Guitar pickups are really important

Guitar pickups - switch active vs passive pickups

Active & Passive Pickups: What's the Difference? Would you like to know whether it is worth changing the pickup on your guitar for you? After all, you can (almost) always change the pickups, but what can you expect after the conversion? We have sound comparisons with active and passive pickups, conversion and the biggest differences for you here in the article.

The difference between active & passive pickups on the guitar: Information & sound examples are available here.

From Philipp Mahler

Difference between active and passive pickups

We were able to test the difference between active and passive pickups in a direct comparison on the same guitar. We swapped pickups from active to passive - we recorded the sounds of both pickup variants for you. The advantage of this comparison of the differences: It's the same guitar, so we can concentrate entirely on the differences between the active and passive pickups.

In our video we work with an ESP LTD EC-401 BLK, which is equipped with high-quality active EMG pickups by default. The guitar is very popular ex-factory, especially with the high-gain group. So what changes when you swap active cartridges for passives from DiMarzio? You can find the answers in our video.

The summary of the most important points can also be found in written form right here under the video.

Pickups for your guitar - active or passive pickups?

Passive pickups: characteristics

As seen in the video, passive pickups (in our case the D Activator DP219 and DP220) deliver:

  • Higher dynamics and more headroom
  • Broad spectrum of sounds
  • Low output

The passive humbuckers are particularly worthwhile for players who are at home in different genres, and of course for owners of cheaper electric guitar models who want to get more out of the sound. The greater dynamic range gives you a differentiated, "earthy" sound image with a quick response. Especially if you place great value on clean sounds, you should consider switching to passive pickups.

Instructions for the conversion: Exchange the pickup »

The sizes of the pickups are largely uniform, so you won't have any problems when switching between different manufacturers.

Active pickups: characteristics

The ESP LTD EC-401 was equipped with the EMG-80 and the EMG-61. A particularly noticeable difference: active pickups need a battery. Without it, your guitar won't make a sound. In terms of sound, active pickups are very powerful and deliver a comparatively strong sustain. The typical properties of active pickups at a glance:

  • Lower dynamics (more compression, more sustain)
  • Very suitable for high gain
  • High output
  • Less prone to noise

The active pickups sound more compressed overall and enable a higher loudness, i.e. a sustained powerful sound with a strong, present fading of the strings. For these reasons, active pickups are often found in high gain styles. Furthermore, with active pickups, there is usually less noise.

Our pickup comparison (active / passive) mainly highlights the differences between the two variants. Despite certain advantages in genres, both pickup variants are quite versatile. The choice also depends on your own expectations of the instrument, the sound of the guitar, the behavior of the amp and the intended use.

When changing the pickups on the guitar you should always consider:

  • Active on passive: simple, without woodwork
  • Passive to passive: very simple, only light electronic work
  • Passive to active: difficult, woodwork required

After the conversion: The passive pickups from DiMarzio not only sound good, they also look classy.

Sound examples: Difference between active & passive pickups

You can of course hear the difference between active and passive pickups in our recordings. You can download it here.

»Download now: sound samples from the video

Conclusion: active vs. passive

Which pickup (sound) do you like better? Which pickups do you personally prefer to play? Share your experiences with us!

FAQ & the technology behind it: Active vs. passive pickups