Polyphonic Guitar: Fernandes Sustainer P/U


The perception of dynamic trajectories in live music performance has become of immediate importance since the conception of the signalsundertests project [1]. The relatively short sustain of plucked notes on an electric guitar can present limited scope in multiple speaker array performances [2]. One method of remediation has been to employ “live looping” techniques [3] and other experiments with DSP.  However, at this early stage of the project, perhaps DSP is not an appropriate method to encourage sustain beyond the natural resonance of the electric guitar. A sustain pickup seems to be the most heuristic method for the time being.

The Fernandes Sustainer [4] and the Sustainiac Stealth Plus [5] are the two pickups that seem the most available and suitable. 

Alan Hoover at Maniac Music explains the similarities between the two models; “The Sustainiac Stealth Plus and the Fernandes sustainer are both Electromagnetic sustainers for electric guitar.  Both take the bridge pickup signal, amplify and process it, and then apply this amplified/processed bridge pickup signal to the electromagnetic driver transducer (“driver” for short).  The driver then transmits a pulsating magnetic field in response to the amplified bridge pickup signal.  This pulsating magnetic field causes the string vibrations of the guitar to be sustained as long as you hold the note.  Simple hand-muting stops the sustain.  Both systems have different “harmonic modes”.  In other words, we do other electronic processing which forces the strings to vibrate differently, in such a way as to produce harmonics, kind of like a very loud amplifier does (only much more forcefully and musically, and also predictably).  It is a very cool sound for many types of music. This is where the similarity stops.” Alan Hoover at Maniac Music explains the differences between the two models; “Our patented circuit designs allow you to use common push-pull controls which simply replace your existing guitar controls, in most cases without having to drill new holes in your guitar body.  Installation of the Sustainiac circuit into most guitars can be done without having to route a new (large) cavity into the guitar.  With the Fernandes, you will likely have to do a substantial route into the back of your guitar in order to fit it in. These are the main differences.” While the Sustainiac seems to be tidier in terms of specification, the  Fernandes sustainer is a little more affordable and it just so happens that I have a luthier who I trust to cut a new cavity in my guitar. Also, I have been trying to shift a little of the weight of the body since it is made of ash and it is quite heavy.  I have included a short overview of the installation process below. 

A new cavity had to be cut to fit the Fernandes sustainer circuit board.


The pickup system needed to be wired to the existing pots, the three way pickup selector, and the existing jack socket. The cavity was grounded with aluminum foil in an attempt to reduce any noise that was present. 

Two toggle switches are present on the board to switch between the two harmonic sustainer modes and to switch the pickup on and off.  These are located under the bridge of the guitar.

The pickup works relatively well and helps to further develop performance techniques in multiple speaker array based live performances. However, I am interested to see if Maniac Music will develop the polyphonic sustainer pickup they have mentioned here. [6] A short audio sample is available below.

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[1] signalsundertests. (2009) Myspace. http://www.myspace.com/signalsundertests. Accessed on 23.07.09.

[2] Bates, E. (2008) Adapting Polyphonic Pickup Technology for Spatial Music Performance. ICMC, http://www.endabates.net. Accessed on 23.07.09.

[3] Looper’s Delight. (2006) Looping Tools. http://www.loopersdelight.com/tools/tools.html. Accessed on 23.07.09

[4] Fernandes Guitars. (2009) Fernandes Sustainer. http://www.fernandesguitars.com/sustainer.html. Accessed on 23.07.09.

[5] Maniac Music. (2009) Sustainiac Stealth Pro. http://www.sustainiac.com/st-pro.htm. Accessed on 23.07.09.

[6] Maniac Music. (2009) Hexaphonic Model. http://www.sustainiac.com/st-pro.htm. Accessed on 23.07.09.

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