Fishman’s popular line of Rare Earth soundhole pickups have been used by guitarists of all stripes for many years. Earlier this year, the company announced that it had come up with a new version of the top-of-the-line “Blend” version of the line, which includes a new bass roll-off switch for controlling the microphone’s low-end and a couple of design tweaks, called the Rare Earth Mic Blend. I had a chance to install the new pickup in my 1994 Taylor 712c and check it out through a Fishman Loudbox Mini amplifier.
Like earlier versions of the Rare Earth Blend, the new pickup combines a magnetic soundhole pickup and an internal microphone. The pickup is similar to Fishman’s standard Rare Earth Humbucking pickup, with the same narrow-profile housing and a set of powerful neodymium magnets. The unit is mounted in the soundhole with a pair of cork-padded clamps and phillips-head screws. The Rare Earth Mic Blend’s microphone is a miniature cardioid design attached to the pickup housing with a flexible gooseneck. This gooseneck is shorter and slightly stiffer than it was on earlier versions of the pickup, making it easier to position the mic and avoid contact with the guitar’s body. In addition, the adjustment wheel used to mix the pickup and and microphone signal is now slightly larger and easier to reach. The new bass roll-off switch sits on the side of the pickup housing and can be reached while the pickup is installed. The Rare Earth Mic Blend is powered by a pair of miniature button-style batteries mounted to the bottom of the housing.
One of the great things about the Rare Earth line of pickups is that they can be installed temporarily, without modifications to the instrument. When used in this way, the pickup’s cable is about six feet long, so that it can hang out of the soundhole before connecting to a standard ¼-inch guitar cable by way of its female jack (which can be turned into an endpin jack if permanent installation is desired).
Like its predecessors, the Rare Earth Mic Blend does a wonderful job at combining the rich low-end, great sustain, and warm attack of a magnetic pickup with the “air,” high-end frequency response, and ability to amplify percussive effects on the guitar’s body. I found that a 50/50 blend between pickup and mic produced a full and very natural sound, though exact settings will depend on the particular guitar and amplification setup used. The new bass roll-off switch was subtle in its functionality, but it did audibly affect the microphone’s bass response (more bass in the lower position, less bass when set to the upper position), and it should allow guitarists to use more of the microphone signal in a high-volume setting.
Overall, the Rare Earth Mic Blend is an excellent choice for anyone looking to amplify a steel-string flattop. The option of temporary installation even allows guitarists to move the same pickup between multiple guitars, and the unit’s tonal flexibility makes it suitable for various playing styles, performance settings, and personal preferences.
SPECS: Magnetic soundhole pickup with built-in microphone. Active humbucking design. Neodymium magnets. Gooseneck-mounted miniature cardioid microphone. Pickup/mic blend control. Microphone bass extension roll-off switch. Mono or stereo operation. Powered by two 1.5-volt miniature batteries. Designed and engineered in the USA, assembled in China. $379.99 list/$289.95 street. fishman.com