Review: Fishman Fluence Signature Series Greg Koch Gristle-Tone Pickup Set

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Review: Fishman Fluence Signature Series Greg Koch Gristle-Tone Pickup Set

Words by Pablo Francois

Dynamic Music | RRP: $749

The phrase ‘tone quest’ is one that is occasionally uttered in guitar circles, sometimes sincerely, other times as a bit of a dig at the tendency for guitarists to get lost in the endless journey of manifesting the sonically impossible – almost akin to something out of Lord of The Rings. 

Alas, for many guitarists, there inevitably comes a time where one starts looking over the fence and seeing what is out there in the tonal department, after exhausting every available option in their current setup. This could mean anything from switching amps, to adding pedals, or in many cases, buying a new guitar all together – the sky’s the limit for this sort of thing.

In reality these are all pretty heavy-handed approaches – the ‘tone quest’ is far better undertaken as a gradual, evolutionary process of troubleshooting and integration rather than a drastic, clumsy overhaul, and this is precisely where aftermarket pickup manufacturers like Fishman come into the fold. 

Read more gear reviews here.

The brainchild of Larry Fishman, the brand has been at the forefront of pickup technology for over 40 years, ushering in a host of new technologies and refining some pre-existing ones, all with the goal of extracting every drop of tone from your existing setup. 

In 2013, Fishman introduced their highly touted Fluence multi-voice pickup system – challenging the archetype that had existed for over 80 years. Needless to say it put the broader industry on notice, redefining what could be done in regards to transducer technology in the guitar space.

These new Fluence pickups cast off many of the pre-existing notions surrounding pickup design and its relation to tonal integrity. Featuring a revolutionary active ‘core’ construction, (that employs a 48-layer coil on a robust substrate), the Fluence concept is a forward thinking one that bears little resemblance to traditional wire-wound designs.

The resultant pickups circumvent a lot of the hum, noise, and frustrating inductance issues that have plagued traditional guitar pickups since as far back as the ‘40s when Les Paul was in his shed, bolting pickups onto railway sleepers.

It’s not hyperbole to say that the modern ‘Fluence’ approach to pickup design may be the cleanest, purest mode of transduction we have seen in the guitar space, the unimpeded path from A to B providing a pure, uncorrupted tone and pristine sound quality. The results are sonically impressive to say the least. 

Another major attraction when it comes to Fishman is their close relationship with their signature artists and the interesting collaborations this can yield.

The new Fluence Signature Series Greg Koch Gristle-Tone P90 Pickup Set is a prime example of this, taking the much loved chunky twang of the hybrid picking wunderkind and combining it with the puritan vibes of other Fluence models in the same range, to come up with something truly unique and interesting.  

At first listen, one obvious takeaway from the Greg Koch P90 set is how remarkably low the noise floor is, especially for P90s. 

Going directly into the amp, with no pedals to impart any kind of artefact or extraneous noise of any kind, I actually had to instinctively double check that I hadn’t left my floor tuner on in some kind of guitarist phantom limb hallucination, the familiar hum of my questionably earthed, vintage Australian amp was nowhere to be heard.

Indeed, the audio engineer in me was delighted at the apparent minimal noise floor found on the Greg Koch Gristle-Tone P90s and this elite signal-to-noise ratio is no doubt one of its strong suits, but to think of the active Gristle-tone P90’s as all clean and puritanical would be doing it a great disservice. On the other hand, with this unnecessary noise now removed, what we are left with are all the desirable elements of the classic P90’s sound in pristine detail and hypercolour (and with considerably less EQ required). 

When we think of P90s, we normally think of them being pushed into breakup territory, but one thing that definitely took this reviewer by surprise was the sheer amount of tonal versatility on display with the Fluence Greg Koch Gristle-Tone P90 set. 

With separate bridge and neck pickups, each with three voices to select from, there is a lot of tonal range to explore here, from bitey, overdriven P90 vibes right through to dulcet, bell-like fingerpicked tones and more. Fishman has really developed a pickup set that far exceeds any expectations when it comes to genre or application and this shows with the broadness on display here. Placed in the right guitar, you could really find something unique and special to work with here. 

The neck has an under-wound tone that is similar in essence to a regular P90 – a chunky over-wound tone with plenty of body – while the bridge has a vintage P90 setting, which comes across like the bastard child of an overwound P90 and a bright, jangly single coil taking to overdrive and distortion effects like a duck to water. 

Indeed the level of versatility found on the settings, combined with the inherent lack of noise makes the Fishman Fluence Greg Koch P90 a dream for pedal lords or anyone with a suspect approach to gain staging. 

“The sound I was going for was a neck pickup that did this buttery, glassy with girth tone, and the bridge pickup would do this honky girthsome thing,” says Koch himself about the new pickups, and this aforementioned girth is no doubt where the ‘Gristle’ in the name comes from.

It’s chunky, fleshy, and greasy: exactly what you are looking for in a P90. 

If your tone quest evokes any of the above, then the new Fluence Signature Series Greg Koch Gristle-Tone P90 pickup set could serve as the perfect upgrade to your existing rig, to send you on your merry way. Godspeed.

Head to Fishman for more information. For local enquiries, reach out to Dynamic Music.