active vs Passive guitar pickups

Someone asked me this week what active pickups were, so I decided to pop here into the blog to give an answer.

As you know, guitars come in many different shapes, sizes and configurations. One of the biggest things that effects the sound of the guitar is the electronics.

Perhaps you are wanting a quick upgrade to the tone of your guitar and have thought about changing the pickups – you go online and there are a million and one different options! But forgetting magnet type, coil windings and phase reverses for now… every pickup falls in one of two categories – Passive or Active.

Is one better than the other? 

No, not really. Both types of pickup have their advantages and drawbacks – ill all depends on what type of sound you are after.

Passive guitar pick up

Passive Pickups

This is the original design of the pickup. Its magnets pick up the string vibrations and sends them to your amp. They are more commonly fitted on most guitars and they are fairly cheap to produce.

The main benefit of this type of pickup is that it is expressive – you can get a great dynamic range just by how hard you pluck. This sensitivity means you can adjust the sound of the pickup just by moving it slightly with the adjustment screws.

For jazz, blues, indie, country – generally lower gain settings, most players use passive pickups.

But the downside is that they have a limited output – the signal they produce is quite weak. They are also prone to feedback and easily affected by the tonewood and quality of the guitar.

Active Pickups

Active pickups aim to solve the output issue that passive pickups have. To do this they require a power source – every guitar equipped with active pickups will also have a battery compartment.

This means they are great for high-gain distortion. A much fuller, thicker sound than passives – they won’t sound sweet and jangly through a clean Fender combo, but they will sound skull-crushing through a Mesa Boogie stack.

They also are a bit more consistent – the sound of a particular set active pickups will not vary much even in different guitar bodies. This makes them a good upgrade for a cheaper guitars.

Downsides – the battery thing is the main one. If your battery goes mid-performance you’re essentially left with a useless guitar until you can find another 9 volt!

Active guitar pick up

Let me know if you have any questions or advice to share!

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