Direct String Synthesis: Practical guide for basic use of the Ebow Plus

by Jake Hills.

Many guitar effects deal with signal manipulation; that is to say the guitar, through electromagnetic inductance, creates an electrical signal which is then manipulated by an effect circuit The effect in this tutorial does not work through signal manipulation, but rather, through direct string synthesis. Ebows are one of the most widely used guitar effects and have been used in recordings in almost every genre. The ebow expands on the idea that Jimmy Page demonstrated in the late 60s and early 70s when doing guitar solos on stage with his band Led Zeppelin. During some of these solos, he abandoned the plectrum (also known as a guitar pick) and exchanged it with a cello bow. The effect was haunting and very unnatural sounding, seeming to have no attack or origin and fading away with long decay. The ebow creates a similar effect, but with more control and works on a different principle. Using a cello bow on a guitar would physically vibrate the strings in the same way it would on a cello. An ebow on the other hand, vibrates the string by vibrating the string’s magnetic field. In this way we are able to have a note swell out of seemingly nowhere and sustain for as long as the performer desires. In addition to vibrating the string at it’s fundamental frequency, there is also an option to vibrate at the frequency of the first harmonic of any given pitch which is why during the first event where the ebow is used, we can hear both the fundamental and the first harmonic of the pitch. These options open up a great new way of play guitar.

One of the greatest things about the ebow is the ease at which it is operated. To begin, ensure that there is a nine volt battery in the ebow. This can be done by carefully removing the top compartment. Once there is a battery in place, you are ready to begin. The switch on the ebow has three distinct positions. When holding the ebow in the right hand with the grooves facing the guitar body, the downward position effects the fundamental frequency. Once switched downward, a blue LED light will shine out of the base of the ebow. Move the ebow toward the strings of the guitar so that the strings rest in the grooves of the ebow. The string between the grooves will be the one that is affected. In this way, infinite sustain can be achieved for any note within the natural range of the guitar. For every fundamental note that can be sustained using the ebow, several harmonics are also available. The technique is the same, the only difference is that the switch is moved into the upward position. Here the harmonic can be changed by which way the ebow is moved along whichever string currently affected. By using the harmonics option on the ebow, notes can be generated far outside the natural range of the guitar. This is how the ebow is used. The last thing that one must know in order the ebow to be useful is this: practice is necessary when using the ebow. It is an entirely new way to playa string on a guitar and requires practice. Do not be discouraged because things are different, but rather be encouraged by the variety of sounds made possible by this effect.