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I have two guitars, one with "passive" pickups and one with "active" pickups.
Although I looked on the web, I'm not really sure to understand what is the difference in terms of sound.
Yes my guitars sound different and the "active" one sound crappy if I remove the batteries but I'm interested to know what are the benefits and drawbacks of active pickups?

I see a drawback : it needs batteries !
And I'm not sure but I think that it has an easier tendency to produce a "larsen" sound (just personal experience during rehearsals).

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I had to put up with one of the drawbacks tomorrow night (linked to the already cited) : it can run out of batteries during rehearsals. Ouch. –  Julien N Jan 23 '11 at 16:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

http://www.elevation-music.com/guqu.html:

Passive Pickups: Passive pickups send a low output, raw signal to the amp that can only be affected by the volume and tone controls on the instrument itself. Passive pickups tend to lose the extremes of high and low frequencies, but still give a very even and punchy tone. This is because passive pickups tend to push out more midrange frequencies. While passive pickups might give players less dynamic control, their smooth sound is still very unique and desirable.

Active Pickups: Active pickups have preamps that are built into the pickup housing; so they can drive the signal to the amp themselves. This preamp must be powered by a source other than the amp, so active pickups require a separate battery to operate. This allows the pickup to send a higher output signal, producing a more complete, full-range sound than most passive pickup systems and giving players more control of instrument dynamics, projection and tone.

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Active pickups give a more compressed signal, so I don't see how that would give players more control of instrument dynamics. –  Meaningful Username Apr 5 at 19:52

Another benefit of active pickups is they often have much lower noise than passive pickups. This isn't such an issue with humbuckers, since their two coils are wired in such a way as to cancel much (though not, actually, all) of the 60-cycle hum. But single-coil pickups often have a lot of hum, even when well-shielded, while active pickups typically have very little.

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