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Lesson Series

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Joe Pesce - How To Sound Country When You’re Not - Yet! Part 8: B Bending for Classic Country/Western Swing Tonality

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 57 **

If you’re like me and love bending notes, love pedal steel tones and have a B Bender attached to your guitar, I’m going to show you one approach to getting that classic country/western swing vibe into your songs. This example I wrote follows the vibe of Hank Williams, Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys and many others, but you can sans the lap and pedal steel since you’ll be doing all the gorgeous contorting of your melodies with your Bender.

If you haven’t read my last article on B Bending for modern country guitar, I encourage you to do so to get additional techniques, but to fast track an important tip: If you don’t have a B bender installed on your guitar and don’t want to alter your guitar by having your guitar body routed or altered, there are other, cheaper ways of solving this. There’s a company called,”Hand Bender” (handbendersdweden.com) that manufactures B Benders that just pop onto your guitar in a matter of a few minutes without having to screw into the body or modify anything. All you need is a classic telecaster type bridge. I haven’t tried all other models, but there are other 3rd party makers of B Benders on the market, like Hipshot, and Boden (http://www.bowdenbbenders.com/) that are also worth a look at for other options. Each one has their own learning curve, but if you’re an intermediate guitarist, it shouldn’t take more than a few days to get the hang of the technique to start bending naturally. The Hand Bender works well, but has a “short throw” to the bend, in comparison to a traditional B Bending mechanism which has a longer throw that can be modified to a short one. The “throw” is basically how much of the mechanism you have to move to get to the destination note. There are plusses and minuses to both and in reality it comes down to personal preference.

For this lesson, I’m using a Högberg, B-Bending system that’s installed and acts similar to the B Benders found on Fender guitars, Parsons benders, and many others.

The Lesson:

Take a listen to the video provided to get an idea for the vibe we’re going for. The tempo is quite slow, so it should also be easier to hear exactly what’s going on. I’ve also included a diagram of some chord blocks that explain how to voice the chords and what they will become once activated by the bender. For this specific lesson, if you don’t have a bender installed and attempt to do these bends, you may find yourself frustrated, so I would recommend looking at my Lick Library videos on “Pedal Steel for Guitar” lessons. There you’ll be able to create very cool and convincing bends through a different technique!

This song’s passage is in the key of E. The rhythm chords under the main melody are E, G#7, A, F#7 (Edim), and B7. The F#7 has the same notes as E dim, but I called it differently, because it acts as a secondary dominant chord in this progression. It would be considered a “V7 of V”. You can tell also because secondary dominants naturally like to resolve to the (briefly) tonicized chord; not the original tonic. In this case it is B7.

Chord example 1 takes an Esus2 chord and raises the 2nd degree of the chord to a major 3rd, making the new chord an E major triad. This is a very common chord position used in B bending.

The next chord follows a G#7, voiced exactly like the D7 chord we learned as beginners, but instead starting on the 8th fret. When the bender is activated, the “b7” of the chord is raised to the root note turning a dominant 7 chord into a standard G# major.

After the G#, we’ll voice an A major chord (See diagram example). When bent, the 5th of the chord is raised to a major 6th, making the A, an A6 chord. “6” chords sound very pedal-steel in character, because a common tuning for pedal steels is C6; a “6th” chord.

The next three chords are transition/passing chords leading to the “V chord”. They are A, Gm6, and F#7/E. These chords are not bent. If you do want to bend them, bend the A, skip the Gm6, and then bend the F#7/E to a F#13/E chord.

The V chord can be a B7 bent into a B9 (from the 2nd fret position), a Badd9, bent into a B major chord, or a B7 barre chord starting on the 7th fret of the low E string and bent to become a B13 chord.

Lastly, we end doing a “double bend”, starting from a B major triad into an E major triad. This is done by using the B bender on the 7th fret B string and bending a whole step, while bending the 8th fret G string a half step up with your middle finger. (see video and attached chord diagram)

Trouble Shooting

If you are encountering problems, before reinventing new swear words and/or giving up on B Bending, here’s a few tips and thing to think about…

  • Make sure your guitar is intonated properly. If you voice regular chords up the neck, they should be in tune still.
  • Check if your bender is intonated exactly to a whole step. If not, you’re bends will sound horrible, no matter how good you are
  • Make sure your guitar nut, along with the bender parts are lubricated, otherwise the string can get stuck and not return to the right note. You can use many different types of lube, from graphite to vasoline/petroleum jelly, etc…

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