I’ll admit up front that the title of this article is a totally unfair question for the reason it’s actually very difficult to describe in words what a pickup sounds like; it’s kind of like trying to describe what an orange tastes like (yeah, think about that one).
That being said, I’m going on the assumption that yes, you, the person reading this right now, have in fact played both styles of pickups, that being the split-coil “P” and the straight single-coil “J”.
What some say and what others say
Some say there is no difference tone-wise at all between the two, and that what tone you get is dependent on the position of the pickup in the body rather than what shape/coil style the pickup is.
Others say there is absolutely a difference between the two, generically saying that the “P” has “boom” while the “J” has “bark”. If that actually makes sense to you, please feel free to post a comment and say why it makes sense. Or alternatively, you can say why it doesn’t make sense (could you give a better explanation?)
Do you think a player is better off having a “P/J” setup?
Many bass guitars today are constructed with a “P/J” pickup configuration.
Small side note on that: Why is this configuration called a “P/J” and not a “J/P”? Because traditionally, the pickup closest to the neck is called the “front pickup” and the one nearest the bridge is called the “back pickup”, and since everyone describes things in the order of front-to-back, that’s why it’s “P/J” and not the other way around; it is accurate.
Some players believe a P/J pickup set gives you the best of all worlds tone-wise where you have both the “boom” and “bark” in the same instrument…
…but then there are many players who would disagree with that and say there are alternative pickups that can get the same tones (plus a few more, depending on how you wire it) just by using the right soap-bar style pickup set.
What’s your opinion? Is there a difference between the sound of “P” and “J” or not?
Whether you’re just starting out as a bass player or have many years of experience, your opinion counts here.
Think of it this way: For those building their own bass guitars for the first time, getting the real info from real players and luthiers will be of great help, so go ahead and start commenting. Long comments are welcome.