The 4 Best Pickups for Fretless Bass Guitars – Reviews 2020

best pickups for fretless bass

Photo by Paul Englefield / CC BY

So what should you look for in a fretless bass pickup? First and foremost, it should complement the musical freedom a fretless bass affords. You want a pickup that can catch bends and other subtle microtonal shifts. It also has to be articulate and precise—the last thing you want is a pickup that sounds thumpy or dull.

What kind of bass you play will of course be a big factor in which pickup you buy. We’ve tried to give you some variety in our list of the top pickups for fretless bass. Give them a listen and read the full reviews below to find the right one for you.

These are our recommendations for the 4 best pickups for fretless bass on the market:

Bartolini MusicMan Stingray Style Bass Pickup

MusicMan Stingray pickups are beloved by fretless bass players around the world. While after-market Stingrays are difficult to find, Bartolini makes a version of the famous pickup design that’s an ideal option for any fretless bass.

The DL5C Stingray-style bass pickup uses a noiseless humbucker design. The focus in the tone comes from the ceramic magnets. It uses a combination of metals for the coils, including brass, copper, and milled carbon steel. This attention to detail is what gives these pickups their smooth sound. They’re very articulate, too—an important consideration for any bass player.

The only downside of Bartolini pickups is that they’re not cheap. If you’re looking for the hands down best pickup for a fretless bass, though, this is the one you want. It’s one of the most sought-after fretless bass pickup styles, made by a brand professionals trust. Even the cheapest bass will sound like a beast once you install the Bertolini MusicMan Stingray pickups.

Linkin Park - Crawling (Bass Cover)

EMG Geezer Butler Signature PJ Bass Pickups

EMG is better known for its active pickups than its passive pups, but this set of Geezer Butler Signature bass pickups is one entry in their catalog fretless bass players don’t want to miss. It has a vintage ’70s tone but without the extra noise, thanks to the dual-coil construction. The custom winding and Alnico 5 magnets give it a punchy, gritty tone you’ll love in harder genres like metal.

The low end of the EMG Geezer Butler Signature pickups (see full specs) is especially impressive. It’s tight and articulate, not boomy, and that gives your entire sound more clarity. You’ll get full control over your tone and attack, no matter what end of the range you’re playing in.

This is a flexible pickup, too. It responds well to slaps, bends, and any other technique you want to use. If you like to play hard, you’ll love the EMG Geezer Butler Signature pickup. It has the output and response any player needs, along with a solid construction that will let it serve you well for years.

EMG Geezer Butler Signature GZR PJ Bass Pickups

Seymour Duncan Quarter Bass PJ Pickup Set

The Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Bass pickup is known for being versatile across genres and styles. It’s also versatile across instrument types. These pickups are just as well-suited to a fretless bass as they are for other more traditional versions of an instrument.

This Seymour Duncan set is a great choice if you’re looking to replace both the neck and bridge pickup. They’re calibrated to sound great together, so there’s no guessing about whether they sound right together. Both use Alnico V magnets and Seymour Duncan’s proprietary winding techniques. The result is a pair of high-output pickups with a seamless response and impressive sustain.

While these are single-coil pickups, the neck pickup is reverse-wound. Using both together gives you the same hum-cancelling benefits as a humbucker—another reason to use the pair together. We love the feel of these pickups. They give you a lot of control over your sound and that’s exactly what you want in the best pickups for fretless bass guitars.

Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Bass [SPB-3, SJB-3]

Fender Precision Bass Pickups

If you’re looking for a more affordable replacement pickup, the Fender Precision Bass pickup set here is a good choice. These versatile pups will sound great in pretty much any bass, frets or no. And the cost can’t be beat—you can get a set of Fender P-Bass pickups for less than you’d pay for a single pickup from some other brands.

We like the Fender P-Bass pickups because they give you both more output and a more focused sound than most pickups in the price point. They’re balanced and responsive, consistent across the instrument’s full range. There’s something to be said for a pickup that mostly stays out of the way of your tone.

Fender pickups are reliable, too, and the Precision Bass Pickups are no exception. It uses vintage-inspired components and an Alnico 5 magnet—a classic combination if you want that old-school bass sound. If you’re looking for consistency and durability at a great value, this is the pickup for you.

Fender P Bass original replacement pickups demo

Capturing the Distinctive Fretless Sound

You can make any bass fretless by removing the frets. This means there’s a lot of variety out there when it comes to the construction and sound quality of fretless basses. Despite this, all fretless basses have a unifying sonic quality. The lack of frets gives the strings more room to move. Fretless basses have a more singing, vocal quality than their fretted counterparts. When you’re shopping for pickups for a fretless bass, it’s best to look for one that will enhance these characteristics.

Both humbuckers and single-coil pickups can work well on fretless basses. Sets like the Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound pickups (see full specs) give you the option of a single coil sound without the annoying hum. The closer the replacement pickup matches your originals in size and design, the easier it will be to make the replacement. While sound should be your first concern, think about the logistics of installing the pickups before you make your final purchase.

You may decide not to replace both your pickups. Generally speaking, the bridge pickup is more important than the neck pickup in capturing that fretless sound. In some cases, you can get a great fretless bass sound with only a bridge pickup. If your budget is tight, consider pouring it all into a single pickup for the bridge, rather than splitting it between the bridge and neck.

Whatever instrument you play, the four pickups above are among the best pickups for fretless bass around. Good luck getting the right one for your sound!

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