Bartolini and Michael Tobias teamed up some time ago on the special, proprietary recipe of coils, winding, and pickup placement that’s unique to the MTD USA line of instruments – these pickups are not even available elsewhere or through either company, separately. They’re comprised of an offset split-coil arrangement, in a reverse-P configuration, and use a smaller number of windings than a typical passive pickup. This approach produces pickups that are more sensitive to a wider range of frequencies, and also results in a lower-level, low-impedance output that necessitates a buffer to raise the output and match the input stage on the equally unique Bartolini MTD preamp (a stereo buffer is used, one channel for each pickup).
These pickups sound fantastic and somewhat defy obvious comparisons; they definitely don’t sound like P-bass or reverse-P pickups, but they don’t have quite a Jazz Bass sound, either; they’re certainly not in the realm of typical dual-coil (parallel or series-wired) sounds. That said, they pick up such a wide range of frequencies that their ultra-high end often strikes me as a little over-extended, offering a little too much of an almost piezo-like response to my ears – in a way that I don’t personally find easy to EQ out with the onboard preamp. The slope of the treble curve is, for me, too gradual to cut out enough of those very high highs, without also cutting lower treble and upper midrange that I’d prefer to keep.
So, being the gear nerd and inexhaustible tweaker that I am, I got a hold of a brand new pair of Bartolini’s 2J squared model of quad-coil pickups, which are designed to offer two in-line split-coil pairs per pickup – like having two split-coil and noise-free Jazz Bass pickups right next to each other in the same housing. Either of these in-line pairs can be selected alone, or combined in either parallel or series with the pair next to it, allowing for tones that fall pretty well within the expected range for these coil and wiring configurations (i.e. the single in-line pairs sound very J-like, both pairs wired in parallel puts you within the StingRay arena, and all wired in series sounds like a beefy, powerful soapbar).
I expected that the outer in-line coils of each pickup would get me closest to a Jazz Bass tone, or perhaps the neck-most pair of each. I was surprised to find that on this bass and to my ears, it was both the bridge-most in-line pairs that arrived the closest to that classic tone – with the two neck-most pairs getting close, but not quite hitting the special mix of cancelled and reinforced frequencies that we hear as the usual J-bass comb filtering. The neckwards coils sounded deeper and more subdued in comparison with the bridge ones. Interestingly, I liked the neck-most coil pair of the bridge pickup solo’d much more than the rear pair, but when combined with the neck pickup, that made for a strange, “playing inside a tin can,” kind of vibe.
I also appreciated both the of 2Js in parallel mode, as well as the bridge pickup in parallel with the bridge-most coil pair of the neck pickup added in for that sort of Lakland, or MusicMan with an added J, sound. Following the normal pattern for this configuration, parallel wiring extended the high end from that of the single in-line pairs, but fills in a lot more mids and kind of compresses the lower treble/upper midrange for the characteristic thick mids, sparkling highs parallel humbucker sound.
This video was created a little hastily without a ton of care given towards reaching technical perfection or demoing every possible coil combination, but listen through your studio monitors or some nice headphones to hear the nuances of the original MTD pickups pitted against the Bartolini 2J Squared, in both “single-coil” (really a split-coil pair in each pickup housing) and parallel wirings. My main issue, is … I like every combination and permutation I tried, with both models! Ah, the troublings of a hopeless tone tweaker.