Redesigned Pickups Give Your Guitar Multiple Personalities

The flip of a switch changes its voice

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The guitar has changed dramatically since 1931—Chuck Berry happened, Elvis happened, even Guns N’ Roses happened. Yet, the component that made this evolution possible, the electric-guitar pickup, has remained largely unchanged.

In August, guitar-electronics company Fishman launched an entirely new kind of pickup, one that relies on circuit boards. Traditional pickups use coiled copper wire wrapped around poles to create a magnetic field. That field registers disturbances as notes and sends them to an amplifier. The Fluence pickup, on the other hand, uses a sandwich of circuit boards to obtain the same effect. The advantage is that circuit boards, unlike copper wire, are programmable. So while a regular pickup will impart one kind of sound, the Fluence can be programmed to reproduce any number of sounds.

The Components:

Circuit Boards: Two 48-layer circuit boards are attached to a separate assembly of poles. Each layer has its own coil. Because all the layers are printed to spec, they’re uniform, so the sound is consistent.

Preamp: Every Fluence pickup starts out tonally neutral. A built-in preamplifier shapes sound by subtracting unwanted frequencies to create a sound profile that mimics traditional pickups.

Battery: A lithium-ion battery provides up to 250 hours of playtime and recharges via mini USB. Fishman designs its kits to accommodate 9V batteries and other charging systems, which ensures players can fully customize their guitar.

Switch Control: With a push-pull knob, the Fluence can transform the tone of a pickup on the fly. That means users no longer have to choose between a hot-rod and an airy chime tone—the two can be integrated.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Popular Science.