Welcome back to "The Next Bend," a column dedicated to B-bending guitarists, guitars, gear, news, licks, songs and more.
For the uninitiated, a B-bender is a contraption (the perfect word for it) that lives in- or outside your guitar and allows you to pull—usually with some sort of arm, palm, shoulder or hip movement—your guitar's B string up a perfect whole step. So, a B note would suddenly become a C# (or a C, if you don't bend the string all the way).
Although this simple explanation might not convey the wonder of a B-bender (it sounds more like an exercise regimen), suffice it to say the contraption allows guitarists to create sounds that would be impossible otherwise. And it sounds cool as hell.
So, to kick things off, and perhaps to best demonstrate what B-benders are all about, we present this guide to 13 (possibly 14; our math isn't too good) essential B-bender guitar songs.
Sure, we could've packed this list with songs with B-bender solos by Diamond Rio's Jimmy Olander, the Hellecasters' Will Ray or the Byrds' Clarence White. Instead, we've gone for a more well-rounded approach, attempting to include as many different guitarists as possible, not to mention a few super-accessible (even "classic") songs. We might've even thrown in a bonus song or two. Our math isn't too good.
Note that we couldn't resist including a triple dose of tunes featuring the late, great White, the pioneering guitarist from the Byrds, Kentucky Colonels and Muleskinner—the granddaddy (or perhaps the grand-uncle) of B-benders. White's flights of fancy with the Parsons/White StringBender—an ingenious B-string-pulling device invented and installed in White's 1954 Tele by fellow Byrd, multi-instrumentalist and machinist Gene Parsons—is legendary, or at least it should be.
We'll discuss the uncalled-for obscurity of B-bender artists in a future column. We'll also discuss all the guitarists named below (but in greater detail), not to mention gear, including production-model B-bender-equipped guitars, Hipshot B-benders, palm-benders, the B-Blender, the Rolling Bender, you name it.
As you peruse the admittedly country-music-centric list below, remember that even Metallica's James Hetfield has used a B-bender from time to time. It's just a handy device.
Enjoy the tunes below!
THE BYRDS, "You Ain't Going Nowhere"
Guitarist: Clarence White
Because the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo version of this Bob Dylan tune highlights pedal steel guitar (courtesy of the great Lloyd Green), we suggest you check out a slightly later live rendition instead—like this one from a 1968 TV appearance. It puts the emphasis on White, his still-Nudie-sticker-free Fender Telecaster and his Parsons/White StringBender.
LED ZEPPELIN, "All of My Love" and/or "Ten Years Gone"
Guitarist: Jimmy Page
Even though "All of My Love" is probably Page's all-around best B-bender solo, I've also included a live video of "Ten Years Gone" from Led Zeppelin's 1979 Knebworth performance. It's noteworthy because it shows Page actually using the bender. This, by the way, is the same Telecaster Page is holding in the photo at the top of this story—and on the cover of the July 1986 Guitar World. Page continued to use his B-bender into the Eighties with the Firm and the Honeydrippers.
THE EAGLES, "Peaceful Easy Feeling"
Guitarist: Bernie Leadon
As I was listening to this song while compiling my list, someone walked by my desk and said, "I always just assumed that was a pedal steel guitar." It is, in fact, Bernie Leadon on a B-bender-equipped Tele. The cameraman who shot this video was considerate enough to film Leadon's entire solo. It's interesting to note that Leadon is the official link between the Eagles and the Byrds. Before he joined the Eagles, Leadon played guitar with the Flying Burrito Brothers, which was founded by former Byrds Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons (with former Byrd Michael Clarke on drums to boot). But I digress...
WILL RAY, "Hellecaster Stomp"
Guitarist: Will Ray
The original Hellecasters version of this boppin' tune appears on The Return of the Hellecasters. What we have here, however, is a more recent solo performance (with a backing track) of the song by Will Ray, one of the band's uber-talented guitarists. Ray employs a variety of techniques (he has many to choose from), and—especially toward the middle of the clip—these techniques include some Hipshot B-bending (Hipshot actually makes a Will Ray model B-bender). By the way, if you're not familiar with the Hellecasters, there's still time to change that. The Return of the Hellecasters is a must-own album if you're a ... well, a guitar player who wants to hear what good playing sounds like.
THE BYRDS, "Buckaroo"
Guitarist: Clarence White
Feel free to argue, but if you had to choose one Byrds album that best demonstrates Clarence White's electric-guitar prowess, it'd be Live at the Fillmore—February 1969. The musicians on the album are Roger McGuinn on his 12-string Rickenbacker 360, Gene Parsons on drums, John York on bass and White on his B-Bender Tele. He never puts it down, so there's no escaping it. The most impressive guitar track on the album is the band's cover of Buck Owens' killer-catchy instrumental, "Buckaroo," which finally exists on YouTube. White rips open his bag of B-bender licks—and never closes it. Even his mistakes sound good, like the random open G string he hits at :32. Play this one good and loud, people.
MARTY STUART, "Hummingbyrd"
Guitarist: Marty Stuart
As White and Stuart fans know, Stuart is using White's original '54 Tele in this clip. He bought it from White's wife a few years after White's tragic 1973 death. The song, as its title suggests, is an instrumental ode to the guitar's original owner ("Hummingbyrd" ... the Byrds ... Clarence White). "I always felt a little guilty about not having a recital piece for that guitar," Stuart told Guitar Player in 2010. "With 'Hummingbyrd,' I feel like I finally recorded a song that honors that guitar properly."
ALBERT LEE, "Lonely Guy"
Guitarist: Albert Lee
The internet isn't exactly packed with videos of Albert Lee using his B-bender, which is disappointing. Lee does, however, give it a wee workout on "Lonely Guy," a relaxing instrumental number. We've also included a brief clip of Lee (with Sterling Ball on bass) demo-ing his beloved "pull string." To read about Lee's thoughts on (and history with) B-benders, check out my Lee interview from the July 2014 issue of Guitar World.
THE BYRDS, "Tulsa County"
Guitarist: Clarence White
Here's White (again), playing one of his most beloved B-bender solos on Pamela Polland's "Tulsa County," a standout track from the Byrds' second of two 1969 albums, Ballad of Easy Rider. Because there's (of course) no video of White playing this tune, I've included a brief clip of me, myself and I playing a brief, uptempo version of White's solo (with many liberties taken along the way). It's in the key of E if you're following along at home. By the way, my Fender Telecaster has a Parsons/Green bender, an Emerson four-way switch and Lollar pickups; that's a Lollar Royal T in the neck position.
HERB PEDERSEN, "Easy Ride"
Guitarist: Bob Warford
If there were a Clarence White School of B-Bender Guitar, Warford would be its dean. It's freaky to listen to "Easy Ride," a mid-Eighties track by Herb Pedersen (available on iTunes), because it sounds very much like White on guitar. It's actually the incredibly talented Warford, whose style is a bit more "sparse" than White's (fewer droning D strings and all that). His Tele solo starts at 1:48 and includes a killer harmonic; he's also playing fills throughout the song. Warford, who was a key part of Linda Ronstadt's band, also can be heard on several mid-Eighties solo tracks by Chris Hillman.
LINDA RONSTADT, "Dark End of the Street"
Guitarist: Bob Warford
We're gonna stay in "Bob Warford mode" for one more song—Linda Ronstadt's cover of "Dark End of the Street," a late-Sixties soul number that works so well as a country tune (just ask the Flying Burrito Brothers). This is a master class on how to play B-bender, and it's possibly the best "slow" B-bender solo I've ever heard.
DIAMOND RIO, "The Ballad of Conley and Billy"
Guitarist: Jimmy Olander
All I can say is, I'll be writing more about Jimmy Olander in the future. He plays a B- and G-bender. I need to start doing that.
MICHAEL NESMITH, "Propinquity"
Guitarist: Al Perkins
This is a track from Michael Nesmith's Live at the Palais album, on which Al Perkins plays B-bender and pedal steel guitar. Like a lot of B-bender solos recorded since the early Seventies, this sounds a bit like a nod to Clarence White. Perkins, by the way, is another former member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, and you can hear some of his best work—six-string and pedal steel—on that band's Last of the Red Hot Burritos album (1972).
MARTY STUART, "Wait for the Morning"
Guitarist: Marty Stuart
I'm happy to report that Marty Stuart's 2017 album, Way Out West, is packed with B-bender tunes (not to mention a bevy of enjoyably tunes that'll make you wish you were in Joshua Tree National Park at this very moment). The song that truly grabs me, though, is the powerful "Wait for the Morning," an acoustic performance of which can be seen below; and you're reading that correctly—Stuart's Martin acoustic has a B-bender. To me, his simple solo—especially the one heard on official "electric" version of this song—sums up what the B-bender is all about—the way it can stir up deep emotions with the simple pull of a string. We've also included a new Reverb.com video dedicated to Stuart and his beloved guitar, "Clarence." For more about Stuart and "Clarence," check out my recent interview right here.
A FINAL THOUGHT: I normally don't include my own songs in the Guitar World stories I write, but someone recently reminded me of a B-bender tune I recorded about 10 years ago, before I had truly taken the bender super-seriously (These days, my customized Fender B-bender Tele is my main guitar, and it's difficult to imagine life without it). It's an instrumental ditty called "I'm a Geezer for Your Love" by my old surf band, Mister Neutron. It's packed with B-bender action. I hope it provides you with a pleasant three minutes!