One of the most famous names on a bass guitar pickup, electronics expert, Bill Bartolini, has died aged 84

Bartolini Split-Coil Humbucker
(Image credit: Future)

Bill Bartolini, famous in the bass world for his pickups and electronics, has died aged 84. The news was confirmed on social media via the Bartolini Pickups Facebook page. “With heavy hearts and sadness, we must announce the passing of one of the legends in the musical instrument industry. An innovator and creator to whom many owe so much. Generous and a mentor, he launched many successful careers over a span of 50 years.”

Bartolini was among the world’s foremost experts on the science of acoustics. “Every musician jokes about how it’s not rocket science,” said Gary Willis. "But Bill got his start at Lawrence Livermore Labs and really was a scientist! There isn’t a human alive that hasn’t heard a bass guitar with one of his pickups. I was extremely fortunate to be able to work with him when developing my GWB pickup with Ibanez. The man was relentless! We went through 26 prototypes to arrive at the final version.”

Willis explains some of the intricacies of the GWB pickup at around 01:33 in this video for Ibanez.

Bartolini began manufacturing magnetic pickups under the Hi-A brand in 1973, becoming the iconic Bartolini label five years later. By this time, the Bartolini name was well established among the bass community. 

Joe Zon, who began working with Bartolini back in 1981, wrote, “I'm deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend and mentor, Bill Bartolini, who passed away peacefully on 9/2 at 4 am. Bill's innovations influenced pickup manufacturers worldwide. Our journey began in 1981 with Bill customizing pickups for our basses. His passing leaves a significant void in the music industry, and he will be dearly missed. Bill's relentless experimentation and passion in this field can never be replaced.”

“I cherish the pickups he made for me,” said Michael Manring. “Including the quadraphonic humbucker for my Zon Hyperbass.”

More tributes can be found below.

Sheldon Dingwall

“Bill was a gentle genius. He and his wife Pat supported and championed the small boutique bass builder. Their support helped many of us grow and prosper due to the quality of their pickups and preamps, and their willingness to customize to our needs. They provided space at their NAMM booth for small builders like us, Ralph Novak, Ken Lawrence, Rob Elrick, Stephen Sukop, Dan Lakin, Bill Conklin etc. The community they fostered created lifelong relationships.”

Lee Sklar

“So very sorry to hear of his passing. Always one of my favorite people to visit with at NAMM. He and Pat were so welcoming.”

Stephan Sukop

“I have such fond memories of spending time with Bill and Pat. I wish we'd have been together more outside of the confines of the trade shows. His knowledge I found fascinating. He was one of a kind and will be deeply missed.”

Arlington Houston

“My first high-end pickups and electronics were Bartolini, and installed in my 4-string Ibanez Jazz bass back in 1988. My first custom Dingwall Z also had Bartolini pickups and electronics. Bill was a great man.”

Rob Elrick

“I was fortunate to have worked with Bill on the development of the pickups and electronics used in Elrick Basses. It’s fair to say that Elrick Basses would not exist today without the early support and generosity provided by Bill and Pat Bartolini. Always the visionary, Bill was extremely cautious when seeking a custodian for his life’s work. Today his legacy is not only remembered, but honored and respected by Clyde Clark and the team at Bartolini Pickups.”

Bartolini pickup

(Image credit: Future)

Bartolini retired from the business in 2014. Clyde Clark took up the reigns and has been running Bartolini Pickups & Electronics ever since. Visit the website for more info.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.