Larry Fishman has quite the reputation in the acoustic pickup world thanks to a raft of proven and well-loved products that cater beautifully to the tonal needs of upright bass players (Larry’s own instrument of choice), guitarists and just about any other acoustic stringed instrument you care to think of. Fishman is also well known for its innovations both in the acoustic pickup world and with devices such as the Fishman Triple Play MIDI pickup, but until recently the company had never ventured into the highly traditional world of electric guitar pickups, where technology has remained much the same since the inception of the instrument.
Guitar players are very conservative when it comes to new technology and it makes sense, as many, if not all of the classic tones that we all love originate from traditional pickup design. Even so, Larry Fishman thought he could genuinely transform pickup design for the better whilst retaining all of the things we love about magnets wound with copper wire. The Fluence pickups were the result of his experiments.
We previously checked out the Fluence Single Coil set in Issue 31 so it was high time we looked at the Classic Humbucker set and we were kindly provided with a superb Fret King Corona 70 Studio guitar loaded with a pair of just these pickups by distributor JHS to try out. The basic idea behind the Fluence system is to fundamentally change the physical construction of the pickup whilst remaining true to the original tones that are so loved by guitar players. To do this Fishman very carefully measured the characteristics of classic pickups to discover the elements that made them sound so great, such as their magnetic field, frequency and tonal response and then developed a system by which they could replicate these features in a controlled and repeatable manner from pickup to pickup. Traditional designs can vary wildly from unit to unit since there are so many uncontrollable elements to producing a wound pickup the classic way, the theory runs.
The Fishman method essentially involves printing coils of wire on circuit boards so thin that they can produce two 48-layer stacks of coils in opposite directions to one another with a spacer in between the two layers for a completely noise and interference free system. The precise nature of printing circuit boards means that each pickup is identical to the next, offering levels of consistency that could never be reproduced in traditional pickup designs. Within this design Fishman has also incorporated methods of flattening out magnet responses and given themselves the ability to boost or cut individual frequencies within the pickup, offering the tantalising proposition of two individual voicings per pickup with specific frequency responses for each voice at the push or pull of a switch.
This type of design has one obvious problem in that it requires a power source, even though the pickup never sounds like an active one. The Fret King Corona 70 Studio guitar was provided with Fishman’s very clever Lithium battery that is a simple replacement for the back plate of any Strat-style guitar. This slimline battery sits a little more proud of the guitar than a normal backplate but allows for up to 250 hours of play time and can be recharged using any USB mini cable in just a few hours. Fishman also offers a version for Les Paul style guitars. Alternatively, a 9v battery can be installed but it will require some pretty serious body routing for most guitars, so the battery back plate is a worthwhile investment and not overly expensive.
In use, the Fluence pickups are truly some of the most impressive you’ll find, with serious classic humbucker tones but with no noise, inductance or cable capacitance issues and incredible dynamics that really do make you play better. Fishman has called the two bridge pickup voices Vintage P.A.F. and Classic Hotrod, the latter boasting a hotter output and slightly lower midrange response for a more scooped tone. For the neck humbucker we get Vintage P.A.F. and Clear Airy Chime with a boost in the low mids and again, a slightly more scooped upper-mid response. All of your favourite humbucker tones are here with chimey cleans and warm Jazz tones all the way up to grinding, palm muted Rock chug, but at all times it is amazing how much single coil like clarity and pick response you get from this Fluence set, even with the gain cranked all the way up. Individual notes ring out so well and the dynamics are so clear that you really miss it when going back to a normal humbucker. The two voices also complement each other very well, doubling the number of sounds available from our guitar’s three way switch and producing a more versatile instrument overall.
This Fluence Classic Humbucker set is very impressive and should go a long way to convincing guitar players that traditional pickup design, with all of its foibles and snake oil, is not the only way to great, and especially consistent, tone. The need for a battery may be a draw back for some, although active pickup users have been dealing with this for years with no issues, and the modern visual design may put some off installing these in their vintage guitars, but that would be a shame as the tones and especially dynamics and pick response on offer are as good as it gets. Highly recommended.