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How to bend guitar strings

TGR345 How to bend strings
(Image credit: Future)

Beginner guitar: String bending is probably the electric guitar’s most important and unique sound. Acoustic strings are generally too heavy to bend, so early rock ’n’ rollers like Chuck Berry used banjo strings until thin enough guitar strings were invented. The sound of bent strings became essential to blues, rock, and almost every electric guitar style since.

If you’re learning how to bend guitar strings, focus on bending in tune and using your wrist to power the bending motion. It is possible to bend by pushing with your fingers, but your wrist will give more strength and control. To check you’re in tune, you can play a ‘unison bend’, as featured in both example licks. 

Play two notes at once and bend the lower string until it sounds the same as the higher one. Through an overdriven amp, you’ll hear a pulsing sound when the two notes are different pitches. This will go away when they are exactly in tune.

The A minor pentatonic scale

The most useful shape you’ll ever learn... and it’s great for string bending, too!

A minor pentatonic

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Technique check

TGR345 How to bend strings

(Image credit: Future)

1. BEFORE BENDING...

...position your fingers together for extra support, put your thumb over the neck for leverage, and press your first finger knuckle against the neck as a fulcrum.

TGR345 How to bend strings

(Image credit: Future)

2. EXECUTING A BEND

The curve and shape of your fingers shouldn’t change much from the pre-bent position, because your wrist does the work.

TGR345 How to bend strings

(Image credit: Future)

3. FOURTH-FINGER BENDS

Fourth-finger bends are tough – it’s everyone’s weakest digit! Use as many spare fingers as you can to share the load.

TGR345 How to bend strings

(Image credit: Future)

4. UNISON BENDS

In this unison bend, the first finger frets the second string, while the second and third fingers are used to bend the third. Both strings are played together.

Example 1

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The bend that opens bar 1 is a straightforward one: place your fingers on the 7th fret and bend up until it sounds like the 9th fret note – the ‘7’ and ‘9’ in the tab tell you this and BU just means ‘bend up’. 

In bar 2, you’ll be playing the same bend but also holding down the 5th fret on the second string at the same time.

Example 2.

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The first two examples in bar 3 are bends from the 8th fret to the 10th. They’re fairly easy, so take the opportunity to focus on hitting the right pitch. The closing run is tricky, jumping between unison bends and un-bent notes. Start slowly and practise the lick 12 frets higher where the frets are closer together if you need to.