Guitar pickups haven’t changed a great deal in terms of their overall design throughout the years. A magnet wrapped with copper wire, then set into a casing allowing for mounting into your instrument and some minor adjustments is the basis of pickup design.
There have been some various ideas and improvements, (such as active pickup models) and manufacturers have found a variety of ways of using different materials, and fine tuning of the process to produce a variety of pickups with a range of sounds. But overall the basic design approach has remained true to it’s time tested approach. If something isn’t broken, why fix it?
But what about building on a good idea and using an approach to make the product better? Sounds like a fairly reasonable idea, but how does it apply to guitar pickups? Enter Mark Bowyer and Thomas Lingel from Anaren Microwave Inc. in upstate NY. While working on some various projects for a New York aerospace company Bowyer and Lingel (who play guitar as well) wondered about musical applications for some of the materials they were working with. Lingel along with Graham Bunce, both Radio Frequency and Microwave Design Engineers who are trained experts with magnetic materials and properties, developed the idea into a product. After some experimenting they came up with a design they believed to be a step forward in pickup construction. One that wasn’t just innovative, but sonically flexible which could be mass produced.
Many ideas that have great potential with their performance may go unrealized if it is both expensive and difficult to reproduce for consumers. Knowing that their design met both of these important criteria, the two men began approaching well known names in the pickup manufacturing industry. Unfortunately they were surprised when established manufacturers did not seem to share their enthusiasm for the design, or perhaps they just didn’t understand it. They were, however, lucky to meet Frank Falbo through this process. Falbo is also an innovator and both the founder and CEO of critically acclaimed Falbo Guitars. Mr Falbo immediately saw the potential of what the two men were offering to industry and introduced them to Larry Fishman.
Mr Fishman’s name sake company is a standard name in the music industry, with Fishman himself widely respected as a great innovator and seen as someone with the kind of insight to recognize great ideas when he sees them. In June of 2014, the Fishman company introduced Bowyer and Lingel’s ideas to the world as Fluence pickups with a lot of help from Frank Falbo working behind the scenes, (while launching his own company) to move the product forward and into the hands of consumers. Bowyer, Corporate Business Development Manager for Anaren, worked out a licensing deal where Fishman would have the exclusive rights to the technology.
Now all of this sounds like the ‘Million Dollar Idea’ that is so popular in entertainment, but what is a ‘Fluence Pickup’ exactly? Sure the idea of rocket scientists, with a great deal of technical knowledge in magnetism, creating an innovative new product sounds intriguing, but what does it really offer consumers? I’m not going to attempt to pass myself off as a technical expert, and dredge all sorts of numbers and statistics throughout this part of the article. Instead, however, for those that are interested in the technical numbers I am providing you with this link to review all that is available:
When you follow that link you will go to the Fishman page and be able to go through the entire line for all the technical details, pictures and video demos for each Fluence model.
The Fluence pickup starts by replacing the standard coil/magnet design with a multi-layer printed circuit board that is powered by a 9volt battery or rechargeable battery pack. The PCB actually replaces the wound copper wire coil. No coil means that the concern of the coil wind loosening, (creating a microphonic pickup), is now eliminated. With standard pickup design and manufacture each pickup model is built according to a specific design that creates individual pickups which, more or less, sound like one and other for that model. The Fluence design and manufacture ensures that each model performs exactly to the technical specifications, not within an acceptable tolerance. This means that if you purchase a specific model for one of your guitars and wish to buy more of the same model for other guitars, each new purchase will sound exactly like the original model you purchased.
The copper core also eliminates noise and hum inside each pickup, even in the single coils. No background noise and concerns of picking up interference from the surrounding area. Anyone playing under florescent lights or who has rehearsed near power lines will appreciate how much of a bonus this is. As mentioned, a rechargeable battery pack is available and, when you think about it, is something that surprisingly isn’t common. The rechargeable battery pack now eliminates the added expense of replacement batteries. And the pickups are designed to go into the guitar without any modification.
But what about changing the battery on your favorite Strat? If you don’t want to route in a battery cavity, and don’t like the idea of removing the pickgaurd to replace the battery Fishman has thought of another innovation. They have made a rechargeable battery pack that replaces the Strat’s rear spring cover. No expensive work, no modification, no replacing batteries – just plug in a USB charger into the back plate and recharge. However it is something that will have to be purchased separately, as an option that is reasonably priced.
This means that anyone handy enough with a soldering iron, and following the installation instructions, will have no problem easily putting a Fluence pickup into their guitar. Despite being highly innovative the Fluence maintains a traditional look, so the new replacement pickup won’t look strange or out of place in your guitar.
The real innovation with these pickups is two sounds within each pickup. Not just reversing or the limiting the coil, but the ability to tap into the core for real sound variation. Completely change the sound of your guitar for solos or various songs in the set without expensive rack gear, added pedals, multiple amps or guitars. Quick, simple sound change in the middle of a song.
If you’ve ever had to lug your gear up and down stairs, or during the wee hours of the morning after a gig you will certainly appreciate having a variety of sounds for your equipment at no extra expense or with no extra trips back and forth from the truck to the stage. If all of this sounds appealing, you may be concerned about price.
Innovation and the latest product, especially one that promises so much, rarely comes cheap. This time you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear that Fluence pickups are competitively priced in comparison to existing traditionally made and constructed models. In fact Fluence pickups are less expensive than offerings by many name brand pickup and guitar manufacturers. So finally, and most importantly, how do Fluence sound. Rather than trying to put the sound to words or using all sorts of cliche descriptions here is a video from Fishman, where Greg Koch demonstrates and discusses the Fluence pickups.
Additional videos are also available for each model through the Fishman website: Fluence pickups are available through many suppliers, such as Sweetwater Sound: Many reviews are available online about the Fluence product line and a simple search of ‘Fluence Pickup review’ will quickly yield many results to read through.
Innovation that is reasonably priced, highly flexible and adheres to a traditional look. These are the promises that Fluence pickups not only offer but deliver.
Thanks to Frank Falbo, Brent Luethold, Mark Bowyer and Larry Fishman for their contributions in writing this article.
Special thanks to guest contributor John Goodale for this article. John Goodale is the author of Johnny Gora (available through Amazon.com ),he also writes the monthly Indy Comic review and several other articles here on TMRZoo.com