Having already stirred up the replacement pickup scene with its Fluence Single-Width units (reviewed in the May 2014 issue), Fishman has introduced the Fluence Classic Humbuckers, which are designed to deliver PAF-type sounds via a unique construction process that uses stacks of thin printed coils instead of the wire-wound bobbins of traditional humbuckers. Fluence pickups are completely analog, and they utilize active circuitry that’s powered by a 9-volt battery or an optional rechargeable battery pack ($99 street). Playing time is specified at 200 hours. The reasons for using active circuitry include immunity to cable losses and loading issues, and ability to deliver higher output without the primary drawback of traditional overwound humbuckers: loss of high-end response.
While the Classic Humbucker Set on review here comprises pickups with alnico V bar magnets and adjustable poles, other choices include 6- and 7-string Modern Alnico and Ceramic Humbuckers, which are also available separately or in matched sets. If you’re handy with a soldering iron, the installation is reasonably straightforward. However, Fluence pickups do require a change to 25kΩ audio-taper pots, which, along with push-pull tone pots for switching between voices on each pickup, are included.
We tested the Classic Humbucker Set on a new Gibson Les Paul that was sent to us by Fishman with the pickups already installed. Conveniently, we also had it in time to use along with a ’59 Historic Les Paul reissue for auditioning a wide variety of stompboxes for the Pedalmania cover story in last month’s issue.
Not surprisingly, the two guitars sounded somewhat different when plugged directly into our reference amps—a Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 25 and a Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue—however, they both sounded very good in their own right. The Fluence-equipped Les Paul was slightly cleaner and brighter sounding in its Voice 1 “PAF” setting with the Tone pot down. The ’59 Historic LP sounded a little “browner” and had a bit less output. Both guitars exhibited excellent touch-sensitivity and dynamic responsiveness, and while the subtle sonic differences between them were discernable when testing delay and reverb pedals, it was essentially moot when playing though boosters, distortion pedals, and fuzzboxes. In fact, the guitars’ different neck profiles probably had more to do with making one or the other more preferable to our testers.
Putting the Fluence pickups into their Voice 2 mode with the Tone pots pulled out elicited more sparkle and ring from the neck pickup (nice for funky rhythm tones), and a stronger response from the bridge ’bucker, which proved addictive when going for grungier straight-into-amp tones. The Voice 2 selections might be thought of as more “active” sounding, and with the ability to choose a different voicing on each pickup, the Fluence system offers a more expanded tonal palette than you get with a standard dual-humbucker setup. It is worth noting too that Fluence pickups can be configured for other popular switching options such as split-coil, series/parallel, and out-of-phase.
Fluence Classic Humbuckers definitely bring a welcome option to the modern PAF scene, which focuses heavily on creating exacting replicas of late-’50s Gibson humbuckers. Fluence pickups have little to do with Eisenhower-era technology, but their ability to remain ultra quiet in noise-prone environments—be it the fluorescent tubes in your garage or a blizzard of radio frequencies at an outdoor arena—is impressive, and the flexibility they provide courtesy of dual-sound switching could make them an attractive option for anyone who wants a guitar that speaks with a vintage voice, but has 21st century power under the hood.
FLUENCE CLASSIC HUMBUCKER SET
PRICE $249 street, pair
MAGNET Alnico V bar magnets with poles (neck and bridge)
COVERS Nickel (also available in black, gold, and brushed stainless)
POWER 9-volt battery or optional USB rechargeable lithium-polymer pack
EXTRAS Two selectable voices via the included push-pull Tone pots.
KUDOS Sound like classic humbuckers with the option of instant switching to a hotter secondary sound. Ultra quiet.