The query about the distinction between active vs. passive pickups is common to pop up sometimes. And it surely will come up for as long as electricity exists. A follow up question may rise as well- which is better? While the former question can be explained, the latter is reliant on your preferences, your judgment and you alone. Only your ears and fingers will be able to give the honest verdict.
What can help you decide which is better for you- an active or a passive pickup, is indeed a proper understanding of what each of them entail, what the differences are and how to decide what is better for you. But before going into the deeper insights of the two pickups, let us briefly talk about what exactly a pickup is.
In simple words, a pickup is a piece of metal or plastic that is attached to the body of the guitar right between the neck and the bridge. It’s often shaped like a capsule or rectangular. Some may have only one pickup, while most are equipped with two.
As per the name goes, the pickup’s work is to pick up the vibration from the strings and then to change it into an electrical output. This signal will then travel through the pedals and into the amplifier before leaving the speaker as the amplified sound.
What is a Passive Pickup?
Passive pickups are pickups that do not require an electricity source to function- they include magnet and wire together without any aid of a battery, to do the job. The passive pickups are common in electric guitars from the very start, and remain popular to this day.
To explain in terms of physics, the electromagnetic pickup constitutes of a permanent magnet draped with magnetic (mostly copper) wire. This magnet is responsible to create the magnetic field encompassing it and magnetize the guitar strings. This is possible because all of it is made up of magnetic material.
As soon as you use one string, the vibrations will produce a stirring magnetic field over the pickup’s wired coil. The motion induces an electric signal in the wired coil. It is simple physics.
What is an Active Pickup?
Quite like the way you can already guess, an active pickup is equipped with a pre-amplified circuit, which needs power (usually from a battery of 9V, or maybe even two) to start working. Yes, with a battery, you will hear no sound.
The core of such a pickup is a super less intensive passive pickup that follows the same principle of working as discussed above, except with way fewer windings. This means, the pickup continues to magnetize the strings of guitars, while the vibrations of the strings induce an electric signal in the coil. However, because of the fewer number of coils, the initial signal will be weaker than that of a standard passive pickup.
The result of the active circuit inside the pickup is a signal with low impedance, typically much ‘hotter, yet ‘quieter’ than a regular passive pickup.
Active Pickup vs. Passive Pickup
As mentioned above, you decide which pickup works best for you and your purpose. However, it can be handy to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each kind of pickup and compare the properties before making the wisest decision.
Before making your choice, ask yourself a few questions to get a clear mind and to compare among the aforementioned pros and cons of both the pickups:
- What will you be playing?
- Where will you be playing?
- What exactly is it that you are playing?
- How are you feeling? What is your mood?
If you try to read through the above mentioned features, workings, advantages and disadvantages of the two sorts of pickups in question, you will be able to make up your mind about your choice. There are always two sides of a coin- and for a pickup. So consider the questions you should ask yourself very well before making the call! Hope this article was helpful to you!
You may also like to read: Audio Interface: A Technical Guide.