Fishman Fluence vs Bare Knuckle vs EMG Guitar Pickups

When it comes to hard-hitting, modern-sounding guitar pickups, you’ve got plenty to choose from. And while each manufacturer has their own advantages, there are three that seem to handle the demands of modern metal and alternative rock with particular gusto.

In this article, we’ll be comparing Fishman Fluence, Bare Knuckle and EMG pickups.

Sam Beattie

Sam Beattie

As things mature, they become increasingly complex in their own ways. To break new ground, boundaries need to be pushed – this is particularly applicable when it comes to music. At the fringes of modern styles and subgenres are the trailblazers who continue to pioneer new ideas and techniques.

Arguably one of the more exploratory musical genres is metal, alongside the broader alternative rock field. Subgenres within subgenres are becoming ever more aggressive, extreme and technical. All the while fusing with external influences to create unique crossbred sounds. This has been the case for decades, from the Bay Area thrash explosion to the mind-bending strobe-prog of bands like Animals As Leaders and Periphery.

Such bold pushes into new sonic territory require equally proficient and bold equipment to facilitate. Enter our three manufacturers, who’ve earned a reputation for being at the frontline when it comes to new tones. Let’s explore what sets them apart…

Fishman Fluence Pickups

Fishman Fluence - Andertons Music Co.

Fishman, under the leadership of Larry Fishman, have been producing audio and amplification equipment for the best part of 40 years. Preamps, pickups, effects and controllers, for all manner of instruments. For a long time, acoustic amplification was the core of their business model. They produced world-class piezo and magnetic pickups for acoustic guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, classical instruments and more.

Fishman Fluence Stephen Carpenter - Andertons Music Co.

In 2013, Fishman unveiled their latest project: Fluence. This was their first foray into electric guitar pickups – something they’d previously deliberately avoided. They knew that to enter the market at such a late stage, they’d need to be bold and offer something new – and that they did.

Forget handwired coils – these pickups contain two Fluence Cores, as well as carefully-engineered analog circuitry. This combination produces unparalleled tonal consistency, next to no hum or signal degradation, and a unique 2-voice system. It’s literally 2 pickups in 1!

Why choose Fishman Fluence pickups?

  • 2 voices in 1 pickup – 2 Fluence cores and analog circuitry gives you 2 switchable pickup voices in a single pickup. Incredibly versatile.
  • Minimal noise, consistent sound – again, the Fluence cores are designed differently to traditional coils, drastically reducing hum and ensuring reliable, pure sound performance.
  • Great range of styles – commonly associated with heavier styles, but you can get everything from 3-pickup Strat sets to 8 string soapbars.
  • Used by top players – the list of Fluence users includes Devin Townsend, Greg Koch, Tosin Abasi and Stephen Carpenter, to name a few. We think that speaks volumes!

Popular Fishman Fluence Pickups

Bare Knuckle Pickups

Bare Knuckle Pickups - Andertons Music Co,

Bare Knuckle are a UK company who make handwired electric guitar pickups of just about every shape and size. Founded in 2003 by session guitarist Tim Mills, they continue to operate as an independent company in South West England.

Mills needed a huge range of sounds when working as a professional guitarist. He decided to put his knowledge to good use, creating his own pickups. One thing led to another, and before he knew it, his combination of rough-cut designs, catchy names and head-turning tone took Bare Knuckle from underdog to the big-league. Guitarists who wanted to stray from the path and find something a little more out-there suddenly had somewhere to go.

Bare Knuckle Painkiller Pickups - Andertons Music Co.

Fast forward to today, and they’re one of the go-to names for just about everything – from vintage-style single-coils to extended-range monstrosities. All of their pickups are made by hand in their UK workshop. They do custom orders too, so you can tailor your pickup to suit your precise needs. Couple this with the fact that they have a sizeable but navigable range of pickups, and you can see why they’re so darn popular.

Why choose Bare Knuckle pickups?

  • Handwired in the UK – as mentioned earlier, it’s all done in-house, by hand, the old way. This is quite rare, especially at Bare Knuckle’s price point!
  • Easy to find your style – they’ve got a lot on offer, but it’s super easy to find what you’re after. Choose your guitar-type and playing style, and there’s probably one that’s perfect for you.
  • Customise your pickup – choosing a pickup to suit your guitar and playing style is easy. But if you want to go a step further, you can with Bare Knuckle. Choose a full set, different covers, different screws – down to the finest detail!
  • Used by top players – Misha Mansoor, Johnny Marr, Matt Bellamy and our pal Rabea Massaad are all on BK’s roster. You’re in good company.

Popular Bare Knuckle Pickups

EMG Pickups

EMG Pickups - Andertons Music Co.

Having been in the electric guitar pickup business for the longest, EMG are arguably the better-known out of our 3 contenders. Ask any guitarist about EMG pickups, and they’ll likely have a thing or two to say.

The company was founded in 1976 in California, and specialises in high-output active pickups. In the ‘80s, guitarists’ demands grew more extreme – more volume, saturation and bite was needed to keep up with the rapidly maturing rock and metal sound. EMG stepped in at just the right time, providing a dense, consistent sound the likes of which simply hadn’t been experienced before.

This perfect timing set them on the path to guaranteed success. They very quickly became one of the staple manufacturers of hot pickups, and remain so to this day. Any mention of active pickups, and chances are people imagine a set of EMGs.

The pairing of an EMG 81 & 85 (in the bridge/neck positions respectively) is as iconic as a set of Gibson PAFs or a set of Fender Strat single-coils from the ‘60s. Having said that, the EMG range now has plenty more on offer, including S or T-style single-coils, extended range pickups, P90s – all with their active technology to boot.

EMG Pickups - Andertons Music Co.

Why choose EMG pickups?

  • Familiar sound – you know how they’re going to sound before you even plug them in. Chunky compressed gloriousness that just makes you want to rip classic Metallica riffs (unless you go for single-coils!)
  • Highest output – on average, their range offers pretty much the highest output on the market. If you’re looking to supercharge your guitar with consistently intense levels of gain, look no further.
  • Instantly recognisable – if you’re a guitarist and you claim that aesthetics don’t affect your decisions, you’re lying to yourself. EMG pickups look super cool.
  • Used by top players – users and signature artists include James Hetfield, Jeff Loomis, Zakk Wylde and David Gilmour.

Popular EMG Pickups

Alternatives

As mentioned earlier, we picked these 3 pickup brands because it’s a common comparison to make. Guitarists who want to give their sound a turbo-boost often consider aftermarket pickups, and EMG/Bare Knuckle/Fishman are at the forefront of said turbo-boosting tech.

There are plenty more to choose from though. Here’s just a handful of popular pickup brands to choose from:

Conclusion

These three titans of the pickup market certainly cross over in places. Extended range pickups, modern djent-style tone – you get the idea. But hopefully by now you’re a little more aware of the primary differences, and perhaps a step closer to finding which brand is right for you.

Fishman’s Fluence range has turned the pickup game on its head, offering a hi-tech solution to noise, tonal consistency and sound versatility. Bare Knuckle fly the flag for the old-school, with handwired products that offer gutsy tone and the ability to hone in on a sound that’s 100% yours. EMG bring superior experience and a reputation that hasn’t budged in decades – if you want active, that’s your game.

Fancy some shopping? Check out our full range of electric guitar pickups and electronics here. And while you’re here, why not check out some more of our head to head content?

Sam Beattie
Sam Beattie
Sam is one of our content writers, as well as being our resident southpaw. When he's not busy being left-handed, he spends his time composing for music libraries and playing in a post-rock band. Sam plays a Mexican Telecaster and a Vigier Excalibur, and is never more than 5 feet away from his Electro-Harmonix POG.

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