Solid Pro­gres­sion

De­spite their fu­ture vi­sion sheen, Fish­man’s Flu­ence pick­ups ref­er­ence the past’s clas­sic tones that we gui­tar play­ers de­sire. How ex­actly do they do that?

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At this year’s NAMM show, Fish­man took the wraps off three new Flu­ence sig­na­ture pickup sets for Tosin Abasi, Kill­switch En­gage and Will Adler, adding to those al­ready re­leased for Stephen Car­pen­ter, Devin Townsend and Greg Koch. It’s more than in­di­ca­tion that, since its launch in 2014, Fish­man’s Flu­ence pickup tech­nol­ogy is be­ing taken very se­ri­ously. The Flu­ence con­cept is based around a solid core in­stead of a coil of wire, although the mag­net struc­tures are pretty con­ven­tional. Then there is a preamp (on­board, with the ex­cep­tion of the Greg Koch ‘Gris­tle-Tone’ set) that shapes what we hear and of­fers multi ‘voic­ings’. The ac­tive pick­ups can be pow­ered by a stan­dard nine-volt block bat­tery, although var­i­ous bat­tery packs can be recharged from their USB sock­ets. It all amounts to a pretty through re­design of the elec­tric gui­tar pickup as we know it.

“The start­ing point, sound-wise, of the Flu­ence solid core coils is a neu­tral wide band­width re­sponse, so we have the flex­i­bil­ity to steer it in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions,” ex­plains Fish­man’s se­nior elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer John Eck.

Would that in it­self be a use­ful sound? “You’d get some­thing that you might find in­ter­est­ing for some use, but if you’re try­ing to recre­ate more clas­sic tones, very spe­cific tones, it wouldn’t get you there.”

The coils might be solid, but the mag­net type and style ad­heres to more con­ven­tional pickup tech­nol­ogy. “Some­times we use a blade, bar or in­di­vid­ual rod mag­nets,” he con­tin­ues. “For ex­am­ple, the Mod­ern Hum­buck­ers have blade mag­nets that cre­ate a very even mag­netic field that pro­vides a cer­tain def­i­ni­tion. Con­versely, the sin­gle width pick­ups for Strat and Te­lestyle gui­tars have in­di­vid­ual [mag­netic] pole pieces, which is part of the char­ac­ter of the tone and af­fects the way the string vi­brates in the mag­netic field. So in that sense, the mag­net struc­ture is a third com­po­nent, as many have dis­cov­ered over the years: how the strings, when they are vi­brat­ing, re­act with the mag­netic field.

On the Devin Townsend set, the bridge pickup uses blades on one side, [while] the other side has poles – that seemed to work. We’re try­ing to re­tain as much of the past, but we’re tak­ing it in a new di­rec­tion.”

Con­struc­tion aside, the pri­mary way Fish­man is do­ing that is by of­fer­ing each pickup, or pickup type, with multi ‘voices’, such as Koch’s ‘White Guard’ and ‘Black Guard’ sounds on his Tele-re­place­ment set, or the vin­tage PAF/over­wound ‘hot’ hum­bucker sounds of the bridge pickup in the Clas­sic Hum­bucker set.

“Our orig­i­nal idea was to make a self-con­tained ac­tive pickup,” says John. “One ex­cep­tion is the Tele set where there sim­ply wasn’t enough room in the pickup if you wanted them to fit in a stan­dard Tele body. There wasn’t enough room for the hum-can­celling coil to get placed and not in­ter­fere with the tone, so all of that had to be moved to the main con­trol area be­hind the plate.”

If the Greg Koch Tele set pre­sented some phys­i­cal prob­lems, where did they start to se­lect the sounds? Over the past 60-some­thing years, Te­les have come in nu­mer­ous shades, not least their pick­ups. “We started with two or three Te­les we thought were at the top of the heap in terms of the sound of their pick­ups,” of­fers John. “Study­ing their char­ac­ter­is­tics and what it would take to cap­ture that and then the nor­mal parts of pickup de­sign, like try­ing dif­fer­ent mag­net types and com­par­ing them. We also had to de­cide the best ap­proach to deal with hum-can­celling.”

“Greg was very much in­volved in the process,” says Fish­man’s vice prin­ci­pal of mar­ket­ing and artist re­la­tions, Chris DeMaria. “Be­ing a Tele player, he brought in some of his own gui­tars – you have to lis­ten to a lot of pick­ups and gui­tars and say, ‘I like what that’s do­ing.’ In many cases, these are vin­tage gui­tars that we had to bor­row. Then you have to de­cide if this is re­ally what a ‘White Guard’ sounds like – a clean chicken pickin’ Bak­ers­field coun­try sound. The ‘Black Guard’ sound is a lit­tle hot­ter and darker.”

In a range that now in­cludes clas­sic sin­gle coils and hum­buck­ers, plus more mod­ern-voiced pick­ups, in multi-string for­mats, we won­dered if Fish­man might turn its hum­buck­ing-ac­tive-multi-voiced at­ten­tion to the hum­ble P-90? “I hon­estly don’t know,” says Chris. “I will say we are fully com­mit­ted to be­ing in the elec­tric gui­tar and bass pickup mar­ket.”

“It’s been dis­cussed,” adds John, “but we have to pri­ori­tise what’s most im­por­tant for us to do next.” In other words, watch this space… maybe!

“A neu­tral wide band­width re­sponse gives us the flex­i­bil­ity to steer [the sound] in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions”

2 1. Greg Koch pic­tured with his Fret-King Coun­try Squire and sig­na­ture GristleTone pick­ups, which present ‘White Guard’ and ‘Black Guard’ multi ‘voic­ings’ 2. The Gris­tle-Tone Telepickup re­place­ments ref­er­ence many Tele sounds, in­clud­ing those from vin­tage gui­tars and Greg’s own Tele col­lec­tion

1

3 5 5. In­stead of a coil of wire, the Flu­ence pick­ups have a solid core that’s made up of a lay­ered stack of printed cir­cuit boards 4

3 & 4. Fish­man’s Flu­ence pick­ups made their first ap­pear­ance in Fret-King’s Corona 60 and 70 gui­tars in 2015. The Corona 60, pic­tured here, fea­tures sin­gle width units

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