EBow Chops 101

The EBow is easy to use—you’ll be up and running in minutes—but you’ll get the most out of this device when you understand some basics. Replacing your flatpick, the EBow is designed to activate one string at a time. Fig. 1 shows the device’s three critical parts: the string-targeting LED “eye,” the drive channel, and the guide grooves. To play a note, turn on your EBow, lightly grasp its base with your middle finger and thumb, and lay your index finger along the side of the battery chamber for additional support (Fig. 2).
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Now lower the unit so its drive channel sits over the target string and the LED illuminates it. Let the two adjacent strings nestle into the guide grooves. (These neighbor strings keep the drive channel properly aligned and at the correct height.) For example, to activate the third string, position the EBow so it rests on the fourth and seconds strings (Fig. 3). Use a light touch, and don’t let the surface of the drive channel touch the target string—this will inhibit sustain. Next, fret a note on the target string, and let the EBow start magnetically vibrating it. The note will swell with a sound resembling a bowed attack. If you want a faster attack, hammer the note with your fretting finger to start the string vibrating, and the EBow will take over from there.

When playing melodies on a treble string, you can mute the lower strings with the side of your palm to eliminate sympathetic vibrations (Fig. 4). You can also control a note’s timbre according to where you position the EBow along the vibrating string. For a brighter, more penetrating tone, slide back slightly toward the bridge (Fig. 5). Conversely, hover over the fretboard for a darker sound.

To make a note louder, gently press the EBow down on the support strings to bring the drive channel closer to the target string. To play more quietly, raise the EBow off the support strings. (The unit can drive a string—albeit softly—from about 1/4" away.) By blending subtle up and down motions with forward and backward slides, you can manipulate a passage’s dynamics and harmonic textures. A mic (or onboard pickup) is especially effective for capturing these changing colors.