Can You Use Bass Pickups on a Guitar?

People sometimes wonder what the difference is between bass and guitar pickups. Overall, there’s no difference, pickups are electromagnets, whether they’re on a bass or a guitar.

Technically speaking, you can use bass pickups on your guitar. There’s no significant difference between the mechanics of guitar or bass pickups and for the most part, they’ll work just fine. However, the resulting tone of doing so is less than desirable.

There are however some things to consider if you’re intending on trying out bass pickups on your guitar and I go over them in more detail below. 

Read on to find out why I personally wouldn’t add bass pickups onto an electric guitar.

Will bass pickups work on a guitar?

Yes. You can put bass pickups on your guitar and your guitar will work fine. There are no major differences in the wiring or materials of bass pickups and their outputs won’t damage your guitar in any way.

However, their effects on the tone and clarity of your guitar will be different than regular guitar pickups. The difference in the design of bass pickups will have the most significant effect on your guitar’s sound.

Some people think that by adding bass pickups to your guitar that you would get a more bassy tone, but that’s not the case.

Will bass pickups make a guitar sound lower?

Bass pickups aren’t responsible for the low sound of bass guitars. That’s attributed to the string gauge and tuning. Bass strings are much thicker and that’s mainly what causes their lower sound.

That being said, Bass pickups are also specifically designed to complement the thicker, lower tones of the bass strings. There might be some design differences in the pickup such as bobbin height, type of coil, winding, magnet type, and so on.

These design choices are made with special attention to the deep natural character of bass guitars, so you should keep that in mind. 

How would a guitar sound with bass pickups?

Assuming you’ve got bass pickups that line up under your guitar strings properly and are evenly spaced so that each string gets equal output, you might get a brighter sound. 

Because bass pickups are often designed to brighten up and clarify the low tones of bass strings, your relatively thinner guitar strings will have that same boost to their high end.

It’s not a significant boost though, because, at the end of the day, most pickups are made very similarly as any good pickup builder will tell you. 

What are the main differences between guitar and bass pickups?

The main differences would be the number of magnets on the pickups and their spacing. Apart from that, the materials are the same and magnets are magnets, whether they’re in a bass pickup or an electric guitar pickup.

Their height relative to the strings

The closer magnets are to strings, the higher their output will be. With some pickups, you can actually adjust their tilt, allowing you to give a boost to some strings- a free way to customize your tone.

Magnet spacing

The number of magnets and how they’re designed can make a difference. 

If you look at any guitar pickup, you’ll find that it has six poles within the coil. This is different for a bass pickup, which means your strings are likely going to be sharing magnets. The spacing also affects which strings have different outputs.

This may make some strings much louder and others much quieter because the magnets don’t line up equally under the strings. 

A possible exception would be if you used a pickup from a six-string bass. 

String spacing

This is the physical distance between the highest and lowest string and Bass strings have much wider spacing. Bass pickups are designed with this in mind.

This is important because if you want to create a pickup that’s well balanced, meaning it amplifies each string equally, you need to consider how each magnet lines up under the strings.

This is a pretty interesting look at how a guitar sounds with bass pickups. Notice how the creator has had to compensate for the bass pickups size by adding two pickups staggered together.

Your guitar pickups are designed to line up under your guitar strings and pick up each string’s signal individually. Being that a bass has fewer strings and more space between them, that’s one thing you’d have to consider if you were going to try this out.

How does this affect your guitar? Well, inaccurate spacing may cause some strings to have a lower output while others would be much louder. In the case of your bass pickups, your guitar strings may lay in between the magnets, creating a softer output overall.

This doesn’t only apply to bass pickups on guitars though, you should make sure that no matter which pickups you put on your guitar, the spacing matches the original pickups.

Is this something worth trying?

You’re unlikely to get any major positive changes in tone and you’re more likely to lose the even output that guitar pickups give. So in my opinion, don’t do it to your main guitar.

If you have the spare parts lying around and an extra guitar to play with though, it could be a fun project and that’s something I could never discourage.

You’ll likely wind up with a weird guitar with some odd tones and low volume on the outer strings, but the unique sound could make up for that.

One final note on changing your pickups, amps often have built-in EQ and guitar amps aren’t generally designed to boost the high end as much as bass amps do, so you may not get that brighter tone that is often spoken about.