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The Wide World of Soapbar Bass Pickups

Unlike the standardized designs of P-Bass and J-Bass pickups, soapbars offer a wider canvas for experimentation for pickup designers. 

The larger format allows manufacturers to inject their unique voice and push the boundaries of bass tone.

This means that there is not a definitive tone for a soapbar, it can be many things depending on the manufacturer’s design goals.  There isn't even a standard coil structure that is beneath the shell of soapbar pickups.

And there lies its charm. 

You can find soapbars that have tones that cover the entire bass spectrum. Some take heavy inspiration from vintage tones and can sound very close to a vintage J or P Bass. Others take a more forward-looking approach and go places beyond what is possible within the confines of vintage designs. 


Bartolini's P2 Shape for 5 String Bass

Uncertain origins, bright future

It's hard to determine which was the first soapbar bass pickup for a variety of reasons. 

The first reason is that, unlike with guitar where you have a handful of pickup sizes, there has been significantly less standardization when it comes to bass pickup designs. 

Which means determining the origin of the first soapbar can be somewhat of a challenge. 

For instance, the Gibson thunderbird had soapbar-ish shaped pickups when it came out in the late 60s. And then in the early 70s, builders like Alembic also developed their pickups in a somewhat soapbar-ish shape. 

However, Bartolini is credited with creating the first commercially available soapbar bass pickup in the early 70s. Read more about the 50+ year history of Bartolini.

Common Shapes

Today, the most common soapbar shapes are the following:

  • BC and EMG35 for 4 string
  • P2 and EMG40 for 5 string
  • P4 and EMG45 for 6 string 

These all have different measurements which makes it very important to know the exact dimensions of your current pickups so that you can get the right fit. 

Most pickup manufacturers that offer soapbar pickups have offerings in the above shapes, so you have a good chance of getting the pickup of your choice that fits your bass without having to route it out or modify it in any way.   

*Side Note - When you are considering buying a bass with soapbars, it is worth finding out the size of the pickups that the bass has.  The OEM pickups on many basses are pretty lousy and finding out if you have some upgrade options ahead of time is worth the effort.  

Photo of an Ibanez 5 String Bass Guitar that has P2 Shaped pickups

We recently went through this when looking for an off-the-shelf, economy 5 string bass to do a run of pickup demonstration videos.  Of course, we wanted to use a bass that had a common shape, like the P2 or EMG40 shape.    The photo above shows an Ibanez 5 String SoundGear bass.  The pickups are P2 shape, so we were able to test many of the 5 string soapbar pickups that we have on hand.

An expansive tonal spectrum at your disposal

As you would expect, there are no vintage reproduction pickups in this lineup. However, that doesn’t mean that everything is ultra modern sounding. 

There is a wide range of tones that can be had with a soapbar shape. Some resemble something that came out of the 60s while others push the boundaries of what can be achieved with an electric bass. 

The following guide will help you get a better idea of what is possible with your soapbar pickup-equipped bass. 

LeCompte Triple Threat

LeCompte is a boutique bass builder out of Texas who started winding his own pickups because there was nothing out there that fit his design goals. The result of LeCompte’s development is the Triple Threat series of pickups and now he’s made them available for anyone to purchase.

It’s called the Triple Threat because it uses a unique three pole piece per string arrangement which gives it a wide sensing area. 

These medium output pickups are very clear, balanced, and somewhat reminiscent of J Bass pickups but with their own character. 

They’re available in single coil and dual coil configurations, four and five-string, and we stock these in BC, P2 and EMG40 sizes.

Nordstrand Audio

Nordstrand Audio is one of the manufacturers that makes the most out of the soap bar shape. They make several models that cover a wide range of tones, all with the unique Nordstrand secret sauce that makes them sound great in a variety of musical contexts. 

  • The Big Single: The Big Single is literally a big single coil pickup that fits in a soapbar shape. The tone is, well, big and dynamic. Imagine if you supersized a J Bass pickup and you’ll be in the ballpark of how the Big Singles sound. If a big bottom, low-mid growl and plenty of snap are what you’re looking for, the Big Singles need to be on your short list.
  • The Big Blade: These pickups take a similar approach to the Big Singles, they’re true single coils, but use a ceramic blade magnet. This gives them a broader frequency range which gives them an overall more modern vibe. If you’re looking for punch and clarity, the Big Blade is a great option. Also, they come in two versions “Warm & Wooly” and “Clean & Clear”.
  • The Zen Blade: These pickups use a similar magnet to the Big Blade, but are hum-canceling and are designed to be extremely articulate and touch sensitive. So if you like your pickups to reflect every nuance of your playing, then the Zen Blade is for you. 

Bartolini Pickups

Bartolini was one of the first manufacturers to embrace the soapbar shape for bass pickups and make it their own. Instead of trying to mimic the tones of other designs, they developed original designs that made quiet, reliable, and great sounding tones for bass players. 

If you’re looking for the “Bartolini Sound,” then their soapbars are a great place to find it. They have a warm low end, growly low mids, and clear upper frequencies that give the right amount of definition. 

Bartolini makes variations of these pickups in 4, 5, and six strings, dual and quad coil, and in BC, P2, P4, EMG35, EMG40, EMG45, and their own Candy Bar shape. 

So if you’re not sure which is the right Bartolini pickup for your bass, give us a call or send us an email and we can help you get the one that will fit your bass. 

Aguilar Audio

Aguilar pickups are starting to show up in quite a few basses, and for good reason. Their pickups are made to the highest standards and feature designs that complement the attention to detail put into a bass. 

Aguilar has several pickups that use the soapbar shape that imparts their unique sonic footprint into whichever bass you install them. 

  • AG 4SS-D1 Super Single: These are Aguilar’s take on the super-sized single coil concept. They sound big, growly, and snappy with plenty of output. And as true single coils, have all the dynamics and high end detail you would expect. 
  • AG 4SD-D1 Super Double: These are the hum-canceling version of the Super Single pickup. They are designed to have a similar tone, but with totally silent operation. If you love the tone of single coils, but don’t want to deal with any noise, these are a great option. 
  • AG DCB: These pickups are powered by dual coil ceramic bar magnets and are wound to have a very broad frequency range and high output. These are great if you want your bass to amplify every frequency it is capable of producing. The DCB is what you would expect a modern bass to sound like. Aguilar DCB bass pickups are available in 4, 5, and 6 string models. 


This is one of the original active soapbar pickups. As you might assume, it comes in the EMG35 shape. 

The tone from these EMGs is punchy, with lots of clarity and low end. These characteristics have made it a staple in heavier genres of music since it can cut through walls of distorted guitars. 

However, it can do much more than metal, it’s also quite versatile if you use the included tone pots or if you choose to use it in different musical situations. This active pickup requires a 9-volt battery to operate. 

Delano Pickups

Delano is a bass pickup and preamp manufacturer based out of Germany that produces some of the most innovative pickup designs available today. And as you would assume, they make full use of soapbar shape to showcase their unique sonic vision. 

  • SBC4 HE/S: This is Delano’s version of the full range bass pickup, but in true Delano fashion, it’s immensely musical. It has lower lows, and higher highs, but the mids match them so that the sound is even and full. Also, it has a medium output which makes it dynamic and touch sensitive. 
  • Xtender HE/S: Although not technically a soapbar pickup, the Xtender has the most unique shape of any pickup we carry. It is made in an oval shape which allows for a unique magnet array and winding pattern that gives it its distinctive voice. The Xtender is punchy, growly, touch sensitive, and extremely detailed. A great option if you are looking to give your bass a unique tone. Also, we carry the routing template, since you’ll surely need to route your bass to fit this pickup. 

Every tone at your disposal

The Soapbar shape is great because it gives pickup designers a clean slate when searching for the ultimate bass tone. This is great for us bass players since it allows us to give our favorite bass just about any character we want. 

Want something vintage-ish but unique, get some of the Triple Threats, want something Full Range and hi-fi sounding, then the Aguilar DCB will do the trick. And if you want something entirely unique, you have outstranding options from Nordstrand, Delano, and Bartolini. 

If you’re still not sure which pickup is the best choice for your tonal goals, or if you have any questions about fitment or installation, give us a call or send us an email. You’ll talk with a real human that has helped thousands of bass players find their perfect pickup.