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There are a lot of guides about the pickup height for singlecoil and humbucker pickups but there is very little guideline on active pickups. I have had my pickups in the default position since I bought my guitar (Ibanez RGA) but they have slowly lowered over time and I think I should find out some more detail about tone before changing them. I play a variety of guitar styles: Metal, Funk and Blues mainly. Are there any heights that work for all or which are best for certain ones. I need the best sound quality too and the right balance of high/low frequencies. Thanks

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Almost all things related to "sound" are subjective. Its partly what you like, and what can be had from the instrument. –  StingyJack Feb 6 at 19:06
Time for a bit of self-experimentation, Tim. You have an idea of the sound you want, so get screwing, so to speak ! It's a bit like intonation - it's difficult to say 'so many millimetres', it's more 'try this and listen'. –  Tim Feb 6 at 19:10
I will definitely give that a go but I feel that a bit of knowledge on how the height affects the tone and some experience with this will set me off in a better direction. After all, you could learn to do anything musical without any knowledge or guidance but it's a hell of a lot easier with a bit of know-how. Thanks –  Tim Hargreaves Feb 6 at 20:29
I'm not a fan of actives, but the recommendation is to have 'em as close to the strings as possible. That's what I used before I switched them out. That was EMG, and I did not find them as "hot" as they are said to be. My Gibson Explorer with stock pickups had more bite. It might be difficult to get a good blues sound out of actives, due to their compressing characteristics. To try to answer the question: when lowering the pickups I found them to lose power and that it did not gain anything. For metal, as close to the strings should be the best setting at any rate. –  Meaningful Username Feb 7 at 8:12
Putting them really close to the strings loses a lot of harmonics, sustain, and in many cases makes the sound too 'soft'. I recommend having them only slightly closer than passive pickups, as you then still have some headroom and avoid the compression that active pickups can bring in. –  Dr Mayhem Feb 9 at 18:58
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There is no absolute answer to this question. In reality any pickup height can work for any style of playing. What will change with different pickup heights is the tone colour, for two principal reasons:

  1. The closer the pickup is to the strings, the bigger the induced voltage will be for a given string vibration. This will increase pickup sensitivity as well as improving the signal to noise ratio.

  2. The closer the pickup is to the string the more the magnetic field from the pickup will distort the free vibration of the string. This will cause (probably unwanted) filtering effects as certain harmonics will be damped out of the vibration. The magnetic attraction will also decrease the sustain. If you place the pickup too close to the string it will eventually impede the vibration of the string almost completely.

Both of these points apply independently from the fact that you have an active pickup. Active pickups still use magnets and coils just like other pickups, so all of the points you have read elsewhere about pickup height will also equally apply to active pickups. The best advice is just to go ahead and try out some changes until you get a feel for a sound you like.

As stated, your question asks for the "best" sound quality and I think this makes the question too subjective to give a definitive answer.

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I'm a professional musician.

When I was around 15 I was really obsessed with settings on my bass guitar. Not just pickup heights. The whole ergonomic problems were there as always. Because it's still very primitive against to nature of art.

So I met the best known guitar creator in my city and asked him if he can reduce the 1.00 mm from bottom of the finger board part which is on the body section with screws. Also another reducing from top of the finger board almost 1.00 mm. I remember his assistant gave me a look "Are you OK?"

Almost 10 years later I went him once again which means after I went on tours, recording albums with known artists etc. Yes once again I asked him something interesting. His answer was that "I will make you a signature bass. Lets talk about Nietzsche now..."

When my signature bass guitar was getting done I had an amazing chance to spend time with the creator who is a very special human being. Many days we discussed about the guitars took hours and hours.

The answer for your question is that:
Your Experience + Your Knowledge + Your Personality = The best settings for your guitar.

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This really doesn't answer the question. –  Dr Mayhem Feb 9 at 18:56
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