Active and Passive Bass Guitars

I particularly like basses with active / passive switches. Each mode can provide things that the other can’t.


First of all; in my particular bass, active mode provides a more compressed tone with a tighter bottom end. I can’t get the same sound when I set the bass to passive mode and turn up the volume on the amp.

  • On the precision pickup alone, I prefer the raw low-mid power of the passive sound
  • On the jazz pickup alone, I prefer the raw high-mid-rich Jaco’ish passive sound
  • On the PJ mode, I prefer the Marcus Miller’y tight active sound

This is the significant sound difference for me. Beyond that, there are some optional but convenient utilities that I find useful from time to time.

Active Mode Perks

  • I can make the bass mimic other basses easier. Examples:
    • PJ balance, slight bass + treble boost: StingRay
    • PJ balance with slight P emphasis, slight bass + extreme treble boost: Maple 70s Jazz
  • On some rehearsals; if I need to go into the desk directly, I can alter my sound right from the active EQ under my hand. That’s one (EQ) pedal / cable / power supply less – means that I can just grab my bass and go.
  • If I need to change my sound during a live show for a song or two; I can do it on my bass. That’s one pedal less + don’t need to turn back to the amp and get suspicious looks from the sound guy.
  • If the backline doesn’t have any active DI’s and the cables are long, using the bass in active mode helps keeping a low-impedance signal and keep my treble alive (worst case: boost treble on the bass EQ).

Passive Mode Perks

  • If my batteries or preamp die during the show, I can simply switch back to passive mode, turn the volume up a bit and keep playing without any interruption.
  • In the studio; if the producer insists to record me in passive mode, he can.

One thought on “Active and Passive Bass Guitars

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