It is really frustrating for a guitarist if their live performance is ruined by the low-sustaining guitar tone. I bet you have that experience as well. So how to increase the guitar sustain and avoid such a nightmare?
To increase your guitar sustain, you won’t have to spend a lot of money that is for sure (unless you want to). There are free options, super cheap options, and moderately expensive options to improve your guitar’s sustain, which you will get to explore in a moment.
But before that, it would be helpful to go through what is actually the sustain of an electric guitar and what makes a guitar sustain more or less.
- 1. What is the Sustain of an Electric Guitar
- 2. Increase Guitar Sustain With Zero Investment
- 3. Height of the Electric Guitar Pickup
- 4. Playing Style of the Guitarist – The Vibrato Technique
- 5. Type of Guitar Picks Used for Playing
- 6. Adjusting the String Tension
- 7. A Little Investment for Improving Guitar Sustain
- 8. Get a Better Effect-Pedal
- 9. Change the Nut of the Electric Guitar
- 10. Final Words
- 11. FAQs
- 12. Conclusion
What is the Sustain of an Electric Guitar
Guitar sustain is basically the duration of the tone that is produced by the string’s vibration. The longer the duration of the string vibration is, the better sustain you will get.
And it is not solely related to electric guitar strings. Rather, it also depends on the type of pickup of the electric guitar, the type of guitar pick used to play the strings, the setting of the amp, the height of the guitar pickup, string tension, etc.
Therefore, once you know how they are related to each other, you will be able to increase the guitar sustain with a little yet subtle adjustment of your electric guitar. Let’s look at these criteria for electric guitar sustain and how to improve the sustain accordingly, one by one. Let’s start with the ones that require zero investments.
Increase Guitar Sustain With Zero Investment
Assuming that you have the basic setup for playing an electric guitar, you can analyze and put a little effort to improve the guitar sustain significantly. Not all the criteria would necessarily be applicable for your case.
Almost every electric guitar has a volume knob and a tone knob. For the best result of guitar sustain, turn both the volume knob and the tone knob all the way up. If you need to control the volume, it’s better to do it externally with the help of a pedal.
For the pickup selector, selecting the bridge pickup would give you comparatively better sustain. If you are playing some lead or solo by selecting the neck-pickup(s) or a combination of both, then you’d have to adopt some other techniques such as vibrato or legato to uphold the guitar sustain.
Whether you are using a pedal-board with multiple pedals or a multi-effect processor, the setting is really important for the guitar’s sustain. Some of the main pedals play a major role in the improvement or decrease of guitar sustain, such as:
Noise Gate Pedal, is really handy for playing clear notes and riffs. But dialing up the noise gate too much can cause the abrupt cut of the guitar tone, as a result, decrease the sustain.
But you need the noise gate to play as clearly as possible. So, you need to find a sweet spot to dial up he noise gate so that it cuts the noise enough but does not affect the sustain significantly. A few trials and error would help you find that sweet spot, don’t worry; it’s not that difficult.
Distortion pedal can be used to increase the sustain as well. Dialing up the distortion pedal to another sweet spot where it won’t be too noisy but good enough to produce a good sustain for your guitar. If you prefer to play with a clean tone, this procedure might not be applicable for you.
Instead, you can use a compression pedal, which compresses the tone into a solid one and sort of evens out the tonal duration. In other words, improves guitar sustain. The guitarists who play with the distortion can also follow this.
Similar to the pedals, the amp distortion can be tweaked as well to find the best sustain possible. Adjusting the bass, mid, and treble can also affect the guitar’s sustain. For me, I usually follow the 60-40-70 rule, which is 60% base, 40% mid, and 70% treble. Works like a charm!!!
Depending on the model of the amp, the ratio of bass, treble and mid might differ very slightly. On top of that, adding a pinch of reverb gives you the illusion of extended sustain, which is kind of cool!!
Some of the guitarists like their strings to be of lower action or high, including me. However, in this case, you’d have to be very careful about the distance of the pickup from the strings.
Why? Because strings are metal (or metal-coated) and pickups are made of strong magnets. So, when the strings are pretty close to the pickup, the vibration of the strings is affected by the magnetic pull of the pickup magnet. That results in a very poor and short-sustaining tone.
To avoid this, you can lower the position of your pickups but turning the adjacent screws counter-clockwise or anti-clockwise.
Playing Style of the Guitarist – The Vibrato Technique
This is one of the most important techniques to improve the guitar sustain. The ace up your fret hand’s vibrato technique, because not only it will help you increase the guitar sustain for as long as you want, it is also a very useful technique for enhancing the tone of your notes.
With vibrato, you can sustain a note initially, but it won’t be very smooth. With regular practice, you have to figure out the perfect intensity of the vibrato for the desired sustain of your guitar.
Type of Guitar Picks Used for Playing
Thick and hard guitar picks are capable of producing better sustain. Using such types of picks, you can pick the strings harder. So, a solid vibrating tone will come out which will last longer than the ones you would produce with a thin and flexible guitar pick.
However, do not go overboard and get the picks that are used for playing bass guitar. Usually, these picks are 0.9 mm – 1.2mm in thickness. I usually used 1.2 mm, maybe you can start with that as well.
Adjusting the String Tension
Last but not the least, you can improve the sustain of your electric guitar by properly adjusting the tension of your string. You may need to adjust the bridge and tighten up the tuning pegs. If you are using a Floyd rose, then you might tighten the tune-locker properly after the adjustments are done.
A Little Investment for Improving Guitar Sustain
The previous techniques were the ones that didn’t require any investments. Now we are going to look into some of the aspects where you’d need to spend some money to upgrade your gears. That will make your guitar sound better and improve sustain.
Changing the Strings
There are a lot of premium branded strings in the market. Among them, look for a higher gauge or thicker string set. Because thick guitar strings have better tension and they vibrate with more intensity. That’s how the sustain is longer for the thicker gauged strings.
With the thicker gauged strings, initially, you’d have to get used to it because it requires a bit more solid picking. But eventually, you’ll get a hold of it very quickly.
Changing the Pickup
This is slightly more investment than guitar strings. If your guitar already has top-notch pickups such as active pickups (Seymour Duncan, EMG, etc), you probably don’t need to change them. These pickups are as good as they can get.
However, for lower quality pickups, you can change them for better ones that are quite affordable such as EMG pickups. This change of pickups would be a real game-changer, because, the main sound or tone of the guitar depends on it. So, make sure you really want to do it and choose wisely.
Get a Better Effect-Pedal
Sometimes Low-budget effect pedals or multi-effect processors would produce a poor tone with unstable guitar sustain. Also, whenever the multi-effect processor ages, it can also produce undesirable sound -effects.
That would be a wake-up call for changing your effect pedals or multi-effect processor to revive your guitar tone. You don’t have to go broke buying these gears. There are a lot of affordable but great options in the market to choose from.
You can check out my article on “Guitar pedal vs multi-effect processors”, to get some ideas about the affordable options.
Change the Nut of the Electric Guitar
The vibration of the strings also depends the material of the nut. The nut is located at the merging point of the neck and the headstock. Recently, most of the nuts are being made of plastic ones which sort of hinders the string vibration.
You can change them with a metallic one, and you would be able to feel the effect instantly. The ringing of the strings would be more refined, and clear. And of course, the guitar sustain will be better as well.
The abovementioned tricks would certainly increase your guitar sustain if followed correctly. Therefore this would be a quick fix for your current rigs.
However, if you are thinking of upgrading, you can keep an eye out for the factors that provide you with better guitar sustain as well as a significant tone.
This applies for both the guitar and the pedals or milt-effect processors you wish to upgrade.
Do Heavier Guitars Sustain Longer?
There is some truth to it. In short, yes, heavier guitars sustain better. However, if there are other issues like noise gates, problematic volume/tone knob or strings too close to the pickup – heavier guitars would also give you poor sustain. So, better keep an eye out for these basic factors first.
Does Scale Length affect Sustain?
Yes, the scale length of the electric guitar is making the string tension harder or softer. Guitars with bigger scale length will have more sustain than the ones with the smaller scale length.
Increasing the guitar sustain is essential for a killer performance. It is also a great skill to play the guitar with a technique that produces more sustain. Now you know how to increase the guitar sustain, go make some killer music!! And as always, rock hard!!!