Pull String, StringBender, or B Bender?
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
While researching and creating content for 3Bender.com, I discovered the early history of the B-Bender. There were lots of interesting bends on this seemingly straightforward path. (See what I did there...)
In 1968, Gene Parsons modified a 1954 Telecaster by installing a device that would become known as the Parsons/White Pull-String. Parsons used parts from a Fender 800 pedal steel to devise a way to bend multiple strings (separately): E, B, G and D. History has it that Parsons developed the device after a never-released recording session with Nashville West (and later Byrds) bandmate Clarence White who although staggeringly talented felt like he needed a ‘third hand’ to bend notes with his fingers in the second and third position. Gene Parsons confirms that White decided he preferred a single B-Bender in the final design. Parsons moved forward with Clarence White’s preference, and that device became known as the StringBender and eventually more commonly known as the B-Bender. For White and StringBender players that followed like Jimmy Page, it was critical that the device didn’t replace pedal steel and didn’t take their hands out of a normal stance.
According to Zac Childs, music insider, writer and vlogger, there were benders that came before the Parsons/White B-Bender. The earliest includes a lever inspired by Carl Perkins and invented by Sherwin Linton that was attached to the headstock of a guitar. Linton says he showed Clarence the device, called a Plever (pedal-lever), at a gig in Minot, ND in early 1965*. Dean Porter, Nashville-based pro player, was also an early inventor of a pull string bender unit that was usually applied to a Gibson ES-335 around 1963. It was used by Nashville musicians Jerry Kennedy and Grady Martin to record songs for Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, and Elvis Presley.**
B-Bender history was secured by the players that created new sounds in concerts and on recordings…somewhere between pedal steel bends and a 6 string electric guitar lead. Clarence White deservedly gets the most attention as a B-Bender player. His phrasing and syncopations were innovative even without the B-Bender. More players like Bob Warford and Bernie Leadon helped to popularize the B-Bender by playing on popular songs like Peaceful Easy Feeling by the Eagles and Willin’ by Linda Ronstadt.
One of my personal note-bending heroes, Marty Stuart, is known to have bought the original Parsons/White B-Bender from Clarence’s widow, Susie, in 1980 after getting a job with Johnny Cash. He has honored Clarence White and the original “Space Age Hillbilly Guitar” by playing it regularly in concert, composing Grammy-award winning music on it (Hummingbyrd), and even allowing his fans to play it before and after his shows.
In addition to Gene Parsons’ StringBender guitars and conversions, there are several other individuals and companies presently doing b and g-bender installations and accessories. Some of the most commonly mentioned are Joe Glaser, Forrest Lee Jr., Charlie McVay, Bowden B Benders, Hipshot, Rolling Bender, Evans Pullstring, Certano, Timara, and CWKshop. When you watch the video above of Marty Stuart, you will notice that even he admits it took him some time before he felt smooth and comfortable playing the Parsons/White StringBender. Watching Marty play Clarence’s guitar is truly like poetry in motion. It’s very difficult to believe that he ever felt anything but smooth and comfortable. I perceive he felt inspired and, maybe even, required to ensure that original Stringbender marked its proper place in music history. While there are other great, and maybe even more famous bender guitar players, I think Marty’s contribution to string bending is the most inspirational.
Recently, we had a musician tell us, “Once you know that a 3Bender exists, how can you not have one?” The power and feel of striking and then bending a Big E Chord up to an A chord is electric and galvanizing.
Bob Stafford's (read more here) early work related to standard six string tuning combined with multiple simultaneous string bender lever settings was, in my opinion, ingenious. It points us in the direction and creates the impetus for the trial of alternate tunings, alternate string lever arrangements and 3Bender lever accessories. We think it may be useful to establish something similar to a copedent for a 6 string bender guitar. Copedent is a word used by pedal steel players to describe the tuning and pedal arrangement on a pedal steel guitar. The word is a portmanteau of “chord pedal arrangement.” I think maybe we should call it a cobendent; “chord bender arrangement.” While it will be helpful to define 3Bender tunings and 3Bender string lever arrangements, it should also prove helpful to define the cobendents of multiple bender users like Jimmy Olander and Marty Stuart.
The ability to have limitless “cobendents” applied to a fretted stringed instrument is an approach and design that seems like it should have existed by the 1950s…and yet it still has the potential to inspirit modern music. I feel inspired and required to make 3Benders. Grab a Big E Chord on a 3Bender, and join us on the journey of limitless possibilities...
* Marx Jr., Wallace, Sherwin Linton, Crib Rods, and the Origins of the B-Bender, Premier Guitar, February 2010
** Childs, Zac, Episode 15 - B-Benders - The Real Story, Ask Zack Podcast, April 2020