This article was co-authored by Eric Harsh and Kris Ward
The Ebow, or electric bow, is a device that creates a focused feedback loop directed at a single string. What that means is that the Ebow is used to produce a sound similar to playing a single guitar string with a violin bow. Still, although the Ebow is conceptually impressive and sonically functional, there are some glaring flaws in its design.
The Ebow produces a unique, instantly recognizable sound that can be best described as a droning, sustained note. The pitch can be changed by pressing down the frets on the activated string or using a slide to avoid the sustain break that happens when the string is pressed. With other guitar modulations, such as reverb, delay, distortion or phaser petals, the Ebow can also be used to create interesting ambient effects. A number of large acts utilize the Ebow, and it always adds a great touch, whether as a backing track or a main melody. There is simply no other tool you can use to attain the unique sound the Ebow puts out, so it is an invaluable tool for anyone looking to add this sound to their repertoire. You can do an incredible amount with it in a very small space, making it an efficient piece of gear to add to any guitarist’s collection.
Despite its many benefits, the Ebow’s product design can certainly be improved and updated. The current design is physically awkward, and is in desperate need of renovation. Considering the Ebow was invented in 1969, it’s rather shocking that the design and technology driving the device have yet to evolve to keep pace with modern developments in music technology. The product could definitely be developed further to use multiple strings simultaneously. Forward progress needs to be made in order for the Ebow to remain relevant in modern music.
Another noticeable flaw is the Ebow’s annoying inconsistency. In order for the Ebow to function, it must be placed on top of three strings. The Ebow’s design allows two of the outer strings to sit in grooves in the body of the bow, known as string guides. The string that is located of the center of the Ebow is the string that receives the infinite sustain effect. While in the theory this sounds like it would work without issues, it often doesn’t. There are seemingly random times when the Ebow is placed correctly on the strings, yet nothing happens. Even after holding it on the strings for a few seconds, sustain does not start, while ordinarily the sustain will start about a second after the Ebow is put in place. Another frequent hiccup in Ebow use occurs when the Ebow is placed over the desired string, and instead of a very clean, smooth sounding sustain, a more metallic, grating sustain is heard. This is caused by the string reverberating off the physical body of the Ebow, which is a remarkably easily fixable design flaw for such a prolific guitar tool.
Despite these noticeable flaws, the Ebow is still a worthy investment; it is definitely a product worth trying for its unique capabilities. Providing a combination of infinite sustain and the delicate beauty of string instrument, the Ebow can enhance any musician’s effect library to produce new and exciting sounds.
Photo one: Wikipedia
Photo two: LeadMusic.com