Active pickups or passive pickups

Posted: December 9, 2012 in Instruments
Tags: ,

I have guitars with active pickups and guitars with passive pickups. Sometimes passive pickups seems superior and sometimes active pickups feel better. It depends on my mood and what I am looking for. Some people use only one or the other and are prepared to fight to the bitter end for their choise. My opinion is that both have their uses.

I have used only EMG active pickups (81, 85, 60 and Hetfield set). I am not sure if what I say here applies to other manufacturers. I mostly use Seymour Duncan passive pickups and stock pickups that guitars had when I bought them.

First difference between active and passive pickups is that actives need batteries. It is not such big deal as some think it is. As long as you unplug the cable after you play, batteries last long times.

Active pickups tend to be hotter (louder). They have better signal to noise ratio and they have more compressed sound. Better signal to noise ratio is always better. Others depend on personal taste. More compressed and hotter sound is better on metal music where muted notes are used. That is why metal musicians like active pickups.

Down side to compressed sound is that it is less dynamic. You can’t control your sound by playing louder or softer. Is this good thing or bad thing is matter of opinion. With actives it is easier to keep sound constant but you lose some charcteristics.

What you could get from this? My experince is that active pickups are easier when you have heavily distorted guitar sound thanks to better signal to noise ratio and more compressed sound. If you want you playing style to affect your sound then passives are better. With gate and compression you can get benefits of active pickups with passive pickups. But then you have more stuff in you signal chain. It is what you value that counts.


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