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The BIG Reason

Music, opinions, and portfolio of Mark Eagleton, musician and web developer in Northern CA.

Fishman Out Of Water

I'm in the market for a new bass pickup. The one I currently use was a gift from my grandmother in high school. It still sounds great and gets the job done, but my playing style as well as my bass has changed quite a bit over the past 15 years. With that said, the reasons for my switch are mostly logistical. I am an anal retentive bass player, and the Fishman BP-100 has been real good to me for over 15 years.

Making a crucial decision like this requires lots of exciting internet research. The double bass isn’t the easiest thing to amplify, you know. 15 years ago, about the only pickup on the market that didn’t require any permanent modifications to your instrument was the Fishman BP-100. That’s what I have.

I used it on the school’s old Kay M-1 and on my 1/4-size M-3 for gigs. My amp was a 1970’s era Fender Bassman Export. The input impedance was high enough that I could get by without a pre-amp. I didn’t have a lot of control, and feedback was sort of an issue, but it got the job done and there really wasn’t much more available to young high school bass players at that time.

Last year I bought a new bass amp. It’s an extremely bad ass combo amp with an exceptional tube pre-amp, and I researched the ever-loving crap out of that on the internet, too. After quite a few years of not playing the double bass, I recently got back into it and bought a new instrument. In fact, I got so back into it that I only pick up the slab to write an M.e. song here and there.

Getting back into the double bass in the 21st century has been quite a smooth experience. There are tons of resources on the internet and quite a few new makers. One thing I’ve really picked up on, though, is that bass players hate the old BP-100.

I know I’ve been out of the game for quite a while and have very little experience with some of the newer options, but is the BP-100 really that bad? There is so much negativity directed towards it that I have to wonder if people even know what they are doing. I’ve been using my BP-100 in the Bottom Dwellers and 5 Tons of Rhythm for a few years now, and my sound is great. In fact, the main reason I feel the need to get a new pickup is that I’m having trouble anchoring the input to my tailpiece. I recently switched to gut strings which have a much larger gage than nickel strings. The input is intended to clip onto the A and D strings under the bridge, but they are too thick for the mounting clip. I have to strap the input to the tailpiece with a velcro cable tie.

As far as the sound goes, I do find that I have some cancellation with some notes on my G string—probably from the two elements that clip onto the bridge. This is not ideal, but I can easily compensate for it with my pre-amp. And the pre-amp I believe is wherein the problem lies.

Piezo pickups have an extremely high output impedance. Most bass amp inputs are set up for electric basses with normal electric guitar output impedance. If you plug a piezo pickup directly into an average bass amp input, your sound will be very brittle with no low end. And no amount of EQ is going to save you. If you get this sound, you need a pre-amp to match the impedance of your pickup with your amp.

The Fishman BP-100 doesn’t ship with a pre-amp. I’ve noticed that more dealers offer K&K pickups as full package deals with pre-amp included. I suspect this may be one of the reasons the BP-100 is getting a bad rap. Now, since I don’t have hands on experience with these newer pickups, I can’t testify to the fact that the BP-100 is better. I can’t even say for sure that it doesn’t suck when compared to these newer guys. What I do know for sure is that my sound is something I never compromise. There are lots of shitty sounding basses out there, and mine is not one of them.

Knowing how to use your equipment and how to set up your instrument is way more valuable than buying fancy gear. I credit my high school experiences of gigging with old beat up crap as one of my greatest assets. Competing in jazz festivals at Stanford University with $500 worth of donated bass gear requires quite a bit of know how. Now that my rig is closer to the $5,000 range, with the exact same pickup I used in high school, I have to question if it’s the pickup that sucks, or the bass playing nay-sayer.