Guitar Sustain


Electric Guitar Sustain – How and Why?

guitar sustainProperly executed and controlled guitar feedback/sustain is perhaps one of the most sought after skills in lead guitar playing.

When you first begin to learn electric guitar, this may not be the first thing which comes to mind. However, it will likely become something you’d want to master after a while.

A very common question goes something like this: “How does so and so guitar player (insert name here) manage to hold his tone like for ever? I would like to learn this.”

There are several factors that may come in to play and a number of ways to achieve guitar sustain in electric guitars, so why not let us look at them one by one?

Sustain in the guitar

Some guitars – usually the better ones – often times have more sustain to begin with. A quality guitar which has been played in will vibrate more freely and thus is easier to work with as far as guitar sustain goes.

It is also widely considered that a good guitar (well built, quality woods) with set neck has better sustain than a non set neck instrument.

Pick-ups, guitar strings and string height

It does not help having a good guitar if you’re using old and dead strings, or a guitar which haven’t been properly set up. A good guitar set-up is one of the important factors for achieving controlled guitar feedback (sustain).

You will need strings that are relatively new and clean, and you will have a hard time with “rubber band” (very light) strings and a very low action. Raise the action and use heavier strings, and you’re better off :-)

Also if the pick-ups are too close or too far from the strings, you may have problems. Some players prefer pickups with a higher output. In any case you need to have the distance set close to the strings, but never ever too close (this will dampen the sound)!

Guitar amp feedback

When we’re talking about electric guitar feedback, we usually talk about an interaction between the guitar player, the guitar and the guitar amp.

The player makes the string vibrate, and the pick-up sends the signal to the amp. The amp “sends” the signal back to the guitar – reinforces the vibration – and you get this desired feedback loop. It is more complicated than this, but I think you get the picture.

Anyhow, to get the loop working you will usually need a good tube/valve amplifier and quite a bit of volume. When you position yourself closer to said amp and begin to move the guitar at various angles, you will find the angle and distance that works best. But remember – you will need volume, so a small amp cranked way up (giving a healthy doze of tube distortion) may be just what the feedback doctor ordered :-)

Vibrate those strings!

To keep the strings vibrating and feeding the sound back, you’ll want to have a good clean way of playing your guitar and have the art of string vibrato down to a T.

Another way to accomplish this is to use a finger slide of brass, steel, glass or ceramics. The heavier ones give more sound.

Compressors

Something which may help you to some extent is a compressor pedal (other places also called sustain pedal).

In layman’s terms, compressors “squash” the signal and then gradually release the sound. As this release effect raises the envelope of the decaying note over time, the sound lasts a bit longer.

Guitar sustainer effect

The first to reproduce a commercial sustainer effect device for live use was the trusty E-bow. This was a hand held device which could be used on one string at the time. By placing it over the pick-up, you can get the string to vibrate, giving “infinite sustain guitar”.

Anyone who remembers “Love Hurts” by the band Nazareth? Anyhow, they guitar player used the E-bow for the solo in that hit song. There’s also a video below demonstrating the electronic device.

Fernandes is a brand that makes something similar. However the Fernandes guitar sustainer system works on all strings, not just one. Here, the neck pick-up works as the driver – setting the strings to vibrate.

This neat system comes installed in many of the Fernandes guitars. They also have kits that can be installed in other guitar makes and models. I use this myself (as well as an E-bow) and it’s way cool.

You’ll also find a video down below showing one of these great guitars in action.

Fat fingers?

Groove Tubes has a product the call Fat Fingers. This is a small device that clamps on to the neck of your guitar (or bass). It is said to increase the sustain by adding physical mass to the headstock of the instrument.

I haven’t tested this device myself, but I intend to try it. It’s discreet, fast to take on and off, leaves no marks and is not expensive … so why not?

Other means to an end

The classic British band 10CC, used a device many years ago called the Gizmo or Gizmotron. This mechanical effect was used on some of of their many hit songs.  You’ll find a video of one of them below: “I’m Not in Love”.

Here’s a piece of information from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gizmo:
“The actual device, a small box which was attached to the bridge of the guitar, consisted of six small motor-driven wheels with serrated edges to match the size of each string. The continuous bowing action was activated by pressing one or all of keys located on the top of the unit. Pressing a key would allow the wheel to descend against a motor driven shaft and bow the corresponding string (…).”

Finally, other players have from time to time used other tools such as electric power drills (!) held close to the strings to produce that infinite guitar sustain effect in live settings.

Guitar feedback

The sustain effect we have discussed here is sometimes also referred to as guitar feedback.

However, feedback to me is more of an uncontrolled side effect, similar to when your acoustic guitars suddenly comes too close to a sound source or your vocal mike makes this high pitched squeal when you get too close to a PA speaker cabinet.

This type of feedback is never anything you want. Guitar sustain on the other hand can be a powerful tool in a the hands of a budding lead guitar player.

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49 Responses to “Guitar Sustain”

  1. Jim Oram Says:

    I came across this web page about guitar sustain and I should say I’m totally overjoyed. I love how you are able to express such encouragement!

  2. Becky Says:

    I’m glad I found your site through Google , really enjoyed reading about sustain in guitars. Thanks!

  3. Heath E. Says:

    Great article about sustain and feedback in guitars!

  4. Verdell Williford Says:

    Hello, excellent website! Every time I come there’s something to pick up. I’m satisfied with the level of quality here – love this guitar sustain tutorial.

  5. Blink Says:

    Really informative blog post here about that oh so sweet sustain in guitar, the stuff all electric guitar players like and crave for!. Just wanted to comment and say keep up the nice work.

  6. Ivan J. Says:

    Great job with the site! Just found a few points about increasing the sustain on my guitar. Think I need to look into the Sustainiac system too. Sounds tempting…

  7. Beth Says:

    I like your writing style and the way you explain things, like this guitar feedback issue. Appreciate your work!

  8. dona b. Says:

    Found your blog through Google – glad I did. When I get some more free time away from the books I’ll try out some of these suggestions to improve the sustain on my guitar. Thanks!

  9. Jax Says:

    Thank you for the article about sustain/feedback. I just about passed your we site up in Ask but now I’m glad I stopped by and got to read through it. I’m definitely a lot more informed about this issue. I’ll be telling my buddies about this place.

  10. p. wood Says:

    Great post about that sweet harmonic sustain…

  11. garret Says:

    Informative blog post here. Thank you for posting this primer on electric guitar sustain. I’ll definitely be back to read more in the future.

  12. Sam M. Says:

    Great post about guitar sustain. Lots of stuff I haven’t considered. Thank you!

  13. Remen Says:

    Been looking for this information on this subject (guitar sustain) for quite some time. It’s hereby bookmarked and recommended!

  14. Frank Lin Says:

    People discuss the guitar sustain and feedback thing a lot, but your point of view is the best I’ve seen so far. I like this post a lot.

  15. John Says:

    hey, nice blog…really like it and added to bookmarks. keep up with good work

  16. Nick Says:

    Did you do any at all research for this post? Pretty good written I’d have to say.

  17. Phil Terry Says:

    Kudos on the post about sustain in guitars! Hope to see more of this and other similar topics in the future.

  18. Renea Bue Says:

    Useful blog… Very detailed about guitar sustain and feedback :-)

  19. Iain Says:

    Nice article read, interesting about ways to improve sustain. Rock on!

  20. Andrew A. Sailer Says:

    Cool BLOG and good info on guitar sustain. Found it on Bing. Will check back often for sure!

  21. dane Says:

    Hi, nice blog post. The information about sustain and feedback is really helpful and saved me a lot time :) I’m waiting for more…

  22. Dominique Darm Says:

    Very good article about sustain. Coherent and informative just like a good article should be. I’ll definitively be back for more.

  23. Philip Penisson Says:

    Excellent web site and informative material about creating sustain in guitars, I’ll bookmark this site.

  24. Selmer Hageson Says:

    Appreciate your the advice about sustain! Will test things out for sure.

  25. Pozycjonowanie Krakow Says:

    There’s a tremendous amount of high-quality information throughout this post about sustain. I will be signing up to your rss feed.

  26. chords Says:

    Reading this really helped me with my guitar problem – lack of sustain. I want to thank you for this article.

  27. Terry York Says:

    I appreciate you took the time to explain guitar sustain in such detail. Nice!

  28. Maddy Says:

    Seriously, I absolutely loved reading your post about sustain and feedback in guitars.

  29. dan age Says:

    Makes sense and thanks for explaining guitar feedback and sustain in detail!

  30. Brian Musomba Says:

    For Guitar amp feedback there is vibrating air and the vibrating cabinet. If you press the headstock or neck against the vibrating cabinet you will get feedback and sustain at much lower volumes that you would if you tried to get air to do it because wood exerts more force than air for a given volume. Funny that nobody in the whole wide internet has mentioned this obvious fact. No need for fancy gadgets or even loud volumes!

    Greetings from Kenya!

  31. admin Says:

    Thanks a lot for this great tip Brian! Stands to prove one can learn something new every day – I will indeed try this myself and see how it goes (never thought about it before actually). And I guess in some settings, like a recording, studio scenario – this guitar amp feedback tip could come in real handy. Again thanks!

  32. Erwin Kozawa Says:

    Finally, a no-nonsense article explaining the “mysteries” of getting good sustain in your guitar! Just luck that I stumbled into this place.

  33. Jess Says:

    Straightforward and good write-up about guitar sustain – really appreciate for this info!

  34. Wayne Waltman Says:

    Thanks for your sharing your insights on guitar sustain and that sweet and musical feedback “thingy”!

  35. Lars Elmwood Says:

    Thanks for these pointers and ideas regarding guitar sustain – very helpful!

  36. R.C. Zane Says:

    Thanks for a good report about understanding and increasing guitar sustain, I’ll definitely be following your blog :-)

  37. Tim Junawan Says:

    Great “sustainable” information – keep it like that!

  38. Roben C. Zolba Says:

    Thanks for this post :)

  39. Isabella Says:

    I was glad I found your website and the excellent article on sustain and feedback – thanks a bunch!

  40. George Says:

    Excellent article, thanks a lot!
    For the sake of being complete about guitar sustain, and being a big U2 fan (especially of the Edge’s style, which pratically relies on guitar effects), I just want to add that there’s something called the “Infinite guitar”, which the Edge uses notably (and only I think) on “With or Without You”.
    That guitar features a special pickup system that makes a string or a note vibrate constantly – a similar effect to an e-bow.
    So basically, in this case, it’s all in the guitar – quite literally :p

  41. admin Says:

    Hi George, and thanks for getting in touch!
    And you are absolutely right about the Infinite Guitar system. I learned something today myself – good stuff!
    Appears to be a predecessor to the Sustaniac. I have that one factory installed on a Fernandes guitar and it works like a charm :-)

  42. Charlotte Telms Says:

    Good “sustainable” article (pun intended). I’ve just forwarded the link to my guitar playing cousin.

  43. Rick Johns Says:

    Good to be off Facebook for a change; in dire need of some worthwhile guitar related stuff – like what I see here :)

  44. Jan Says:

    I’ve bookmarked your guitar sustain post for future reference, thanks! Jan

  45. Neville Kirsten Says:

    Thanks for your great walk-through and explanation about guitar sustain!

  46. peter henderson Says:

    Great website! I learned a lot about this mysterious subject. I’m an old geezer and back in the day we didn’t even have sustain until Jeff Beck came along, and I never knew how he did it. I really enjoyed all three videos too.
    Thanks for an unusually informative and enjoyable website!

  47. admin Says:

    My pleasure Peter – glad you like the site! I’m an old geezer myself, and can relate to what you’re saying. And Jeff Beck still is amazing :-)

  48. Randy Says:

    Finally, an in-depth discussion about the sweetness of guitar sustain – thanks!

  49. Cliff Brouchard Says:

    Wonderful post, we can never have too much of hat sweet feedback! Many thanks for the great info.

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