What are the differences between Active and Passive Bass Guitars ?

The invention of the electric bass guitar revolutionized the music business. Before that, if you were a bassist, you played an upright bass. When Fender brought the first production electric bass guitar, the Precision bass, to market in 1951 — and for a couple of decades thereafter — active electronics were not an option. Passive basses were the only choice until the early 1970s when a handful of boutique luthiers started offering active instruments,

Types of Bass Guitar Pickups

Pickups can be split into two categories: passive pickups and active pickups. The difference between passive pickups and active pickups is active ones are battery-powered while passive pickups are not. Each type has its own sound and advantages/disadvantages.

Passive Pickups

The first pickups to be used in bass guitars were passive. When you listen to classic recordings such as all the Motown hits, The Beatles, and Cream, you are hearing passive pickups. Passive pickups tend to have a warm, full, round, dynamic tone. Their fat, punchy tone is their appeal.
Passive pickups do not give you much control over their tone. Basses have bass and treble controls much like your stereo system. On passive pickups you can only turn down (cut) these bass and treble frequencies. That means you can only take away treble or bass from the tone of the pickups. That’s not necessarily bad. You just have fewer options for shaping the tone of passive pickups.

Passive pickups use larger magnets and can pick up more noise and interference than active pickups.

Active Pickups

Active pickups use a pre-amplifier, or pre-amp. The pre-amp is powered by a 9-volt battery (or sometimes 2 – an 18-volt system). The pre-amp allows you to both cut and boost frequencies. This gives you more control over the tone coming out of your bass. How much control you have will depend on the features of the pre-amp. Some pre-amps simply have a bass and treble control while others have mid-range controls and other extras.

If the battery dies, many active pickup systems will stop working. You will need to remember to carry spares and put in fresh batteries before those important gigs. Depending on the bass and how much you play, batteries may last from 6 weeks to a year. Always remember to unplug active basses when not in use to avoid draining the battery.

Active pickups have a hotter (louder) output than passive pickups. There is less signal loss on the way to the bass amp.

Active pickups tend to be bright, clear and snappy sounding.

Active pickups use smaller magnets and pickup less external noise and interference. But, some pre-amps can be noisy especially when you boost the treble. You may hear a lot of hiss.

In Conclusion

The choice may appear to be between modern complexity and time-tested simplicity; but, in reality, there’s quite a bit more to it. They both serve their purposes, depending on what you’re after. So, the real question is: Which one is better for you?

Musique Diplomate offers a vast selection of electric bass guitars both passive and active. If you’re in the market for a new bass and were wondering what was the difference is between active and passive basses, We hope this helped you in making a choice.

If you’re still not sure what to get, please do not hesitate to Contact Us either by phone or email or even drop by in person if you can and it would be our pleasure to help you.


311, Beaubien Est
Montréal, QC  H2S 1R9 Canada