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“No-one said you couldn’t bend!”: Polyphia's Tim Henson addresses “boomer bends” controversy

Polyphia's Tim Henson performs live
(Image credit: Olly Curtis/Future)

Polyphia guitarist Tim Henson has caught up with Rick Beato to discuss the controversy around his comments over ‘boomer bends’ – a reference to the classic blues-y bends beloved of '70s guitar players.

Henson unintentionally whipped up a storm on YouTube when he discussed the concept during Beato's Modern Guitar round table discussion, alongside Tosin Abasi and Misha Mansoor. 

In response to an observation from Abasi that Henson likes to “reject a lot of the guitar hero stuff,” Henson agreed, saying “A lot of it was rejecting it. You know, like 'I don’t think I should do big bends like that because it’s going to sound like that era' – the boomer-ish sound…”

Although it was little more than a throwaway comment, it predictably sparked, er, “debate” among the guitar community, with criticism pouring in on everything from TikTok guitarists’ “headache arpeggios” to the intonation of Henson’s example bend.

In fairness to Henson, the term mainly caught on because host Rick Beato thought it was quite amusing and has since frequently referenced it. Now, Beato and Henson have discussed the boomer bend fallout in a new video.

“Bending is cool!” clarifies Henson in Beato's new interview. “For me, [boomer bend] it’s just a simple way to classify it. Like, ‘Oh that’s the sound we’re going for, I know what to play now.’

“I think it’s a rite of passage. Without learning to do that, how do you learn to bend a note to the right intonation? I think someone pointed out in the video that I didn’t do that, and you know, I’m a bit out of practice! What can I say!? But at one point, that’s how I learned, was playing like that. It’s something that everybody does.”

Despite the pile-on, the vast majority of viewers were supportive, either taking ownership of their own boomer bending, or chuckling at the skewering of those among us who remain stuck in that pentatonic box (guilty as charged).

“I think what a lot of people got tore-up about was, ‘Well, how can I express emotion without bends?’” responds Henson. “And it’s like, ‘Well, no one said you couldn’t bend!’ There are subtle bends, there’s the big wide ones, there’s so many ways to express emotion through bends and that was the way that everyone chose to do that back in the '70s and '80s…

“I fully expect that one day people will be making the same jokes about my playing, you know, slaying insults, generationally... and I welcome it with open arms. We’ll keep doing it from generation to generation. That’s the fun part about having friends who have been playing guitar, years before I was born. You get to hear all sides of it.”

Beato and Henson also joke about the term’s new popularity (there have been multiple calls for “Bend like a boomer” T-shirts) and which of them should take credit.

“Let’s split it,” concludes Henson. “We’ll open up a store and we’ll sell the rights to Guitar World. Let’s just make bank!”

We’ll make some calls…

Matt Parker

Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.