The physics of modulation of an intense relativistic electron beam by an external microwave source is studied in this paper via experiment, theory, and simulation. It is found that the self‐fields of the electron beam, in general, intensify the current modulation produced by the external source. The linear and nonlinear theory, together with the simulation, show that the classical klystron description in the drift tube region is substantially modified by the beam’s high density. In the modulating gap, electron bunches may be generated instantaneously without the necessity of propagating the beam through a long drift tube. These properties, which have no counterparts in low‐density beams, lead to the generation of large amplitude, coherent, and monochromatic current modulation on an intense beam. The excellent amplitude stability and the phase‐locking characteristics (<2°) of the modulated current, demonstrated in experiments, open new areas of research in high‐power microwave generation and compact particle accelerators.