Posted on Jul 12, 2011
As long as musicians have had the ability to turn up the volume knob on an amp, or technicians the option of slipping an op-amp into a compressor circuit, the music world has been in search of that elusive musical trait: infinite sustain. How to get it, how to keep it, and most importantly, how to use it.
Today, besides extremely loud playing (or switching to a bowed instrument or mastering circular breathing on a horn or sax), there are a few different options, mostly in effect pedals (see Pigtronix Philosopher King), but also a more organic one that can sit right in your axe. This would be the Fernandes Sustainer.
When you talk about playing at loud volumes and guitar-amp feedback, you're talking about the sound from the amp actually hitting the guitar strings, and, if loud enough, causing them to vibrate continuously and infinitely. Unfortunately, this can't happen at low volume.
So, what if you put/mounted/constructed an element into the guitar that could mimic these sound waves, but right where the strings are located? That could work. But where would you put it? Well, what's the closest electronic element near the ringing strings of a guitar? The pickup.
So, let's imagine a two pickup configuration at a minimum. We can replace the neck pickup with a type of hybrid pickup -- in one mode it functions as a normal pickup, and in a second mode activated by a switch, it ceases to "pick up" sound, but rather it creates sound. It projects magnetic pulses at the strings, simulating the actual feedback you'd get from an amp.
This sound is picked up by the bridge pickup (thus the need for a two-pickup config) and now you've got an infinite feedback loop. Infinite loops -- bad if you're writing the software for the next Facebook, but priceless in music. The results can be seen in the official Fernandes Sustainer video below.
Fernandes actually does the feedback one better by including a second toggle besides the initial sustainer on/off switch. The second switch dictates what kind of feedback to provide, which could be natural or harmonic. In harmonic mode, a circuit in the sustainer automatically creates the most common and pleasing overtone heard in this type of feedback, which is the natural 5th. In some models, this toggle is actually 3-way: natural, harmonic, or a mix of both (mix-mode).
Now all this is well and good, but how do we actually get this functionality into our setup. For this you have two choices: one is to buy a Fernandes Sustainer Kit, which can retrofit any neck pickup in your favorite solidbody guitar, but requires installation. To replace a single-coil, your only option is the Fernandes FSK-401 Sustainer Kit, which is the more upscale version. It can fit either single-coil or humbucker slots, and mix-mode feedback.
Alternatively, the Fernandes FSK-101 Sustainer Kit can easily replace any humbucker slot, but it does not support mix-mode feedback. As such, it's a bit cheaper. If either of these options work, or maybe you or your favorite guitar shop whiz has some tech chops, then you might want to check out installation manual.
Another less complicated, but less budget-friendly way to go is to get yourself a Sustainer-equipped Fernandes guitar. The Sustainer comes stock on their Elite and Pro models. Though the more expensive option, for the lower end Pros, the cost is only a few hundred more than the FSK-401 Sustainer Kit, but you get a great guitar and you don't have to worry about the hassle of the install.
Sustainer-equipped Fernandes Electric Guitar Models:
What you can do with all that sustain? Well, as the saying goes, that's a problem you hope to have, and something Fernandes owners and endorsers are pleasantly dealing with all the time.