Bass Guitars - Active Vs Passive

Bass Guitars - Active Vs Passive />

17/08/2020

We are often asked the question, “What’s the difference between an Active and Passive bass guitar?” and it was one the first things that came up during the recent chat I had with Paul Pooley, which featured his Yamaha BB735A.

The simplest way to explain it is that the active bass will most likely have a battery installed to run an internal preamp (usually one 9-volt battery, or in some cases an 18-volt internal system run by two 9-volt batteries). A passive bass usually has a volume control for the pickups and a master tone control to affect how dark or bright the pickups will sound.

This “pre-amp” in active basses is controlled by either two band or three band EQ knobs such as Bass, Midrange and Treble. This allows the player to shape the sound of the instrument by either boosting or cutting each of the equalisation settings. When plugging in your cable to the bass, the preamp is engaged and ready to go (which is why we always recommend disconnecting the cable when not using the instrument as this will save your battery life).

See the diagram below of the Yamaha BB735A which shows the position of the controls and the Active/Passive switch which we will discuss a little more.

In most cases, if the battery system fades out in an active bass, the sound may start to distort and then completely cut out. Yamaha and other manufacturers have incorporated an Active/Passive switch which allows the players to have a choice between using the fine tonal controls of the active preamp and also switching to passive mode reminiscent of early bass tones from the 60’s and 70’s. When the passive switch is engaged, the Treble knob now becomes the master tone control. If your battery dies at a gig or during a rehearsal and you are using the active pre-amp, you can switch to passive mode and keeping playing your heart out (a smart and very usable feature)! Using passive basses or the passive setting, allows the player to better communicate the subtlety of their finger/pick style as they have a direct connection between the pickups and the amp.

The first time you plug in an active bass, you may say to yourself, “wow” that is loud!

This is because the active pre-amp really boosts the sound of the pickups and the bass into the amp and allows the player to shape the tone of the bass with extreme flexibility. Some players even comment that they do not have to play with as much pressure to get a big sound with active basses.

Still not sure…?  Check out the full chat I had with Paul, or send us an email with any questions

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