Sustain is one of the most sought-after characteristics of the guitar sound. Many guitar manufacturers have poured in years of research to improve it because of its importance to the general feel and quality of the guitar’s sound.
Even guitar players know how important it is, and for decades, they have been devising conventional and unconventional means to give their guitars more sustain.
So what exactly is sustain on a guitar?
When you pluck your guitar strings, it causes the strings to vibrate and then generate the notes you hear. Sustain is simply a term used to describe how long the guitar strings vibrate. So the longer your strings vibrate after you pluck it, the more sustain it has.
Sustain is very important to the sound of any guitar, and here, we’ll look into the term sustain and how it affects your sound as a guitarist. We’ll also disclose some factors that affect a guitar’s sustain, plus little tips on making your guitar strings vibrate longer.
What Is Sustain on a Guitar?
Sustain is an entirely complex guitar-building process that was broken down for basic understanding.
For the guitar to produce the sounds we hear, we have to pluck its strings. Plucking the guitar’s strings will cause a vibration, and the resonation of that vibration in the guitar’s body produces the notes we hear.
So, a guitar sustain is simply how long the vibrations on the guitar strings last or how long it takes before the vibrations are dispersed. The length will determine how long you can hear a particular note.
A good guitar should have a sustain of 5.5 seconds.
Factors That Affect Sustain on a Guitar
For a guitar string to keep on vibrating for seconds after being plucked, lots of factors have to come in place.
Here are some factors that influence a guitar’s sustain:
There are three significant types of guitar necks; Bolt-on neck, Set neck, and Through neck.
A guitar’s neck will determine how rigid it will be, and rigidity plays a significant role in a guitar’s sustain. But how does that work?
Well, the rigidity of a guitar will prevent it from vibrating along with the strings. Because when this happens, the energy from the string’s vibrations is transferred into the guitar’s body, forcing the vibrations to stop and notes to fade.
Neck-through guitars are the most rigid guitars because the same wood is used for both the guitar’s neck and body.
String Type and Gauge
The type and gauge of string on your guitar can play a major role in its sustain.
Generally, guitars with heavy and tight strings will generate more tension and sustain.
A guitar with steel strings will have more sustain than one with nylon strings. Lastly, guitar strings lose sustain as they get old, so a new guitar string will have more sustain than a 4-month-old string.
A guitar’s sustain can also be influenced by how its frets were installed. Once the guitar’s groove is too deep, it’ll weaken the structure of its neck. This affects the rigidity and sustain of the guitar.
Also, the glue used to join the fret to the neck will determine how stiff the neck will be and in guitars, stiffness and sustain go hand in hand.
Ways To Improve Your Guitar’s Sustain
Now that you’ve seen some factors that influence the sustain of a guitar, it’s time to know some ways you can use to improve it. Most of these ways are cheap and can be done in a little or no time.
Buy Heavier Strings
Using heavier strings is one of the fastest and best ways to improve your guitar’s sustain. Heavier strings produce more tension, and more tension means longer vibration and better sustain.
You can go for a 0.010 set of strings. Although it’s better the higher you go, you might find heavier strings challenging to play.
Also, if you notice your guitar’s sustain is low, consider changing your strings if you’ve been using them for a long time. It’s possible that the strings are worn out and cannot withstand tension. If you use nylon strings, consider switching to steel strings.
Tighten Your Tuning Pegs
Though this might not make the most significant difference, tightening your tuning pegs will ensure your guitar strings can conserve more vibration energy. Conservation of energy in the strings is what sustain is all about.
If you notice your tuning pegs are damaged or loose, try to fix them, and if you can’t, go for new ones.
Change Your Guitar Nut
A nut is the part of a guitar that serves as a boundary between the headstock and the neck. Its primary function is to hold the guitar strings in place.
A cheap or damaged nut can reduce the tension of your strings, especially in low-end guitars where the nuts are made with cheap materials like plastic.
If your guitar came with a cheap nut or has gone bad over time, consider changing it. Luckily, nuts are cheap and easy to replace, unlike other guitar parts. You can even make your own guitar nuts!
The Bottom Line
When you pluck your guitar strings, you want the notes to ring out for a while so that your sound doesn’t sound thin or weak.
The amount of time a guitar string can hold a note before it fades away is called sustain. Fret installation, string gauge, and neck construction are some of the factors that determine a guitar’s sustain.
Not enough sustain is a problem many guitarists face, but luckily, there are ways to improve your guitar’s sustain. You can start by going for heavier strings and tightening your tuning pegs. If you’re still not getting enough sustain, upgrade some of the guitar’s components or take it to a guitar repair shop.