Field Test: Fishman Fluence Single Width Pickups

Introduced at the winter NAMM show last January, Fishman’s revolutionary Fluence core pickups created quite a stir, prompting us to feature them on the cover of the May 2014 issue, the focus of the story being new trends in pickup design.
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Introduced at the winter NAMM show last January, Fishman’s revolutionary Fluence core pickups created quite a stir, prompting us to feature them on the cover of the May 2014 issue, the focus of the story being new trends in pickup design.
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Introduced at the winter NAMM show last January, Fishman’s revolutionary Fluence core pickups created quite a stir, prompting us to feature them on the cover of the May 2014 issue, the focus of the story being new trends in pickup design. For a quick refresher, the novel feature about Fluence pickups is that they don’t use traditional wire-wound coils. Instead, they feature stacks of wafer-thin printed coils that surround alnico IV rod magnets. It’s still all analog, but just done in a way that takes the inconsistencies of winding coils out of the picture. Fluence pickups also incorporate active circuitry to solve loading issues, preserve dynamic range, and allow for higher output, but there’s no modeling or digital chicanery involved here. Fishman’s high-tech R&D approach made it possible for them to analyze the magnetic field and gauss distribution of classic Fender singlecoils (as well as Gibson humbuckers), and recreate those parameters in a more consistent pickup that has the same sonic and dynamic qualities of classic wire-wound units.

We heard some mighty impressive demos of Fluence single- and double-width (humbucker sized) pickups at NAMM, and finally we’ve received a set of Single Width units to try out on an otherwise stock Fender American Standard Stratocaster. From the top, the pickups look much like standard single-coils, complete with staggered poles. An S-shaped line molded into the plastic housing and Fishman’s logo are really all that differentiate them from the stockers. Flipping the guitar over we see a fairly thick cover over the trem springs, and this is the optional battery pack ($99 street), which uses a mini USB jack to recharge the li-po (lithium polymer) cells. Battery life is reported to be 200 hours between charges, which is quite a lot of playing time. Alternately, they can be powered by a single 9-volt battery.

The controls on the Strat remain the same with one Volume, two Tones, and 5-way switch. However, the center pot pulls to activate a highfrequency “tilt” while the rear Tone pot pulls to toggle from stock voicing/output to a hotter “Texas” sound that mimics the response of overwound coils. This latter function greatly expands the range of sounds that this setup can deliver, and the only difficult part is getting your fingers under the skirted Fender knob to pull it up.

We compared the Fluence-equipped Strat with a new Fender American Standard Stratocaster, running both into a Mesa/Boogie Express 5:25 combo and a BC Audio Amplifier No. 10-Mk II head driving a Fuchs Buzz Feiten Designed Vintage 2x12 cabinet. Not surprisingly considering the previous demos we’ve heard, the Fluencepowered Strat sounded much like the American Standard. There was perhaps a hair more output coming from the Fishman pickups, but the overall clarity, chiminess in positions 2 and 4, gutsy ring from the neck position, and slicing bite in the bridge setting all lined up pretty accurately with what the American Standard delivered. A big difference, however, was the complete absence of noise or hum from the Fluence pickups. Even in close proximity to computer screens and fluorescent lights, they were dead quiet. Very impressive.

Pulling the rear Tone pot to activate the “Texas” setting made the Fluence-equipped Strat sound beefier and louder than the American Standard. The effect was similar to going from stock pickups to, say, Fender Texas Specials or other overwound units. Think of it as a “more” switch when you want that tougher, tighter response, and it’s nice to know you’re just a knob push away from a softer, more sparkling sound—I just wish this guitar had a bridge pickup tone control! Also, I didn’t notice any sonic difference when activating the HF Tilt function on the middle Tone knob, but as the Fluence pickups sounded very balanced top-to-bottom, this really wasn’t an issue.

Players who seek authentic single-coil sounds from a pickup that is immune to cable capacitance and noise-prone environments should definitely see for themselves what these pickups have to offer. For all the reasons stated above, and for making such a serious advance in guitar pickup technology, the Fluence Single Width pickups earn an Editors’ Pick Award.

MODEL

FLUENCE SINGLE WIDTH
CONTACTfishman.com
PRICE $109 street, each

SPECIFICATIONS

COILS Single array of stacked printed coils
MAGNET Alnico IV poles
EXTRAS Active electronics for buffering and noise reduction. Tested with optional rechargeable battery pack.
KUDOS Excellent replication of classic Strat pickup sounds. Super quiet. Switchable between standard and “Texas” (overwound) operation.
CONCERNS None.

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