Music product innovator Larry Fishman is well-acknowledged for his smart engineering practices and widely valued inventions that have led Fishman to becoming the leading original equipment manufacturer (OEM) supplier of amplification products to over 100 instrument makers around the world, including Fender, C.F. Martin, Epiphone, Gibson, ESP, Schecter, Ibanez, Charvel, Cort, Jackson, and Guild. The impetus for Larry’s creativity and pursuit of solving problems common to many musicians has always been his love of music.
Growing up in upstate New York and North Carolina, Larry Fishman became involved in music by playing cello in elementary school. Eventually he went on to North Carolina State where he graduated (1970) with a degree in mechanical engineering. Soon after graduating, Larry made his way to Boston for work.
Living in Cambridge and working as a mechanical engineer for the U.S. Department of Transportation (working on high-speed trains), Larry Fishman also attended Berklee College of Music, working on a composition degree. His Berklee studies led to gigs throughout New England with various pit orchestras and jazz bands and he remained involved in the Boston music scene for many years.
During that time in the mid 70’s, jazz was becoming more electronic and, like all acoustic bass players of the time, Larry was having trouble amplifying his acoustic bass to a volume that could be heard over electric pianos and guitars. His bandmates were asking him to change to electric bass, which he didn’t really want to do.
Refusing to give up his acoustic bass for an electric equivalent, he started working on a pickup system for his bass. Using an approach that would soon become the foundation of the company that bears his name, Larry analyzed every pickup device available at the time until he came up with an acoustic bass pickup that finally, as he puts it, “took it to the next level.” Soon, the word was out.
“So, I went on a pursuit of bass pickups and bought one of everything that was available at the time. None of them were very good, and that started me on a 2 ½ year process to develop a bass pickup. My prototypes were tested weekly at a jazz gig we had at The Plough and Stars in Cambridge. I finally developed a piezoelectric pickup that I was very happy with.
Other bass players in town were asking me if I would make them pickups, and it developed into a cottage industry. Soon thereafter, a manufacturer’s rep named Eli Rapkin contacted me saying he could sell them to stores. It was quite accidental, but the extra cash was great since jazz bass players didn’t make a lot. I started getting a reputation as someone who knew what was going on with acoustic instrument amplification. I then developed some violin pickups for an electric violin maker in Vermont.”
Although Larry Fishman fully intended to be a musician, by 1981, the instant success of his first prototype pickup with acoustic bassists in the Boston area quickly grew into a full-time business that now featured an expanding range of acoustic pickups and accessory products. After securing an initial order to supply OEM pickups for Guild acoustic guitars (1983) in Westerly, RI, Fishman went on to design and build the popular Thin Line pickup for C.F. Martin Guitars in 1985.
That first large Martin order positioned the company to acquire its first manufacturing space in Woburn, Massachusetts, (5,000 square feet that “looked like the Grand Canyon” according to Fishman) and increased its personnel. The Martin Thin Line pickup launched Fishman Transducers as a solid company with an extensive line of pickups that includes pickups and supporting electronics for an entire family of instruments including resophonic guitars, classical guitars, banjos, mandolins, violins, cellos, basses, etc. As Larry describes it, “virtually anything with strings on it is our specialty.”
“Eventually, with the advent of programs like MTV Unplugged and the huge growth in acoustic music, we realized acoustic musicians didn’t want to be tethered to a microphone. They wanted freedom of movement on stage and the ability to play louder which eventually brought the acoustic guitar out of the living room and small clubs and onto the world stage. Our contribution to music is to make the acoustic instrument equal to their electric counterparts and viable in larger venues.”
By 1993, Fishman outgrew the space in Woburn and moved to Wilmington, MA, initially occupying less than one-quarter of the single-story industrial building (7,500 sq. ft.) before expanding to fill the entire facility (35,316 sq. ft)
Fifteen years later, the company once again relocated to a larger facility (38,000 sq. ft.) in Andover, MA.
For much of the company’s history, the Fishman name was synonymous with acoustic amplification. Then, in 2014, Fishman introduced Fluence Multi-Voice Pickups for electric guitars, which represent the first real re-imagining of electric guitar pickup systems in over 80-years. A new, analog, system-wide approach to delivering great “idealized” guitar sound, each Fluence pickup features two complementary voices that are quiet, free from hum and other issues that plagued electric guitar pickups from the past.
Larry Fishman sums it up this way, “I have been very fortunate to realize early on, that creativity and expression take many forms. My bass and my CAD design system are really just different media, no different than switching between painting and sculpture.”
In 2016, Fishman expanded to a new and larger 57,809 sq. ft. location in Andover, where all its products are designed and, to this day, many are manufactured. The company now employs over 110 people, and their products are sold in over 40 countries.
The company’s diverse, category-leading product line includes the industry-standard Matrix Infinity pickup system and Loudbox amplifiers, the world’s best-selling acoustic amplifier line. Fishman’s Aura Acoustic Imaging technology has become the benchmark of acoustic sound and is used by many of the world’s top players.
With over 40 patents, engineer/musician Larry Fishman continues to combine science and art with the intention of delivering the next generation of groundbreaking innovation and product designs – for all musicians, not just acoustic players.
Some notable artists from New England who use Fishman products are Matt Scannell (Vertical Horizon), James Taylor, Aerosmith, Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), John Mayer, Aaron Lewis, Dropkick Murphys, Buffalo Tom, Hutch Hutchinson (bassist for Bonnie Raitt), Jonathan Edwards, Ellis Paul, Marc Erelli, Peter Mulvey, Chris Smither, Kris Delmhorst, Jeff Foucault, Will Dailey, Bridget Kearny (bassist for Lake Street Dive), Jeff Pevar, Killswitch Engage, and Marc Copely.
(by Chris DeMaria)