Using Bass Pickups On Guitar (3 Reasons To NOT Do It)

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Many musical instrument manufacturers have used guitar and bass pickups interchangeably.

To my knowledge, Fender, Danelectro, Rickenbacker, and at least a few others have used the same pickup for bass and guitar models with a few tweaks to make it work, that is.

A bass and guitar pickup are identical in design but with differences in size.

They both have the same mechanism – a magnet and a coil.

Plus, it’s fair to state that all guitar and bass pickups are voiced the same, except for some humbuckers uniquely voiced for guitars. So far, so good.

So, is it a good idea to use bass pickups on a guitar and vice versa?

Yes, it is possible in some situations. Moreover, it’s hard to generalize guitar and bass pickups as they come in a variety of layouts and strengths.

The best thing you can do is to research the output, tonal range, and accentuated frequencies of bass pickups before you use them for guitar.

Bass pickups are designed for different purposes.

Broadly speaking, your best shot is to find types that don’t rely on pole pieces.

So you can look up rail pickups and lipstick pickups with blades made for bass guitar. Still, you may not enjoy the results when you try to use them on a guitar.

Below, we will discuss the pros and cons of the maverick idea in more detail.

Bass Pickups on a Guitar: Should You Do It?

Theoretically, you can put bass pickups on a guitar and vice versa. However, the different number of pole pieces and size difference between the two types of pickups will pose a challenge.

Expect varying degrees of success based on the specs of the guitar model and bass pickup.

Either way, you can’t get great sound from your guitar with a bass pickup unless it fulfills very specific concerns. Let’s look at the three biggest challenges to overcome in that regard.

1. Pole Pieces

Poles are steel screws or magnet pole pieces on a guitar pickup. If you look closely, you will notice that your guitar pickup has six of them.

There’s one pole piece per string in single-coil pickups and two per string in humbuckers. A bass pickup has four poles as most bass guitars have four strings.

Let’s take the example of single-coil J-bass and Strat pickups that share the same basic design. A J-style bass single-coil sounds very similar to a Strat single-coil. 

The biggest problem, if you use them interchangeably, is the pole pieces don’t line up with the strings.

It can yield uneven output across the strings, especially on strings outside the effective range of the pickup magnet.

Luckily, many modern bass pickup designs use a single rail, long blade, or one long pole piece across the width of the pickup.

You can remedy this problem with rail pickups, but there are very few of them for bass.

2. String Spacing

String spacing is the distance between the strings of a guitar or bass. It is measured at the bridge by calculating the distance between two adjacent strings.

Different manufacturers use different string spacing, which means there are lots of variations to look out for.

Bass and guitar pickups are designed keeping the number of strings and string spacing in mind.

Bass pickups use four magnets or pole pieces located at a distance determined by the string spacing of bass strings. The six poles in guitar pickups are spaced for guitar strings.

The standard string spacing for a 4-string bass guitar is 19mm. The standard string spacing for a 6-string electric guitar is 52mm.

Neck pickup and bridge pickups generally have a string spacing of 50mm and 52mm respectively. The range is vastly different than bass pickups.

That means there is no way the four pole pieces of bass guitar pickups can line up with the six strings on a guitar.

The problem doesn’t disappear if you use pickups made for a 6-string bass either. The string spacing of a 6-string guitar and 6-string bass are not identical.

3. Pickup Size and Dimensions

A bass pickup and guitar pick don’t have the same physical shape and size. A bass pickup is not designed to fit a guitar-routed-out slot and vice versa.

Generally, bass pickups are larger. So, it’s possible but not easy to find something that will fit an electric guitar.

For instance, Seymour Duncan single-coil strat pickups for guitar measure 0.73” in depth and 2.76″ in width on average.

A single-coil bass pickup –  the SD Quarter Pounder – measures 0.74″ in depth and 3.63″ in width. There’s a significant difference in the size and dimensions.

Most of us aren’t willing to route the cavity on a guitar to fit a bass pickup. That leaves us the option of finding something with the same depth and width – a bootless errand, IMO.

P.S. In the market for some killer jazz bass pickups?

Final thoughts

Trying to use a bass pickup on guitar is an interesting experiment if you want a fun weekend project.

You are more likely to succeed if you put a guitar pickup on bass because there are a lot more rail or blade-style pickups to choose from.

We’ll probably address that in a different post.

Also, there is no reason to ignore the gamut of guitar-specific pickups and use a bass pickup on the guitar.

It only makes sense if you have a spare pickup lying about and a guitar with a similar size/shape route. Nevertheless, don’t try it on your primary instrument.

FAQs

Are bass pickups the same as guitar pickups?

Both bass and guitar pickups consist of a magnet with a copper wire coiled around it. When you strike the string, it causes the string to vibrate.

The vibrating string lies within the magnetic field of the magnet in the pickup. The vibrations disturb the magnetic field, causing small voltage fluctuations in the copper coil.

The coil transmits these fluctuations (changes) to the amplifier.

Why is bass pickup split?

A bass pickup is split to create an offset design with two distinct parts for a pair of strings instead of one double-coil that goes under all four strings.

One part of the split pickup handles one pair of strings (lows) and the other part handles another pair (highs).

The split widens the tonal range, resulting in rich lows and bright treble. They are found in P-style bass guitars or P/J pickup sets.

What is the difference between P and J bass pickups?

The P-bass pickup, used in a Fender Precision basses, is a hum-canceling split-coil pickup with staggered pole pieces – one per string. J-bass pickups, used in Fender Jazz basses, are single-coil pickups with two pole pieces per string.

 The P-bass pickup sounds scooped with punchy lows and clear highs. The J-bass pickup has more midrange growl, treble, and overall brightness.