TALES FROM A B-BENDER FREAK BY JOHN BOHLINGER
The B-Bender guitar became my white whale after Albert Lee introduced me
to the pull-string’s magic in his instructional video from the early ’80s. This predated You Tube—even the internet, for that
matter—and nobody I knew in my home
state of Montana had one, so my research
was limited to that one pirated VCR tape,
guitar-store hearsay, and rumors. It was
the equivalent of learning about human
reproduction on the 4th-grade playground:
Few of the facts were right, but eventually I
pieced together the general idea.
I learned that the late, great Clarence
White and his buddy Gene Parsons hollowed out two Tele bodies and inserted
a series of levers that pulled his B string
up roughly a whole-step. Eventually they
refined the system so it fit in a single Tele
body, though the mechanism remained big
and required a lot of wood to be hacked out
from the back of a doomed guitar. I didn’t
actually see someone playing a bender-equipped guitar until years later when I
moved to Nashville and met Joe Glaser.
Joe, a pedal steel player by trade and
genius inventor by birth, played in a band
with a guy who wanted a bender. Joe,
driven by intellectual curiosity and an
I-can-probably-do-that spirit, designed a
better bender built into the Tele bridge
(similar to the pull mechanism on a pedal
steel), which saved his friend’s Tele from the
heavy routing of the Parsons/White bender.
Joe’s prototype was a success—word got out
about the Glaser design and soon his clients
included the world’s best players from
Ricky Skaggs to Brad Paisley.
benders—so loyal, in fact, that Forrest landed a deal with Washburn Guitars.
In a bold move, Washburn offers the
Forrest Bender in a single-cutaway dreadnought with a cedar top, rosewood back and
sides, and Fishman electronics. The bender
is a compact unit hidden within the guitar,
which makes for nearly invisible stealth bending. Forrest gave me a long explanation of
how his “push-to-pull” system works, but it’s
like describing how to build a rocket out of
old Chevy parts and gardening tools. Forrest’s
Washburn acoustic bender model will hopefully be hitting music stores within this year.
Ironically, Gibson recently asked Glaser
to design a bender for a Les Paul. Joe
modified his design to fit in a beautiful
Les Paul Special featuring two classic P- 90
pickups. To the casual observer, it looks like
a sexy, old fat-top Les Paul with individual
saddles for each string, making intonation
dead on. But pull down on the neck and
voilà—you sound a bit like Clarence White
(or Albert King, depending on the riff). As
an ingenious bonus for the never-satisfied
gear tweaker, Joe built his Gibson Glaser so
you can easily convert it to bend the B or
G string. (FYI: Brad Paisley is a G-bender
guy.) This guitar is insanely cool.
What makes both the Glaser Gibson
bender and the Forrest Lee Washburn acoustic bender even more amazing is that both
models will be affordable enough that a kid
with a paper route and a little patience could
buy one. The prices are not cemented, but
will probably be less then $1,500. One could
spend that much alone on having a bender
installed in a Les Paul you already own.
I’m a little ambivalent about this. On
one hand, these bender guitars are such
great bargains that I want in. I would buy
both of them tomorrow if I had the dough-re-mi and they were in stock. On the other
hand, the bender was one of my secret
weapons and I’m not thrilled about everyone knowing my tricks. I liked it better
when few knew how I was doing that fake
pedal steel stuff.
A Forrest Lee Jr. T-style guitar equipped with
a B-string bender.
The Lee bender mechanism.
John Bohlinger is a Nashville multi-instrumentalist best known for his work in television. He led the band for all six seasons of
NBC’s hit program Nashville Star, as well
as the 2011, 2010, and 2009 CMT Music
Awards and many specials for GAC, PBS,
CMT, USA, and HDTV. Watch him perform on You Tube,
and check out his new band the Tennessee Hot Damns on
Facebook and i Tunes.