Posted by: worshipguitarguy | August 14, 2006

The Ebow

ebow.jpgWhat is the world is that funky little grey thing with the blue light, and what does it do?

I get asked that question all the time when we play live.  An ebow is one of my favorite and most useful guitar “toys.”  The word ebow is an acronym for “electric bow”, and that’s essentially what it is, a bow (like a violin bow) for your guitar.  How it works is pretty simple.  It uses a 9V battery to create an electromagnet which vibrates a string on your guitar.  On the bottom of it are two groove channels that rest on the strings to the left and right of the one it is playing.  Once it begins vibrating the string, it will do it forever, (or at least until the battery dies…) so you can create pad like synth effects from your guitar.  From there you can use your finger or a slide to fret notes.  (For a sample of the ebow sound, check out the first 45 seconds of U2’s “With or Without You”, or the first verse on the studio version of “How Great is Our God” by Chris Tomlin on the Arriving album.) 

Ebow’s generally run about 70-90 dollars, so they’re pretty expensive for something made out of molded plastic.  But I’ve played mine for over two years and haven’t had any problems.  Batteries usually last me a month or two, so that’s not a huge expense.  To use one, you just hold it in your hand, (have the side with the blue light facing your guitar neck) line up the groove channels with your strings and turn it on.  I use mine mostly on my G or B string.  Also, the switch on the ebow has three settings, the middle is off, the left (if you’re looking at the switch) is for the normal mode, and the right is a funky harmonics mode. 

When using one of these, there are a couple of things you can do to help get a good sound.  First, many guitarists use it on their bridge pickup, because they prefer the tone that comes from it.  Second, many players roll their tone knob most of the way down. If you try to play it without the tone down, just make sure your dog is nowhere to be found, because the sound will be super shrill.  Third, assuming you’re using the bridge pickup, the volume level varies drastically depending on how far you are from the pickup.  If you put the ebow right near the pickup, you’re volume will be much louder than it is when you’re playing with a pick, (so keep that in mind.)  You can create volume swell effects by moving your ebow back and forth between the pickup and the bridge. 

Useful effects to combine with an ebow include an analog delay, a little chorus, slight phase or flange, reverb, and wah.  When I play my ebow, I’ll ride my volume pedal quite a lot to help control my dynamics.  If you’re also a vocalist, a cool trick is to tie your ebow to a mic stand so you can let go of it when you want to switch over and strum.

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Responses

  1. Hi Gerry,

    Thanks for your clear and concise resource for the body of Christ in the area of worship guitar. I have enjoyed checking your site out. Joann gave me the link. In Christ,

    David May

  2. the ebow is an awesome tool, when i was just lead guitarist and not the music director/worship leader i used it alot, especially helpful for sustaining fills in holes when keyboards are absent.

  3. Can you comment on general guidelines for using an ebow within song structure? Do you recommend that the lead guitarist use it from beginning to end? Only in the beginning as the song is building? When in the song do lead’s typically use the ebow?

  4. Great question Brian, how about I make this Friday’s post (10-20-06) about that?


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