A B-Bender is a guitar accessory that enables a player to mechanically bend the B-string up by as much as a minor third (three frets). There are several different designs, but all use levers or pulleys inside or outside the guitar body that are activated by a pull or push of the guitar neck, body, or bridge. The resulting tone sounds much like a pedal steel guitar and contributes a "country" feeling. Originally designed for the Fender Telecaster, B-Benders are now available to fit many solid body electric guitars, and even acoustic guitars.
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The B-Bender was invented in 1968 by musicians Gene Parsons and Clarence White of Nashville West and The Byrds. The device was originally called the Parsons/White Pull-String, later renamed the StringBender, and is now best known as the B-Bender. Early prototypes developed by Parsons (a machinist as well as a drummer) included multiple bending devices for the E, B, G and D strings, but guitarist White decided he preferred a single B string bender in the final design. The B string is bent up a full tone by pulling the guitar neck down. This puts pressure on the strap, which is attached to a spring-loaded lever at the base of the neck. The lever arm passes through the body of the guitar and is connected to the B string behind the bridge (Figure A). White's 1956 Telecaster with the original Pull-String is now owned and regularly played by Marty Stuart, who bought it from White's widow.
Another early maker and user of the Pull-String was Bob Warford, a friend and Kentucky Colonels bandmate of White's who also played guitar with Linda Ronstadt and The Everly Brothers. Warford made his own Pull-String in early 1968 based on the Parsons/White design, with their consent, and installed it in his Telecaster. Later that year, Parsons and White licensed the StringBender to Leo Fender at Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. Fender revised the design to simplify mass production and developed a prototype. However, this model never went into production. Parsons and White subsequently licensed their design to Dave Evans, who had heard about the device and had been experimenting with his own models. Evans built and sold a version of the Pull-String from 1969 to 1973. His customers included Albert Lee, John Beland (guitarist for Linda Ronstadt) and Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon, who played his Evans Pull-String on "Peaceful Easy Feeling".
In 1973 Parsons started making and installing the Pull-String himself, and renamed it the StringBender. He eventually made as many as 2,000 custom installations for guitarists including Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones. He also supplied several hundred StringBender kits to Japanese guitar manufacturer Tokai Gakki. In 1989, when demand overtook his production capacity, Parsons partnered with Meridian Green to outsource the production of the kits, develop a network of authorized installation shops and write an instruction manual for the installers. Green also approached Fender again, and the Fender Custom Shop began producing a Clarence White signature model custom Telecaster equipped with the Parsons/White StringBender. Around 200 were produced, and based on this success, Fender decided to mass-produce a similar model and call it the B-Bender. Parsons and Green revised the design again, and in 1996 Fender began production of the Nashville B-Bender Telecaster incorporating the Parsons/Green StringBender.
Shortly after Clarence White was killed by a drunk driver while loading equipment into his van with his brother Roland after a gig, Richard Bowden, former Linda Ronstadt & Dan Folgelberg guitarist, joined Roger McGuinn's post-Byrds organization and Bowden created his own B-Bender. Being a Gibson player and with String Benders only available for Telecasters, Bowden created a non-defacing palm pedal that attached to the standard Gibson-style stop-bar tail piece. He leased his patent to Gibson, who turned it over to Epiphone for production. Due to manufacturing flaws, Epiphone discontinued production when their patent lease expired after ten years. Bowden now manufactures his device in his own custom shop and has expanded his designs to also fit on Telecasters, G&L ASAT Tribute Specials, and Stratocasters, as well as many acoustic guitars. His models are called Bowden B Benders, available through his .com web site by the same name. Bowden accepts custom orders and will attempt to meet the challenge to modify his non-defacing device to fit on any guitar.
Another type of B-Bender is activated by the picking hand, like the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. Unlike the Parsons/White model, this type does not require any structural modifications to the guitar body and is simply installed with a few screws. Examples are the Bigsby Palm Pedal, the Bowden B Bender (non-defacing to guitar - inventor, Richard Bowden), the Hipshot Palm Lever, and the Duesenberg Guitars Multibender. Each of these can bend multiple strings using different levers.
The Hipshot B-Bender, developed by David Borisoff, also mounts to the tailpiece end of the guitar without requiring any modifications. A lever extends behind the guitar and rests against the player's body. The bender is activated by moving the whole guitar against the player's body. The Hipshot is used by Will Ray of the Hellecasters. While this version bends the string up, James Hennessey developed a version that can bend the string either up or down, although mounting it requires modification of the guitar body (Figure B.)
The same type of mechanics can be applied to other strings besides the B, with the G string being the most common. Brad Paisley is a well-known proponent of the "G-Bender" and uses a model from Charlie McVay. "Double Benders" can bend both the B and G strings independently. The B string pull operates like the Parsons/White design, by pushing the neck down against the strap. The G string pull uses a push-away motion of the neck and depends on a lanyard attached to the player's belt.
A variation developed by Joseph Glaser can bend up to three different strings independently. Like the Double Benders, Glaser's design uses a downward pull of the guitar neck to bend one string and a push-away against a belt lanyard to bend a second string. The third string bend (such as the low E string) uses a backward pull of the neck toward the player's body (see Figure C.) Jimmy Olander of Diamond Rio has Glaser Double-Benders (B & G) in his instruments, with the G string activated by his shoulder strap and the B string by a belt lanyard. Unlike most bender players, Olander uses them more for stylistic enhancement than for a steel guitar sound. Other notable users of Glaser benders include Dan Schafer, Ricky Skaggs and Keith Richards.
- Driscoll, Edward; Forte, Dan (April 2004), "Parsons-White String Bender", Vintage Guitar Magazine, 18 (6)
- US 3512443, Parsons, Gene & Clarence White, "Shoulder Strap Control for String Instruments", published 1968, issued 1970.
- Russell, Rusty (April 2004), ""Clarence": The Granddaddy of Bender Guitars", Vintage Guitar Magazine, 18 (6)
- US 3686993, Fender, Clarence, "Shoulder Strap-Operated Pitch-Changing Means for Spanish Guitars", published 1971, issued 1972.
- Evans, Dave (2008-05-04), History of the Evans Pull-String, retrieved 2009-11-15
- Parsons, Gene, StringBender: The History of the Third Hand, retrieved 2009-05-24
- US 4535670, Borisoff, David, "String bender attachment construction", published 1984, issued 1985.
- US 4658693, Hennessey, James, "Rear Operated Control Device for Guitar", published 1986, issued 1987.
- US 4354417, Glaser II, Joseph, "Tone changer for stringed instrument", published 1981, issued 1982.
- Lee, Guy (June 2001), "Jimmy Olander: From Banjo to B-bender", Vintage Guitar Magazine