10 amazing STRING BENDS…
… and how to use them
John Wheatcroft and Jon Bishop offer their individual takes on the coolest string- bend ideas ever. Cop a whole new lickbag!
string bending became popular with the advent of the electric guitar and the work of blues guitarists like T- Bone Walker. Other bluesmen soon caught on, and the technique was adopted by early rock ’ n’ roll and country guitarists. Today, string bending is used in every style, from faux pedal- steel effects to tapping and even bending behind the nut.
Bending is a great way to add expression to your playing. By pulling down or pushing up a fretted note, you increase its tension and the pitch rises. The ability to manipulate notes this way is a great asset, and means you can access microtonal intervals not available on, say, piano. As Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour once put it: “Something magic comes out of bending little bits of wire. You can add a hundred tiny inflections to what you’re doing, all the time.”
Because it’s a topic of such fundamental importance to so many styles, we’ve asked two senior GT tutors to give us their perspective on 10 top string bends. Before practising bends, it’s a good idea to warm up. Stretch out the muscles of the forearms and warm the hands up fully. This will improve performance and help to prevent injury. A key area when developing the string- bending technique is bending in tune ( intonation). Just as a vocalist needs to practise pitching, so does the string bender. Once the string is bent to pitch, you can add vibrato to aid intonation and to shape notes and add sustain.
A popular method of developing your pitching is to use a ‘ target’ tone. The E minor pentatonic scale ( E G A C D) provides a familiar backdrop, so let’s practise with the notes D and E. Fret the D at the 15th fret, second string with your third finger, placing spare fingers behind for added strength. Your target tone is E ( 17th fret, second string) and you can fret this before bending for a reference pitch. Now, bend the D ( 15th fret, second string) up one tone ( two frets) until you think you have hit the E. Re- check the intonation by playing the fretted E. Memorise the amount of pressure it took to get to the right pitch and also the sound of the ‘ in tune’ E note. You can use this method for semitone ( one fret) and tone- and- a- half ( three fret) bends too.
To test out your string- bending technique, we have 10 essential string bends in the style of some of the most famous string benders. All examples have a backing track, so you can try these ideas out and perfect your articulation and intonation. To complete our studies there’s a jam track, which presents examples in the
Something magic comes out of bending little bits of wire. You can add a hundred tiny inflections to what you’re doing, all the time.
context of a solo.
String- bending accuracy relies upon good judgement and good technique. Several factors play a part in determining how far you need to bend and how much force you’ll need to hit your target pitch accurately and consistently.
String Gauge One of the biggest influences on a guitar’s feel, we need to establish a balance between slinkiness and resistance; too light (. 008) and you may not get sufficient purchase, too heavy (. 013) and it’s a physical struggle.
Action Your action should be high enough so the strings don’t choke on the frets when you bend – too low and it’s hard to get ‘ around’ the string with your finger and achieve a sufficient grip. Fretting with the fingerprint helps, along with supporting the bends with one or more unused fingers. A higher action is best for bending, but makes conventional fretting more difficult, so, again, a compromise is necessary.
Neck Camb er The fretboard radius limits the lowest possible action before the strings start to choke against the frets. As wider bends have become more popular, neck cambers have become shallower, with a vintage- style Fender radius measuring around 7.25 inches while a modern Ibanez is closer to 14 inches. Necks from some boutique guitar companies often feature a compound radius, where the fretboard flattens out in the higher regions.
Frets As frets get bigger, contact between finger and fretboard is lessened, reducing friction and making bending easier. But be mindful not to push the string into this extra space and bend notes unintentionally sharp. The extreme version of this idea is the scalloped fretboard, where instead of raising the height of the fretwire, we remove the wood inbetween each fret – so, essentially, the finger never contacts the fretboard, which allows for an extremely effective grip on the string.
Scal e Length Our choices here are historically divided between Fender ( 25.5 inches, 648mm) and Gibson ( 24.75 inches, 629mm), although PRS chooses to split the difference ( 25 inches, 635mm). The length of approximately one fret separates these two options, so a Gibson tuned to E feels like a Fender tuned to Eb: therefore, with both guitars in standard tuning and all other factors the same, you should discern that the Gibson is somewhat looser. It’s possible to balance these two differing feels by using, say 0.010- gauge strings on a Fender and 0.011s on a Gibson. All of these factors inter- relate, and no two guitars are ever going to feel exactly the same, so you may be best advised to stick to one instrument while putting your bending accuracy in place.