4 Advanced Ways To Play Guitar String Bends For Lead Guitar

by Tom Hess

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You are about to discover some of the coolest guitar string bending ideas ever created.

These string bending guitar licks sound advanced when you hear them, but they are simple to learn.

And when you play them the way I show you, they will impress just about anyone who hears you play lead guitar.

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What you’ll do is, take standard, familiar guitar string bends you may already know (regular guitar string bends, pre-bends and double stop guitar string bends)

… and with a few minor tweaks you’ll milk a lot more emotion from them.

The ideas we end up with are called:

  • Half-ghosted guitar string bends
  • Over the bar line string bending guitar licks
  • Double stop guitar string bends (but not the “bluesy” kind)
  • Guitar string bend chains

Check out this video where I show you all the ins & outs of each lead guitar playing idea:

The best way to master these guitar string bending variations is to refine other elements of lead guitar playing that make all your guitar licks (string bending or not) sound great.

These elements are:

Guitar String Bending Mastery Element #1. Technique

No doubt about it: when you play lead guitar – technique is important.

And playing guitar string bends is no exception. 

Here are the key technique points to know about practicing string bends for lead guitar: 

- Wrap your fretting hand thumb around the neck of the guitar. Press the web between your thumb and index finger against the back of the guitar neck and then bend the guitar string.  

- Bend guitar strings by rotating your forearm. Do NOT do guitar string bends with your fingers. If you do – it’s very hard to keep your string bending guitar licks in tune. (And out-of-tune guitar string bends make your lead guitar playing sound totally awful!)

- The correct motion for guitar string bends should look and feel just like you are turning a doorknob. Get this part right and you'll have beautiful sounding guitar string bends when you play lead guitar.

Note: this doorknob motion isn’t just important for guitar string bends – it’s also key to a great sounding vibrato in your lead guitar playing. 

Watch this video to see it in action:

Guitar String Bending Mastery Element #2. Intonation

What if you are practicing guitar string bends like I described, but your guitar licks still don't sound in tune? 

Here is a solution:

Play a note you plan to bend up to as a regular (unbent) note. Then bend the guitar string from a note below. For example: let's say you have to bend a string in a guitar lick from fret 8 to fret 10. Play the 10th fret first (as an unbent note). This is the target note of your guitar string bend.

Now, bend the string from fret 8. Stop when you hear the string bend is in tune. 

Bonus tip: There is a name for this technique. It's called a re-articulation guitar string bend (where you play a note and then bend the guitar string right into that same note).

Use these re-articulation string bends in more of your string bending guitar licks. They sound great!

Question: "Tom Hess, what if I have still have trouble doing guitar string bends in tune?" 

Answer: Detune your guitar by a half step or a whole step (or more)... then practice all the guitar string bends you want. It won't be long before you start nailing string bends in all your guitar licks. Then you can tune your guitar back up to standard tuning and enjoy the improved sound of your lead guitar playing :)

Guitar String Bending Mastery Element #3. The Speed Of Your Guitar String Bends

Most lead guitar players bend guitar string one way: way too fast. 

The problem with this? 

It's robs your string bending guitar licks of much of their inherent drama.

To easiest way to put more emotion into your lead guitar playing is to slow down your guitar string bends.

Watch this video to see how:

Bonus tip: Slowing down your guitar string bends sounds most dramatic on ghost bends. That's because the release of a guitar string bend is its most dramatic part!

Guitar String Bending Mastery Element #4. Sustain

As I said in the video at the top of the page… you cannot be afraid of letting the notes ring for a long time when you play licks with guitar string bends in them.

(Instead, imagine that you get a dollar for every second you can get your string to sustain when you do a guitar string bend.)

Your long notes (and long guitar string bends) won’t sound boring to your listeners, as long as you do what we’ve been talking about in this article.

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Question: “But Tom Hess, is it really possible to increase your guitar’s sustain without buying a sustainer?”

Answer: Oh yes. This is especially true if you bend guitar strings the way I've been teaching you here.

Here are my favorite tips for getting infinite sustain during any lead guitar lick:

  • Fret the note right next to the fret. (This is doubly important when you play licks with guitar string bends.) The closer you can get the finger to the fret wire, the better your sustain will be (and the easier it is to bend guitar strings in tune too).
  • Use more of the pick to hit the string. This gives you a louder starting note (which helps sustain). As a side benefit, this also improves your 2-hand synchronization.
  • Master fast and wide vibrato. This is the single most important element of great sustain. It's also a great test for how well you've mastered the guitar string bending tips from this article. Because great vibrato is nothing more than a series of rhythmic guitar string bends.
Watch this video to see these tips being used in a demonstration on phrasing & creativity with guitar string bends:

Guitar String Bending Mastery Element #5. String Noise Control

You know anybody who loves the sound of guitar string bends full of sloppy string noise? Me neither.

If your lead guitar playing fills with noise every time you bend a guitar string, one thing is for sure…

…You will sound bad!

How do you prevent and control string noise on guitar string bends?

3 basic ways:

How to get rid of unwanted guitar string noise

The most important of these is thumb muting.

This means: rest your picking hand’s thumb on the lower (in pitch) strings to keep them quiet when you play lead guitar.

For example: say you are playing a guitar lick with a string bend on the 3rd string. Your thumb should cover strings 4 5 and 6 while you bend the 3rd guitar string.

As you change strings, the thumb should glide along and always cover the strings below the one you are playing. (This is true no matter which guitar string you are bending.)

Watch this video to see thumb muting in action and clean up your string bends:


Guitar String Bending Mastery Element #6. Bent-Note Vibrato (Vibrato On Top Of Guitar String Bends)

This element is key to making string bends in your guitar licks really sing.

It's also possibly the hardest lead guitar playing element to get right. 

The #1 mistake I hear when guitar players do vibrato on top of guitar string bends?

It's: Not releasing the vibrato to the target note of the guitar string bend

Here is what that means and how to fix it:

Now you know the best ways to bend strings for lead guitar. The next step is to transform the rest of your lead guitar playing (everything from your guitar technique, fretboard knowledge, creativity and music knowledge), so you can…

…Finally put it all together and feel like a real musician!

I can help you with this inside my Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.

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I create a lesson strategy and your lesson materials tailored specifically for you.

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And if you do your best to practice what I teach you at least 30 minutes per day, you almost can’t fail to turn your guitar skills into something you feel really proud of.

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Tom HessAbout Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.

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