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Tech Talk

Decoding the Fender/Fishman Preamp

How did Fender redesign this key addition to the Paramount Series?

Whether you’re in the recording studio, chilling on the beach or just sitting by yourself on the couch-there's nothing like the feeling of playing an acoustic guitar.

But there are also times when less-than-ideal conditions can drown out that beautiful acoustic sound.

Maybe it’s the fact that you’re performing with a full band? Perhaps you’re worried about feedback from a finicky microphone? Or maybe you just want a little extra “oomph”?

That’s why Fender teamed with the pickup pioneers at Fishman to co-design special preamps to take the new Paramount Series to the next level.

Having an acoustic/electric guitar gives the player the best of both worlds: The ability to get the most out of the instrument no matter the situation, opening up more avenues of creativity.

The process began back in the summer of 2014, when Fender reached out to Fishman regarding a collaboration on the Paramount Series.

The Fender acoustic team had some ideas of what they wanted as far as the design, and Fishman brought 35 years of preamp expertise to the table.

“They shared with us the idea that they wanted to do a new series of acoustic guitars, which of course would have a tremendous amount of refinement and detail in the playability and aesthetics,” said Fishman Vice President of OEM Sales Robert Ketch. “They also wanted electronics on the guitars. That’s where the project began.”

One thing that initially set the PM preamp apart from the rest is the fact that it uses Fender-designed knobs to control the bass, master volume and treble instead of the sliders typically found on acoustic preamps.

Another is how each preamp is specifically tuned to maximize the performance of the individual shapes of the Paramount Series, namely the PM-1 Dreadnought, the PM-2 Parlor and the PM-3 Triple-0.

Fender Engineer Tim Shaw and Director of Research and Development Kevin Kroeger actually flew out to Fishman headquarters in Andover, Mass. to test the three body styles and dial in the preamp frequency response ranges.Staves_Fender02

“A Dreadnought, a Parlor guitar and an orchestra-size model all have very different frequency response ranges and resonances in them acoustically,” said Ketch. “We did some very critical listening to optimize the tone controls on the three variations in the system. That’s the way we got there--getting everyone in the same room together, all agreeing what the best implementation for those body sizes were.

“We froze that into the circuit design in each of the systems. Even though they all look the same, the systems themselves are very, very different from an equalization standpoint.”

There were three areas that required the most attention. First was choosing the center frequency for the bass and treble controls that would be the most effective for each instrument. Second, deciding on the amount of boost and cut for those controls. Lastly, it was controlling the bass extension to ensure that the sound wouldn’t get too muddy while retaining the necessary richness.

The result was a set of preamps that authentically enhance the acoustic capabilities of each Paramount guitar.

“It was really about optimization, making sure the EQs were ideal,” Ketch said. “I think that it creates a whole new range of opportunities to use the instruments.

“The guitars themselves acoustically are really fine guitars that underwent a lot of iterations. Plugged in, these guitars sound fantastic.”