Can You Have Active and Passive Pickups on the Same Guitar?

When guitar players have a lot of time on their hands, they start wondering about unlikely setups.

If you think hard enough about it, you might notice that you have never seen a guitar that combined passive with active pickups.

And although that’s quite a niche want or need for a player, I can understand why someone might like having a face-melting active bridge pickup and a mellower and dynamic neck one.

But why has nobody tried this yet?

Can you have active and passive pickups on the same guitar?

There are no reliable methods for combining active and passive pickups on a guitar yet. The guys from Seymour Duncan came up with wiring that makes each pickup go through a separate output, but you will require 2 different rigs running in parallel for making it work, and it doesn’t make much sense.

In this article, I will explain briefly how these different types of pickups work, and if it’s even possible to combine them in a single circuit powering a guitar.

After leaving this page you will know what are the limitations and complications that prevent guitar enthusiasts from performing this mod.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

What’s the main difference between active and passive pickups?

Guitar pickups are and have always been guitar pickups. 

There hasn’t been too much innovation in how things work since the electric guitar was invented.

At least innovation that stuck long enough to become a new standard.

Active pickups are perhaps one of the features that came closer to this, but still are kind of a niche piece of guitar.

The main difference between active and passive pickups is that the former have a way lower output, but this weak signal is augmented by a battery-powered preamp that’s usually built into the instrument.

This gives active pickups a particular tone, and due to the processing made by the preamp, in many cases, they end up having face-melting outputs ideal for heavy genres such as metal.

Other than this, passive and active pickups are pretty similar in construction and functionality.

Is there a way of using active and passive pickups on the same guitar?

The guys from Seymour Duncan tried to figure out if there’s an easy way to make this thing work out, but however, ended up facing a lot of drawbacks and implementation issues.

Mainly, it’s rather easy to have the different types of pickup function by themselves on a guitar, but problems arise when you want to combine them as you should with any regular set.

The solution they came up with is rigging the guitar with 2 different outputs that should go into 2 different amps or multi-effects processors.

Each of these outputs worked with one of the pickups, and the pickup selector switch worked as a selective killswitch for each of them.

I think that the middle position of this switch would just make the signal of both pickups go through each output at the same time.

As you can imagine, this is quite a cumbersome solution for a rather inexistent problem.

How would that sound?

If having an active and passive pickup running together in a guitar was a possibility, and let’s assume the dual output solution worked, I don’t know if it would be a great idea.

Even when combining passive pickups with noticeably different output levels you might end up with a guitar tone that’s disconnected from bridge to neck position.

You might end up having an instrument that just sounds like 2 completely different guitars: A devilish active chugger, and a way more smooth passive sound.

This might sound interesting but think of the actual volume differences you will have when switching pickups.

Using both pickups in a cohesive solo is probably out of the table.

It will likely work as having 2 different guitars at hand, and the ability to switch between them with the flick of a switch.

It might be appealing for some players, but that’s not how most of us are used to playing guitar.

Is this a mod you can do yourself?

Figuring out a way of making active and passive pickups work together in a guitar is not a mod for the uninitiated.

You will need a lot of knowledge about how guitar circuits work, and lots of creativity for coming up with a usable solution for doing this since there is not a standard one yet.

What are some benefits of having both active and passive pickups?

Perhaps one of the benefits possible is that you will have a passive backup if your active pickup system were ever to run out of battery.

But is this worth all the hassle?

Also, as I discussed earlier, you will be getting the best of both worlds in terms of tone, but perhaps having 2 polar opposites like this on the same guitar will not work out since it will just sound like 2 completely different instruments in one.

What are the drawbacks?

The main drawback of trying to carry out this kind of mod is the added complexity you are likely going to run with.

Even the “simpler” solution of just using 2 separate outputs means you will have to duplicate the amount of gear needed for playing this instrument properly.

Even the resulting tone might not be as expected, and even when you could make up for volume differences by just adjusting and balancing both amps, wouldn’t this also be added complexity?

For players that just like to pick up a guitar and play this will be a nightmare.

Is this mod really worth it?

I don’t think that working on this kind of mod is worth it at all.

Primarily because there are no easy workarounds for doing it.

It’s not that you can install an aftermarket part and have it easily solved.

Secondly, it will require a lot of work and knowledge to get something that just works and is reliable enough to gig or even rehearse with.

Finally, it will probably sound like crap.

I’m sorry, but I really needed to sum it up like that.

Perhaps the best match for an active pickup is just another active pickup.

And if you want some tonal diversity to go along with your favorite passive pickup, maybe a different type of passive pickup such as a P90, a Charlie Christian or a Filter’Tron will do the trick.