Passive Pickups and Active Pickups

I was looking into adding an under saddle transducer to my Guild and was curious what the difference was between an active and passive model.  I realize the price differences and I am to assume that it has something to do with the sound signal but could anyone tell me more?

It's hard to generalize about this stuff as everyone has their fav makes and models but in general, the main difference is that an "active" system will have an additional preamplifier included in the circuit. This has a number of plusses (and a couple of potential minuses).

The plusses are that you will tend to get a higher output from the pickup. This helps as the signal will tend to match better with whatever you plug it into. You will tend to get less tone loss over long cable runs. There's also the fact that a lot of systems will allow you better sound shaping functions and the possibility to blend the under saddle pickup with an internal bug or microphone.  This can range from a simple blend between transducer/mic up to the super duper digital sound processors that you get on some new Takamines (and everything in between).

One of the main minuses is that with most systems where you get tome/volume controls you need to cut a big hole in the side of the guitar to house them!!  However, there are some active systems where this isn't the case. I think Martin has a model which has a simple preammp built into the jack socket which won't give you tone controls but will boost the output to a better level.  My personal favorite system is the LR Baggs Dual Source which has an under-saddle pickup and an internal microphone.  There are no tone controls BUT there is a small control panel which fixes non-destructively to the soundhole and gives volume/blend controls.  The internal preamp also allows you to do stuff like run the pickups in stereo to separate amps or to change the phase of the pickups to help fight feedback.  Plus it sounds really good...very natural.

Oh yeah, and active tends to cost more than passive for the obvious reasons...more bits...more gizmos...more electronics...more cost...

Try checking out Harmony Central on the web where you'll find lots of user comments on different systems.

Donated by:  Trevor Raggatt


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