What Is a Guitar EBow?


Have you ever wondered how some guitar players seem to have infinite sustain at their disposal? Guitar EBow might be the answer to this question. What is an EBow, you ask?

An EBow is a hand-held, battery-powered electronic device that uses a feedback loop to create a magnetic field, causing a single string to vibrate when placed over a magnetic steel string. The result is a unique sound similar to using a bow on a string. 

Various companies have introduced string drivers for guitars and bass since the original EBow launched, including monophonic (single string) and polyphonic (multiple strings) drivers. They’re also known as “Resonators” and “Sustainers,” with monophonic being the most common type.

Sidenote: Resonators are not Sustainers. Feedback “Sustainers” operate on the signal feedback principle and produce the same harmonic sustain effect as amplifier feedback. Resonators do not use feedback and just cause the string to vibrate.

While it might seem like just another guitar trinket, an EBow is an excellent way to mix things up. This is why this article is dedicated to thoroughly explaining how guitar EBow works.

Ebow Electric Guitar

How Does Guitar EBow Work?

First, I want you all to know that most of this information comes from the creators of the EBow, and can be found on their website here. The rest of it comes from my own experience.

So, How Does the EBow Work?

The Ebow has an input coil that creates an electrical current resulting from being placed over a vibrating string. The signal is fed through an opamp and then an output coil which produces a magnetic field, causing the string to keep resonating at the same frequency.

The EBow is patented in the United States and can be downloaded quickly from Google here. The patent describes how the internal circuitry of the EBow works.

A nine-volt battery powers the device. The EBow is held in the player’s picking hand, while the change in sound is achieved by choosing different modes or changing the position.

If you want to get into the internals of the EBow, here’s a video for you:

The EBow device has a few definitions that we’ll need to go through:

  • Drive Channel: This area of EBow sits over the string that we want to use. The device is never in direct contact with the string it’s driving. The string in play will be illuminated with a blue light.
  • Guide Grooves: Guide Grooves are located on both sides of the Drive Channel, and they’re used as a resting spot for the EBow device. This is the only point of contact between the (unplayed) strings and the EBow.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at how to use the EBow:

String Activation

As soon as the EBow is in position, the string located under the Drive Channel should start vibrating. To increase the vibration speed, apply pressure to the EBow.

Moving the device across the strings activates individual strings as they move from the Guide Grooves to the Drive Channel position on the EBow.

Volume, Sound, and Drive Control

The main thing that controls the volume and tone of your EBow is the way you position the device. To control the drive, all you need to do is bring the EBow closer to the strings.

Bring the EBow closer or further away from the pickup for volume control. The closer the device is to this pickup, the louder the tone.

Here are some of the movements and the effects they have on the sound produced by the EBow:

  • Gliding – Gliding up and down the string in the Drive Channel causes bowing effects.
  • Pressing – Pressing harder on the EBow brings the Drive Channel closer to the affected string, which leads to an increase in the drive.
  • Tilting – Tilting the device to one side will decrease the drive, leading to a cleaner tone. This movement is helpful when you’re trying to recreate bowing movements with lower strings.
  • Rocking – Rocking the front end of the EBow moves the drive field further from the strings, mellowing the overall sound. Rocking the other end of the device reduces gain.
  • Spiccato – To recreate the effect of a bouncing violin bow, you can slap the EBow against the Support Strings. Using your left hand, you can mute the strings to create an even cleaner spiccato sound. This technique only works with open strings. 

Finding the Hot Spot

EBow also has what they call the Hot Spot. You can find it by starting around two inches away from the neck pickup and gliding over the pickup until you find the loudest spot. Humbucker pickups will have two Hot Spots, since they have two coils.

For more playing techniques, check out EBow’s Player’s Guide, found here.

What Is The Difference Between EBow and EBow Plus?

The EBow Plus is the fourth-generation model of the EBow, and it has a cool blue LED and a new harmonic mode.

There is a switch on the EBow plus to select between standard mode and harmonic mode.

For the regular EBow sound, flip the switch up (toward the low strings) when using the basic grip with an EBow. To make a high harmonic sound, flip the switch down (toward the higher strings).

The strings will vibrate at the open frequency in the regular or standard mode, and the harmonic mode causes the string to vibrate with a variety of higher harmonics.

A few things to note:

  1. In the harmonic mode, the gliding technique creates a wah effect
  2. In the harmonic mode, the EBow adds harmonics to every note you play
  3. Switch to the harmonic mode to extend the sustained range

Who Uses EBow?

Some guitar players might be wondering how good the EBow is. One good argument in favor of the EBow is to look at the artists who have used it. And that is a long list. Here are a few notable names, but a complete list can be found on the EBow website here.

  • Duran Duran
  • David Bowie
  • Pink Floyd
  • Queen
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Tom Petty
  • Van Halen
  • U2

Thousands of guitar players around the world also use the EBow. Everyone who wishes to have fun with their instrument can get one of these devices, as they’re reasonably affordable, at around $100.

Does EBow Work on Acoustic Guitars?

We know that EBow works great for electric guitars, but does the EBow work with acoustic guitars?

The EBow works on acoustic guitars, as long as the strings on the instrument contain magnetic metals, such as steel strings. The Ebow will not work on acoustic guitars that use bronze or nylon strings, which are not magnetic. 

Most acoustic guitars have bronze strings on them. Typically, the coiled strings are bronze, and the strings that are not coiled (The “B” and “High-E” strings) will be steel. That means the EBow will only work on the two high strings unless you specifically install all steel strings on your acoustic.

The EBow uses magnetic fields, so a guitar doesn’t need to have pickups for an EBow to work on it, albeit the sound will be much quieter.

Some acoustic guitars have a magnetic pickup in the soundhole. In that case, your EBow should work the same as it would on an electric guitar.

Another option is to install a soundhole pickup.

However, you can expect some setbacks when using EBow on an acoustic guitar:

  • Slower string activation
  • Increased string decay
  • Quieter sound

The acoustic has thicker strings, so it takes longer to make them start vibrating, and when you remove the EBow, the strings stop vibrating faster. Since the sound is not amplified, it will be quieter.

Without a pickup, you will also be missing out on the HotSpot feature when using the EBow on an acoustic guitar, which means no bowing strokes or spiccato techniques. Still, EBow can produce a warm, clean, and natural string tone on acoustic guitars.

Here’s a well-done video related to the topic:

Should I Get an EBow?

You should get an EBow if you’re looking for a new way to have fun with your instrument. Although it can take some time to learn how to control the device properly, EBow is an excellent way to produce effects that can’t be made using traditional picking techniques. 

I’d say the EBow is for artists who like to experiment and find new sounds. The bands listed earlier are famous artists who did just that. The Ebow takes a little patience, but it can definitely add something unique to your sound.

Conclusion

Around since the 1970s, the EBow has become a staple that can be heard in a lot of pop, rock, country, and even metal bands’ albums. The latest fourth-gen addition to the EBow family is a very popular addition since it adds harmonics.

Guitar EBow is a handy tool that can provide hours of fun and unlock many new sounds. If you’re after a unique tone that’ll set you apart from other guitarists, get yourself an EBow Plus.

Kit

My name is Kit. I am a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer and music teacher. I have toured around the world, taught thousands of lessons, produced hundreds of tracks, self-released an album and EP, and written hundreds of songs.

Recent Posts