The “EBow” is a small handheld device that was introduced to the guitar industry in 1976. Since then, this small device has allowed guitarists the ability to simulate the sounds of horns, cellos, violins, harmonicas, and many others. The EBow’s name stems from the term “electronic bow” because of its ability to simulate the sustain of a violin bow when played across the strings of an electric guitar.
The secret behind the EBow’s success is its use of Direct String Synthesis. The device, powered by a 9-volt battery, creates a focused feedback loop directed at a single string. This produces a powerful, infinite sustain, rich in harmonics for incredible guitar sounds. It’s like amplifier feedback in a more compressed sense. As the EBow glides over the guitar pickup, usually the neck pickup, it creates a magnetic field between the EBow and the pickup. The guitarist can play with a sense of feeling as he/she glides the EBow over the “hot spot,” the area in which the EBow and the pickup interact with greatest intensity. Infinite sustain is also introduced into the equation since the EBow can make the string vibrate as long as the guitarist holds it there. The guitarist can make backwards-sounding solos, play blazing arpeggios, and sweep strings with more ease than when using a pick.
The EBow has two modes of play. The regular or standard mode favors the fundamental tones while the harmonic mode causes the string to react with more upper harmonics. In the harmonic mode, the EBow adds harmonics to every note you play up to the higher registers, where it increases the EBow sustain range. In the standard mode, harmonics can be achieved by sustaining notes fingered near the nut, the first 5 frets or so, on the E, A, D and G strings.
As the EBow is moved away from the pickup and toward the bridge, the string tends to vibrate with more of its upper harmonics. Bends and vibrato help get the harmonics started and add color to the sound. For an even volume response when mixing EBow techniques, back away from the hot spot for sustain, get closer for spiccato, and always hold the EBow directly over the HotSpot for cross-string bowing effects (see next section). This will keep the volume of these techniques about the same and close to your picking volume.
Since 1976, the EBow has been making music. Groups such as U2, Blondie, Elton John, Van Halen, Phil Collins, Queen, REO Speedwagon, David Bowie, Phil Keaggy, and the Blue Oyster Cult have been using the EBow to make music.