No matter whether you're in the process of piecing together a new electric bass from scratch or just looking to update a trusty instrument, there are plenty of reasons to look into bass pickups. Because they affect everything that comes after them (including your pedals and amplifier) pickups have a big impact on your sound. There are a few major variables to consider when looking for the right pickups for your instrument and musical style. Pickups can be either single or double-coil, moderate or high-output, passive or active and vintage or modern. We'll take these terms one at a time, starting with coil: all magnetic pickups contain a wire coil wrapped around a spindle. The original pickups were single-coil, which delivered great sound but could be noisy since they would transmit electrical hum along with the vibration of the strings. The industry response to this was the "humbucker," which used two coils to cancel out the hum for a cleaner sound. That doesn't make single-coil pickups wrong, though—just different. Today, each coil type is used to give a specific tonal character. If you're looking for bright, crisp sound with sharp note definition, you're leaning toward single-coil bass pickups. For a more powerful, heavier sound, consider Humbuckers. Your choice of output is mostly going to depend on how much distortion you want. Higher-output (or "hotter") pickups send a stronger signal to the amplifier, meaning that you'll probably get distortion at any setting. If you want a clear, lighter sound, stick with moderate-output pickups. The higher the output, the darker the tone tends to become. Maybe you're wondering why you can't have distortion and definition together. In fact, you can: that's one way that the difference between active and passive pickups comes into play. Active pickups are models with built-in preamps that give them the highest output of any pickup and also do some shaping of the tone before it even gets to your main amp. Active pickups are a popular choice for the bass since they produce a signal that's noise-free yet very strong. Deciding on a pickup is the art of choosing how to combine all of these technical characteristics to create the right sound for you. For example, consider an active dual-coil pickup for room-shaking bass power or a single-coil moderate output pickup for lively, agile tones. Looking for an even more unique sound? Consider a vintage pickup. These are made using pre-1970 craftsmanship techniques to emulate the character of pickups from that era. Reading up on particular vintage-style pickups is a good idea, since each one has its own unique behaviors. Whether you go vintage or modern, active or passive, the key is to find the best pickups for your personal tastes. It's really is a matter of preference, so you can be sure that as long as you've done your homework, whichever pickups you choose will be the right ones for you.