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What is an EBow?

An EBow is a hand-held, battery-powered device that allows guitarists to produce a magnetic field that vibrates strings, creating a haunting, sustained tone without plucking. This innovative tool unlocks new dimensions of sound, from violin-like swells to infinite sustain, offering musicians a palette of sonic possibilities. Curious about how the EBow can transform your guitar playing? Let's dive deeper.
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

With guitarists constantly redefining their sound by experimenting with anything their hands on, it is not difficult to hear new and odd noises coming from standard guitar rigs these days. But one innovation stands out from the rest, with a consistent sound, easy-to-use design, and variety of options. The EBow – short for Electronic Bow or Energy Bow -- hit the scene in the late sixties and early seventies and has since provided guitarists with an array of sounds otherwise impossible to produce from an electric guitar.

The EBow is a handheld unit that produces an electromagnetic field – billed Direct String Synthesis by the company -- to vibrate the guitar strings rather than the typical method of producing sound by plucking the string. The subsequent sound resembles that of a bow striding across the string, but with more of an electronic feel. The EBow allows the guitar player to produce infinite sustain as well as an array of sounds that mimic violins, flutes, horns, and other various instruments. The newer models include a second mode that produces a harmonic of the note being played, adding even more versatility to the battery-powered EBow.

An EBow can be used to vibrate guitar strings in a unique way.
An EBow can be used to vibrate guitar strings in a unique way.

The EBow can also be used to produce a reverse-tape sound, and for more skilled players, it can be used to produce unique-sounding arpeggios by running the EBow across the strings. The magnetic field produces a controlled feedback, which adds a bit of an x-factor to using the EBow: it is not uncommon to find an EBow producing different sounds depending on who is playing it. This adds to the EBow’s versatility and allows for personalized playing sounds.

Greg Heet designed the earliest unit in 1969 and the first hand-held unit in 1974. The EBow appeared on numerous albums throughout the seventies and through the decades up until today and has become a highly sought-after piece of equipment for many guitar players. The EBow can be used with acoustic guitars as well, but it tends to be a more difficult process. Because the pickups of an electric guitar are more responsive than methods used on an acoustic guitar, the sound becomes richer and louder when played on an electric guitar. The EBow’s volume can be adjusted by playing closer to the pickup for louder sound and farther away from it for a softer sound. Volume can also be adjusted by lifting the EBow away from the strings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an EBow and how does it work?

An EBow is a hand-held, battery-powered electronic device for playing the electric guitar. It uses a magnetic field to vibrate a string indefinitely, creating a sustained, singing tone similar to that of a bowed instrument. The EBow is held over the string, and its internal electronics generate an electromagnetic feedback loop with the guitar's pickup, causing the string to resonate continuously without being plucked or strummed.

Can the EBow be used on acoustic guitars or other stringed instruments?

The EBow is primarily designed for use with electric guitars due to their magnetic pickups. However, it can also be used on steel-string acoustic guitars equipped with a magnetic pickup. Its effectiveness on other stringed instruments depends on the presence of compatible pickups and the ability of the instrument's strings to respond to the magnetic drive generated by the EBow.

What types of sounds can you create with an EBow?

With an EBow, you can produce a wide range of sounds, from long, sustained notes and harmonics to dynamic swells and fades. It allows for violin-like legato phrases, flute-like tones, and even feedback-like effects at higher volume levels. The player can manipulate the EBow's position over the string and adjust their playing technique to create different textures and tonal variations.

Is the EBow difficult to learn how to use?

While the basic operation of the EBow is straightforward, mastering its use to create controlled and expressive music can take practice. Beginners may find it challenging to maintain a steady hand position and control the dynamics of the sound. However, with time and experimentation, players can develop the skill to integrate the EBow into their playing style effectively.

Where can I purchase an EBow and what is the typical cost?

The EBow is available at most music stores that sell guitar accessories, as well as through various online retailers. The price of an EBow typically ranges from $80 to $100, depending on the retailer and any additional accessories included, such as a carrying case or instructional materials. Always ensure you are purchasing from a reputable source to guarantee the authenticity and quality of the product.

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Discussion Comments

bigblind

For an absolutely massive sound, try using an E-Bow on an electric guitar set to the bass pickup (as well as amp bass all the way up), lots of reverb, delay, and distortion. Experimentation is always a good idea with the E-Bow, but these settings are a good launch point. Even on a small amp, the sound you can get with these settings will likely shock you with its powerful growl.

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    • An EBow can be used to vibrate guitar strings in a unique way.
      By: schankz
      An EBow can be used to vibrate guitar strings in a unique way.