- First of all there's the EBow which is a held-held electronic bow for the guitar, and which no doubt you will have heard on so many songs. For me the King of the EBow guitar was always Bill Nelson (see Permanent Flame - The Bill Nelson Web Site and Rooms With Brittle Views - The Official UK Bill Nelson Website).
I've used the EBow myself since the mid 80s because I just love that sound. I found that it's best to use it on the front pickup of the guitar and with a very clean sound on the amp. Used with delay it sounds glorious, and you can create rich layers of sound. I sometime used it on an old guitar I had converted to fretless which allowed me to slide sustained notes all over the place.
Pros: Portable; can be used on almost any guitar; strong signal, PP3 battery lasts seemingly forever!
Cons: sometimes it can take a while for a note to get going. For live playing this can be a nuisance. It's like, "Hang on a minute guys, while I pick this thing up and point it at the string and wait for it to get going." Another con, of course, is that it's monophonic, i.e. it only works on one string at a time, but in some ways this isn't the curse you might think it is as it encourages you to think differently about your approach. Moving the EBow from string to string while playing is possible, but it takes practice and isn't easy without getting a clunk or else a sudden loss of sound while you wait for the next string to get going.
- Last year I decided I wanted a new guitar and bought something I had been dreaming about for years - a Fernandes Revolver guitar featuring the Fernandes Sustainer system. This is, in effect, like having a guitar with a built-in EBow. The sustainer itself is a transducer that is built into the front pickup of the guitar, the sound being captured by the back pickup only. With an EBow you are feeding the signal straight into the pickup, but with the Fernandes system there is the whole distance from front to back pickups between the string being driven and the sound being captured. This means that the signal is not a powerful as that produced by an EBow. Bearing this in mind, I found that the best sounds using the Fernandes were to be achieved using an overdriven sound as opposed to the clean sound I would use with an EBow.
Pros: Built into the guitar so no extra equipment needed; works across all six strings, so whole chords can be sustained; very easy to use, no need to wait for the effect to swell up as with an EBow; choice of two harmonic modes.
Cons: Obviously it requires a Fernandes guitar, so if you are not a Fernandes fan or have a preference for another instrument that you absolutely MUST use then you will need to get your own choice of guitar converted requiring surgery, chopping about, etc. PP3 battery does not last very long - I have taken to using rechargable batteries so that I don't have to keep buying millions of the regular kind.
- Another sustainer system that I don't know much about, is the Sustainiac. I have not tried one of these so I can't really comment on it other than to say that it looks very similar to the Fernandes Sustainer. It seems that they also offer an "acoustic sustainer" variant of this system that produces sustain from a device clamped to the headstock of an electric guitar.
Pros: Built in to your guitar, so quick and easy to use as per the Fernandes system.
Cons: Requires you to have guitar surgery undertaken; may mean that you have to lose the option of having a front pickup on Stratocaster style guitars.