I find it interesting that EMG’s have seemingly fallen out of favor with most modern bassists. I’ve been using them for more than 10 years, and with the exception of my killer Hoyt fretless 6 (which has a Lane Poor and piezos) all of my basses have had them. And I’m very happy about that, and have no plans to change them.
So I was thinking — if everyone else has moved on, am I just down with the old sound, too stubborn to change? Has the “in” sound moved on, leaving me hopelessly clinging to the “modern/active” tone of the past? Am I simply “out of touch” with the essential tone for the modern bassist?
Nah. I realized that all of my EMG-outfitted basses of the recent past have had one major improvement, which — for me — has made all the difference in the world. The amazing thing is that those selfsame EMG pickups you already have (and are considering replacing) may have that tone you’re looking for, lurking in the dark recesses of some forward-thinking design. And you can coax it out with a little effort, some basic soldering, and a little bit of pocket change.
The smart folks at EMG had the thoughtfulness to make their pickups able to handle voltages from 9v to 27v, reportedly to make them phantom-powerable (another intriguing thought, but the subject of another digression.) Some enterprising folks discovered that adding a second battery (thereby powering the pickups at 18 volts rather than the stock 9) makes an enormous difference in the voicing, sound quality, and headroom that EMGs can provide. That “choked” or “signature EMG” tone is no more. Clarity and “oomph” is yours for the taking. This mod improved all of my preset sounds, from the “rumble and click” setting to the “balls and chunk” preset. And it only takes 15 minutes and costs like a buck to try it; and for the faint at heart, it’s totally reversible.
Think I’m nuts? This is directly from the EMG Site:
“Can I use multiple batteries?
Yes. If you’ve got room for multiple batteries in your guitar, you can use two batteries wired in series to power your onboard circuitry at 18 volts. The output level will not appreciably increase, but you’ll have increased headroom and crisper transients. This is especially useful for percussive/slap bass styles where you can generate enormous instantaneous power levels across the entire frequency spectrum.
Although most of our products are rated for 27 volts, we recommend a maximum of 18 volts. The additional benefits of 27 vs. 18 volts are negligible.”
Hold that iron!
All the standard disclaimers apply…
For instance, from EMG Tech Support:
“The EMG-HZ pickups are passive, not active. There is active tone circuitry in some (maybe all?) LTD basses that requires a
* Soldering iron and solder
* 9V battery “clip”
* Something to snip and strip wiring (wire stripper, teeth, whatever you got)
* Electrical tape
* A couple of new batteries
* a 9V battery holder is preferable – it keeps the battery from bouncing around in the cavity. (Surrounding the batteries with foam is a decidedly low-tech but effective approach, as well.)
The clip for the 9Volt battery currently attaches directly to one of the prongs on the 1/4 stereo output jack; this way you’re not draining the battery when nothing is plugged in.
2. Figure out how you’re going to jam 2 batteries into that little compartment (an important step – you may need an extra length of wire or some creative thinking, depending on your bass.)
3. Heat the iron and desolder the black wire from the existing 9v clip from the output jack.
4. Solder the red contact of the new 9v clip to the black contact of the existing one and completely insulate with the electrical tape.
5. Solder the black wire of the new clip to the output jack where the old one attached.
6. Do whatever else you need to do while you’re there — put in the battery holder, if applicable.
7. Put in two fresh batteries – mixing old and new will give less than stellar results.
8. Play and be stunned and amazed. If not stunned and amazed, reverse steps to negate, or use “Upgraded to 18v electronics” as a unique selling point when you get rid of this bass.
>Here’s what it will (essentially) look like when you’re done (but don’t forget to insulate the wire-to-wire solder joint to prevent shorting.)
For those afraid of commitment:
Fellow TBL’er (The Bottom Line Bass Digest) Rick Blair suggests this alternate method which simply involves creating a harness with a three pack of battery clips (a good idea – why didn’t I think of this?):
“Wire 2 of the connectors in series and connect the 3rd connector with the leads reversed so that it will plug into the original battery connector in the bass. If you ever decide to go back to a single 9V battery, merely unplug the harness.”
(Again, don’t forget to insulate the solder joints to prevent shorting!)
For the real wackos:
You can, if slightly off-kilter in the noggin, even add a THIRD battery to increase to 27v. However, I’m told that the upgrade from 18 to 27 is not nearly as dramatic as that from 9 to 18; and it’s probably not worth the extra battery costs or trouble to make room in an already crowded cavity.
Hey, this mod is also applicable to guitars as well. I have an old Peavey six-string that screams.
Good luck, and keep living the low life!
For more information go to: http://members.home.net/mgollihur/emgmod.html