6 Best Guitar Strings for Bending (Updated 2022)

best strings for guitar bending

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When it comes to music, what exactly does it mean to be “soulful”? It’s not an easy question. It’s much easier to argue over the best mic for this or amp for that.

But we don’t listen to music because gear moves us. We listen to music for that elusive feeling, that thing that stirs something deep inside. Expressing feelings through sound that are too complex to ever put into words. Connecting over shared joy and pain, history and hope.

Some of that raw soul started to go mainstream in the 60s. Big bands of the 40s and the first wave of rock in the 50s brought plenty of jumping and jiving. But in the 60s, that forgotten language of blues returned to the spotlight. Soulful melodies, bluesy playing, that beautiful intersection of drive and poignancy. And one humble technique we can thank for this is bending notes on guitar playing.

I can’t put into words exactly what a flawless guitar bend communicates but here’s a fabulous and classic example:

Three quick notes from Steve Cropper (who also serves as the Blues Brothers’ guitarist, by the way) is all it takes. That’s soul, baby.

Thankfully, the soul of the 60s didn’t fade into obscurity this time. It’s come and gone, sure, but the blues and soul techniques of singing and playing music are essential now and will always be essential. String-bending is a favorite technique in guitar solos across genres. What better way to punctuate an iconic line like “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” than with some sick bends?

But guitar bending isn’t always so easy- especially if you’re not using the right strings for the job. Heavier strings make bending much more difficult but that’s not the only thing to consider.

I’ll explain what to look for in strings for guitar bending (for both acoustic and electric players) and which brands to check out. But if you just want to skip ahead and see what made the list you can check out our recommended strings here:

Best For Electric
Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky
Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky
9.9
  • Cobalt material adds extra durability to prevent strings from breaking during big bends
  • Wide range of gauge options so you can find what works best for you
  • More than 5,500 five-star reviews on Amazon
Best For Acoustic
Ernie Ball Earthwood Silk and Steel
Ernie Ball Earthwood Silk and Steel
9.8
  • Available in the lighter .010 gauge for easier bending while still sounding great on the acoustic guitar
  • Unique construction makes these strings strong enough for bending but soft enough to not destroy your fingers
  • More than 1,800 five-star reviews on Amazon
Best For Big Bends
Dunlop Reverend Willy
Dunlop Reverend Willy
9.6
  • Available in an almost unheard of .07 gauge these things bend like a wet noodle allowing you to easily triple bend
  • Not just a novelty and these light strings sound great for the right genres
  • More than 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

Guitar Bending Is Easier With The Right Strings

If you find yourself struggling with bends, think about trying some new strings. Your guitar’s strings are the moment when the feeling is translated into sound. This is where the action happens, no pun intended.

And guitarists can really do themselves a favor by thinking about their string choice, and asking, does it suit their style? In terms of price, feeling, and tone, your strings can really work for or against you!

Eric Clapton Playing Stratocaster
Hendrix was flashier, but Clapton defined the essential blues-influenced rock solo. Source

It should probably go without saying, but if your strings are hard as heck to press down and manipulate then pulling off the bending technique will be harder. That’s why rigs like the Telecaster, which are famous for bending styles, frequently use lighter string gauges. All that’s to say, don’t underestimate the power of the right string when it comes to mastering.

What To Look For In Electric Guitar Strings for Bending

I’d venture that most bendy guitar playing happens on electric guitars. After all, bending is usually involved in lead or solo sections, which pair well with some creative amplification. And you may not have noticed, but electric guitars have lower tension and thinner strings than acoustics, making them much more amenable to bending.

However, the acoustic guitar is no stranger to the bendy blues or soulful genres for that matter. And while it’s more associated with chugging rhythms than lithe solos, the acoustic guitar can certainly be pressed into that role! Consider genres like roots, country, and bluegrass all of which utilize both the acoustic guitar and string bending.

But despite the differences between acoustic and electric guitars, when it comes to bending the guidelines and recommendations are mostly the same so let’s break down the key factors to consider.

String Gauge

String gauge refers to the diameter of the strings. Typically strings are sold in a pack of “light,” “medium” or “heavy” strings. But hybrid packs exist too, which might include light E B G and heavy D A E strings for instance.

As I’ve already mentioned, lighter strings are easier to bend. They’re typically lower tension than heavier strings, and therefore more readily pliable. But if it were as simple as this, why would anyone play on heavier strings? It turns out that this advantage involves trading off the tone for bendability and heavier strings often have a warmer tone that many genres are built around.

Many players recommend playing on the heaviest strings you can manage for this reason. You’ll gradually build your strength with practice and be rewarded with a richer tone.

But this is far from the only approach. Sure, Stevie Ray is (in)famous for playing expressively on insanely heavy strings. Or as the man himself put it, “I use heavy strings, tune low, play hard, and floor it. Floor it. That’s technical talk.”

And by the same token, some greats prefer ridiculously light strings. And if you’re nervous about losing tone, you can be mindful of string material and construction.

So what does all this mean for the bending enthusiast? Start with lighter strings, especially if you’re just learning, which will usually be around the .09 to .010 gauge. That will make bending the strings much easier and you’ll make quick progress which will keep you motivated. From there, you can experiment with heavier gauges until you find the balance between tone and ease of bending.

For an entertaining and extreme example of this, you can see this YouTuber easily pull off 3 bends with a ridiculously light set of .07’s in the video below. Even though it is more than a little silly, it does go to show the power of lighter strings when it comes to bending.

These guidelines are true for the acoustic guitar as well, but acoustic strings tend to be heavier-gauge and higher-tension in general.

In fact, many old school guitar teachers would recommend practicing bends on the acoustic so the electric feels like no big deal- which is also the opposite of what I’d suggest. While “twelves” are a standard gauge for acoustic guitar, try “tens” or “elevens” for easier bending and vibrato. But don’t go any lower, or the decreased volume and sustain are not worth the trade-off.

String Material

The prototypical electric guitar string is nickel-plated steel, wrapped around a hexagonal steel core. But a bendy guitar player might consider some of the less common materials or constructions. Round core, old-school materials like pure nickel or modern high-tech materials like cobalt are on the table too.

When it comes to the acoustic guitar, phosphor bronze is the default material, but brass, bronze, silk, and steel strings are popular alternatives.

Regardless of what kind of guitar you play, you have a lot of options when it comes to string material. Ease of bending will be impacted more by the design of your guitar and the gauge you use while the material will play a big impact on your tone and pitch. For example, one study found that steel strings provide the highest pitch when bending compared to composite strings which provide a lower pitch.

So it’s up to you here and experimenting is going to be best your option.

Coated Vs Uncoated

The coated vs uncoated spans every genre from country pickin’ fingerstyle to heavy metal and everything in between.

And it’s no different when it comes to bending.

But without getting into the nitty-gritty of the debate, here’s what the string bender needs to know: coating can make strings a little smoother and therefore easier to pin against the fretboard when bending and so uncoated strings should usually be the default choice. However, there are many string bending wizards that don’t notice the difference at all.

So the beginner string bender will usually want to start with uncoated strings (which will also usually be less expensive) to set themselves up for the best results but (as is often the case) you can make both of them work.

Flatwound vs Roundwound

While there are many differences between flatwound and roundwound strings, when it comes to bending we’re mostly interested in the smoothness of the string.

Because of how they’re made, flatwound strings usually have a smoother texture which can make it a little hard to grip when bending. Again, there are many guitarists who won’t notice a huge difference but the extra texture of roundwound strings can make the bending process a bit easier for some.

Putting It All Together

So when we put all these factors together, what’s the best type of guitar string for bending?

While just about anything can work, bending is going to be easier if you’re using lighter strings (.09’s or .010’s usually) since they take less effort to bend. Uncoated and roundwound strings are usually easier to grip which also helps with bending. String material is a factor but not as important as others. 

As always, there are expectations and plenty of room for debate but those a good guidelines for most guitarists.

Best Electric and Acoustic Guitar Strings for Bending

Now that we know what we’re looking for when it comes to either type of guitar, let’s get into the recommended strings starting with the best overall options.

Best For Electric: Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky

Best For Electric
Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinky
  • Cobalt material adds extra durability to prevent strings from breaking during big bends
  • Wide range of gauge options so you can find what works best for you
  • More than 5,500 five-star reviews on Amazon

This company seems to be America’s Favorite Strings and while D’Addario dominates when it comes to pure pedigree, Ernie Ball seems to have captured the heart of the average musician.

And full disclosure, it’s totally my brand too. Don’t ask me why, because when it comes to strings, irrational loyalty is totally a factor. Everyone has their brand. That said, to try to stay objective, Ernie Ball makes great strings. Reasonably priced, with loads of unique lines that encourage musicality.

But when it comes to bending we’re looking at Ernie Ball’s Cobalt Slinky strings which I’ve been more than a little enamored with as of late. The cobalt material might not be the first thing you think of when you imagine guitar strings but I’ve found the material to be super durable. There’s also some marketing material to support this too, but I’d prefer actual field data so I won’t get too into the science but I can tell the strings hold up well to bending from my personal experience.

You have several gauge options here and you can go as light at .08’s which will really help you get your bend on. However, I’d recommend the .010’s for most guitarists and absolute beginners can consider the .09’s.

Any gauge in that range will be light enough to bend but not so light that they’ll break immediately which can be a big problem if you’re going for big bends. The .010 gauge is the sweet spot between tone, durability, and bendability for most but Ernie Ball gives you plenty of options.

They’re also uncoated and roundwound which can make them easier to grip and bend. In other words, the Cobalts hit everything we look for in a set of bending strings. The gravy on top is the more than 5,500 five-star reviews on Amazon (with many mentions of bending) and the budget-friendly pricing.

But words only go so far and you can hear the legendary John Petrucci showing off the sound of the Cobalts (along with a little bending) in this video:

With plenty of durability and brightness thanks to the cobalt material along with extra grip from the roundwound it’s hard to go wrong here. You can read more reviews, check out all the gauge options, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best For Acoustic: Ernie Ball Earthwood Silk and Steel

Best For Acoustic
Ernie Ball Earthwood Silk and Steel
  • Available in the lighter .010 gauge for easier bending while still sounding great on the acoustic guitar
  • Unique construction makes these strings strong enough for bending but soft enough to not destroy your fingers
  • More than 1,800 five-star reviews on Amazon

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of gauge when it comes to bending. A higher gauge makes bending harder and because acoustic guitars usually have higher gauges, it’s usually harder to bend on an acoustic rig.

That’s where another pick from Ernie Ball enters the picture and the Earthwood Silk and Steel strings are specifically made for the acoustic guitar but are also available in a relatively light with  .010 gauge option. Honestly, I don’t know that I’d want to go much lighter than that on an acoustic. Even if it means easier bending, going that light can really shift your sound- and not in a good way.

These strings are also roundwound and uncoated making them easier to grip and bend across the fretboard. They sound great too and you can hear them in action here:


But what really makes these strings unique is their softness. The mix of tin, steel, and silk comes together to make these strings much softer than the usual set and that makes it much easier to practice hours of bending without trashing your fingers.

So while bending on an acoustic usually involves a major gut check if you’re missing the right callouses, the lighter gauge option and softer construction make these much easier to learn on. The experienced guitarists will appreciate being able to go for longer too.

You can read more reviews, check out all the gauge options, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best For Big Bends: Dunlop Reverend Willy

Best For Big Bends
Dunlop Reverend Willy
  • Available in an almost unheard of .07 gauge these things bend like a wet noodle allowing you to easily triple bend
  • Not just a novelty and these light strings sound great for the right genres
  • More than 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

Remember when I mentioned great players who favor light strings? Go ahead and include ZZ Top’s Billy “Reverend Willy” Gibbons in that category. He’s collaborated with Dunlop to introduce a signature string line, the literally-named Dunlop Rev. Willy line. But more formally, it’s part of the Mexican Lottery Brand. Yeah, they aren’t holding back with the name…or the gauge.

These are some of the lightest gauge strings available and they actually offer sevens for crying out loud, who does that?! Put another way, these strings will bend like cooked spaghetti. While I can’t recommend these for the beginner that wants to learn good technique, it can still be a fun way to easily hit triple bends and experiment. You can hear how these sound and hear some of those three-step bends in this video:

Beyond note-bending, this could open all kinds of avenues for soulful expressions, like fret vibrato. You can also make a case that lighter strings could improve your overall guitar playing but that’s a much bigger debate.

If you want to bend your heart out and go for a very specific style then pushing your gauge to the lower limits is the right way to go. And while these strings definitely don’t sound bad, they’re still probably not a good fit for the guitarist that wants to practice a wide range of styles.

Still, for folks that want to flex the triple bend, it’s hard to go wrong here. You can read more reviews, check out all the gauge sizes (it’s not just 7’s), and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Most Durable: D’Addario NYXL

Most Durable
D’Addario NYXL
  • Steel and carbon design keeps them in tune even after aggressive bending
  • Available in light .09's for easier bending
  • More than 8,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

String-making pedigree doesn’t get much deeper than D’Addario, who boasts a history going back to string-making families in Italy over hundreds of years. They’ve traded in lutes for guitars though, and could even be called the essential guitar string brand at this point. D’Addarios are known for their premium pricing but with a premium quality to match.

They talk about this a lot, but they’re known for very extensive tests in which they beat up their strings to see how much they can really take. When it comes to bending, that’s exactly what you want to hear and these strings are ready for the wringer.

But we’re specifically looking at the NYXL line which features a somewhat unique high-carbon steel core. The company’s stated reasoning for this innovation is to reach new heights of strength, tuning stability, and durability. All three of which are great for bending strings but I’m also recommending them for their tone boost. Again, boosting tone and going lighter in gauge is a killer combination for bending your way through a song and you can hear this in action here:

It also helps that you don’t have to just take my word on these strings and there are more than 8,000 five-star reviews backing them up on Amazon. A quick search of the reviews and you’ll see plenty of other guitarists talking about the bending ability of these strings as well. You can read some of those reviews, check out all the gauge options and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best Coated Acoustic: Elixir Polyweb

Best Coated Acoustic
Elixir Polyweb
  • Polyweb coating helps strings last longer and keeps your tune
  • Bendable but not the right choice for guitarists that are trying to hit 3 steps
  • More than 4,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

This relative newcomer has staked their reputation on their proprietary coated strings- successfully, I might add! They have managed to justify the premium of their price point, and gain loads of converts not only to their brand but to the whole idea of coated strings.

Coated strings are designed to last longer and resist the dirt, debris, and sweat that comes from playing. However, they’re usually not preferred for bending because they can cause strings to be a little smoother and a little harder to step up with. Not everyone feels that way and while I can tell the difference it doesn’t have a huge effect on my playing while others swear that uncoated is best.

But if you are going to bend with coated strings, Elixir’s Polyweb is a good choice. Gauges are available as light as .010 (the same that we saw in our other acoustic pick) and the copper/zinc construction combined with the coating helps the strings last a long time- even with more aggressive bending. You can hear how they sound in this quick video:


For the acoustic player that wants to bend on every song, these probably aren’t a good pick and you’ll be better off going for another set from this list. But for the guitarist that wants to keep that acoustic sound while still having a gauge light enough to bend (while also getting the benefits of coated strings), these can be a great fit.

You can read more reviews, check out all the gauge options and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best For Blues: DR Pure Blues

Players on the blues and roots end of the spectrum may appreciate DR’s Pure Blues. There’s a lot to love here.

The pure nickel strings, which are essentially a vintage design, have a unique tone that’s referred to as “round” and “warm.” Beyond that, these strings have a round core, as opposed to the typical hex cross-section. Most players I know gush that this combination leads to some great bending. The intersection of nickel material and round core design makes the strings flexible, and deepens the tone to make up for any loss by going thinner.

On the flip side, the tone of these strings is not as bright or saturated. They are more blues than rock in this regard and you can hear what I’m talking about in this video:

But if that’s the style you’re going for then these can be a great fit- and the .09 gauge is easy enough to bend. You can read more reviews and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Conclusion

What else is there to say? You shouldn’t be reading, you should be practicing those bends! No magic string is going to take the place of your own perfected soulful expression. And push yourself to use the heaviest strings you can work your way around. Building your strength and flexibility will only help your playing. Keep working, and feel the joy of the music!