Fret-King Corona 70 Fluence Equipped
Fishman is distributed in the UK by JHS, the company behind the Trevor Wilkinson-designed Fret-King range, which is the first guitar brand to fit Fishman's innovative new Fluence pickups onto production models.
In concept, both Fishman's and Wilkinson's designs centre on the same re-imagining of the classics. Wilkinson's Corona, for example, takes the Fender Stratocaster, alters a few lines, adds a few tweaks and creates something that's a good guitar in its own right.
Fishman, meanwhile has re-imagined the classic Gibson humbucker. But perhaps 're-imagined', which suggests a facelift or a subtle redesign, isn't going far enough: Fluence represents one of the most significant redesigns of the magnetic pickup in its entire history.
Our Corona 70 is fitted with a pair of Fluence Classic Humbuckers with dual voicings. Voice 1 on both is 'Vintage PAF', albeit with the "dynamics and output level you want," says Fishman. Voice 2, on the bridge pickup, is 'classic hotrod' - a hotter-style voicing - and on the neck pickup, Voice 2 is called 'clear, airy chime', which Fishman states has "unreal highs, vocal midrange and tight lows".
There is a third option, that can be used with either, or both, of the Voice selections - and that is High Frequency (HF) Tilt. It's not wired on our Corona 70, but it effectively offers a preset high-end roll-off and might be handy...
As supplied, with just one pull switch on the master tone, in down position we have Voice 1 of both pickups; pulled up, we get Voice 2 of both.
The Classic Humbuckers have metal tops - in a choice of gold, black or chrome plating (as here) - and a single row of adjustable poles. They use Alnico V magnets, and the gubbins is all encapsulated in the otherwise plastic covers; mounting is via inset, threaded nuts on protruding plastic legs.
Moving away from the pickups, the guitar is eminently fit for purpose. Fret- King's Green Label series sits at the top of the brand's range and the guitars are created in small numbers by Wilkinson and his team in the UK.
The specs are very similar to the non-Fluence equipped Corona model with the exception of the hardware, which is from Wilkinson's cost-effective Korean-made range, as opposed to Japanese-made - which might cost less but is typically good. The switch is to ensure that the guitar still hits the market at well below £2,000, despite the cost of the Fluence pickups compared with usual passive pickups.
However, it raises a valid point about the Fluence pickups: they're not cheap, and that fact alone may well limit their appeal to the numerous brands that use EMGs, Duncans, DiMarzios and the like. At the suggested retail price, they're more expensive than EMGs, especially the humbuckers.
Evaluating a guitar pickup isn't straightforward. Unlike a microphone, which you can line up next to your reference mic and listen to how it sounds capturing your voice or guitar, for example, you can't just compare a Fluence-loaded instrument with another guitar. Well, perhaps you can, and that's what most of us will do. So let's start there...
Think 'classic humbuckers' and you immediately imagine a Les Paul. As good as the Corona 70 is, it isn't a Les Paul - although, for many a player, a Strat-style body with humbuckers... Well, it's a pretty classic hot-rod recipe, isn't it?
For reference, we loaded a set of the Fluence CHs onto a Yamaha SG1820 and with just Voice 1 it's a thumpingly huge single-cut voice with all that low end and lower midrange girth of a good 'Paul.
Back to the Corona 70 and we hear a tightened low end with a little more upper midrange push. Either would be welcome in this writer's collection. While the Yamaha suggested classic Kossoff and the like, the Corona 70 jumps a decade and suggests early EVH.
Switch to Voice 2 and, with some classic rock amp gain, it's subtle but noticeable: the bridge's second voice is mid pushed with a high-end roll-off, a little juicer hitting the front end of your amp, too.
The neck's Voice 2 is slightly more open in that it seems to bring down the upper mids a little - a very vocal lead voice indeed, especially with some more gain underfoot.
Switch hats and plug directly into a small PA or acoustic amp and, well, if pristine cleans or clipped funk are your thing this is the way to go.
On the Yamaha, it really nails an older jazz tone, especially as we'd wired in the HF Tilt, again subtle under gain but more pronounced in this 'studio'-like setting. The Corona 70 sounds superb here, too.
Does the world need yet another electric guitar pickup, especially one that bucks the zeitgeist and is active? So many of us 'hear' pickups by looking at their specifications and simply won't touch an active pickup with a barge pole.
Of course, many players will - certainly those of a more metal persuasion - and Fishman is catering for those players with the Modern Humbucking set and just-released seven-string sets.
Then there are some of us who actually like active pickups, such as EMGs, for their response, balance and quiet operation, not to mention their low impedance.
However, with their potentially three different voices, the Fluences are unique, along with their solid cores that allow incredible consistency from pickup to pickup - something Trevor Wilkinson has observed while building these and other Fret-King Fluence-equipped guitars.
It's that consistency, and the other attributes of the active pickup, that make these units very valid for the recording guitarist, or indeed any player who wants to expand the voices on their guitars beyond the usual coil-splits or rarer coil-taps.
Of course, the very inconsistency of a passive pickup is what appeals to many of us. Some good vintage PAFs exhibit a slight bell-like microphony that some like. Others don't. Some makers purposely unbalance the coil windings of their humbuckers. On it goes...
Either way, it'll be very interesting to watch the progress of these pickups. Fluence isn't cheap, but it is unique. Time for a change?