For the past year, all we hear about in the metal guitar community is Fishman Fluence. They are used by all of the big artists and are being hailed as a revolution in pickup technology. But is the hype real?
Fishman Fluence: What Makes Them Special?
I suppose the first thing we can talk about is how Fishman differs from traditional pickups. Fishman doesn’t use traditional wiring with copper winds like a traditional pickup. In fact, they use a sort of circuit board as the meat of the pickup.
This allows you to fine-tune the pickup’s sound quickly, and digitally. The onboard pre-amp is powered by a 9-volt battery. Just like other active-style pickups. Like most active pickups, they are virtually noiseless.
But wait, Fishman Fluence still uses traditional magnets to transfer sound. This allows them to coil-tap, and each pickup can be set to two different voicings. Sound complicated?
Well, it is. My relationship with the Fishman Fluence Modern set is also very complicated too. We will get to that.
But Fishman no doubt has its famous guitarist fans, mostly Metal artists. Why don’t we take a look at all of the artists that have made the switch to Fishman in the last two years or so:
Guitarists That Use Fishman Pickups:
- Matt Heafy (Trivium)
- Tosin Abasi
- Willy Adler (Lamb of God)
- Keith Merrow
- Devin Townsend
- Steph Carpenter (Deftones)
- Asking Alexandria
- Matt Bellamy (Muse)
Fishman has been said by artists to be the perfect balance between an active pickup and a passive one. Providing string definition across all the board, and reacting more like a passive pickup.
One of Fishman’s biggest advocates is Steph Carpenter from the Deftones. Here’s what Steph had to say about why he and how he made the switch to Fishman Fluence pickups:
I was never the super-critical guy, I’m not much for specs, but I like clean, full sounding pickups. When I was first starting out, I was using a passive, overwound humbucker. And in 2000, when I started playing 7-string, I used the active pickups that most people used at the time because they worked fine – simple as that.
I was introduced to them by my guitar tech, and I’ve been offered my own models multiple times in the past and they never really came to fruition. But we put them [Fluence] in, I jammed on them for 45 minutes and thought ‘these things are freaking great,’ I didn’t want to stop playing. Playing Voice 2 was like going back to my original overwound passives, which ironically are some of the same pickups that were used in creating the sounds for the Fluence.Steph Carpenter in Fishman Press Release
Fishman Fluence Modern Set: Features and Specs
These are active pickups totally redesigned from the ground up. The set comes with an Alnico magnet-based neck pickup, and a Ceramic-based bridge position pickup.
Both pickups come with two different “voicings”. The voicings are switchable for each pickup. Both voicings sound pretty subtle at first listen. The differences become more apparent the more you experiment with them.
Alnico Neck Pickup:
- Voice 1: Modern Active High Gain output sound. The ideal active alnico sound. Full, round, and boosted, but with unprecedented articulation and dynamics.
- Voice 2: Passive dynamics. Crisp and clean, without sounding muffled like most neck pickups.
Ceramic Bridge Pickup:
- Voice 1: Modern Active Output. The ideal active ceramic humbucker tone. Crisp, searing crunch, tight bass with no mud, and a growl.
- Voice 2: Passive Dynamics. Organic, high output, passive ceramic tone. Superb distortion characteristics with Fluence dynamics and response.
Both pickups can be used in either position. Optional rechargeable battery packs are available that fit into the back of your guitar and use USB charging. This gives you up to 200 hours of playtime.
Where regular pickups use a magnet and winds of copper…Fishman uses a circuit board in conjunction with the magnet. This technology has never been explored before.
Some of the artist models offer coil splitting, as well as two voices. This is most evident in the Tosin Abasi models. The coils are split and designed to be noiseless, which is a major problem with regular passive pickups.
Fishman Fluence Modern: Testing
I have used the Fishman Fluence Modern set for about a year now. They have a home in my Schecter guitar. I have been a die-hard EMG pickup user for years now, so being a fan of actives already, Fishman should win me over pretty quick, right?
Well…no, actually. But some of that was my fault. Some of it isn’t.
Fishman did not win me over in the beginning. Mainly because they are voiced so differently than any pickup that I own. So with all of my “regular” settings on my amp and pedalboard, Fishman was very lackluster to my ears.
After trying several different settings, I found some usable tones from both voicings. But they sound very…sterile. The sound is a little too perfect to me. Even tuned down to B standard, there is no…heaviness. No meat, or grind.
This works to Fishman’s advantage with the neck pickup. The lead tone with the Alnico neck is nice and fat. It reminds me of a Les Paul neck pickup with tone dialed back just a smidge. Add a little delay and reverb and you have a beautiful tone for a solo.
The bridge pickup I had to fight with. I tried it first through a loud tube amp with the gain dialed in pretty high. It sounded just ‘okay” to me. I usually want a little bit more “growl” in my tone. Even with boost, and fuzz, I could not shake the “perfect” sound.
I moved on to the modeling amps and software I own for my DAW. This is where Fishman totally failed me. I wish I could say that I got at least one tone that I could record with. But alas, I did not.
The best way I can describe the sound is “Highly Homogenized”. This is not from lack of knowledge on my part when dialing in active pickups. I have used EMG for years, with no problems.
I can say that Fishman Fluence is the least noisy of any pickup I have ever used. Even under high gain, I could dial back my noise gate substantially. They are basically noiseless.
Fishman Fluence Modern: The Hard Truth
Look, there is no doubt that Fishman has done something really special and revolutionary for the guitar world. This is innovation at its finest. The pickup has remained an almost untouched part of the electric guitar for decades.
I applaud them for trying something totally new. I also understand that these pickups work for a lot of people. I wish I was one of them.
To be fair to Fishman, I have not tried any of the other models. The Fluence Modern Set was the first to be released as far as I know and that is what I have tried. Maybe an artist set sounds better.
The artist sets with other active pickups like Seymour Duncan Blackout and EMG definitely sound better than their base model designs to me.
I am not some purist curmudgeon in any way, I actually embrace technology that makes my life as a musician easier. Since these pickups are so easy to swap out, maybe I will try a different set. Until then, I just don’t see the hype.
If you want a perfect, noise and hum-free guitar sound for playing live, recording, or just practicing, Fishman has basically reinvented the wheel with its Fishman Modern pickups. And that’s why plenty of modern metal players like Tosin Abasi and Matt heafy swear by them…
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Are Fishman Fluence Modern Pickups active?
Yes. All Fishman Fluence pickups are active and are powered by a 9V battery or power pack.
Does Fishman Fluence come in different covers?
Most Fishman pickups come in Chrome, Gold, Black, and open coil designs.
Are Fishman Fluence Modern pickups only for Metal?
While they work great for Metal, they can also be used for just about any genre.