The EBow is a portable device that provides endless string sustain and has been used on many iconic records by artists including The Blue Öyster Cult, U2, Big Country, Andrew Gold and Radiohead. The EBow uses “direct string synthesis” and in many cases the sounds produced resemble those of a monophonic synthesizer.
However, there are challenges with the EBow, and one of them is string crossing. It takes practice to jump evenly from string to string, as the bow must be placed with precision. Also, the note doesn’t sound immediately, so it’s best to start a line by hammering the first note with the fretting hand. To swell in (and out) of a note, shoot the EBow from a position where the noise is building quietly, to the “sweet spot” where it should flourish beautifully.
Another dynamic technique is to hold the device in the usual position above the string, but just in contact with the guide grooves on either side, then bring it closer to the strings where the sound is loudest. When playing legato with the EBow, you don’t have to pull and hammer hard enough to make the string sound, because the EBow sounds the note for you.
The EBow has a “normal” and “harmonic” mode. The latter usually has the octave included but none of the settings are 100% reliable – often the normal setting will go into the octave harmonics, like the second harmonic on a humbucker electric guitar into a powerful amp. You can also lower the volume and treble as the EBow boosts your guitar signal dramatically.
When it comes to vibrato, many players prefer more of a classical guitarist’s approach – pulling on the string line so the note becomes crisper and flatter.
Where EBow comes into its own is in the recording studio. For a brilliant example of how to use it, Google song Andrew Gold You always linger, to hear him weave intricate EBow harmonies throughout this beautiful ballad. It might just tempt you to buy one. Good luck!
Get the tone
Amp Settings: Gain 7, Bass 6, Middle 4, Treble 4, Reverb 5
One of the selling points of the EBow is that it’s dynamic, so you don’t want to iron out the nuances. Transform your guitar amp turn it down a bit from where you normally set it and turn your guitar tone down a bit – the EBow boosts both volume and treble. The unit’s idiosyncrasies take time to get used to, but be patient, it’s a terrific sound that can bring a track to life.
Example 1. Note swells
Hear how raising the bow from the strings and quickly lowering it to the optimal point for note projection adds a puffy articulation to the note.
Example 2. Playing a Scale
Playing along a string normally means using a combination of slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, but it’s much easier than crossing strings with the EBow.
Example 3. Neo-classical line based in E harmonic minor
You will need to carefully prepare where to use the slides here to make the notes flow smoothly. The EBow helps by keeping the note ringing.
Example 4. Pulls to an open rope
This is a scary sounding line that mixes wider intervals and pull-offs to the open second string. Again, carefully prepare the blades.
Example 5. Imitating a Line Played Conventionally
Note the sweep on the first three strings at the start! This approach requires a distorted tone (possibly a bit of compression too).
Example 6. Channel scan
It’s delicate! Use the EBow to lightly sweep the strings. It’s really hard to reduce the noise level, but do your best to keep it clean.