Active vs. Passive Pickups

Do you know pickups have been built along with guitars for more than 60 years? Pickups have helped guitars to be transformed into solid electric ones and gain unique electronic music quality. As its popularity grew so did its type, there are many varieties of pickups for guitars in the market.

Active and passive pickups are two of the most popular and common types of guitar pickups. However, people fail to understand and grasp the difference between the two. To clear our confusion on active vs. passive pickups for guitars, check out our article to know which is suitable for your guitar. 

What Is a Pickup?

For those of you who do not know what a pickup is, it’s the metal piece that you find on your guitar that sits behind your strings. Simply told pickups are like microphones but for your electric guitar.

A pickup helps to pick up the vibrations every time you play the strings and translates those vibrations into clear sounds that come out of your amplifier. All pickups are made of magnet and copper wound wire. Every time you play the strings of your electric guitar pickup helps to disrupt the magnet.

It changes the current that moves through your amplifier giving a nice electric loud sound. All electric guitars need a pickup that converts vibrational energy into electric music. 

Pickup Quality

There different brands of pickup in the market equipped with different magnetic materials. Every brand of a pickup has a subtle difference in a few particular tones, other than that are no major significant differences.

A pickup’s quality is determined by its EQ curve, magnet’s material, sound output. The amount of wire wrapped around a pickup’s magnet determined the sound quality too. If you are looking for a higher output you better get an over-wound pickup.

Passive vs. Active Pickups

Passive pickups 

All passive pickups have two basic components a copper wire with many wrapped coils and a permanent magnet. The magnet is usually made of Ceramic or Alnico. Passive pickup help to convert the vibrations produced into the current that travel along the wire and come out of your amplifier as sound.

Passive pickups are the same as the original magnetic guitar’s version. However, passive pickups produce more feedback from your amp, which may cause a shift in your guitar’s tonal or bass quality.

How it works

As the permanent magnet is close to the strings, it easily causes the strings of your guitar to magnetize turn into semi-permanent magnets. As a result, when you are playing your strings you are causing a disturbance in its magnetic field and cause a current to pass through the wrapped coil.

Most of the major guitar brands like Les Pauls, SGs, teles etc. and manufacturing companies use passive pickups for their guitars.

Advantages:

  • They require an external power source 
  • Do not require rigs 
  • Passive pickups have various tonal qualities. 
  • They have an organic character
  • Passive pickups are loud, articulate, and open 
  • Helps to express music openly. 
  • Passive pickups are considered vintage pickups
  • Brighter and livelier 

Disadvantages

  • Passive pickups give a weaker signal 
  • Their output is limited

Active Pickups 

Even though active pickups are not as popular as passive ones, but since the last thirty years that have been used in more guitars than ever before. It was innovated by the EMG in the early 1908s and works on wired coiled like passive pickups.

Active pickups have a wire-wrapped fundamental magnetic design with a different construction built. Most metal guitarists prefer active pickups. There are many active pickups offered for guitarists including Deluxe Active Jazz bass, Jim Root Stratocaster, Jazz-master, Active Jaxx V Bass, and Jazz-master.   

How it works

Unlike passive pickups, active pickups have fewer coils around their magnet. However, their circuitry contains an active pre-amplifier that is powered by a battery of 9V to 10V.

This helps to boost signal levels, enhance EQ, and filters. Due to the attached battery, active pickups have a higher power output and range.

Advantages

  • Higher power output 
  • A better consistent tone and quality
  • Active pickups are less susceptible to external noise 
  • Contains the ability to EQ your sound’s tone 
  • They are easier to deal with high noise distortions 
  • Produces clearer notes

Disadvantage 

  • They have a lower dynamic range than passive pickups 
  • They are completely dependent on batteries 
  • Much more expensive than passive pickups 

Switching from Passive to Active pickup

You will find most guitars containing a passive pickup, if you want to shift to an active pickup there are few things you need to consider for starts, you need to determine whether you will be placing the battery. The easiest option would be to use a router to create a cavity where you can install the active pickup’s battery. 

If you do not want to create a cavity in your guitar then you can take a 9V battery and check if it is small enough to fit in your guitar’s existing cavities. Your battery might be just the right size to fit in the volume and tone knob.

If it fits you can tests the active pickup in your guitar. Having both pickups help you to choose, if you feel like you can again shift back from active to your old passive pickup.

Bottom Line

Now that you have read our article, you should know all about active vs. passive pickups. Pickups are very important for a guitarist, especially if you are playing an electric guitar on stage. The type of pickup you choose will greatly affect your tone and bass of your playing.

Active and passive pickups have a different sound quality and both have their ups and downs.  It is completely your choice what kind of pickup you want to settle for. If you want, you can install both pickups on your guitar and see which one suits your playing style.

Read: How To Play F Chord.

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