Neck pickups (part 2)

This is an update from my previous post.

I’ve been going back and experimenting more with my fretless Gecko basses with “traditional” neck pickup placement, and I’ve been revisiting a number of my earlier findings.  In summary, I am not as dissatisfied with most of the “neck” pickups as I was before.

I’ve found some interesting results when both pickups are “balanced” such that the bridge pickup is wound correspondingly hotter than the neck pickup in a way that attempts to balance the tone and output level between both pickups.  The Carvin “Icon” soapbar pickups are an excellent example of doing this well.  I was actually pleasantly surprised by how nice the pickups sounded, given several limitations in their design.  They are fairly “hot” passive pickups, and the tone from both pickups is complementary and balanced in output level.  The neck pickup is meaty and warm, perhaps a bit too much so.  (I wonder how these would sound in a “turbo” placement, with both pickups moved closer together and closer to the bridge?)

On the other hand, the Delano “SBC Driver” pickups seem to balance too closely, where the neck pickup appears to have a bit too much upper midrange character.  Previously I was complaining about the lack of midrange in a neck pickup, so it’s a bit ironic that I find this pickup to have too much of it.  Also, the balancing seems to be off: when the neck pickup is in parallel, the bridge is too soft (in parallel) or too loud (in series) for an effective balance of output level.  It is not quite as nice as the Carvin, despite the enhanced upper midrange response.  Perhaps these pickups were wound for a bass with more “extreme” pickup placement (i.e. neck pickup further away from the bridge) and the standard locations on a Gecko bass don’t give them room to shine?  It would be interesting to order one of these for a “sweet spot” location, somewhere in between the neck and bridge pickups for geometry.

And then, of course, there’s Villex.  I have always loved the rich, warm, clear and adequately “meaty” sound from the neck pickup on my Villex “classic” soapbar pickups.  It helps that both pickups appear to be identical for all normal purposes (excluding Villex’s custom midrange circuit).  I get a lot of nice midrange on this bass, without sounding “over clear” like the Delano or “rolled off” like the Carvin.  Plus, the fundamentals are strong without sounding forceful.  However, the consequence is a slight imbalance in output level between the bridge pickup, which has always been quieter.  But Villex pickups are purely magical in so many ways, so it’s hard to complain with any vigor.

However, I still think that most “neck” pickups (except the Delano “SBC Driver”) sound better when moved south, near the “sweet spot”.  Bartolini’s “classic bass” soapbars are the prime example of this.  A pickup that sounds too dark, warm and woofy with a lack of clarity, it takes on a whole new character when moved to a location which de-emphasizes these frequencies.  It is in this location that I can hear the midrange shining through, with a great punch and resonance.  I’ll be exploring this concept more in a new bass project (details to be announced later).  I think the “sweet spot” is where the “classic bass” neck pickup should reside.

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