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Active Pickups?


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don't like repeating what has been said earlier but i feel that this has to be mentioned.. what guitar2005 said was true because their grounded to the negative term of the battery and hence have a closed circuit and don't need your body to close it. Actives dont need extra shielding nor a ground wire to be soldered to the bridge/strings.

I have a variety of passives and my warlock has an EMG set (81/85 with the 20dB booster set to around less than 10dB) and i tell you, that thing is DARN SILENT! eventhoguh the output is more than enoguh to drive the cleaner than cleanest clean effect i have on my amp! and unless we're talking about the railed pickups (as much as i detest that pickup, but think SD SH-13) they have a better overall string balance than polepiece passives.

harmonics sound MUCH nicer on actives (pinch harmonics that is) but that's imho. however if you don't have a pretty firm control over your pick it'll get quite messy with the shreds due to teh high output. I'd rather use my prestige with the DMZ/IBZ passives (they even have a mid-output level) for soloing coz i am pretty new to actives myself so i haven't got the hang of playing them recording-level-clean yet.

apart from that, actives have very low impedence... but don't know how to exactly describe that in non-electronics204 terms =(

one last difference that i noticed, dunno if its just me but passive pickups seem to have sliiiiightly more punch at the bass side.... so if you don't have the effects processor/amp to back that part up, u'll end up with a pretty flat response from actives...

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Depends on your style. The tone you want. Love that classic rock edge that comes from vintage style passive pickups into a single channel tube amp? Don't get EMGs.

Processed to all hell ultra high gain hi fi sound? By all means, go active.

There are about a million options in between, too, so go play some guitars and figure out what sound you like. Personally, I like both, so I have both.

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yeah since you do know the calculations things are a bit easier now =D

your solder joints probably suck because you're using a crappy soldering iron, trust me been doing this stuff for long enough now and i had a $2 soldering iron that gave me hell (coz i for some reason thoguht that the only better stuff was the close to $70 variable temp ones) and then i got me a $10 soldering iron and a rosin core solder spool.... and voila!

Mattia explained it pretty well! that's exactly my case too, i like the kinda vintage sound and i like the gruesome ultra high gain brutal sound, so i have both!

i did make my own circuits (if you recall your last electronics course that taught you how to do small amps with either transistors or opamps then this shouldn't be tough with some research) but my circuits weren't size-wise efficient coz i didn't have access to multi layered PCBs. so i abandoned them! hehe...

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Those are similar in design minus the added preamp, aren't they?

No.....most "active" pickups (meaning that the preamp is inside the cover along with the coils) are wound with a rather low DC resistance compared with passives, and they rely on the preamp to boost the signal. If you were to remove the preamp from an EMG active pickup and just use it as a passive, it would have a very weak output.

The low resistance comes from a smaller number of turns of wire around the bobbin(s); this actually has the effect of (among other things) flattening out the frequency response and reducing the amplitude of the resonant frequency. That's why a lot of passives will have a characteristic mid-range bark or honk, and why actives tend to sound more flat (or "hi fi").

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Those are similar in design minus the added preamp, aren't they?

No.....most "active" pickups (meaning that the preamp is inside the cover along with the coils) are wound with a rather low DC resistance compared with passives, and they rely on the preamp to boost the signal. If you were to remove the preamp from an EMG active pickup and just use it as a passive, it would have a very weak output.

The low resistance comes from a smaller number of turns of wire around the bobbin(s); this actually has the effect of (among other things) flattening out the frequency response and reducing the amplitude of the resonant frequency. That's why a lot of passives will have a characteristic mid-range bark or honk, and why actives tend to sound more flat (or "hi fi").

And since the pickup has a lower base resistance, the pots to control it require lower values - hence when using EMGs, you can use 25k pots to get that Metal sound as opposed to the 500k pots you would use for passive.

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While EMG actives are famously used for brutal metal, they are at home with cleaner players, too, including Knopfler, Vince Gill, and Gilmour. I'm not saying those players ONLY use EMGs or that their famous recordings were all done with EMGs; I'm just saying they've all attached their name to the EMG brand and are comfortable playing their styles of music with EMG actives.

The flat hi-fi sound Erik mentioned is a great help when using EQ as well. Need a mid-rangey sound? Boost the mids. :D

Greg

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There are about a million options in between, too, so go play some guitars and figure out what sound you like.

You hit the nail on the head. Not all guitars will use pickups that you can easily purchase on their own, but you'll get an idea. Also look into bands and artists you like the tone of and try to see what guitars and gear they use to get an idea. In the end all guitars are different and you won't know if you like them until its all said and done, see if your local guitar shop has an exchange period for pickups, they know you might not like them after you buy them, just don't butcher the wire supplied with the pickups and they might take them back.

and then i got me a $10 soldering iron and a rosin core solder spool.... and voila!

What advantage does rosin core solder have? how many watts was your $10 soldering iron?

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QUOTE(Sami Ghouri @ Jul 26 2008, 12:48 AM)

and then i got me a $10 soldering iron and a rosin core solder spool.... and voila!

What advantage does rosin core solder have? how many watts was your $10 soldering iron?

you have to use flux when soldering the rosin core is that flux it basicaly cleans and preps the metal so it will accept the solder rosin core is much eaiser and faster to use on small projects (pretty much any thing you do with a guitar or amp rosin core is the way to go) big stuff you have to use flux and solid core solder like water pipes and large gauge wire.

and you want to balance your soldering iron with the wire i have a small 12 watt a larter 40 watt and a soldering gun that im not sure onthe wattage but i use it for big stuff

the 12 watt I use on small stuff like guitars or what ever then the 40 watt i like for larger stuff like 12 and 14 guage wire

you will also want a to size your solder dont get large diamiter solder and try to us it with your 12 what iron in a guitar cavity you will end up with a mess.

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I really don't know why more has not been done on actives and I am thinking of "activating" a guitar at the moment with a preamp and passive pickups. Bass players seem far more at home with this for some reason...

As far as Actives go, EMG seem to be the only major brand out there and often people mix the two together. There is no reason I can see why actives have to have a hi-fi sound, in fact quite the opposite would be possible depending on the circuitry.

I have often thought I might try some experiments in building some active designs as even conventional pickups with preamps seem to address a lot of the desires that people seem to want in pickups. For instance, you can get far higher gains from any active than overwound "hot" pickups which often sound muddy. This is why EMG's are so popular with the metal crowd, huge output and great articulation.

The sound for clean tones is immaculate and I seriously wanted them when they first came out because they were so clean.

Alumitone pickups have a very low impedance, and just one turn, don't they, and then they use a transformer instead of a powered preamp. I'll have to go read about them somemore.

Alumitone Pickups are an intriguing design but are not active. They are extremely low impedance (the aluminium and magnet construction is effectively a single coil) but the low wind is compensated with a transformer (with a lot of winds) to boost the very low signal. An interesting design idea...

For soldering, a good soldering iron makes a lot of difference, but a cheap one will work. Low watts for almost all guitar stuff and thin rosin cored solder for electronics is what you want. The rosin lets the solder flow and ensures a strong join. The only thing that may need more power or rosin is really soldering to the back of pots, but even low powered soldering irons can be used if you file a bit of the pot just before soldering so it is clean and fresh.

Soldering is easy enough to do but it can take a little practice, watch for dull joins :D and make sure you keep the iron clean, I have this metal woolly thing that you dip the iron in and it takes all the excess solder off and cleans it as you go and cost next to nothing. No more flicking solder around the place!

I'd still like to hear what people might think for active systems in guitars. I quite like the idea of a separate little circuit and potentially you could have active tone controls that cut, boost or scoop tones. Perhaps there is just too much of an aversion to having a battery in the guitar...

pete

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There are numerous combinations other than just "active" or "passive". As pete points out, a little circuit or two can do many different things. Especially given the reduction in size of circuits over the last few years. If you take a standard single coil and add an active preamp in the wiring -> is it then an active system?

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Yes...

You get low impedance output and no loading and you could set the preamp to any kind of gain level. It would still be limited by the initial "tone" of the original pickup set up however. One feature of EMG's is they ahve very low magnetism and so far less effect on the vibrations of the string which I think creates far more of their HiFi sound than the preamps.

For people who make their own pickups, the options available if you use an active circuit greatly expand the kinds of designs you could create as you would not have to worry about the output gain. So, you could use less turns or magnet power or you could use different materials even. You could even add flavor with some clipping in the preamp to add compression and warmth if that was what you were looking for.

pete

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There are about a million options in between, too, so go play some guitars and figure out what sound you like.

You hit the nail on the head. Not all guitars will use pickups that you can easily purchase on their own, but you'll get an idea. Also look into bands and artists you like the tone of and try to see what guitars and gear they use to get an idea. In the end all guitars are different and you won't know if you like them until its all said and done, see if your local guitar shop has an exchange period for pickups, they know you might not like them after you buy them, just don't butcher the wire supplied with the pickups and they might take them back.

and then i got me a $10 soldering iron and a rosin core solder spool.... and voila!

What advantage does rosin core solder have? how many watts was your $10 soldering iron?

as explained, by tim, the rosin is your flux (don't shoot me but i used to use phosphoric acid to prep the areas and the solder, which OBVIUOSLY destroyed my previous iron and didn't exactly do the job right) and my iron is 30 watts and it's more than enoguh! it says pro something on it (got it from one of those uni electronics project store). any iron will do, just don't go as cheap as $2 you know!

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PSW: why more isn't done with active pickups? I'd say the 'active' route currently being pursued is squarely the Piezo + various degrees of modeling technology route. Why? Cheaper and easier to manufacture than coils of wire around magnets, and digital processing means you've got a hell of a lot of tone shaping options.

In terms of pickups, well, the electric guitar is relatively young, but fairly mature in terms of its tonal development. The 'standard' electric guitar sounds have been discovered, are loved by many a guitarist, and there's no particular desire among most of them to reinvent the wheel. The attempts in recent history (EMG, Steinberger) have all found their niche markets, but they're not huge markets. Personally, I like what a P-90 in a mahogany guitar pumping through a tube amp sounds like. It's lo-fi as anything, but that's hardly a bad thing. After all, that distortion many of us chase is not not named 'distortion' for nothing. We don't want pure, true sound out of our guitars most of the time. We have EMGs for the metalhead crowd (only a proportion of the guitarplaying public), as well as other active pickup companies that haven't managed to really penetrate the market. IMO higher gain is something you should be looking for in the other half of the 'electric guitar', ie the amplifier. Plenty of room for tweaking there.

If I do? I'd rather pick up an acoustic. Although once again, some of the best amplification systems out there for those, these days, are a combination of piezos and modeling (DTAR Mama Bear, for example...)

Edited by Mattia
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I am tending to agree Mattia, although I think there is more to it than the cost of wire over piezo's a circuits. Digital is coming a long way, as is modeling, but it is still not up there with the real thing and still tends to mimic rather than have it's own identity. Perhaps if things continue to progress this technology will overtake traditional pickups...but not yet!

I just think that the area of analogue active pickups (as opposed to the digital future) has been largely overlooked and stereotyped into the EMG hi-Fi flat response ideal without any dominant character. The dominant characteristics of a P-90 are exactly why they are adored...or a PAF, single coil or any other. These designs have to some extent defined what an electric guitar sounds like as you say.

However, the characteristic flat response of the EMG is what they aimed for, it is no more a necessity of an active design that it should sound like that. Unfortunately, the ability to strip away characteristic of a pickup to produce a neutral sterile sound has become synonymous with active pickups as a whole.

I agree that the amp plays an important role in tone shaping and it should be best done there. But then, that was an early promotion of the EMG thing too...send it everything in equal and extended amounts and used the amp to select the characteristics of the sound.

What active makers don't seem to have done is create a pickup with character like you p-90 example, yet the potential is huge to create very characteristic sounds and power and control in the analogue realm.

But, perhaps it comes down to market forces and perceptions and does it really matter.

I am working on an interesting project guitar that is evolving in electronics at the moment, hence my interest. Although a great playing and sounding guitar at the moment and it does not need to be "active" I am currently in the process of installing active electronics into the thing with a 25dB potential gain boost while still retaining all the character of it's very interesting and classic pickup designs. The idea is not to make it hi-fi at all, but to exagerate it's qualities and to allow for a huge range of power to interact with the amp. The intention is that the active circuit is a part of the instrument unlike an effect.

One of the biggest aversions to actives is putting a battery into the guitar, but since working with the sustainers where this is a necessity, it did get me thinking of other potentials once you have some power on board.

Just a thought though...

pete

Watch out for a thread in the future when it is more advanced...an interesting project :D

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yeah since you do know the calculations things are a bit easier now =D

your solder joints probably suck because you're using a crappy soldering iron, trust me been doing this stuff for long enough now and i had a $2 soldering iron that gave me hell (coz i for some reason thoguht that the only better stuff was the close to $70 variable temp ones) and then i got me a $10 soldering iron and a rosin core solder spool.... and voila!

Mattia explained it pretty well! that's exactly my case too, i like the kinda vintage sound and i like the gruesome ultra high gain brutal sound, so i have both!

i did make my own circuits (if you recall your last electronics course that taught you how to do small amps with either transistors or opamps then this shouldn't be tough with some research) but my circuits weren't size-wise efficient coz i didn't have access to multi layered PCBs. so i abandoned them! hehe...

I have a good soldering iron. I did look at the solder I used and it was definitely the wrong stuff. It's the type of solid solder used to connect pipes. And I didn't tin anything. And I left my wires too exposed. And the kit I built didn't come with instructions. I'll practice for a while before I wire my next guitar and get the right stuff.

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It's the type of solid solder used to connect pipes. And I didn't tin anything.

Ahh...you will find that the right solder will fix everything...it will flow so much better without as much heat. Look out for a cheap wire stripper too, these can be a big help, sometimes it is best in repairing to simply cut the wire, make a neat wire strip, tin both parts with a little solder and join again.

good luck...pete

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