What's the term for the electric guitar technique that results in a smooth sound (like that of a wind instrument) by:

  1. Decreasing the volume (usually to mute; typically with the pinky finger)
  2. Striking the string(s) with the fingers or plectrum (just as in normal guitar playing)
  3. Gradually or suddenly increasing the volume such that the resonating notes are heard, but the initial striking of the string(s) is not heard

The general musical term "crescendo" seems related but is not specific to electric guitar.

enter image description here


  • Metallica - My Friend of Misery (3m30s-3m52s)
  • Donkey Kong Under Water Theme (38s)
  • 1
    "Slow attack" maybe? Or does it have to be in Italian. Feb 1, 2022 at 6:12
  • @user45266 that's a great (and very relevant) question/answer (and discussion). It inadvertently provides possible answers to this question, although it's more about how to make the effect rather than focussing on the terminology. Possible answers: swell effect, volume swell, violining, or bowing effects.
    – stevec
    Feb 1, 2022 at 9:35

3 Answers 3


I've always known it as 'violining'. [1]
I first heard it used by the late, truly great, Leslie West in the early 70s.

There are just a few brief examples in this live solo [30s & 1:15 approx]

[1] I have no citation for this, it's just what I've known it as for 50 years or so ;)

  • 1
    'Cos it sounds like a violin! (Far more than it sounds like a flute!).
    – Tim
    Feb 1, 2022 at 14:55
  • Also used very extensively by Mark Knopfler, FWIW.
    – Graham
    Feb 1, 2022 at 15:08
  • Well, as a classical cellist (among other music hats :-) ), I agree that removing the initial pluck-impulse sound followed with a crescendo means the dynamic profile is similar to a violin, but you still have a sinusoidal fundamental vs. the sawtooth waveform a bowed violin produces. Feb 1, 2022 at 15:15
  • 1
    Sure. I wouldn't claim it actually really sounds like a violin or cello - you can get a lot closer to that with an E-Bow.
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 1, 2022 at 15:18

It's also known as swelling. Similar to effects on an organ, using the, erm, swell pedal.

  • Should add that, for electric guitars, you can apply swell with any post-amp, but if you really want to change the timbre, you probably want to apply a high-freq rolloff filter to "sweeten" the sound. Feb 1, 2022 at 15:13
  • I always thought swelling was something you ought to talk to your doctor about :P
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 1, 2022 at 16:38
  • @Tetsujin - or possibly brag about..?
    – Tim
    Feb 1, 2022 at 16:49
  • Possibly… or it's a character from Dallas :P
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 1, 2022 at 16:52

That's a volume swell. That's also a common use for volume pedals, to limit or eliminate pick noise and pop and emphasize the sustain. The guitarists I associate most with this are Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan.

With pedal steel, the technique takes on a secondary form where your swell rises with a turned-up amp so that the decay is hidden and the sustain seems to go on forever.

There are also tone swells, the same technique with another knob. The example I think of most is Jeff Beck on the Yardbirds take on "Train Kept A'Rollin'", doing the train whistle. I think that Aerosmith used a wah pedal for the same effect.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.