Add your deal, information or promotional text

What Makes Bartolini Bass Pickups So Special?

In the early days of the electric bass, there was no aftermarket pickup industry. You were essentially stuck with what came with your bass from the OEM, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing since the tones from the 50s and 60s are amazing. 

But you were out of luck if you wanted something different for your bass. 

The aftermarket industry hadn’t really taken off by then, so getting high-quality replacement pickups was a challenge.  You would have to design and build a pickup on your own. Which is the route that some boutique bass builders, like Alembic, took. 

But as the 70s came around, the market for the electric bass had solidified itself, and now some people were starting to ask themselves “What else can we do with the electric bass?”. 

These people were the pioneers of the electric bass aftermarket pickups, and one of the first to come out with truly innovative designs was Bill Bartolini with Bartolini Pickups & Electronics

A history of tone and innovation

Founded in 1973 by Bill Bartolini, Bartolini Pickups set out to fix the problems that professional bass players and guitarists came across while working with their instruments. 

Some of these problems were uneven tone, single coil hum, radio interference noise, microphonic noise, and the risk of shorting out their pickups due to humidity. 

Bartolini engineered unique solutions for their pickups which made them the go-to choice for a variety of high-end builders such as Michael Tobias, Keith Roscoe, Dan Lakin, Warrior, Ibanez, and many others. 

In the 70s, Bill Bartolini started crafting pickups, introducing quadraphonic and hexaphonic designs under the "Hi-A" brand. Later in that decade, the iconic Bartolini label emerges, spearheading innovations like square-wave pulse testing and the first electronic pickup with parametric bandpass enhancement.

By the time the 80s hit,  Bartolini had expanded its catalog, offering hum-canceling designs, guitar humbuckers, and other designs that reflected the needs of the musicians of the day. Also, they briefly dipped their tones in the distortion pedal field by creating the "Tube-It" distortion pedal which was designed to copy the distortion characteristics of a Marshall JCM800 amplifier. 

As the 90s came along Bartolini had established itself in the bass community, collaborating with both mid-size and large manufacturers, catering to custom luthiers, and to everyday bass players looking to upgrade their favorite bass. In addition, they began to build a roster of well known name just a few; Adam Nitti, Dave Buda, Gerald Veasley, Jeff Berlin, Ric Fierabracci, and L'dia.

The company changed ownership in 2012 to Clyde Clark, a long-time collaborator, after Bill Bartolini and his wife Pat decided it was time to retire after 40 years of running the company. 

Today, Bartolini maintains the same commitment that its founders started in the 70s by continuing to maintain all of its production out of its San Luis Obispo HQ and building their products to the highest possible standard. 

Brian (Co Owner of Fat Bass Tone, LLC) with Pat and Bill Bartolini at The NAMM Show 2008

Photo: Brian (Co Owner of Fat Bass Tone, LLC) with Pat and Bill Bartolini at The NAMM Show 2008

The Bartolini Tone

Bartolini pickups didn’t aim to mimic existing sounds, instead, they took their own route to create a tone that would be useful for the specific use cases of bass players. 

Unlike pickups designed to replicate a specific vintage tone, Bartolini offers a distinct character that shines through their diverse lineup, from J-Bass replacements to MusicMan® humbuckers and 5-string soap bars. 

While pickup placement, coil configuration, and other factors influence overall tone, Bartolini injects its unique voice into every design.

Many describe the Bartolini tone as warm, with a pronounced low-midrange emphasis. This gives Barts their distinctive growl, with highs that are smooth and give just enough sparkle to the bass tone. 

This unique tone recipe gives them a very natural and dynamic sound that works great in the context of a mix. 

Many bass players refer to them as “just right” when they play in the context of a band since they hold the space of the bass without stepping over any of the other instruments. 

Original vs Classic

Bartolini pickups have a tone that is unique and massively useful for bass players across a variety of musical genres. However, there was an ever-growing segment of users who wanted a brighter tone. For them, the Bartolini Classic line of pickups was created. 

The Classic Bass Series caters to those who love the Bartolini character but want more top-end presence and output. These pickups offer a broader tonal range while retaining the core Bartolini identity. Deciding between the two series boils down to personal preference.

For example, if you find your current pickups overly bright and clanky, the Original Series might be a great fit for you. If on the other hand, you crave a bit more high-end articulation, the Classic Bass Series could be the way to go.

Within the Classic Bass Series, two distinct options exist:

  • Classic Bass (models ending in 1): This is the standard, offering strong lows with a more open top end compared to the Originals.
  • Classic Bass Plus (models ending in 3): This version delivers a straight-up brighter tone, ideal for players seeking even more high-end cut.

To give you a better idea of the difference, here are two videos that will help you hear the difference between the two P Bass pickups of each series. Both of these clips were recorded with the same signal chain. Same bass, the same strings, and even the same bass player playing the same riffs so you can have the best possible apples-to-apples comparison. 

This video is for the Classic series P Bass model. 

This video is for the Orignal series P Bass model. 

Identify what you like and what you'd like to improve, and let your ears guide you toward the Bartolini tone that resonates most with you.

Remember that you can always give us a call or shoot us an email if you’re not sure which will be the best Bartolini Pickup for your bass. We’ve been working with Bartolini for over 20 years and have installed them on hundreds of bases, so you can rest assured that we have plenty of hands-on experience with the lineup. 

Single, Dual, and Quad Coils

One of the most interesting design features of Bartolini pickups is that, depending on the pickup shell type/size, there are options with different numbers of coils. 

For example, their J Bass Pickups come in both single and dual coil varieties. The MM pickups come in dual and quad-coil versions. 

The quad coil MM versions let you pick which set of coils you want to use, the ones closer to the bridge or the neck, so that you can get a sort of faux bridge J Bass tone. The main advantage of the quad coil version is that you can choose either set of coils and have zero hum. 

B-Axis Pickups

Bartolini’s B-axis pickups are the release of one of Bill Bartolni’s original “Hi-A” designs from the 70’s. 

It differs from the rest of the lineup by using exposed diagonal pole pieces instead of the blade magnets used on the rest of their designs. 

The B-axis pickups use this design to create a highly asymmetric magnetic field that captures string vibration in a way that captures more of the acoustic properties of the instrument. 

In general terms, the B-axis line sound is open, punchy, and still maintains the characteristic Bartolini low-mid emphasis. 

The Bartolini Lineup

Bartolini Pickups has one of the most complete product lineups out of any manufacturer. They have pickups in both their Original and Classic series for just about any electric bass. 

Four and five-string models are available in P, J, MM, Candybar and Soapbar shapes. 

Six string options are available in J, Soapbar and Candybar shapes. 

Also, if you’re looking to add extra heft to your Rickenbacker or Thunderbird, there’s a Bart that fits. 

On board electronics designs (bass preamps) are another area where Bartolini has made significant innovations. Over the years, they’ve created designs that range from buffers, preamps for piezo pickups, and multi-band preamps. 

Today they offer 2 and 3-band versions of their on-board bass preamps. 

An ongoing legacy of innovation

For over 50 years Bartolini pickups have been at the forefront of innovation and quality for bass players all over the world. 

And they have no plans of letting up. 

In this new era of Bartolini, they make pickups with a unique tone and a commitment to continual innovation.

If you are interested in getting some Barts for your bass, give us a call or send us an email. We know our way around Bartolinis and will be able to make sure we give your bass the growl and fullness you’ve been looking for.