An essential lead-guitar technique, string bending adds soul and texture to solos and riffs of every persuasion. Whether you play slamming metal, wailing blues, stuttering hot-rod country, or fluid jazz-rock fusion, your bending skills reveal the depth of your connection to the guitar. Many bends involve only one note, but when you want your 6-string companion to weep or rage, nothing beats a ripping two- or three-note oblique bend.
The simplest oblique bend involves two strings. Typically, you’ll hold a stationary note on a high string and bend another note on a lower string. Within this concept lie many musical twists: You can pluck the high and low tones simultaneously or in sequence, and you can make the bend virtually instantaneous or change the pitch more slowly, in rhythm. In the next few lessons, we’ll explore the mechanics of these different approaches.
Ex. 1 illustrates the mother of all oblique bends. Here’s the basic setup: Hold the highest tone with your 4th finger anywhere on the first string. At the same fret, place your 3rd finger on the second string, and bend it up a whole-step. Need extra bending power? Park your 2nd and 1st fingers behind your 3rd to let them share string-stretching duties.
In this example, we begin at the 12th fret with instantaneous oblique bends (bar 1, beats one and two); drop two frets for a timed bend (beats three and four); and close at the 5th fret with a haunting steel-like bend and release. Notice how in each position, we begin with a perfect fourth and then morph it into a minor third. Another way to analyze the harmonic action: We start with the chord-of-the-moment’s 2 and 5 (for the A chord, that’s B and E), and then raise the 2 to 3 (the A chord’s C#) with the 5 ringing above.
Ex. 1 has a strong country flavor, but the identical grip can yield a potent, bluesy cry. The trick is to reposition your grip in relation to the background chord, as in Ex. 2. We’re still pushing a perfect fourth into a minor third, but the chord tones have changed: Now we’re starting with the 4 and b7 (A and D, measured against E7#9), then stretching the 4 to 5 (B). Tangy!
Now let’s shift this bluesy oblique bend to strings three and two. Ex. 3—another 4-b7 to 5-b7 maneuver—sounds glorious played against A9, especially when you kick on a wah.