Humbucker Vs Single Coil Bass | What’s The Difference?

closeup of bass guitar pickup from bottom

Humbucker Vs Single Coil Bass | What’s The Difference?

Humbucker vs Single Coil Bass

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Single coil pickups have exposed poles that produce a brighter tone. These pickups are often featured in country and punk- rock music.
  • Humbucker pickups have covered poles and produce a warmer, fuller tone and are often preferred by jazz and heavy metal rock players.
  • Initially, humbuckers were created with specific wiring to reduce the interference of outside frequencies. 

Finding the best bass guitar that suits your style and tone requires understanding what pickups are and how the different types affect the overall sound. And to even begin answering what is a bass guitar used for, you need a solid understanding of the various pickups available to you. So, join us as we compare humbucker vs single-coil bass pickups, once you’ve discovered the difference in bass vs guitar

Differences Bass Guitar Humbucker vs Single Coil Pickups

Here’s the low-down if you’re asking the question, what are bass pickups? A pickup is an electromagnetic device that takes the vibration from the strings (mechanical energy) and converts it to electromagnetic energy via magnets and coils wrapped around the magnets. 

So, when you hear about humbucking vs single-coil pickups in bass guitars, know that both are magnetic pickups. However, what separates them is the way they are wired and how many sets of coils there are. 

A single-coil pickup, created by musical mastermind Leo Fender, consists of one row of magnets (usually one for each string). Around these magnets is a coil of wire. The magnets of a single-coil pickup are exposed and can be adjusted to be closer to the string. The exposure affects how it picks up sound. 

A humbucker, created by Gibson enthusiast Seth Lover, is meant to–literally–buck hum. Essentially, the humbucker was created as a response to the single-coil pickup. Because of the nature of the exposed magnets, single-coil pickups would sometimes suffer from frequency interference.

To fix this, the inventor of the humbucker did two things. First, he enclosed the magnetic poles, so they weren’t exposed. Second, he put in another set of magnets but reversed the polarity of the wiring. It’s a complicated electromagnetic explanation of what happens. Still, in practical terms, this reduced the pickup’s proclivity to pick up on other sounds, which created a hum. And there you have it.

We also have a great article that explains the differences between active basses vs passive basses

 

Sound Comparison

The above descriptions suggest that the humbucker is the superior type of pickup. However, this deduction is incorrect. Because, in wiring the humbucker and enclosing the magnets, you alter the sound. 

So, you end up with neither one pickup that is better than the other, but two pickups with distinct sounds that depend on your musical style. For example, single-coil pickups specialize in brighter, funkier tones. Many musicians who play country, bluegrass, and punk rock like to use a single coil for this reason. On the other hand, humbuckers provide a fuller, warmer sound, often preferred by heavy metal or jazz bassists.

For a further look into how pickups distinguish types of basses, you can look into are article covering jazz bass vs precision bass

However, there are no immutable laws of bass pickups at the end of it all. Players should always choose what sounds best to them, regardless of their music style. 

 

Humbucker vs Single Coil Bass FAQs

What does a J bass mean?

The “J” in J-bass stands for Jazz. Jazz means that there will be pickups with a warmer, fatter sound. 

What does P Bass mean?

The “P” in P-bass stands for precision. Precision means you’ll get pickups with a snappier, brighter sound overall. 

How should I adjust the poles on my single coil pickup? 

How far the pickup poles should be from the string depends on your sound preference, but many musicians set them around 2mm. 

  

TIP

 Some basses have two pickups: one near the bridge position pickup and one neck pickup. This pickup selection allows a musician various tones instead of just one.  

 

STAT

 Basses come with either 21, 22, or 24 frets. (source)

 

Warning: There are double coil pickups that closely resemble humbuckers. So if you are purchasing a bass and want humbucker pickups, double-check that they aren’t double coil. 

 

VS Comparison Table

 

  Humbucker Pickup Single-Coil Pickup
Bright Sounds   X
Reduced Interference X  
Warm Sounds X  
Volume X  

 

Sources: 

https://stringjoy.com/bass-pickup-types-p-j-humbucker/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ0Yaoaq9mI

https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/best-bass-pickups/

https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/what-is-a-humbucker-and-how-does-it-buck-the-hum

https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/bass-guitar-buying-guide/

Nathan Rizzuti
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