sustainers for stringed musical instruments


Sustain from compressors
Sustain from distortion effects
Sustain from amp feedback
Sustain from sustainers
About sustainers
Electromagnetic vs. electroacoustic sustainers
About electromagnetic sustainers
About electroacoustic sustainers

Real sustain is what you get when the strings of your guitar are blasted by the high volume sound from your speakers. The result is unmistakeable and awesome, but can be very difficult to control - kind of like handling a race car.

Fake sustain is what you get from effects boxes trying to duplicate this sound by simply processing the signal from your guitar. The truth is, none of these effects boxes come close to sounding like real sustain.

SUSTAINIAC sustainers provide the best of both worlds. They produce real sustain because they actually vibrate your guitar strings, but they're as easy to control as effects boxes. What's more, the feedback sustain that a SUSTAINIAC sustainer produces is much, much more intense than amp feedback. And, you get it at any volume level!

Guitar players want sustain. In the hands of a skilled player, very creative solos can be played if certain sustain techniques are mastered.

Fake sustain methods:

  1. Use a compressor.
  2. Use a "distortion box" or turn up your amplifier gain to increase signal distortion.

Real sustain methods:

  1. Turn up amplifier volume to get feedback sustain.
  2. Use a SUSTAINIAC sustainer to get predictable feedback sustain.
SUSTAIN FROM COMPRESSORS: A compressor makes the instrument pickup signal stay at a constant level for a few seconds, while the string vibrations actually die out. While the string vibration is dying out, the compressor gain automatically gets higher and higher. It is like manually turning up the volume control to keep the note at a constant volume while the string vibration dies. Since the notes stay at this constant level, they sound "sustained". This can be a very cool sounding effect. However, this type of effect is not a true string vibration feeback sustainer.

SUSTAIN FROM DISTORTION EFFECTS: Distortion effects achieve sustain of played notes in much the same way that compressors do: They keep the signal at the same level even though the string vibrations are dying out. Instead of keeping the signal out of the distortion (clipping) range as compressors do, distortion effects simply increase the signal amplitude by very large amounts, and in the process "cut off" or "clip" the positive and negative portions of the signal. This results in a distorted sound. The more distortion you "crank in", the longer the note sustains, until the string vibration finally dies out completely and you are left with only a lot of noise.

SUSTAIN FROM AMP FEEDBACK: Many players achieve sustain by turning the a mplifier up to a loud volume, and by holding their instrument near the amplifier speakers. Then, something exciting often happens: Intense sound energy coming from the amplifier speakers blasts the guitar body and strings (and your ears), making them "feed back". The notes can sustain for as long as you hold the guitar near the speakers. Sometimes, the notes break into cool-sounding harmonics, depending on how you position the instrument. A player can develop the skill of varying the harmonics of a sustained note by moving the instrument around to different positions in front of the amplifier. Adding compression and/or distortion to the instrument signal path can enhance this effect. The more gain you crank into the amp, the more feedback sustain you get.

What is happening with feedback sustain is called "sympathetic vibration" of the strings. It is said that the famous opera singer Caruso could sing loudly at the precise ringing pitch of a wine glass, and by inducing sympathetic vibrations into the glass, actually build up enough vibration energy in the glass from his incredible voice to crack it.

Normally, notes played on musical instrument strings die out after a short period of time, because the vibration energy in them is lost due to friction. When you hold an electric stringed instrument near its amplifier speakers, and turn the amplifier up loud, this lost vibration energy is restored by the energy coming out of the amplifier speakers. Since the vibrations that come from the speaker is exactly the same frequency that is being played, sympathetic vibration is relatively easy to achieve.

Donít fizzle your feedback! Making feedback from your amplifier doesnít always work, because of the physics of sound vibrations and the specific acoustic properties of particular locations. Depending on the acoustics of each particular stage or studio, and also on the acoustic properties of each instrument, getting feedback from your amplifier can be a flop. Sometimes you work out a great solo with awesome harmonic feedback accents, only to have it go bad during an important performance or session. Sometimes, instead of sustaining your instrument string vibrations, feedback can actually cause the note to come to a dead stop!

Donít go deaf! Of course, getting feedback sustain from your amplifier not only blasts your guitar with sound. It also blasts your ears, making you deaf at an accelerated rate, as the delicate bones of the inner ear wear away from the prolonged intense vibration. Thousands of electric guitar players have lost part or most of their hearing from years of feedback blasting with loud amplifiers.

SUSTAIN FROM SUSTAINERS: A sustainer is a relatively new type of device. Sustainers make feedback sustain by putting vibration energy directly into your instrument strings. Because the sympathetic vibrations are done directly, several advantages are realized: Achieving feedback sustain becomes predictable and reliable. No more lost notes because of room acoustics. No more hearing loss because you can turn your amplifier to any volume, even down to zero. You can take control of the harmonic mode of string vibration, and change it at will to enhance solos.

ABOUT SUSTAINERS: A sustainer is a unique effect. All other effects process your pickup signal (reverb, chorus, etc.). Then, you listen to that processed signal. Sustainers are different. A sustainer is the only effect that operates directly on the strings of the instrument. The actual string vibrations of the instrument are sustained indefinitely. They donít die out until you want them to, or until the power is turned off.

Sustainiac sustain systems are engineered to give you controllable, reliable feedback sustain every time. The feedback sustain that you get with a Sustainiac sustainer is much more intense and predictable than you get from your amplifier. Whatís more, you get this reliable feedback sustain at any volume setting, - even with the amplifier volume turned down to zero, or when going "direct" into a mixer board in the studio. The intensity and harmonics of the sustained string vibration are adjustable with controls on the sustainers.

The only thing that you hear with a Sustainiac sustainer is your pure unprocessed pickup signal. You can then add other standard effects to the signal path as you please. The signal that goes through the Sustainiac sustainer is applied only to the strings themselves.

Maniac Music, Inc. has been a pioneer of sustainers. Even though the first US sustainer patent was issued in 1892 (before the invention of the vacuum tube amplifier!) no commercially successful sustainer has been available until recent years. Over 50 US and foreign patents exist on the subject. Maniac Music, Inc. owns several of these, and has other patent applications undergoing the government examination process ("patents pending"). We have taken the concept of sustainers for stringed instruments to a level that no other company has been able to achieve.

ELECTROMAGNETIC VS. ELECTROACOUSTIC SUSTAINERS: Maniac Music, Inc. makes two basic types of Sustainiac sustainers:

(1) Electromagnetic type sustainer (Our Sustainiac "Stealth PRO" sustainer), preceeded by the older Stealth PLUS, Stealth, and the 1987 models GA-1, GA-2.

(2) Electroacoustictype sustainer (Our Sustainiac "Model C" sustainer for electric guitars)

Both types of sustainer have several things in common: They both make feedback sustain. Electroacoustic and electromagnetic type sustainers both take the instrument pickup signal, which they amplify and process. Then, they send this amplified, processed signal to a string-driver transducer, (or just transducer or driver for short) which drives the strings into intense, continuous sustained vibration.

It is the way the transducer is designed that mainly distinguishes one system from the other.

Electromagnetic sustainers first convert electric energy to pulsating magnetic energy that is in synchronization with the instrument string vibrations. The electromagnetic transducer concentrates this pulsating magnetic energy directly into the instrument strings. Electroacoustic sustainers vibrate some part of the instrument, typically the neck. These acoustic vibrations are made by first converting electric energy to pulsating magnetic energy in the transducer. Then, the transducer turns the pulsating magnetic energy into acoustic vibrations which are in synchronization with the instrument string vibrations. These acoustic vibrations then travel through the neck where reach the strings through the frets, causing the string vibrations to be sustained. There are specific advantages to both systems.

Since the electroacoustic type has one extra energy conversion step (electric-to-magnetic-to acoustic), it requires more power to run it. The Sustainiac Model C electroacoustic sustainer is powered by the ac line, whereas the Sustainiac Stealth PRO magnetic sustainer is powered by one 9-volt battery that can be put into an optional quick-change battery case.

ABOUT ELECTROMAGNETIC SUSTAINERS: The electromagnetic-type sustainer has a transducer which is very similar in construction and appearance to a magnetic pickup. It mounts to the instrument body near the pickups. Therefore, the Sustainiac Stealth/Stealth PRO sustainer transducer is often mistakenly referred to as a "Sustainiac pickup". The Sustainiac Stealth PRO sustainer is quite efficient, since magnetic energy directly drives the strings into sustained vibration. A second energy conversion to acoustic vibrations does not have to take place. For this reason, the electronic circuit package is quite small (approx. 1 in. by 2 Ĺ in. for the Stealth, 1 in. by 3 Ĺ in for the Stealth PRO), and can fit into most guitar body electronics cavities without having to route the cavity larger.

Since the string-driver transducer is located on the instrument body near the pickups, the intense pulsating magnetic field that it radiates will cause problems with the pickups unless special precautions are taken. For this reason, the transducer must mount in the neck pickup position. Furthermore, when the sustainer is ON, only the bridge pickup can be used. Therefore, the Sustainiac Stealth PRO sustainer must be wired into the instrument electronics cavity. The instrument pickups, selector switch, and output jack must all be electrically connected to the sustainer. A competent electronics technician should perform the installation, unless you consider yourself a pretty good solder slinger. Magnetic sustainers tend to produce more predictable fundamental and harmonic vibration modes. The HARMONIC MODE control in the Sustainiac Stealth PRO sustainers is used to toggle back and forth between FUNDAMENTAL and HARMONIC string vibration modes, and also HARMONIC MIX mode.

The Sustainiac Stealth PRO sustainer is very similar to the Stealth and Stealth PLUS models. The Stealth PRO model has a special low-noise preamp circuit on the circuit board that amplifies the output of the driver when the sustainer is turned OFF. It also has two selectable neck pickup sounds, bright like a Strat single-coil, and darker, like a 1959 PAF humbucker. Drivers for magnetic sustainers do work like pickups, but their output voltage is very small. Therefore, its output signal must be amplified or "stepped up" in order for it to function as a guitar pickup.

For a much more detailed explanation of the Stealth PRO, with drawings and photoís, go to the Sustainiac Stealth PRO" section.

ABOUT ELECTROACOUSTIC SUSTAINERS: The electroacoustic-type sustainer is for electric guitars. It has to have a pickup signal in order to work. The term "electroacoustic" refers to how the feedback sustain is achieved. Elecroacoustic sustainers have a transducer that mounts somewhere on the instrument. The headstock is by far the best place on a typical electric guitar to mount the transducer. The neck is a very efficient transfer medium to get the transducer vibrations into the strings, because it is lightweight compared to the body. Furthermore, since the acoustic transducer is basically an electromagnetic device, putting it on the headstock keeps the intense magnetic field that radiates from the transducer out of the pickups. This distance prevents strange sounds and squeals from being sensed by the instrument pickups.

The main advantage of the electroacoustic-type sustainer is that no special installation is needed. The transducer can be clamped, glued, or screwed to the headstock, and you are in business in minutes. Sustain of notes with an electroacoustic sustainer tends to be much like that of natural (loud amplifier) feedback. Most notes change into cool-sounding harmonics within a short time after the note is played. Some notes will remain as fundamental vibration, unless deliberate changeover into a harmonic is initiated by use of the foot-pedals.



About Feedback Sustain

Sustainiac SUSTAIN-MAN electroacoustic sustainer
SUBJECT INDEX and FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Sustainiac Sound Samples
Jackson DK-2S guitar
Organize Your Thoughts for Ordering

EMAIL ORDER FORM Copy and paste this page into an email addressed to us.

OBSOLETE GA-1 and GA-2 models (no longer made or sold)


Sustainiac is a registered trademark of Maniac Music, Inc.
5348 N. Tacoma Ave., Indianapolis Indiana, USA; 46240 PHONE: 317-340-1161