Fishman’s Acoustic Matrix and Rare Earth pickups have long been popular for amplifying acoustic guitars. Not only are they often used on their own, but Fishman also offers versions of the pickups paired with miniature microphones inside the guitar. And some adventurous guitarists have used the Acoustic Matrix and Rare Earth as foundations for custom setups that involve additional pickups, sometimes made by other manufacturers and frequently involving soundboard transducers mounted to the inside of the top. Percussive fingerstyle players in particular have come to appreciate soundboard transducers as a way to amplify body taps, and Fishman has now responded to this trend by offering new packages that add a newly designed body sensor to the Acoustic Matrix or Rare Earth. We had a chance to check out the new PowerTap Earth and PowerTap Infinity (installed in a PRS Angelus SE-40 and a Guild F-150, respectively) in the Peghead Nation video studio, where we ran them through a Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge amp.
The main pickup of the PowerTap Earth is the Rare Earth Humbucker, which clamps into the guitar’s soundhole. It also has the blend-wheel familiar from the Rare Earth Mic Blend (check out our demo of that pickup here), which allows the body sensor to be added to the Rare Earth signal. The body sensor has a rectangular design, about 2.5 inches long and ⅝ of an inch wide, and is mounted to the bridge plate with included double-stick tape (Fishman recommends adding a couple of drops of superglue) and connected to the Rare Earth via a minijack. The package includes a template for achieving correct placement.
The PowerTap Infinity uses the same body sensor setup, but adds it to the best-selling Acoustic Matrix undersaddle pickup. The package includes controls for volume and tone (mounted in the bass side of the soundhole) and blend (mounted in the treble side of the soundhole) and an endpin-mounted preamp. The package is similar in appearance to Fishman’s Matrix Infinity Mic Blend (check out our demo of that system here).
Plugged into the Loudbox Mini Charge, both systems offered impressive sounds. As I expected, the PowerTap Earth had the big, warm low end and smooth attack the Rare Earth Humbucker is known for. Blending in the body sensor allowed taps on the guitar body to be amplified in a very controlled and musical way and gave the overall sound an additional dimension. The PowerTap Infinity had the more direct string sound undersaddle pickups are known for, resulting in a quick response and brighter attack. Again, blending in the body sensor added dimension, and with its volume and tone controls, the PowerTap Infinity provided more onboard tone-shaping options than the PowerTap Earth. Both systems can be used in mono with a standard guitar cable or in stereo for individual control of each signal in a separate amp or mixer channel (a Y-cable is included).
By adding a soundboard transducer to its two most popular pickups, Fishman is now providing easy-to-use packages for players who would otherwise have to rig up their own multi-pickup solutions. Both setups deliver the promised ability to capture percussive playing techniques and sonically enhance the main pickups. Anyone looking for a steel-string flattop pickup system that goes beyond the basics should check them out.
SPECS PowerTap Earth: Multi-sourcepickup and preamp system for steel-string flattop guitars. Rare Earth Humbucker magnetic pickup and bridge plate–mounted body sensor. Blend control. Mono or stereo operation. Powered by two 1.5-volt miniature batteries. Designed and engineered in the USA, assembled in China. $299.95 street. Fishman.com
SPECS PowerTap Infinity: Multi-sourcepickup and preamp system for steel-string flattop guitars. Acoustic Matrix undersaddle pickup and bridge plate-mounted body sensor. Endpin-mounted preamp with solderless connections. Soundhole-mounted controls for volume, tone (mid-scoop), and mic blend. Voicing switch with flat and bass-boost positions. Mono or stereo operation. Low-battery LED indicator. Powered by nine-volt battery. Pickup available in wide, narrow, and split-saddle formats. Designed and engineered in the USA, assembled in China. $299.95 street. Fishman.com