Next in the Find Your Tone series, searching for PJ bass pickups can be polarizing. To help you find a P pickup and a J pickup that play nice together and has your tone requirements, Resident expert, Stew McKinsey, wades through the options.
I’d like to tackle something that’s kind of a nightmare for a lot of players: breaking down the P/J set options. Yes, really. There is a lot to discuss here, but it’s not as complicated as it might initially appear.
Before getting into that, however, I’d like to address one aspect of this pairing a lot of people overlook: noise. When Fender introduced the P/J combination, it was a compromise to try and please two different kinds of instrumentalists, but there was no accommodating the fact a hum canceling pickup (the neck position P) and a single coil (the bridge position J) will always produce noise. Over the years this has become the ‘classic’ P/J sound while many players have since come to prefer having a hum canceling set. We give you the options to put together a combo either way, depending what you’re after.
First the P Pickup
The NP4 is a vintage voiced pickup. It gives you the muscle and sound qualities associated with the great 60’s/70’s P. If you’re after traditional sound and performance, this is the right choice.
However, if you’re a live player who wants something that hits harder and produces a note that carries better, I’d suggest the NP4a. While this is unmistakably a P, the angled pole pieces of the design (developed after our well received NP5) pull a lot more information from the strings and deliver in a way that is totally their own!
We also created the NP4v for players who want more of the qualities that one finds in the older Tele-style P. This has become very popular with jazz players and bassists who play soul and older styles of R&B. It’s sound has more thud and less definition with a reduced top end response.
All these models are available with AlNiCo III (A3) magnets which give you a more mellow, warm sound overall with a looser bottom end.
Finally we offer the Power Blade. This more modern take on the Precision design is, true to its name, very bold and in your face. For all that beef, it still has a smoothness that many player like as much as its distinct look.
The 5 string Power Blade is in development and we will make an announcement as soon as it’s available.
What is the difference between the NP5 and the NP5F? The NP5 is designed for the 19mm spacing and 4 string size rout common in so many basses today. The NP5F is a Fender spec replacement, with two different size coil and in-line pole pieces for a very traditional sound. The NP5F can be made with the rotated poles and both models are available with A3.
Considering the J
If you are going for the Fender type of P/J sound, I suggest going with the standard wind NJ4. This single coil has a very open sound and fast response and is widely heralded for its authentic 60’s tone. If you like the more aggressive edge to your sound, it is available in the 70’s wind as a $0 option. Both of these can be ordered with the A3 magnets and the sonic results will be very much the same as what you get in a P loaded with this type of pole piece, but with one additional characteristic: a J loaded with A3 has a much more pronounced growl when played aggressively than one with A5, our standard magnet material.
The NJ5 and NJ5F (our Fender replacement in a longer shell, but designed to accommodate tighter spacing) are the 5-string versions of this. All the same tone descriptors still apply, both are available in 70’s wind as well as with A3 poles.
If you like a classic J sound but prefer hum cancellation, the NJ4SV is the best way to go on a 4 string. It keeps the qualities of the NJ4 but is dead quiet and will mate with any version of the NP elegantly. It’s most common mate is the NP4, however.
Next, we have the most popular J pickup for combining with an NP: the NJ4SE. This pickup is fully hum canceling, and though it was designed with added midrange response for fretless players, it’s unique wind interacts fantastically with the NP. Players wanting maximum flexibility and presence, both live and in the studio, combine this with the NP4a. The combination is wicked.
There is an NJ5SE available but sadly the tighter spacing Fender prefers on their 5 string basses means we can’t offer the SE wind on the NJ5FS. Sorry.
And finally we have the Big J Blade models. This new single coil design is gaining popularity as much for its clean aesthetic as for its insistent sound and hotter signal. This marries just beautifully with the Power Blade giving you a set that is contemporary in look, but the flavor of the P/J combination is not sacrificed at all.
If you’re interested in non-traditional pairings, like Tele-style P pickups or a soapbar design in lieu of the traditional J, please contact Stew or Adrian with questions and for advice. Both of us have plenty of experience talking tone!
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