I have been playing bass for several decades and I can say I’m a declared Precision Bass fanatic. Yes, it was my first instrument and it continues to be my go-to bass model whenever I do studio work or stage performances.
There’s something about that punchy low end, the maneuverable body, and the neck that just haunted me back in the day and continues to put its spell on me every time I pick one up.
During my P-Bass adventures, I changed pickups quite often. Hey, don’t look at me like that, I’m an eighties kid. In my day, we modified everything because no stock instrument could handle our tone!
So, I decided to go into the pickup market and find the best Precision Bass pickups and make a chronicle so you can make an informed decision when the time comes.
Read on, choose wisely, and ride that low tide all the way to stardom.
It’s P-Bass fun time!
Best P Bass Pickups - My Favorites
Table of Contents
- Best P Bass Pickups - My Favorites
- Why Change Your Precision Bass Pickup?
- Should You Go for an Active or a Passive Pickup?
- The Bottom End
1. EMG GZR-PHZ Geezer Butler Signature
Black Sabbath was, at its time, the scariest band in music. But that nickname wasn’t just the outcome of a bat-eating singer. On the contrary, Tony Iommi’s heavier-than-life riffs and, especially, Geezer Butler’s unique playing style made it happen.
Well, that amazing mix of piercing mids and deep bottom end is exactly what I was looking for when I plugged my cheap precision. I mean, nothing sounds so powerfully deep as a well-dialed-in P-Bass.
So, while my sound benefited in the midrange making notes crystal clear and adding a rocking edge to the pick sounds, the bass was tight. A tight bottom end is every bass player’s dream.
That dream came true with this upgrade on my cheap Squier Classic Vibe. Yes, I know, but experimenting on a Custom Shop ’64 is sacrilege (don’t even get me started with doing it on my vintage original one).
Installing them was very easy since all wires are solderless. Moreover, the 5-wire Quik-Connect technology developed by EMG allows you to wire it in five different configurations, making this the perfect pickup for the gigging musician or studio professional. You can just pack many sounds on your P-Bass case with a screwdriver.
Speaking of session players, I did some studio work with it and people around me weren’t so happy when I pulled out my proud Classic Vibe in the studio. But all the long faces were gone as soon as I plugged in. Believe me, I had to disengage the “deep” switch of the Mesa Boogie valve head.
Perhaps, my only complaint is that the bottom end is difficult to take off from the mix without ruining the mids. I mean, lows are the core of the P-Bass sounds, but this pickup might make them overwhelming.
If you want the classic, rocking tone of Geezer Butler with tight, deep lows, and razor-like mids, this is a great pickup. For a more modern tone, you might be better off with a different model.
2. Seymour Duncan SPB-3 Quarter Pound
Although this quarter pound doesn’t come with cheese, it’s loaded with some serious thump. I mean, I had to go back and re-check the box to check that I wasn’t playing an active pickup.
I was playing it on my Classic Vibe P-Bass again and it started sounding as if it had a maple neck. Yes, the midrange on these pickups mixed with the hot output was enough to overdrive my Ampeg valve head. If you like that rocking tone playing with a pick, you’ll be in P-Bass heaven.
Perhaps, the same midrange that I absolutely loved might be a little too bright for those who prefer that Pino Paladino groove with silk-like lower mids. Yet, if you use the forgotten tone knob on your instrument, you can tame some of that presence.
On the other hand, that presence makes your instrument cut through any mix, regardless of what else is in it. Again, I felt as if I was playing a maple neck with that strong presence in the mids.
But beyond the EQ, what struck me the most about this pickup is the volume. The magnets are super-sized, but once you plug them in, you realize just how powerful they are. I had to turn the SansAmp off as soon as I plugged in.
It’s that power and midrange capability that made bass lines outside the rock realm a little too aggressive. Also, pick attack becomes instant Motörhead. I know, nothing sounds like that distorted Ric, but I mean it sounds in that direction.
This is a P-Bass pickup for rockers, metal players, and blues rock players. For something more vintage-sounding, you should look elsewhere.
3. DiMarzio DP122
The one thing I have to say before we start is that I absolutely love Precision pickups in vintage white covers. They bring me back to my early days playing countless hours on my cheap P-Bass copy.
The funny thing about the story above is that I’ve been a DiMarzio player since I was in my mid-twenties. So, I’ve played this pickup many, many times, and the feeling is always the same: It’s aggressive!
One thing I didn’t know then but I do now is that the magnets on this pickup are ceramic, instead of alnico. Ceramic sounds hostile and takes no prisoners. It’s that midrange that sounds like a chainsaw but backed up with a strong low-end that’s tight.
DiMarzio is a company that has a reputation for being always on the move, taking bold steps toward the future. That’s why players like Billy Sheehan design pickups with them or crazy innovators like Steve Vai sculpt their sound starting with DiMarzio pickups.
That modern, punchy, mid-oriented, rocking sound might not be everyone’s favorite, but this pickup does it perfectly well.
On the other hand, the warmth of my rosewood fingerboard (Pau Ferro on the Squier) was completely transformed. Not into a bright, midrangey sound, but more into an aggressive, overdriven, instantly heavy tone.
I understand that for those trying to keep the groove going and focusing on the low end to generate that pulse and make people dance, this pickup might be too hot.
In that regard, since it’s a hum-canceling design, the pickup is quiet and perfect to crank the volume of the amp or whatever you’re playing through. For example, the natural compression of my tube-driven Fender Bassman was almost too beautiful to be true with the ceramic magnets.
For those about to rock, this P-Bass pickup is a must-try before buying. For those into something more vintage or quieter, then you’re better off elsewhere.
4. Fender Custom Shop '62 Precision Bass
Let me begin to describe this precision pickup by saying that nobody does exact aftermarket replacements like Fender. Indeed, they have been making Precision pickups since the fifties and know exactly how to blend the true vintage tone of the bass with a modern, reliable pickup.
Yes, I own a vintage original ‘60s Precision Bass. I’m not taking it on the road with me for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, the vintage reissues by Fender keep me smiling. This is because the company goes the extra mile in recreating painstakingly every single aspect of the original, and thus, comes very close in terms of sound as well.
For example, the period-correct cloth around the wires, fiber bobbin, and the traditional Alnico V magnets are clear samples of the detail level we’re talking about. But that’s not all, because the flush-mount pole pieces work wonders in keeping an even response between the strings, and the enamel-coated magnet wire isn’t just a detail. On the contrary, it affects tone directly, adding warmth to the signal.
Needless to say, the first thing I did after installing this pickup to my trusty Classic Vibe was to play some righteous funk, some hip-hop lines, and even some chords. The result was that scooped sound with less mids than lows and a crisp, clear, loud top end that’s musical and transparent.
Perhaps, the only negative thing I found about this pickup is that it’s truly a vintage machine. By this, I mean that those who are looking for a replacement pickup to add thump and punch to their traditional P-Bass will have to look somewhere else.
That said, this is the perfect pickup to upgrade any traditional Precision Bass like a Mexican-made or an MIJ model. This could even work as a vintage flavor on an American Professional II as well.
For those about to funk, this is a must-try-before-you-buy.
5. EMG P BK
This EMG pickup is active. That means (at least) two things:
- You need to have room for a battery before you think of installing it.
- It’s got monster gain, punch, and low-end.
There’s just something about the lows coming from an active circuit that separates waters. On one hand, it might sound more artificial and staler to some. I know this because I belong to this group.
Yet, on the other hand, this can be the perfect pickup to play fast heavy lines with a pick. Why? Well, because the transparency and punch you get from active pickups is on the opposite side of the spectrum of the warmth and low-end you get from vintage-style pickups.
But that’s not all, because EMG also chose ceramic magnets for these pickups, which makes them absolutely clear and transparent. In my opinion, they will definitely make you a better player (after the, in many cases steep, learning curve).
I remember when I bought my first active bass; it was a revelation! I had so much to learn!
Well, old stories aside, my Classic Vibe became this monster with a growling low end and razor-sharp highs. With a pick in my hands, I was able to pull off my best Steve Harris interpretation and also pull off some decent Cliff Burton, and Geezer Butler.
The ceramic magnet keeps the highs singing and the low-end tight.
If you’re looking for a clear response from your instrument to play fast passages, or are in the search of a mean rocking machine, this pickup is for you. It stays clear and powerful even when playing very fast.
On the other hand, for retro flavors, you might be better off looking somewhere else.
6. Aguilar AG 4P-60
I think we agree when I say that the ‘60s Precision Bass sounds are as legendary as Precision Bass sounds get. Well, this pickup set is the faithful recreation of that tone.
It was a big surprise because I was expecting a more aggressive pickup when I first plugged in my Squire with this pickup installed. Instead, what I got was the trademark warmth and punch on the low end that you can get from a true vintage ‘60s Precision Bass.
Moreover, the “nose” tone that you can dial in by adjusting the mids is effortless with this pickup. Of course, the fact that the company used era-correct Alnico V magnets and Formvar wire adds to the equation affecting tone.
I tried some walking lines and some Pino Paladino grooves and the tone was tight in the low end and transparent in the midrange. Perhaps, it felt a little odd that these pickups pack so little punch, but they are perfect for the old-school precision tones.
I tried to make it harder for the pickups so I engaged my Big Muff fuzz. Let me tell you that against all odds, the bottom end was completely tight while the fuzz made the midrange pop out of the amp.
But that wasn’t it, I also engaged my Q-Tron to see if I could make this pickup fail in any sense, but it remained crystal-clear throughout the entire experience.
Perhaps, the only moment I felt it was a little short was when I grabbed the pick and played some fast, heavy metal lines. It just doesn’t have the gain to drive the amp as ceramic magnet pickups do.
For those trying to put some vintage vibes with a great tone on their instrument, this is a great pickup. On the other hand, hard-rockers and metalheads should go looking somewhere else for a hotter pickup.
7. Tonerider TRP1 Precision Plus
Let me begin this chronicle of my testing by saying that this was the first pickup I tried and also the last one I tried. How so? You might be wondering as you scratch your head with a big bass pick. Well, I tried all pickups on my Squier Classic Vibe Precision Bass. So, I wanted to see just how far from the stock pickup this one was.
It was a pleasant surprise to hear that it tightened the low end and gave some more presence to the mids. Nevertheless, it still sounded stale when compared to high-end pickups.
Furthermore, I can say that the original Squier pickup did carry a little more oomph to the resulting audio than this pickup did. It’s fair to also say that the Tonerider TRP1 did change the clarity and punchiness of the overall sound without adding any volume to the equation.
But that’s only half the story because after testing all the high-end pickups on this list, I tried this one again. Although I was a little disappointed because the difference between high-end replacements and this pickup is huge, it is also a difference that affects the price tag.
So, in conclusion, to me, this is a great inexpensive pickup to install on a bass like my Squier Classic Vibe or any other Precision Bass copy around that price range to improve its sound.
If you want to overhaul the sound of a pricier instrument, you’ll have to make a bigger investment and go for a top-notch brand.
Why Change Your Precision Bass Pickup?
This is a question I get a lot from students but also from colleagues and seasoned musicians. I think that I can split my answer into three main reasons:
It’s a rather cheap tone experiment
Yes, swapping pickups on your instrument can be the sole factor that makes you fall in love with its sound.
Indeed, all the biggest bass companies in the world spend months trying different combinations until they find the one pickup (or pickup set) that enhances the instrument’s natural sound.
What if you can bring your tone to the next level? It’s worth the try.
You love the instrument more than you like the tone
Believe me, this happens. I mean, I love playing my Squier Classic Vibe because it has a beautiful neck, it’s not so heavy and plays great.
Yes, the tone isn’t studio-class or arena-ready out of the box. That being said, with a decent pickup, a proper setup by a qualified tech, and some new accessories, it becomes a much better-sounding instrument.
You’re looking for a new sound
Sometimes, changing our skin can lead to new and inspiring musical paths. In that sense, installing a ceramic magnet pickup in an old bass can bring new life to the instrument and invite you to play differently.
Since swapping pickups is very easy, it can be a golden opportunity to take your playing to the next plateau playing an instrument you already love.
Should You Go for an Active or a Passive Pickup?
Active and passive pickups have pros and cons. Let’s go through them briefly so you can understand which of these pickups is the best for you.
Active pickups work with an internal preamp that can actively shape the tone coming out of your instrument. This usually translates into bigger, meaner low-end, and crisp, singing highs.
On the not-so-good side, the transparency this system brings will force you to be more precise in everything you play and the natural compression takes away some of the dynamics.
The traditional pickup is passive. What these pickups do is capture the vibration of the strings and translate it into a sound that can then be amplified to be heard through a speaker. Therefore, the instrument’s signal is much weaker but warmer and more natural.
Believe me, you feel the staleness and aggressiveness of active pickups but also the warmth and natural harmonic overtones of the passive pickups. Finally, they retain your dynamics and make playing a more organic sensation.
So, if you identify with the high-gain, big low-end, super crispy, and compressed sounds, you should go for an active pickup. If you’re in search of a warmer, more retro-sounding, dynamic pickup, you should go for a passive one.
Finally, active pickups require the installation of a battery inside your bass; make sure there’s room for it before making the purchase.
Changing pickups is one of the most common and cheapest tone experiments. So, feel free to try the model you feel addresses your needs the best. Who knows? You might breathe new life into an instrument that you had left behind.
Happy (and precise) playing!