By Damian Fanelli
Welcome to "The Next Bend," our new 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 10 essential B-bender guitar songs.
Sure, we could've packed this list with songs with mind-blowing 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 an 11th song. 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, plus them Blackberry Smoke dudes (new album out soon!), not to mention gear, including production-model B-bender-equipped guitars by Fender, Gibson (yes, Gibson), Washburn and more, Hipshot B-benders, palm-benders, the B-Blender, the Rolling Bender ... you name it. I love this stuff.
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 very handy device!
Enjoy the 10 tunes below. Feel free to ask questions (or mention my glaring errors ... like the time I called Will Ray "Will Lee") in the comments below or on Facebook. Also, all this "we" business above will become "I" in my future columns. We is me!
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 (not to mention some fine-looking Sixties women).
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 on the cover of the July 1986 Guitar World. Page continued to use his B-bender into the Eighties with the Firm.
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.
THE HELLECASTERS, "Sweet Dreams"
Guitarist: Will Ray
Please note that this video includes two songs; "Sweet Dreams," the song we care about for this story, starts at 4:58. The guitarist is Will Ray, who is using a Hipshot B-bender (Hipshot actually makes a Will Ray model B-bender). If you're not familiar with the Hellecasters, there's still time to change that. Both of these songs are available on The Return of the Hellecasters, a must-own album if you're a ... well, a guitar player who wants to hear what good playing sounds like.
THE BYRDS, "Tulsa County"
Guitarist: Clarence White
It's shame there aren't more videos of White and his B-bender in action. This video contains just the audio of this 1969 song by the Byrds, but it can't be ignored.
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 not long after White's death in 1973. More on that later. 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, "Sweet Little Lisa"
Guitarist: Albert Lee
Lee mostly uses the bender for accents in this tune. To read his thoughts on and history with B-benders, check out my interview with Lee from the July 2014 issue of Guitar World.
THE BYRDS, "Lover of the Bayou"
Guitarist: Clarence White
Here's White in more of a rock frame of mind, complete with lots o' fuzz. Again, sorry for the lack of video.
LINDA RONSTADT, "Silver Threads & Golden Needles"
Guitarist: Bob Warford
Here's part of a 1976 performance at Tennessee State Prison in Nashville. The band in the clip is Andrew Gold (guitar), Bob Warford (B-bender Tele), Buddy Emmons (pedal steel guitar), Kenny Edwards (bass) and Kenny Buttrey (drums). Warford was a friend of Clarence White, and his Tele has the "Clarence White configuration." Also, if there were a Clarence White School of B-Bender Guitar, Warford would be the 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.
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
Here's your bonus 11th song! 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, this sounds a bit like a nod to Clarence White. And yes, that's Michael Nesmith as in the former Monkee. What's your point?
Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar World and Guitar Aficonado. He's a B-bending guitarist who collects B-bender-equipped guitars. He has three at the moment, and he's working on getting/building his fourth in the hopefully near future. Follow him on Twitter if you dare. Don't worry, he doesn't post a lot of stuff.