Sunday, August 13, 2006

Nordstrand Jazz Pickup Review (NJ4 vs. NJ4SV vs. NJ4SE)

As promised in an earlier post, this installment of the BHB Blog will address some of the differences between the three models of Nordstrand jazz bass pickups. Other than being asked if Nordstrand pickups come with covers, the most common question I get about Nordstrand pickups involves the differences between the NJ4, NJ4SV, and NJ4SE pickup sets.

One of the most important points to make right at the top is that the differences are subtle. If you like Nordstrand pickups and are looking for improved performance and tone from your current pickups, then the chances are good that you will be perfectly fine with any one of the three models. All three models deliver that classic tone that so many of us love and crave. The differences between the models are subtle, but are still very important to many players.

The original Nordstrand jazz pickup was the NJ4. This is a true single coil pickup and sounds closest to the pickups that were used 40 or 50 years ago. The NJ4 set has a very clean, clear, bell-like tone, is balanced from top to bottom, and delivers a true vintage jazz bass tone. Of course, because they are a true single coil pickup, they are also susceptible to noise and 60 cycle hum. While the NJ4 is a very quiet pickup, any true single coil design will always be potentially vulnerable to interference. This is the "reference" for jazz bass pickups and is the most traditional sounding of the bunch. It is also the least expensive ($150 for the set), so if you are budget-conscious, the NJ4 set might be the way to go. The NJ4 pickup is the one that launched the entire Nordstrand Pickups line and has livened up the tone of many budget and overseas basses that come loaded with inexpensive pickups.

The NJ4SV is very similar to the NJ4. The NJ4SV (split vintage) is a split coil hum-canceling jazz bass pickup that is designed to sound just like the NJ4 while eliminating noise and 60 cycle hum. The SV set was designed based on feedback from players who loved the TONE of the NJ4 but wanted a pickup that was impervious to interference. For players who do a lot of gigging and recording, a quite pickup is essential. Carey spent a lot of time developing the SV to sound as close to the NJ4 as possible, given the fact that the two pickups could never be "exactly" the same due to the differences in design...single coil vs. split coil. Nevertheless, the SV set has been a huge success since its creation. Like the NJ4, the SV pickup is very balanced from top to bottom, delivers a classic, bell-like jazz bass tone, and is fat, detailed, and articulate. This pickup set deliveres what jazz bass fans have come to look for in a boutique pickup but without any of the noise or hum associated with true single coil pickups.

The NJ4SE pickup is the stand-out of the three. Where the NJ4 and NJ4SV arrive at a tone that is very traditional in nature, the SE goes beyond the "classic" jazz bass tone. Because SEs are wound differently, they feature a slight "bump" in the midrange that the other two sets do not prominently feature. Players who are looking for a jazz bass tone that gives them "a little more" tend to gravitate toward the SE set. SEs are notorious for being big, warm, and fat, but still retain clarity and detail. Unlike other vintage pickups that claim to be "warm", but also end up being muddy and lifeless, the SEs retain warmth and punch while still allowing you to cut through in the mix. SEs are also more "growly" and work great for players looking for more Jaco-like tone from their bridge pickup. Fretless players also tend to prefer the SE, as the added growl helps to bring out more "mwah" from a fretless bass.

Hopefully this will help explain some of the finer details between the three Nordstrand jazz pickup models as all three are excellent pickup sets. The NJ4 and SV models sound more like vintage pickups, and the SEs are more growly, working well in fretless basses and for players who are looking for a jazz bass pickup with slightly boosted mids. As far as I'm concerned, you can't go wrong regardless of which set you choose!



Blogger peder said...

I've got a pair of NS4SV in a jazz bass with an Audere pre-amp. It sounds horrible....

I can't get any bark from the bridge pickup. I guess I should have picked the SEs -- but still, it should be possible to get some bark, midrange is very poor on these pickups... they are almost too balanced.

Now the Audere is truly a piece of junk, so much treble, and impossible to roll it off. Called the designer himself, and he admitted it was designer for slap type players, and that I'd have to change the capacitors to be able to roll off the treble. Yikes.

Best jazz bass pickups I've ever tried : DiMarzio Model J passive. Blows the nords out of the water in every respect.

9:00 PM  
Blogger CaliBass said...

I have a pair of NJ4SE's with an Audere Pro JZ3 preamp in a 75 re-issue and it sounds FANTASTIC!!

5:39 PM  

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