Fernandes Sustainer FSK-401 review
Review – Jahloon, July 2004
Purchased: Music123.com $199.99 (shipping & duty to UK $76.17)
The Fernandes Sustainer promises the Holy Grail in sustain: Infinite Sustain! It is a hardware refit, unless fitted to a guitar at point of manufacture. For a full run down of the trials and tribulations of fitting this device, see our article Fitting the Fernandes Sustainer.
How it works
Sustainer driver pickup (neck position)
The guitar has a special driver pickup in the neck position. The bridge pickup is used to pick up the normal string sounds and these are processed and sent to the driver pickup to provide a controlled feedback and keep the strings vibrating.
The sustainer pickup can be see in in the neck position, new humbucker (supplied with kit) in the bridge position, with control switches to the left of the pickup selector.
Modes of operation
Off – Our three pickup guitar works as normal, the driver pickup works as a single pole neck pickup, the old middle pickup works as standard and the new bridge humbucker from Fernandes is quite respectable.
Standard mode – The sustainer provides sustain for any note played.
Harmonic mode – Gives you screaming 5th harmonics of the note being played.
Mixed mode – This mixes the standard and harmonic modes.
On / Off switch – Does what it says it does, but you do need a jack plugged into the guitar socket, to connect the power from the internal battery.
Toggle switch – Minature three position switch, gives Standard and Harmonic modes and a mix of these in the middle position.
Sustainer Intensity – In addition to the Main volume and Tone controls the Intensity control adjusts the sustain applied to the strings via the driver pickup. In the zero position there is no sustain, through to maximum sustain when fully clockwise. It is notched at mid position.
How does it play?
It plays pretty very well, and does what it says it does, but lets split that down into actual operation.
Playing single notes – Depending on the Intensity control setting, single note playing will result in the sort of feedback operation you would expect. Same as if you had a big amp behind you, the string in question will vibrate at its personal maximum. So in a way there is no subtlety there, its like an on/off thing. What would be really neat would be to have the intensity control on a footpedal, but of course you could compromise with a volume pedal.
Harmonic mode – Now this is quite fun. The manual states that harmonic type feedback can only be done with amps at extreme volumes, I would contest that, with a bit of skill you can coax harmonics out at normal volumes. The difference with the sustainer is you dont need no skill, the harmonics just happen. Once more you can start off with a normally sustained note, flick the harmonic switch and it just screams in. You can even do this unconnected to an amp, which is very wierd. Like the guitar was alive or something.
Playing chords – You will need to balance the strings out with the pickup pole pieces and pickup height to get the response even across all strings. I worked on changing some string thicknesses to better balance chords. There is a tendency for the chord to loose one or two strings if left ringing for some time. But even so I was quite surprised just how well the sustainer handled chords.
MIDI – Driving it on a MIDI based guitar is great, no longer are you faced with long notes dropping out when the volume decays beyond the MIDI convertor’s capabilities.
Negatives – You have to be careful to dampen any strings that you don’t want to hear. You will be able to do this already if you have played a semi with a big amp. Anything left floating will soon be joining in with everything else you are playing.
At the end of the day this is an effect, albeit a very good one. You really do need real time operation of that intensity control, but you can always get a degree of subtlety by flicking the control switches in and out.
Technique can also play a big part in using the sustainer. If the intensity control is backed off to about a third, strings can be coaxed into sustaining. Listen to the short track for an example of teasing sound gently out of the strings:
Theremin Boy – Fretless Baritone Guitar with Sustainer (file size 64 Kb .wma)
Like any effect, it has its uses and certainly fits the bill in some areas. Its a bit like a motorised push bike, one minute you are pedalling uphill exhausted, and then you flick the switch and the engine kicks in and pulls you away at speed. (In this anology a motorbike would be a Marshall stack set to 11). Personally I think I prefer the motorbike, but in these days of bedroom studios, a bicycle will have to do.