** As featured in issue 56 **
When it comes to country guitar, I find myself in the same company as Jerry Donahue. Initially, when I heard a pedal steel guitar or even a b-bender on an electric guitar, I had no idea what it was. My instinct was to learn to bend in unorthodox ways to get my guitar to sound that way, and that’s how I started to develop my style.
As of a few years ago I got my first telecaster with a B-Bender installed. It’s a custom Högberg “Special”, handmade in Sweden by Michael Högberg, who also milled the B-Bender himself. It’s a work of art.
So, you may be asking two questions right now, ”Why do you need a B-Bender if you’ve developed a style to do country bends without one?” The second question I hear quite often, “What the h*ll is a B-Bender?!”.
A “B-Bender”, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is a mechanism built into a guitar, (Usually a telecaster) that bends the b string up a whole step (or whatever interval you set it to), by pulling down on the neck of the guitar. (See video). The force of the neck being pulled down engages the strap pin closest to the neck, which is attached to a spring. The spring is then connected to a pin, or button on the body that pulls the “b” string. It sounds like a lot of info, but it is actually a simple, and genius solution to performing certain types of bends that are otherwise next to impossible to do; which leads me to the answer of the other question. I can live without a b-bender, but having one an my guitar opens up a whole world of possibilities for expression that I didn’t have before. Most people have no problem bending single strings or bending intervals, but the B- bender, or at least the way I use it is great for doing more, complex bends especially involving triple stops, and chordal bends.
The great thing about having a B-bender is that you can instantly sound, “country”, even if you’ve never played this genre before. I’m going to show you a few, simple types of bends you can start out with when using a B-bender, in the key of E. The bending itself is quite easy, but you should have an intermediate knowledge or skill level on the guitar to approach these chords.
The theory behind successful bending is knowing which notes you can bend to sound good. Analysing this is relatively easy to find out. Note: Most guitarists set up their bender to bend a whole step. If you take a simple major scale, look at where there are whole step jumps between two consecutive notes. To understand this easier, let’s look at the key of C because it has no sharps or flats. C,D,E,F,G,A,B, and C again.
There are whole-step jumps from the root note to the 2nd degree, from the 2nd (sus 2 or add 9) to the 3rd, from F to G (the sus 4 to the perfect 5th), from G to A (major 6th to major 7th), and also from Bb to C (dominant 7/(b7) to the root note).
Lastly, if you want to explore B-bender options, but don’t have the money to buy a guitar fitted with one, or don't want to ruin a guitar you love by overly modifying it, you’re in luck. There are other manufacturers out there making benders that you can install on your guitar with little or no modifications what so ever. Hipshot is one. My current favourite is a product called, “Hand Bender” (http://handbendersweden.com/) *see photo*. If you own a tele style guitar, or a guitar with a vintage tele “ashtray” style bridge (not the modern six saddle bridges), they slip on without any drilling or modifications to your guitar, and within a couple of days, you’ll get used to the technique used to bend the b string.
For most of the song in this exercise, we’re playing under A, E, and B chords. The end tag though changes to an F#m, (or F#m9), E/G#, and an A to Aadd9. Our first bend will incorporate bending, and sliding on two different strings simultaneously to go from an E chord to an A chord, The technique involves sliding your pointer finger from the first fret of the G string to the second fret; at the same time engaging the B bender to bend the open B string so it gets pitched up a whole step to a C#.
The other bend involves voicing an Aadd9 and bending up to an A chord. If you like, you can also bend a Badd9 chord into a B. Check out the embedded video to see and hear the example and to also play along with. For even more modern tonality, try voicing an open A chord on the guitar and applying the B bender to get an A5add#11 chord and then slowly release it again. - Instant inspiration!
Hope you enjoyed this and will use these techniques in your songs and arrangements. Stay tuned for the next issue where we explore B Bending more in depth, along with additional techniques for a classic country/western swing sound! In the meantime, check out Michael Casswell’s G&L “B Bender” guitar review in issue #31 of Guitar Interactive and see how beautifully he approached B Bending.