Things You'll Need
- Electric guitar
- Amplifier, preferably tube-based for the warmest "violin" sound
- EBow device, or the newer PlusEBow
- Instrument cable
Many guitar players dream of the infinite sustain and warm sound of the violin, while still playing electric on their instrument of choice. There is a little-known solution to this problem that lets you make a guitar sound like a violin, in the form of a handy music device called the EBow. The EBow has been around since the 1960s, and the most recent version has been perfected to the point that a guitar can sound like a violin, or even some strange space machine. Here's how to get that infinite sustain that makes your guitar sound like a violin.
Learn the way the EBow works before attempting to use it to make violin tones (or other long-sustain techniques) on your guitar. The EBow projects a small electric field that vibrates your guitar's strings such that the magnetic pickups can pick up the vibrations, just as if you were playing with a pick. The EBow is used by holding it between your thumb and forefinger, like a pick, and bringing it very close to the strings in the spot adjacent to the pickups.
Pick up an EBow or PlusEbow off the Internet or at a music shop. Going to Guitar Center or other music stores will give you a chance to try the EBow in person, but know that this is a very hard-to-find item. It is likely they will be out of stock, or no longer receiving shipments. If you have made the decision that making your guitar sound like a violin and having great sustain is worth around $100 to you, make the jump and buy a PlusEbow off the net. The difference between models lies in the fact that the PlusEbow has a more finely tuned field and is easier to get a good tone from.
Experiment with different ways to use your Ebow or PlusEbow. Making a guitar sound like a violin is only the beginning of what this device can do, but if the violin sound is what you are going for, try dialing in some light reverb when using the EBow.
Hold the EBow right above the strings at the closest point to your electric guitar's pickup. If you are using a Strat, try the bridge pickup for a brighter sound. If you are using a guitar with dual humbucking pickups and want your guitar to make a nice, warm string tone, try positioning the EBow or PlusEbow directly between the pickups.
Place the EBow directly above the strings, but do not touch them! This is not a big, expensive electronic guitar pick. Trying to hit or pluck the strings with the EBow will just give feedback and teeth-gnashing sounds that will probably get you kicked out of your band. That sweet spot that produces a good violin sustain on your electric guitar is a very difficult thing to grasp in the first place, let alone master.
Practice placing the EBow or PlusEBow at different spots along your guitar's neck, even far down on the fretboard. You will come up with all kinds of neat harmonics and ways of using the EBow's electronic field to react with your strings by placing it directly above the strings in different spaces.
Listen to recordings of artists who use the EBow. In rock, the Alice in Chains' song "Heaven Beside You" uses EBow on its signature riff. The bass player from Sigur Ros makes extensive use of the EBow to form an "electric string bass" tone on his instrument. Even Metallica throws in some EBow on "Unforgiven." This musician's tool is unlike any other, and from making violin sounds on your guitar to any number of other uses, the EBow is worth the price of admission.
Try picking up an EBow or PlusEbow from eBay. You can get a discount, and this is one device that is unlikely to fail, so buying used shouldn't be a problem.
Do not touch the EBow to your guitar's strings! Unless you like making experimental noise music that will hurt your listener's ears on purpose, this is not the way to go. It seems counterintuitive, but just don't do it. Please.
Jesse Sears is a Los Angeles-based journalist and photographer. He has worked as a professional freelance writer since 2008. Sears has been published in numerous traditional and online media ventures including "The Daily Sundial," "The Pasadena Courier," RSportsCars.com and others. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge.