In this review we describe the basic principles of operation of linear electrode arrays for the detection of surface EMG signals, together with their most relevant current applications. A linear array of electrodes is a system which detects surface EMG signals in a number of points located along a line. A spatial filter is usually placed in each point for signal detection, so that the recording of EMG signals with linear arrays corresponds to the sampling in one spatial direction of a spatially filtered version of the potential distribution over the skin. Linear arrays provide indications on motor unit (MU) anatomical properties, such as the locations of the innervation zones and tendons, and the fiber length. Such systems allow the investigation of the properties of the volume conductor and its effect on surface detected signals. Moreover, linear arrays allow to estimate muscle fiber conduction velocity with a very low standard deviation of estimation (of the order of 0.1-0.2 m/s), thus providing reliable indications on muscle fiber membrane properties and their changes in time (for example with fatigue or during treatment). Conduction velocity can be estimated from a signal epoch (global estimate) or at the single MU level. In the latter case, MU action potentials are identified from the interference EMG signals and conduction velocity is estimated for each detected potential. In this way it is possible, in certain conditions, to investigate single MU control and conduction properties with a completely non-invasive approach. Linear arrays provide valuable information on the neuromuscular system properties and appear to be promising tools for applied studies and clinical research.