In the last three posts, we've looked at various single-note string bending approaches to scale shapes. Now it's time to introduce a batch of new bending concepts through some actual licks…
Some of the following ideas are admittedly a little trickier than anything we've looked at in the previous columns, but… it's all in the name of fun! The unifying theme throughout the following selection of licks is that they all utilise multiple strings, some of which are bent while others remain static.
Consequently, there's a distinctly 'country' flavour this month. It's probably fair to say that country players have more fun with string bending than the rest of us do, and this is at least partially because the cleaner tones typical of the genre allow multiple strings to ring out simultaneously with great clarity, facilitating all kinds of new double- and triplestop bending ideas that wouldn't sound anywhere near as defined if you tried to play them through a more overdriven 'rock' amp.
One significant reference point for any country guitar player must surely be the sound of the pedal steel - an instrument that is all about bending! The mechanics of the pedal steel enable the player to bend a string swiftly and accurately up to a target pitch by pushing all the way down on a pedal.
Translating some of this characteristic onto the guitar requires that you bend very quickly and purposefully from one note to the next, as opposed to the slower 'wailing' style of bend, which can work so well in bluesier contexts.
As a general note about all of the following licks: one of the biggest challenges here will be maintaining a constant pitch on the unbent strings. Whenever you play a double (or triple) stop and bend one of the strings, there's a natural inclination for your fretting hand to move the other strings, too: preventing this from happening requires some experimentation to find the most comfortable and stable hand position… not to mention constantly using your ears to monitor the tuning of each note!
Oh, and a quick apology to any reader whose guitar features a floating bridge. If your whammy bar is set up in such a way that it can both raise and lower the pitch of a note, you'll find that bending any one string sharp will cause all the others to go flat, as the increased pull on the strings affects the tension in the spring cavity of the guitar.
Unfortunately, ideas like these really are much easier to execute on a guitar with a fixed bridge. (For the video lesson, you'll note that I used a Charvel with a floating bridge, but appearances can be deceiving: that particular instrument features a device called a Tremol-No, which enables the user to lock the bridge by tightening some screws in the spring cavity area…)
Ex. 1 is a typical doublestop idea that moves through three different mini-shapes on the neck, outlining the notes of a C7 chord.
After the bend has been applied to each doublestop, the end result is a chord tone on each string: if you want to come up with some similar ideas of your own, bear in mind that the target pitch of the bent string is the one that needs to be a chord tone, and that the starting point of the bend should ideally be one scale tone lower. (Theory buffs might like to know that the mode of choice here would be C Mixolydian.) For each doublestop, try picking the lower string while plucking the higher string with your second finger.
Ex. 1 tab (right-click to download)
Ex. 2 works over a D7 chord: throughout the first bar, try using the pick for all the second string notes and your second finger for everything on the first string.
(For the latter half of bar 2, I would recommend assigning the third and second fingers of your picking hand to the first and second string, leaving your pick free to handle the third string.
This kind of hybrid picking might feel awkward at first but it offers a certain tonal authenticity and also reduces the overall amount of picking-hand movement so… do persevere!)
Ex. 2 tab (right-click to download)
Ex. 3 takes its inspiration from some pedal steel clichés: note the suggested fingerings!
For the last chord, your fretting hand should barre the top two strings at the 8th fret while bending the third string up a whole tone from the 7th fret.
The artificial harmonic is actually optional, but if you do intend to incorporate it, I find that the clearest-sounding approach for this particular chord is to hold the pick between the thumb and second finger so your first finger can lightly touch the harmonic node at the 19th fret on the third string.
You can then strike the third, second and first strings using your pick, third and fourth fingers respectively…
Ex. 3 tab (right-click to download)
Ex. 4 introduces the idea of playing three-string shapes to outline a chord progression, bending the lowest string up to a chord tone from one scale degree below.
For the bulk of this lick, the best picking hand approach is similar to that which we encountered at the end of Ex. 2 - ie, assigning your pick, second and third fingers to the third, second and first strings respectively.
You'll also spot that the bend in the last chord requires a degree of 'cheating', as it's impossible to execute a conventional whole-tone bend on the second string without either dragging it beyond the edge of the fingerboard (if you're bending downwards, towards the floor) or colliding with the other strings (if you're bending in the other direction.)
To solve this problem, move your picking hand behind the fretting hand and try to find a comfortable way to bend the string from there. (As you're doing this, try to ensure that the first finger of your fretting hand doesn't move: you'll need to resist the pull of that picking-hand bend!)
Ex. 4 tab (right-click to download)
In Ex. 5 we encounter a new kind of doublestop bend: here, both strings are being bent simultaneously! For the first such doublestop, you should be able to keep the distance between the first and second strings pretty much constant as you bend, whereas you may need to push the higher string a little harder when executing the following doublestop on the third and second strings (beats 3 to 4). Your ears have to be your guide here in terms of accurate pitching!
Note the 'stepped' release towards the end of bar 1, as well: you'll recall we encountered a more basic version of this idea in the previous instalment of this column, but now we're applying the same approach to two strings simultaneously: ensure that you pause the bend halfway through, so that the chromatic descending movement is clearly outlined.
Ex. 5 tab (right-click to download)
Let's wrap things up for this month with a truly unusual lick… The first challenge here is that we need to play a four-note chord (the first finger barres all the way down to the first string!) and then bend one of the second notes up a tone: this approach is somewhat unorthodox, to be sure, but it can be very effective if you get it right!
To make the first half of Ex. 6 work, you'll need to experiment with using various parts of your fingertip to execute the bend: your ultimate goal is to be able to bend that third string note up a whole tone without muting the first string note that follows it: the more you can allow all the strings to ring out together, the more effective this kind of lick will sound.
The last few notes of this lick consist of natural harmonics at the 7th fret and, as you'll see from the tab, the final bend is executed behind the nut, using whichever hand feels more natural.
And finally, a further apology to anyone whose guitar has a double-locking tremolo unit: it saddens me to say that this particular lick is not for you. Sorry 'bout that!
Ex. 6 tab (right-click to download)