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Bartolini Pickups - Understanding The Tone and More

  • 5 min read

Our relationship with Bartolini goes back more than 2 decades. I started building basses in the late 90's and of the first 5 instruments that I built, Bartolini Pickups went into 4 of them. I still have a couple of those basses floating around. The pickups survived those early builds of mine quite gracefully :) The thick tone of the pickups was something that I was attracted to. Bass sounded bassy and warm.

::: Browse Our Bartolini Pickup Collection :::

Over the years of going to trade shows like NAMM, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Bill and Pat Bartolini. Bill, who founded the company and co-operated it with Pat, was a true engineer and thinker. I recall spending long dinners with the two of them discussing the hypothesis of early man’s logical migration across the Bering Strait into and throughout the Americas. I recall Bill’s glee when they created new pickups.  He would pull me into the booth and put a bass in my hands to check them out. In 2012, Clyde Clark took the reins of the company after years of working with Bill on design and production at the shop. He has an impressive background... extremely well suited to lead Bartolini into the future. ~Brian

Bartolini G6 Pickups in a Ristola Instruments 6 string  bass

Some benefits & features of Bartolini Bass Pickups:

  • Completely epoxy potted for noise reduction
  • Coil Splitting on most dual coil humbuckers for more tonal options
  • Comfortable rounded edges are kind to your thumbs
  • Majority of models have ceramic bar magnets accommodating many string spacings
  • Tone that is known - thick, rich low mids

The Tone

Rather than create pickups that are an attempt to replicate a previously made pickup, Bartolini Pickups have a tone that is truly their own.  For example, Bartolini J pickups are not trying to be a straight up vintage Jazz Bass® tone. They are the Bartolini tone. Across their broad offering of pickup shapes, the tone is still their's, whether it is a MusicMan® pickup, a 5 string soap bar, or a P pickup. Don’t read this wrong, the pickup location, coil number & orientation, and other factors help to define a certain type of bass tone, but the tone of a Barts are their own.

By in large, most players hear Bartolini Pickups as having a tone that has a low mid range emphasis. Warm, without being fuzzy, a top end that is not overly bright, and in some cases a top end that feels slightly rolled off.  The Original Series pickups are very much that and are the pickups that folks often associate with the ‘Bartolini Tone’. This is especially true up until the mid 2000's.

A little over a decade ago, the Classic Bass Series was introduced. These pickups were welcomed by folks who loved the Bartolini tone but wanted more top end and output. The tonal range is wider with the Classic Bass Series than the Original Series, and that is heard largely as still having the Bartolini tone, but with more top end. 

Deciding between Classic Bass Series vs. Original Series tone is a common decision to make when getting Bartolini pickups. They have much of the same characteristics that it is not a black and white choice.  The Bartolini tone that you may be familiar with is present with both.  In trying to decide between the two versions, our advice is to listen to your bass both acoustically and plugged in with your current pickups. If you feel like the top end is more present than you’d like it to be, it may be good to go with the Original Series.  If you want a little more top end to come through, the Classic Bass version is most likely a better fit.

Taking that a bit further yet, there are two versions of the Classic Bass Series, noted by a 1 or 3. The models that end in a 1 are what most people think of as the normal Classic Bass; strong lows, but with more open top end. Those models that end with a 3 have a straight-up brighter tone.

The nomenclature for pickups within Classic Bass Series will have a CB in the SKU name.

Some examples:

9CBJD3 = 4 string Jazz, Classic Bass Series Bright

P25CBC = 5 String P2 Shape Soapbar, Classic Bass Series

MM4CBC = 4 String Music Man Classic Bass Series

Image of the back of a Bartolini M56CBC Pickup showing the 4 conductor wires

Ceramic Bar Magnets

Unlike pickups that have pole pieces, pickups with ceramic bar magnets allow for a very wide range of instrument string spacings to use the same pickups without compromise.  Lining up strings to match up with pole pieces is generally not necessary.

Arguably, a part of the Bartolini Pickup sound is because of their extensive use of ceramic bar magnets.  While some will try to generalize a ceramic bar magnet tone as being harsh sounding, Bartolini proves this wrong.  The warmth from their pickups is quite renowned. They use ceramic magnets for some technical reasons, largely surrounding pickup magnet longetivity. Their tone begins with a desire for a specific tone, rather than a replication.


B-Axis Pickups

The b-axis pickups are Bartolini’s newest offering. Clyde’s new creation is a pretty cool design from Bartolini, offering a very punchy, snappy, and articulate sounding pickup. These designs have Alnico V exposed pole pieces placed at an angle for a very different look and sound.  The b-axis pickups have their origin in Bill's original designs under the Hi-A brand (High Assymetry).   


Many bass builders have used Barts in their basses. Some use off-the-shelf pickups, others have worked with Bill and/or Clyde to create a slightly unique offering that still carries the Bartolini tone.

Some of the most notable builders that have used Bartolini Pickups in their basses include Michael Tobias, Keith Roscoe, Dan Lakin, Rob Elrick, Stewart Spector, Michael Pedulla, Warrior, Ibanez, Curbow and many many others. Many of these builders have built the majority of their basses with Bartolini’s.

Bartolini Pickup Shapes

The number of shapes that Bartolini offers is quite large. All conceivable ‘normal’ shapes are represented in their offering, but Bartolini has also led the design front in creating new standards for pickup shapes, particularly in shapes normally used for dual coil and split coil pickups (soap bars and slim soap bars). Over the years, they have made shapes for specific retrofits, including Fender®, MusicMan®, Washburn®, Lakland®, Cort®, and others.

MK1 Pickups

Multiple models of Ibanez, Lakland and Cort.

Bill Bartolini licensed the company name a bit over a decade ago to be used to make a couple versions of bass pickups (MK1 and MK2).  They have been in production for a long time and are a mass production pickup that is not actually made by Bartolini.  They have been installed in large quantity production basses as they are able to be made at a significantly lower price compared to the US made Bartolini Pickups.

Some players have complained that the MK1 pickups sound a bit clanky, lacking in the warmth and punch that the US factory made Barts have.  Some string to string balance issues have also been noted.  The thin tone is pretty noticeable to my ears.

Bartolini, knowning that the MK1s haven't met expectations with some players, introduced the MK4CBC(4 String), MK5CBC (5 String) and MK6CBC (6 String) direct replacement pickups to fit the same pickup route as the MK1.

There is also an MK1 preamp.  One common configuration of this preamp is 5 knobs with 1 switch.  Bartolini has a US made version of this preamp which players often replace - Bartolini 5.4AP Bass Preamp.  Other configurations are also found on that 5.4AP page as well.

Photo of Bartolini MK1 Bass Pickups showing a small Bartolini logo in the lower right corner

MK1 pickups are easily recognized by the placement of the logo.  It will be found in the lower right corner as shown above.

See all of our bass pickups.