Introduction: Infinite Guitar Sustainer

Today we're making a three-string guitar sustainer that fits under the strings like a guitar pickup.

This sustainer will enable any guitar to hold out a note infinitely long, achieving that rich, violin-like, sustain sound.

The principle behind this sustainer is the same principle that has been used by many popular guitarists such as Carlos Santana, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai; a feedback (magnetic flux) is used to vibrate the strings, creating a sustained sound.

Step 1: Watch the Video!

Click here to watch on YouTube

Check out this quick video to see the sustainer working and hear how it sounds! It also guides you through the steps below from start to end.

Step 2: What We'll Need...

Here is the list of materials we'll need:

  • 6x 42 Ohm Passive Buzzers
  • 2x 1/4" Mono patch cable (one 4ft. and the other 1 ft.)
  • 1x Paper Protoboard
  • 1x 1/4" Mono panel jack

We'll also need our Tin Can Amplifier from our last project (a palm-sized amplifier that runs on a 9V battery).

Where to buy

SOLDERING GEAR:

TEST GEAR:

Step 3: Prepare the Coils

We'll start by turning our buzzers into our sustainer coils.

Using a sharp blade, carefully shave off the cover of the buzzer, by working the blade around the groove of the buzzer.

When we remove the cover, we'll find our coil inside, as well as a metal piece that's responsible for making the buzzer sound.

We don't want our coils to produce any sound, so we can simply throw this piece out or glue it on top of the coil (so that it won't vibrate but will protect the coil from damage).

Step 4: Align the Coils

After we have our coils prepared, we'll start aligning them on our paper protoboard.

Keep in mind that the sustainer we're making goes under the top three strings. We'll need the strings directly above the center of the coils.

Just be sure to align them under your guitar first so that you know where to place them on the board.

We'll remove any excess board space by scoring it with our blade then snapping it off.

Then, smooth out the edges of the board with sand paper.

Now we're going to put our coils back in place. Note that it's important that we keep the polarities (positive and negative terminals marked on the back) of the coils in the same direction.

Step 5: Glue the Coils

Next we'll add a dab of super glue under each of the coils so that they stay in place.

Leave to dry before proceeding.

Step 6: Solder the Coils

Once the glue dries, we can bend the pins of the coils on the back of the board. We're doing this to reduce the height of the sustainer, so that it fits easier under the guitar strings.

We're going to have to solder the positive terminals together and the negative terminals together, so bend the pins in a way that minimizes soldering distance.

When we're done soldering, we can check the integrity of the joints by measuring the resistance between the positives and negatives with a multimeter.

Since we have three 42 ohm resistances in parallel, we should be reading around 14 ohms (since 42/3 = 14).

Step 7: Repeat

We'll repeat the procedure for the second row of coils.

Step 8: Solder the Cable

Now we'll take our 4 ft. 1/4" mono patch cable (I'm actually using an 1/8" cable with 1/4" adapters in the picture), and cut it in half. Then solder the positive and negative ends of the cable to the positive and negative terminals of each set of coils.

Step 9: Add Height

Since the middle string of the guitar is a little further away from the fretboard than the top string is, we'll need to attach a piece of popsicle stick to the back of the middle string coils so that it puts the sustainer on a slight slant, bringing the middle string coils closer to the string.

Step 10: Install the Sustainer

Now we're ready to attach the sustainer.

Loosen the bottom three strings, but keep the top three strings tight. We'll temporarily hold the sustainer in place with a bit of duct tape.

Make sure that the strings run directly across the center of the coils, and that none of the strings touch the coils when the strings are played.

We'll add a dab of hot glue under each of the four corners of the sustainer to set it in place.

Once the glue dries, we'll remove the tape.

On the back of the guitar, we'll need to add a dab of hot glue to hold down the sustainer cables. This will relieve the solder joints of any stress from the cable moving around too much.

Step 11: Add a Dry Signal Jack

** This step will require a small modification to the volume knob (potentiometer) of the guitar, and will create a louder sustain. It is possible to use the sustainer without this step (skip to next step).

We'll need to add a dry signal jack (a signal that is unaffected by the volume potentiometer) to the guitar. To do so, we'll have to access the back of the volume knob.

This guitar opens in the back, but most Strat-like guitars will open in the front.

After we open the plate, we'll see that our volume knob has three legs (refer to picture). We'll need to extend the input and ground pins, which are the leftmost and rightmost pin, respectively, to our new mono jack.

We'll solder two pieces of loose wires to those pins, and cut a hole through the back plate, so that the mono jack can sit on top, with it's panel connections exposed through the hole.

We'll glue the jack in place, then solder the signal and ground wires to the respective terminals of the mono jack.

Afterwards, we'll just screw it back together and we're done with the dry signal jack.

Step 12: Secure the Tin Can Amplifier

Now to hold the tin can amplifier in place, we'll use two strips of velcro.

Attach the soft side of the velcro to the guitar and the hard side to the tin can amplifier (we do this because the hard side of velcro will stick to clothing and we wouldn't want that on the back of our guitar when the tin can amplifier is not in place).

And we're done!

Step 13: Plug It In!

For self-sustain mode (does not require dry signal jack, but produces weaker sustain), one sustainer jack goes in the input of the tin can amplifier while the other goes in the output.

And for the dry-signal mode (requires dry signal jack, but produces louder sustain), we'll join both sustainer jacks with an adapter and plug that into the output of the tin can amplifier. Then our foot long patch cord connects the dry signal to the input.

Step 14: Turn It on and Give It a Test!

Turn on the can, plug in the guitar, and give it a test!

Check out the video attached above to hear how the sustainer sounds in action (and a comparison of the two modes)!

If you liked this project, then don't forget to share it with all your guitarist buddies.

Perhaps you'll like some of my other music related projects too - you can check them out at my YouTube Channel.

More cool projects coming up - see you next week!

Comments

author
RowanCant made it! (author)2017-07-03

Hi Evan, What happens if you plug in a keyboard into the mini amp and simultaneously play the same note? Do different sounds change the tone of the guitar? If so, it could make a clever little built in guitar effects that can also work on acoustic guitars... Detect frequency, play the corresponding midi note, amplify the output sound into the mini amp and boom, endless guitar effects! (If it works)

author
Zochama made it! (author)2017-01-04

Really interested in this project, however due to scarcity of resources due to my location I wanted to omit the tin can amplifier part. So I'm looking for alternatives (which will be cheaper and a lot more tidy) and my question is; Can I use a lm386 amplifier module like in this pic? If so, can u help me out with the schematics pls? Anyone?

Screenshot_2017-01-04-17-59-37.png
author
angerheim made it! (author)2016-06-07

Thx for a nice ible. However I have to ask why we need 2 row of coils when using the dry signal jack. Does it work w just one row??

author
BicknellStudio made it! (author)2016-04-12

I'm not handy with this kind of project, so would totally buy a unit!! Very well done 'ible :-)

author
SteveJ25 made it! (author)2015-11-29

just get a Sustainiac. you won't have all that stuff hanging out the guitar

author
kpqowieuryt made it! (author)kpqowieuryt2015-12-01

Although you do have a point, i think you are missing the point of this web. No offence

author
MightyHammerhead made it! (author)MightyHammerhead2016-03-24

I agree with kpqowieuryt... perhaps you are looking for Ebay?

author
J.W.N.R. made it! (author)2015-12-07

It sounds really great! Using the buzzers as coils was a smart idea.
Like yesbook I'm also wondering: Could this be used on the bass guitar, maybe?
I hope you get to sell some.

author
yesbook made it! (author)2015-12-01

Nice gadget. Will it work the same for bass guitar?

author
jajajanjan made it! (author)2015-11-30

This is great! - Yes, I´d buy an assembled set! I got a feeling this "active" mode sounds better than mine official fernandes sustainer guitar. The notes to ur thing start immediately sustaining. The fernandes I own works propaply more like ur "easy" susatiner..They first loose a little volume before the sustainer kicks in..

author
Perspective Image made it! (author)2015-11-29

Amazing tutorial! So well done. Great style Dude!

author
gdomantic made it! (author)2015-11-29

DUUUDE this was beyond awesome!!!! will do this for my guitar now :D

author
chasmoth made it! (author)2015-11-25

Very clever and well-thought-out right down to the Velcro advice, and the video was entertaining to watch.

Reminds me of an Ebow; bound to be a commercial application. Needs a good name, Eon Flux, maybe.

Good job; proceed to taking over the world!

author
Shane80 made it! (author)2015-11-23

dude you are awesome! I can't wait to make all these things. I am just wondering how you gonna feel when you get orders for 100's of these world wide... really looking forward to future installments

author
offramp made it! (author)offramp2015-11-24

Been there, done that. In 1983 I was part of a 3-man team that designed and developed the Sustainiac. The first iterations were external and a little clumsy; the second iteration was distilled down to a pickup, then we sold the patent to Hamer.
Fun stuff tho.

author
fatgnat made it! (author)2015-11-24

Pretty cool! Can't wait to see more from you!

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