I was wondering, can you point me in the right direction: what are the physical/ technical / acoustical reasons which make active basses quite common and active guitars much less so ? I tried looking around but I didn’t find the right places, the majority of sources explained the merits or the tradeoffs of on-board preamp but I missed the reason(s) which make it so natural (of course, not universally so!) for basses and so much rarer for guitars.
Good question, though I’m not a guitar player but I own a few. Most guitar basically has volume and tone plus the pickups selector. Active basses offer array of mid controls cut and boost. It’s a one stop shop. Guitars usually accompany by a whole host of pedals to do all that externally. All pedals I know are active, and there’s a pedal for everything. Some guitar players I know put enough power through their pedals that can light up a small village, lol.
I think it has to do with tone and the popular believe, not to mention the simplicity of passive electronics. Music man stingray was the first production active bass producing loud crisp clean tone. Originally offer with 2 band EQ, the early contemporary designs are the ones that offer mid control along with bass and treble and those preamps need power to operate on the active/passive basses, in passive mode you only have tone control.
You ask 10 guitar players what they think about ceramic magnets they’ll tell you it’s too cold and brittle, hence the name, but the fact is the opposite, it’s what they believe, ask the same 10 what they think about active electronics, they’d say that it sound too compressed, probably due to the fact that many active systems are hum canceling not just volume boosting and tone shaping, so they are dead silent.
If the first Stratocaster came with active electronics now every guitars would have active electronics.
So you basically say that it’s a matter of tradition/habit and there are no strong reasons (maybe connected to lower frequencies/heavier gauges which have higher inertia per unit length/…?) which make a passive eq “natural” for a guitar and “not the only natural choice” for bass. This is interesting…
@Al1885 You raise an excellent point about how pedals have traditionally been more common for guitar vs. bass. I hadn’t thought of it that in relation to active setups.
A very messy analogy: the tendency toward ample pockets in men’s clothing (onboard pre-amp in bass) vs. tiny pockets in women’s clothing / handbags (guitar pedals) as a standard accessory.
This analogy triggers more questions
I buy men’s clothing for the pockets
@f.guerrieri A lot of guitar pickups are active; they have preamp curves built into them, EMG and Fishman Fluence being notable examples. Like, the Tosin Abasi Fluences have a mid hump somewhere, etc.
I can’t really answer why guitars tend to not have actual preamps, though, which mainly seems to be a thing in basses (which may have both; my C-5 GT has active pickups and a preamp while my Stiletto Studio has passive pickups and a preamp).
Maybe it’s due to the fact that guitarists love them some pedalboards and amps and basses are sometimes just plugged direct into the PA.
Mind. Blown. I was expecting an explanation grounded in physics and physiology of perception… While it’s a sociological/cultural one!
I am beginning to think that this is the reason. Historically the signal chain of a guitar and of a basses tend to be different, and so a bassist can be happy with just a few knobs on their instrument, while a guitar player will probably go crazy with pedal after pedal and so there is no need to bother with a single choice…
Maybe this is due to the traditional role of the two instruments, where being more foundational there is less need for bass pedals, while every guitar player apparently needs those to achieve “their signature sound”.
Yeah, bass players never do this.
As the saying goes, the exception that proves the rule!
Crude math would let me to believe that for every 10 guitars sold one is bass. For ever 10 bassists one would be a pedal user. Fortunately, 9 out of every 10 BassBuzzers are PedalHeads, lol.
No not at all, in fact in some circle passive basses are the only thing played. Say P bass and Jazz bass anyone? Some of those people are so religious about their Passive electronics, lol.
You can have just about any kind of sound and strength on a passive bass like you have on the active bass just less contour. Delano big pole pickup is a passive bass pickup and it’s just every bit of bite and grit as any active pickups I have. G&L MFD is another good example, that thing is so loud and full of body it puts many active pickups to shame. Another honorable mention would be the D’marzio Relentless pickup, whooo! that thing is big. Not to mention a boutique shop like Lindy Fralin, their Jazz pickups are stronger, higher definition and louder than my fully active Fender Ultra Jazz with 18v system.(well the 18v doesn’t translate to higher volume, just higher headroom)
On the flip side EMG bass pickups are 95% active and except for the X series they are not louder than passive system, as the matter of fact their passive pickups are hotter than the active ones. They are using the active circuit to silent the 60 cycles hum and help shaping their “prefer” tone from their pickups.
I love their pickups. 95% of my live performance were on one of my EMG equipped bass. Probably was my luck, but more than once something went wrong and I have no sound or wired hum coming from the bass, and got religious(well like all bassist, superstitious) and starting EMG installed bass.
Let’s not forget the almighty monetary unit of choice. Being able to say the bass you’re selling has active electronics is worth a decent upcharge even if it’s a $20 2 band preamp they installed at the factory
Yes, in know that, but it’s a matter of fact that active basses are quite common. You make good points about some passive pickups beig as hot as active ones, or more. Thanks, I don’t have a wide experience with those …
Yes but nowadays you can argue both ways, Apple makes a point of removing features and upsekling sometimes they (may) have a point, many other times it’s just for style…
I think because the typical frequency range for basses are so low that electronic/solid state/synthetic sound reproduction sounds as good as if not better than traditional components. In guitar world you are basically a clown if you don’t play MUH TUBES.
I don’t want to miss out on the analogy.
An active bass is like a Nuclear submarine all of the weapons are contained within, and electric guitar is like an aircraft carrier. Do you need all kind of weapon on board? No needs when you can have your pick of array of arsenals before deployment, lol.
This is the most l likely reason. Most guitarists either want the tone of their pre/amp they’re plugged into or they’re going to be using some kind of drive pedal for that tone. Also, there are generally a smaller range of typical tones that bassists are looking for vs what a guitarists might want. It’s common for a bassist to use just a simple DI pedal like a sans amp vs a whole pedalboard of different effects for guitar. How many bassists are paying $5000+ for a Klon Centaur pedal?
A lot of bassists buy an active bass because they want that active “sound” but It’s also pretty common for people to buy an active bass and then play it in passive mode because they prefer the passive sound
A lot of active basses have transparent preamps (like, say, the TRBX) and sound almost exactly the same active vs passive, except with an EQ while active.
Ideally, all preamps with centred knobs should sound similar (especially volume) in active vs the passive tone. One of the big reasons to have an on board preamp (and rarely why people choose to have one) is to boost the output signal over long cables.