Magnetic pickups for electric guitar and bass can also be distinguished in two sub families: active and passive. The power and tone of a passive pickup originates exclusively from the structure of the magnet and of the bobbin.

On the other side, in active pickups, the influence of the magnet and the bobbin is relatively low and and most of the tone is generated by the preamplifier built inside the pickup itself.

Active vs passive pickups graphics
EMG active humbucker.

For this reason, due to the reduced influence of the magnet, placing active pickups near to the strings doesn't have any negative effect on the vibration and sustain.

Although mentioned as "cold", active pickups offer some real advantages over passive ones.

A Seymour Duncan passive humbucker.

Some of these advantages are a reduced noise, the low impedance which allows the use of very long cables without loosing any part of the signal and allowing a better and more silent interface between the instrument and other effect devices.

I do not totally agree on that instruments equipped with active pickups feature a "colder" tone and tend to sound all the same.

My opinion is that wood, especially the neck one, still has a lot of importance on electric instruments equipped with active pickups.

Along the years I have learned that the diffidence toward active pickups is usually generated by the presence of the battery which may hurt some players fearing it gets suddenly drained without any advice.


Active and passive pickups works on a totally different impedance thus requiring totally different values of volume and tone potentiometers and capacitors. Therefore it's impossible to mix them on an instrument without damaging the performance of one of the two if separated volume and tone for each pickup are not present. Even in this case the volume of the active pickups will be much higher than the passive one.

I have developed some original schematics diagrams for applications with EMG pickups like for example:

- using the EMG Mid Boost on only the two single coils of a H/S/S equipped guitar
- EMG preamp true bypass.

I have sent these to EMG in the past and they admitted that indeed it was "a better way to do this" but for what I now, they never published them in their schematics book.

If you're interested please contact me.

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2010 Galeazzo Frudua. All rights reserved

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