We’ll spend a fair amount of time talking about pickups, because they have a massive impact on translating and transforming the acoustic sound of your guitar through an amplifier, signal processor, live-sound system, and recording device. The very basic factoid on pickups is that they translate the vibration of the guitar strings into electricity. These electrical signals are output to the amp of your choice so you can rock out with your guitar.
There are two main types of pickups: single coils and humbuckers. Within those categories, you may hear about P-90s (single-coil), Filter’Trons (fundamentally a humbucker), active pickups (powered by an active preamp), Charlie Christians (single coil), and so on. And, as with most everything else you can put on a guitar, there are hundreds of pickup options out there from a dizzying host of manufacturers.
Once again, absorb the onslaught of data on pickups without fear. There’s no reason to get all frazzled about pickup options. All you need to remember is: “This is my guitar for my music and the only thing that matters is my opinion.”
That said, you can do a little homework and see what type of pickups were used to create the music you love, or the sounds you seek to emulate yourself. For example, if you like Orianthi’s music, she typically uses humbucker-equipped guitars. Do you love the psychedelic, wizard-like mastery of Jimi Hendrix? He was mostly about single coils. Dig rockabilly artists? Check out Filter’Trons. There are so many interviews, articles, and YouTube videos out there that will help you nail down the pickups used by your favorite guitarists.
But, back to you. One of the easiest ways to narrow the field is to plug a bunch of different guitars armed with different pickups into a single amp and see which sounds appeal to you the most. Switch back and forth until you find yourself returning to one or two awesome pickup choices. As it turns out, you may love humbucker tones. You may dig single coil sounds. You might even like both.
We can almost predict your next question, and, yes, you can have it all.
Fishman Fluence pickups offer multiple voices, which means that one pickup can deliver two to three different sounds. For example, the Fishman Fluence Matt Heafy (Trivium) Custom Series pickup offers a modern active high-output tone (for, say, aggro metal tones), a more conventional humbucker tone (for classic rock and other styles), and a single-coil tone (for funky articulation). Fishman artist Sarah Longfield switches between Fluence pickup voices to better articulate between the sounds of her tapping technique, ferocious shredding, effects-laden textures, and distortion-driven tonal assaults. When you need different tones for different jobs, Fluence pickups are flexible enough to have the sounds you want.
The killer app is that each Fluence pickup gets you more tonal colors—and that’s a total advantage for having creative options at hand to craft the music you want to make. For example, on a guitar armed with a single pickup, a Fluence pickup could give you two sounds, rather than limiting you to just one tone. For a two- or three-pickup guitar, you’d at least double the number of available sounds over a non-Fluence-equipped model. Whatever style of music you play, the more tonal options at your fingertips, the more cinematic and impactful your music can sound.
Fluence pickups are offered separately as add-ons to whatever guitar you have. You can upgrade your pickups at any time—although you’ll likely need a guitar tech or local guitar-repair shop to do the install safely and correctly.
You can also seek out guitars with Fishman Fluence pickups already installed as stock gear, such as the Epiphone Prophecy collection, ESP LTD Phoenix Black Metal, Schecter C-1 SLS Elite, and Ibanez Prestige RG5121.
All players—novices and experts—benefit from more sonic firepower. A Fluence-equipped guitar is an easy way to change pickup sounds without having to grab another guitar or get into the weeds of multiple sound adjustments using stompboxes and studio effects to create the tone you want for a particular song, solo, or lick. Fishman Fluence pickups let you change the vibe of a musical part right at the moment of inspiration. Given all of the research, testing, and evaluation you’ll do in order to find your perfect guitar, it will be a massive benefit down the line to never have to say, “If only I had a different pickup on this guitar.” Go for Fluence Multi-Voice pickups.