How to Bend Guitar Strings for Fun and Profit

Today we are talking about bends and vibrato. Some of the key things to consider when trying to bend your guitar strings musically: 

  • Playing clean, without noise from the other strings.
  • Intonation
  • Bend speed

I’m showing you the way I do these techniques. Of course, there are many different ways to approach them. We play rock, so there are no rules, but sometimes I see some approaches that aren’t effective. 

Let’s start with some basic ideas for bends. Rather than a straight up and down movement with the fingers, think more in terms of rotation in the wrist for bends and vibrato. There’s more strength in the wrist than fingers — you are going to need that for those bends that go up a whole step or more. 

Another thing for bends is to reinforce the finger that’s bending the note with one of your other fingers. 

One thing you can do is practice half-step and whole step bends until you are comfortable doing them on all of the strings. Pay very close attention to your pitch, as it’s easy to go flat or sharp when bending strings. 

It’s important to make the proper faces when doing these exercises. That way, people will think you’re playing with feeling!

A good place to start practicing is on the third string on the twelfth fret — that is where the least amount of tension is. Then start moving onto other strings and frets. Certain areas of the neck, like near the nut, can be particularly challenging. Again, focus on the quality of the sound and intonation on your half-step and whole-step bends. Once you’re comfortable, you can start trying whole-step and a half bends or even two whole steps. 

The more you practice bends on different strings, and different areas of the neck, the more your ears will take care of the rest.

Soon, you will just know how much you have to bend the string to reach the correct pitch. If you switch guitars or tunings, you may have to readapt a little bit. It won’t be that much of a problem, and your ears will guide you.

Practice bends not only around the fretboard, but also focus on getting other fingers (index, middle, ring) involved.  

Now we want to play these bends clean, without a lot of noise, so muting the strings is important, especially if you’re playing live. When it’s really loud and distorted, it’s hard to control, you have to hold the other strings using the fingers on your picking hand. 

There are situations where you may want to have a little more string noise for an aggressive effect, but you still have to have control. 

How you mute the strings can also depend on what string you’re bending at the time. 

Let’s talk about the feeling or expression you want to come across in your bends. A lot of that has to do with how you reach the note you’re bending to. You can go straight to the note, or try slowing down the bend to give it a different feel. 

The more you use these bends and understand them, the more you will discover which works best for you. The bends and vibrato are your voice — it’s your way of approaching a melody. 

Now let’s quickly talk about reverse bends and how we release a bend back to the starting note. Here are just a few variations on how to approach a bend. 

The right bend can give a lot of life to a simple melody. 

For bends and vibratos, intonation is extremely important. Here is a simple exercise that focuses on the correct pitch when you bend your guitar strings. 

Take some time to go check out videos from all the master players (Hendrix, Vai, Friedman, Satriani, Gilmour, Morse etc.,) and just focus on their bends and vibratos. Forget about the technical shred stuff, scales, and all that. Just pay attention to how they bend, how they end a phrase, their nuances, and how they do it within the context of a song. You can recognize a lot of guitar players just by the way they use bends and vibratos. 

You’ll probably relate to a particular style over another and start by emulating that. Then, as you discover other masters, you start mixing those styles with your own, and all of that comes out in your own unique voice.

We are going to go deeper into vibrato in part II. 

Q&A from Chat

Bend guitar strings on standard fretboard vs. scalloped. 

It feels different. It’s easier on a scalloped fretboard, actually. I think that’s the idea. You’re not touching the wood, so less friction.

For bends and vibratos, the scalloped fretboard feels amazing. For chords and other stuff — I don’t know. With bands that have more than one guitar player, it could cause intonation issues — maybe.

Examples of players that use scalloped frets are Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Roth, and Yngwie Malmsteen, and they all perform by themselves. In bands with two guitar players, intonation is always a tricky thing. 

My fingers hurt.

No pain, no gain! Life is not easy, so you need to suffer! 

What happens is your fingers will hurt only if you play a lot, OR, if you don’t play and then suddenly play a lot.

If you play every day, it’s good because you’re not doing bends all the time. My fingers hurt during recording like if I’m playing a part over and over that has a lot of bends — then it hurts! 

What you have to be careful about is tendonitis, which is another thing entirely, I may talk about at another time.

Bending with the pinky. 

I don’t use the pinky a lot — but you could. Some people do, mainly for pentatonic licks. I tend to use the ring finger in those situations. If you feel more comfortable using the pinky, I think that’s fine. 

Continue improving your guitar technique

If you want to learn my formulas to improve your technique and progress faster, check out my online guitar course.

Here’s the link to the original bending guitar video on youtube.

Notable Replies

  1. Hello Kiko, i watched the whole video on bends and i just want to say Thank you, having someone like you spending your time to teach other ppl like me, is mind blowing, the way you teach is very clear, and the content is amazing. Thank you again and keep rockin

  2. Hi kiko
    Thank you for this vidéo et all the others. One of the difficulty that i experienced is to keep the rythm with wrist to create vibrato.
    I can do it in a short phrase but it’s more difficult in context (vibrate quarter note, or eight note by using wrist at the good moment in context)
    I am really grateful to you for sharing all these technics. it 's helping me a lot. See you on next vidéo :slightly_smiling_face:

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