Active Pickups- What They Are and How They Work?

What are active pickups and what are the advantages and drawbacks? An active pickup is one that uses electronics to enhance or modify the signal from the guitar’s strings. Unlike passive pickups that are constructed of wire wound around a magnet, active pickups require an external power source to operate. Along with the external power source active pickups also include a preamp, active filters, active EQ and other tone shaping features.

One of the main reasons for using active pickups in your guitar is that they are virtually noise free. In many situations, particularly clubs with neon signs and light dimmers, this is a great advantage. Another reason is that they can give a much higher output than passive pickups and are less affected by long guitar cables. This retains the guitars signal integrity if you are using many effect pedals or large rack system. There is no ground wiring connected to ground which can prevent a guitar player from being injured from electrical shock. Because there is a preamp and active EQ controls there is a wide range of control over the tone of the guitar. They are commonly used on bass guitars, because of their solid tone and now most high-end bass guitars feature an active pickup system.

The drawbacks of active pickups are the need for a power supply which is usually a 9 volt battery. On some guitars there may not be room for the battery and added electronics so routing and/or modification to the guitar may be necessary. Another point that some players debate over is their tone. Some feel that the active pickups sound a little sterile and lack personality. They also feel that their dynamic range is somewhat narrow as compared to a passive pickup. Each individual player has their own taste and these are just opinions or views.  The most popular active pickup manufacturer is EMG started in 1974 and located in Santa Rosa, California. EMG is an acronym for Electro Magnetic Generator. Other companies that have active pickups in their product lines are Seymour Duncan & Bartolini.

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