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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.
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.
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.