We need to talk about sustainers. A sustainer is a device that increases the sustain of your instrument.

These come in a few varieties. There are pedal sustainers, handheld sustainers, and in guitar sustainers. All of these can be divided into two types sustainer effects and what I’ll call string drivers.

Sustainer effects are effects that either boost or loop a note or frequency that you played. This can be something like a compressor that brings up the volume of a decaying note. Or, a more complex effect.

String drivers generate sustain by applying a magnetic impulse to the strings on your instrument and physically vibrating them! This is not an effect, it is real sustain. Very close to the feedback you get from a loud amp. It sounds closest to amp feedback.

String drivers come in a two types handheld and in guitar. Handheld sustainers you hold in your hand over a string. IN guitar types use a pickup similar to the pickups that are already in your guitar, but instead of using the string to generate an electrical output from the pickup, circuitry drives the pickup causing it generate a magnetic field that drives the string. This sort of the opposite of how a regular pickup works.

Pedal Sustainers

Pedal sustainers are guitar pedals that either increase the sustain of your instrument or sample and hold the note or notes you most recently played.

Any pedal that adds compression will increase the sustain of your instrument. Over drive, distortion, and fuzz boxes act as sustainers. Compressors also add a lot of sustain.

Another category of pedal takes this concept to another level. Pedals like GameChanger Audio Plus pedal, and the Electroharmonix Freeze, sample the audio you just played and play it back indefinitely. Imagine these like a looper with a really short loop time.

String Drivers

String drivers generate a magnetic field that vibrates the string or strings of your instrument. These are physically moving the strings and don’t create any output themselves. Instead your instrument is picking up the sound the string!

String drivers come in two varieties. Handheld, and in guitar types.

Handheld Sustainers

Handheld are are a small box you hold over the strings of your guitar. These can really only drive one string at a time. You can move the drive from string to string to create an arpeggiated effect.

These are all small handheld devices you hold in your picking hand. You’ll fret a note with your other hand and use the sustainer to magnetically “drive” the string.

There are a couple of these that you can buy.

In Guitar Sustainers

In guitar types replace the neck pick up in your. This replacement pickup is a lot like your standard pickups, and in some sustainers can be used as a pickup, when it is not used as a sustainer.

The pickup driver creates a magnetic field that drives the strings. This is done through a feedback loop with the bridge pickup. The driver circuitry takes the signal from the bridge pickup, amplifies and sends it through the driver pickup/coil. This is very similar to how a speaker work but, in this case, instead of moving the speaker cone the driver is vibrating the strings of your instrument.

Several companies make these

I own two Sustainiacs, and recently bought an isustainer, and a Veyz sustainer to compare.

The Sustainiac is great. It works well and is really the benchmark for these devices. Installation is not a stroll in the park! You may want to have this done by a professional. If you’re think about getting one of these you need to consider where you will install it. You’ll need room for the PCB, wiring, 9V battery, and controls.

Consider, there are some guitars that you might not want to modify because they are vintage or have some resale value. Many instruments will not have room for the sustainer board, switches, and battery. These instruments will require routing, and possibly drilling some holes for switches.

Wiring the Sustainiac is challenging. It has two connectors, one with 8 wires, and the other with 10. That’s 18 wires that you’ll need to connect! The wiring needs some care since a bad wiring job can create noise or oscillation.

The iSusutainer looks like a clone of the Sustainiac. It’s almost exactly the same.

Above left is a picture of the Sustainiac, top, and the iSustainer bottom. On the right is the Sustainiac PCB without the cover. You can see they are almost exactly the same. This Sustainac is 10 years old. I suspect the isustainer is a clone of the new Sustainiac Stealth Pro, mine is a Stealth if I recall.

The pickups are almost example the same. You can get these in single coil or hum bucking format. The humbucker is single coil with an empty dummy coil cover, this is the same for both the Sustainiac and the iSustainer.

The pictures above are of both the Sustainiac and iSustainer drivers. They are both built the same. They have two coils that each cover three strings in a single coil form factor.

The Sustainac and iSustainer both use an electronic switching system that activates the bridge pickup when the sustain is on. This ignores the normal switching on your guitar. In other words the switching on your guitar works normally when the sustainer is off. When the sustainer is on you will hear output from the bridge pickup no matter what position your pickup selector switch is set. This is a neat trick and makes using the device simple and easy. It is also part of the reason for all of the wiring!

The Veyz sustainer is simplified, it comes with two switches, one that turns the sustainer on and they other sets the mode. An interesting feature of the Veyz sustainer is that they offer the driver pickup in many forms. You can get it as a P90, a humbucker with a chrome cover, single coils, just about anything.

They also offer the driver in humbucker form with second coil that can be a regular single coil or a mini single coil sized humbucker. What’s interesting here is, the Sustainiac and the iSustainer use the driver coil as a pickup when the sustainer is off. This is an active pickup, and has a particular sound to it. If you don’t like the sound there isn’t much you can do. The Veyz sustainer on the other hand provides options for the neck pickup.


Sustainers are great! They may not be for everyone. If you play loud enough to generate feedback whenever you need it you still wouldn’t get all of the sounds and control you would get from a sustainer at any volume. On the other hand maybe sustaining long notes is not important to the music make.

Installation is not easy and may require routing and drilling your guitar! This is probably the biggest pain point for me. Finding a guitar that will accept a sustainer and getting over the loss of resale or the effort of routing, drilling and wiring is a pretty tall hurdle.

I think a sustainer is worth owning. For subtle effect get a compressor, or a Fuzz pedal. For easy of use and long sustain, get a pedal sustainer, like the EHX Freeze, if you want feedback type effects and more at any volume you’ll need to get an in guitar type.






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