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I bought a really cheap bass guitar second hand. It works fine, but I'm wondering if it would sound better with more expensive pickups. Since I got it at a market for around £20 I'm guessing that the pickups on it are fairly bad. if I were to invest in new pickups what difference would it make? And would it be worth it? I play and perform every now and then in a jazz band.

  • What make is Bass? – david strachan Dec 26 '14 at 20:34
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    Honestly, the pickups are basically the only part of a bass that can be manufactured with decent quality for a price that makes a £20 instrument. Perhaps it would overall sound better with a particular replacement PU, but that wouldn't so much mean the pickup is better as it's more forgiving, as in, it simply ignores parts of the signal where that bass particularly sucks. I would call such a pickup rather worse, in the general picture (since for a good instrument, you don't want any frequencies swallowed). — Don't spend any money on trying to "improve" that bass, better get a new one... – leftaroundabout Dec 27 '14 at 11:13
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It very much depends on the guitar. Do you have any idea what it cost new and how old it is? If you have a new bass guitar for £20, any amount of money you put in it is wasted. It will be CNC-machined from cheap wood, and in few years the neck will be warped enough to render it unplayable.

If it is reasonably old and works fine, chances are that it will stay that way for a reasonable amount of time. "Works fine" means different things to different people: try getting a hold of other people's instruments now and then, just to have some point of comparison.

New pickups will not change the mechanics of the guitar, the precision with which it is fretted, the clearances between string and frets, how well it is in tune (obviously after tuning) and a few other things. But the pickups are a dominant part of the sound character.

Whether they are worth changing depends on what kind of thing you find particularly worthy of improvement with this guitar.

Now the question is why you got the guitar cheap. If you got it cheap because it was in some mouldy basement and is rusty all over, it is worth noting that this does not in any tangible way affect the pickup quality. The pickups don't really get noticeably worse but rather fail completely at one point of time (coil damage). Of course, they may become hard to adjust before then, but the sound itself is pretty much the same.

The pots and switches and connectors are more likely to cause trouble when corroded. Using tuner spray (on the pots) and/or contact spray on switches and connectors may help with that.

  • I found it here, its quite new definitely not a rusty old instrument. When I bought it one of the strap nuts was missing, that could have been a reason for it being so cheap. – Keir Lewis Dec 27 '14 at 12:19
  • @KeirLewis, I'd recommend some caution with these Gear4Music basses. Although I use Gear4Music regularly, for buying equipment for both me and my pupils, several of my pupils have had problems with these "own-brand" basses, particularly with necks warping after a relatively small amount of time. Although I think Gear4Music sell some really good value stuff, I think their "own-brand" guitars and basses are really not good. This makes sense, a Fender Squier costs about £200 new, these cost under £100... – Bob Broadley Dec 27 '14 at 12:55
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I would say yes, but don't expect miracles. A cheap bass Is and always will be a cheap bass. Ofcourse it will Improve the sound but it won't sound like a good bass. If you can't afford a better bass then go right ahead and change the pickups

  • "Of course it will improve the sound" – actually not "of course". In fact most good pickups would probably not make that instrument sound any better; some might even make it worse! For magnetic pickups there isn't really a meaningful way to rate "absolute quality": they all sound different, but what's good depends only on how good a pickup fits a particular instrument. — Sure, super-cheap pickups may have objective problems (microphony) or simply not work because the wire's broken. But as far as the sound itself is concerned, good/bad isn't really correlated with cheap/expensive at all. – leftaroundabout Dec 27 '14 at 22:42

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