If you’re a bass player with a penchant for gear, chances are you’ve heard the term “neo” (short for neodymium) come up in the last few years. We’ve been happily reaping the benefits of this rare earth metallic element, as it has allowed for very lightweight speaker magnets (along with super light and stiff building materials) resulting in the recent explosion of featherweight bass cabinets to fill the market. Well, California’s Reed James Engineering is one of a few pickup makers who have discovered that there is a great application for neodymium magnets in pickup design. Boasting ‘wider frequency range, enhanced harmonic detail and increased note-to-note definition’, I took a shot and ordered a set of RJ Neo’s to try out in my main 6 string bass, complete with hand made ebony wood covers.
The “Neo’s” took a couple extra weeks to arrive than the quoted 4-week time frame, and they required a small amount of finish sanding to the wood covers (router marks were still slightly visible) and a light coat of oil to protect the wood. It was nothing major, but the extra time and finish work is worth mentioning here. Once I installed them in my bass, I was immediately rewarded by their wonderful tone, incredible dynamic range, and lightning fast responsiveness. I was most impressed by how quick the pickups responded, and how clean and free of coloration they sounded. Unlike most pickups that are voiced to achieve some sort of particular sonic signature, the Neo’s are exceptionally transparent sounding, allowing for the true acoustic nature of the instrument to speak. What does all this hyperbole amount to? My bass immediately became more punchy and articulate, and less muddy. My bass now sounds more articulate and intelligible while still sounding very warm and organic, which is no easy task, as those two characteristics can often seem to be mutually exclusive.
Reed James offers a handful of bass pickup designs besides the Neo’s, including traditional Alnico magnet dual coil and single coil designs, and his “Al-Neo” pickups, which are a hybrid of (you guessed it) Alnico and neodymium magnets. All pickups can be custom ordered with wood or plastic covers, in a variety of shapes and sizes, custom made to fit existing cavities and string spacing’s. The 6 string NEO set sells for $275 (+ $50 for wood covers of your choice).
If you look around, its obvious there are no shortage of good pickup options out there, but I feel the RJ Neo’s fill a very specific niche beautifully, providing players with a unique and sophisticated tonal option that is sure to appeal to some of the pickiest tone-o-philes among us. Head on over to www.reedjamescustom.com for more info.