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August 09, 2019 5 min read

Guy Taylor did us a solid and took notes while touring, after a Nordstrand upgrade on his 2004 Ibanez SR506. Here's his report:

I’ve used this pickup for about seven months. In that time, I’ve done a mini-tour, a number of smaller shows, some recording in the studio and a live session.
It’s been installed in the neck position of my trusty 2004 Ibanez SR506 - mahogany body, bolt-on five piece neck. I replaced the Bartolini preamp and the BigRig is going to the jack through a passive volume and tone. I’ve also installed a series-parallel switch.

Best way to describe the tone is fiery. It’s raw and shouty, with a bright energy that throws itself forward in the mix. It feels very dynamic and responsive, and there’s a sense of how picking strength affects tone. It’s a lot more three-dimensional than the active pickups that were initially installed, and it feels like picking at different parts of the string brings out different frequencies in a way that the actives didn’t. It’s much less flat.

Maybe this is to do with the asymmetric pole pieces? Even if not, the magnet layout is worth commenting on because it looks cool, totally unique and distinctive. I know that buying gear based on aesthetics is probably silly, but it’s part of the appeal and the design certainly makes the BigRig stand out. On the last run of shows, I got a good bit of positive feedback on the appearance, as well as the tone.

Wired in parallel, there’s a snap and immediacy to the high end that cuts through the mix. I tend to run a fairly scooped tone with boosted lows plus a bit of grit, and digging in at full volume the tone is like jagged elastic. I find myself gravitating towards parallel. I use the BigRig like this about 80% of the time, as it’s more dynamic and I find it takes EQ better.

In series there’s a lot more thump, like a sledgehammer wrapped in a damp towel. There’s more output and it feels like there are more lows, which can get muddy with busier basslines. However, series works quite well with a pick, and it’s lovely into a fuzz pedal, giving a big chewy foggy growl.

I’ve used the BigRig with a number of different amps, and each brings out different sides to it. However, the distinctive bright/growl tonality of the BigRig is always there - there’s more of a sense of the amp shaping the core tone rather than the amp dictating it, as was the case with the flatter response from the actives that were in previously.

First off is my own TC Electronic RH420 through a TC 2x10 cab. This was the first thing I ran the BigRig through so it feels like my ‘reference’ tone. Lows track quickly. There’s a good bit of snap to the highs and its got quite a pronounced growl to the lower-mids which sits quite nicely under the guitars in the five-piece (2xguitar, bass, drums, vox) band I was using it with. I spent some time in our practice studio dialling it in and got a tone I was happy with: quite scooped with a good bit of weight in the lows and a bright attack. Live, I did a minor bit of tweaking to fit each venue but the core tone remained the same. The BigRig definitely feels much more dynamically responsive at higher volumes. 

I did some recording in the studio using a Tech 21 FlyRig Bass direct into the desk. It was harder to get a sense of dynamics through studio monitors but the tone was great through the Sansamp preamp. I can’t take credit for the mixing but the final tracks feature a balanced bass tone that sits great in the mix - that low-mid growl sits just below the bulk of the guitars, and the highs cut through with a bit of grit so the bass is audible without being intrusive. The final tracks sound really well and the BigRig has stamped its authority all over them.

I also played a live session which was recorded, using an Ampeg SVT 4 Pro through an Ampeg 4x10. This sounded similar to my TC but bigger - almost hard to tame. It might have been the higher volume but the 4x10 in particular had almost a crack like a snare drum to the highs when I hit it hard, which cut right through. I put a similar EQ on the SVT and it sounded pretty big, and had quite an ‘old-school Precision bass into Ampeg’ vibe going on. There was quite a lot of treble and I got the best results by rolling off the passive 500k tone control on the bass by about a third.

I do quite a bit of tapping and this combination was the best for a clear tapping tone, very dynamic and didn’t need much to make the strings ring out.
The only thing I did notice was that occasionally, forcefully plucking the strings was causing the low B to strike the polepieces which made a massive clicking noise.I had not noticed this before, so whether it was my technique on the day, or the settings of the Ampeg making it noticeable, I don’t know. But I had to be careful from hitting in too hard.

I also used a rented Orange OB-1 through an Orange 1x15 in a practice studio. I was expecting to like this but it wasn’t the most inspiring and in general sounded muffled and dull. I’m not sure the drive on the Orange really suited the tonality of the BigRig, with drive on it sounded quite basal rather than sparkly. I think the biggest difference was with the 1x15 speaker which felt like it was tracking too slowly. Arguably, that was mostly my technique, but I think the BigRig is quite a punchy pickup and it was fighting the amp and cab’s tonality rather complimenting it, as was the case with the snappy Ampeg or growly TC.

Overall I’ve been dead impressed with the sound from the BigRig. I’d say ‘sound’ because it has a distinctive tone and it generally always sounds like itself. I consider that to be a positive, as I know what my own tonal needs are for the music I play. I benefited from advice from the uber-helpful Stew McKinsey, who managed to interpret my muso-jargon and suggested the BigRig as the pickup which most closely matched the sound I was looking to get.

I would also note that I previously had an active bridge/neck set with a three-band EQ and a blend control in my bass, so of course there would be less tonal variety on offer from a single passive BigRig in the neck position with a volume and tone control.

There is very little I miss from this setup though, and realistically there are no less tonal options available from the classic ‘51 Precision which inspired the BigRig in the first place.

Despite being a passive, the BigRig 6 manages to make my bass sound much bigger than the previous twin actives. I feel much more like I’m playing the pickup rather than the tone stack of batteries, preamp and EQ. It’s much less polite and restrained than actives, but it inspires you to dig in to your bass, tear noise from the aether and fling it at an audience. Which is pretty much what rock and roll is meant to be about in the first place.

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