The difference between an active guitar and a passive one with outboard preamp?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by 10strings, Feb 12, 2012.

  1. 10strings

    10strings Member

    Dec 19, 2009
    I was wondering this because I have always liked instruments with onboard preamps more so than passive instruments with outboard preamps. Why wouldn't a passive instrument with an outboard preamp sound just like an instrument with a built-in preamp? What happens technically... For instance, I like the sound of electric violin's more with onboard preamp more than I like the sound of passive ones with an outboard preamp. I am not sure what causes them to sound different and I am trying to understand this from a guitarist's perspective to apply this concept to electric violin.
    A have a cheaper electric violin (less than 2k) that has a built in chinese preamp that I like the sound of. However I wanted to buy a violin from a luthier but says that "I build my violins with passive pickups because there are so many good choices of preamps available." But I never like the sound of a passive violin pickup with the use of a preamp.
    So I am wondering what the difference is from a guitarists perspective.
  2. chrisrocksusa

    chrisrocksusa Member

    Jan 10, 2012
    Chicago, IL
    One set of pickups requires batteries; the other does not.
  3. pipedwho

    pipedwho Member

    Aug 29, 2006
    Sydney, Australia
    The tone is far more dependent on the type of pickup and preamp than the fact that the preamp might be off or on board. For piezo pickups, cable capacitance does not affect tone the way it does when using magnetic pickups. So what you're hearing may be an artifact of the difference in pickup/preamp design or the additional weight and placement issues that arise when using onboard electronics.
  4. s2y

    s2y Member

    Jan 3, 2012
    Caught somewhere in time
    In the grand scheme of things, probably not a whole lot. Typically outboard preamps are bigger, which allows more frequency points or other various options, maybe more headroom. It really depends on the pre-amps that are being compared.

    I currently have 2 guitars with active EQ on them and almost all of my basses have active EQ. Personally, I like how certain onboard preamps have certain sonic characteristics and allow for adjustments on the fly.
  5. Quantum Cat

    Quantum Cat Member

    Aug 13, 2007
    Lexington, KY
    A passive pickup is just one part of a circuit. The circuit consists of the pickup, the volume control, the tone control, the chord, and the input of your amp. An onboard preamp isolates the pickup from those other elements so they don't contribute as much to the tone.
  6. Rockledge

    Rockledge Member

    Jun 15, 2011
    In order for passive pickups to have high output they often sacrifice tone by being overwound.
    In general ( and in my opinion) you often sacrifice tone in order to get output.

    With active pickups you can get the best of both worlds, that nice fat smooth tone of low ouput alnicos that is boosted up by the preamp to have a hot gainey output.
    You also often get better sustain because the magnets in the pickups don't need to be as strong and put less drag on the strings.

    When you put some kind of gain device on passive pickups you are getting just that, that particular pickups sound boosted. You also get any coloring that the device has.
    When you have low output pickups that are internally boosted, that is what you get, the tone of those pickups only hot.
    And of course, I am sure there are some higher output pickups that are active, I suspect perhaps that is how EMG 81s are made ( although I have never used one, only read about them).
    Also, when an active pickup is made, I assume they fine tune the circuit that is used to drive the pickup to get a specific sound , a more perfect match.
    As opposed to having a pickup with an outboard component that may or may not work well with it.
  7. vortexxxx

    vortexxxx Member

    Apr 9, 2009
    Toronto, Canada
    The Jaydee Iommi oldboy model has really hot pickups and an onboard boost which hits the amp with an incredible amount of power when used

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