Sustain is a parameter of musical sound in time. As its name may imply, it denotes the period of time during which the sound is sustained before it becomes inaudible, or silent.

Furthermore, sustain is the third of the four segments in an ADSR envelope. The sustain portion of the ADSR envelope begins when the attack and decay portions have run their course, and continues until the key is released. The sustain control is used to determine the level at which the envelope will remain. While the attack, decay, and release controls are rate or time controls, the sustain control is a level control.


Instruments with the shortest sustain are usually drum percussion instruments; a drum beat begins to fade almost instantly. Instruments with the highest possible sustain often involve the passage of air, such as brass or the pipe organ, which have theoretically unlimited sustain. Resonating instruments such as the piano and guitar also have fairly long sustain for string instruments.

Factors affecting sustain

Within a family of instruments, sustain is affected by a variety of factors. For example, sustain in guitars is determined by factors including body construction (hollow versus solid), body woods, the placing of strings (through the body or atop the body), and pickup design. In electric guitars and pianos, dedicated effects pedals are available that prolong the sustain-phase of a tone. Its counterpart in synthesizers is the S (for sustain) in the ADSR envelope.

The sustain pedal is the electronic equivalent of a piano's damper pedal. In most synthesizers, the sustain pedal latches the envelopes of any currently playing or subsequently played notes at their sustain levels, even if the keys are lifted.


There are musical devices used to increase sustain, known as "Sustainers", such as the patented Fernandes Sustainer guitar system and the EBow, which can be used to produce virtually infinite sustain.

There are many factors that affect the level of sustain in guitars. The most obvious ones are the craft work and the quality of the wood and other material.

See also

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