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As you dive deeper and deeper into the world of music with your guitar as a companion, you’ll find different ways to manipulate the strings and the sound they can produce.
You will explore the simple but beautiful technique of strumming, then you may progress into fingerpicking and fingerstyle, but where do you go from there?
You can add some slaps and pops here and there, but the next level up would be string bending, the secret to all those legendary solos across all genres.
How to make guitar strings easier to bend?
If your strings are hard to bend, then consider using lighter gauge strings that are also of higher quality. Working on your bending technique and strengthening your fingers can also make bending easier. Additionally, use two or three fingers to help you bend the strings and include your hand and wrists muscles.
There are plenty of tips and tricks you can follow to improve your bending technique and make string bending much easier, so let’s explore your options, and what strings you should go with if you’re planning on bending them!
Why Are My Guitar Strings So Hard To Bend?
The answer to this question will depend on whether you are completely new to bending and whether you have some experience with this technique.
If you are new, then perhaps your fingers are not strong enough, and they haven’t developed enough calluses to make bending feel effortless. The good news is that bending can actually help you build finger strength and dexterity.
On the other hand, if you have been playing for enough time to develop substantial finger strength, and you still find bending strings hard then the problem might be in your bending technique.
It could be the position of your hand on the fret, the number of fingers you use might not be enough, or you may be expecting your fingers to do all the work, instead of adding your wrists into the mix.
The gauge thickness of your strings can be another culprit and depending on how light or thick you go; it can make a massive difference in how easy it is to bend the strings.
Another thing that might be making bending harder for you is the tuning, sometimes standard tuning might be too tight for this technique, so you may need to experiment with tightening or loosening your guitar strings.
I also want to mention that bending is not only affected by the strings you use or your own technique, but also by your guitar. Strings on electric guitars are much easier to bend compared to acoustic strings which are usually too heavy.
Of course, you can get used to acoustic guitar strings, but if you’re transitioning from playing on electric guitar strings then it’s going to be harder.
Aside from the type of guitar you’re playing, if the scale is too long then it can make playing notes more difficult when bending at first. But all you have to do is experiment with your guitar’s tuning and make sure that the tension is not too tight.
11 Ways To Make Guitar Strings Easier To Bend
B.B. King is the one who popularized solo techniques like string bending and let’s face it he makes bending seem so easy, each motion is fluid and breathtaking.
Of course, I am no B.B. King and I know string bending is not easy, especially for new players, but it doesn’t have to be harder than it already is, so let’s see what you can do!
1. Choose The Right Strings
Your strings, as you can imagine, play a major role in your performance, and not every string set is going to be the same. If you find string bending difficult then consider switching your strings for a higher quality set.
That doesn’t mean you should get the most expensive strings out there, but keep in mind that mass-produced strings tend to have poor elasticity and they can corrode much faster.
When it comes to material, nickel strings are usually easier to bend than steel ones, but you may not like their well-rounded mellow tone.
Roundwound strings hold less tension compared to flats, and thanks to the round wrap wire they are far more flexible. Additionally, the texture creates more friction which makes gripping the string much easier compared to the smooth surface of flatwound strings.
The same can be said about coated strings which can be difficult to bend without slipping out from your fingertips.
2. Choose The Right Gauge
String gauge refers to the diameter of the strings and guitar strings are usually sold in packs of light, medium, and heavy.
Lighter strings are much easier to bend because they have lower tension than heavy strings. With heavy strings, you will have to use more force to bend.
That doesn’t mean heavy strings are off the table, after all, you may prefer a darker and warmer tone, but as a new player or if you are struggling with bending you might want to start with lighter strings around .09 to .010 gauge and gradually move to heavier sizes.
3. Break In The Strings
New strings are much stiffer and they are also harder to play let alone bend, and if you just changed the strings on your guitar then you will have to spend some time breaking them in first.
The break-in process varies depending on the type of guitar strings you are using, the material and the gauge, as well as the guitar, whether that’s acoustic or electric.
It can take 1 to 2 hours or even 5 hours, for the strings to settle and in some cases, stings may take several days of playing to achieve tuning stability and to lose the bright metallic sound.
4. Clean Your Strings
String maintenance is really important, not only because you don’t want your strings looking gunky and black from the dirt, but you also want to maintain their tone and playability for as long as possible.
Cleaning your guitar strings will help prevent the accumulation of moisture, oils, and dirt that get transferred from your hands which would otherwise lead to corrosion and rust.
Your new strings will quickly become old strings that simply don’t have the elasticity of newer strings that you need when bending.
5. Work On Your Bending Technique
Believe me, I know string bending is hard, but it’s especially hard if you’re not doing it right. That’s why you need to make sure your technique is on point.
The first thing you need to do is look at your fretting hand and its position. Your thumb should sit over the neck while your fingers should sit on the strings at an angle and not straight up like they would if you were playing barre chords.
Next, you need to remember to use two or three fingers to bend a string instead of one. This will give you the extra strength to actually do it, but it will also improve your sound and overall performance.
So, you need to position your ring and middle finger together so they both hold the string you’re about to bend and the index finger will assist you with holding the string but also muting the one above.
If it sounds a bit confusing I suggest watching this video that does a great job explaining this process!
Finger positioning is crucial, but you shouldn’t just rely on your fingers instead you need to make sure your hand and wrist are sharing some of the weight.
By relying most of your strength on your wrist you will realize that bending feels much easier and most importantly you won’t have to experience finger soreness.
I also want to add that there are full and half bends, and if you are struggling with bending then it’s best to start off with half bends and then move to full bends when your wrist and fingers feel stronger.
6. Strengthen Your Fingers
Finger strength is essential in guitar playing across all techniques, including bending. Thankfully this isn’t something we are born with, instead, all guitarists had to build their strength with constant practice.
If you are new to guitar playing even light-gauge strings will feel hard to press down, and that feeling can last for a few weeks or even months.
Only when the skin will begin to harden and form calluses will it feel easier to play the guitar. Bending will take even more time considering your fingers should have enough strength to exercise more pressure to bend a string at a different angle.
7. Tune Down the Guitar
Strings should feel somewhat rigid but also easy to play when using standard tuning. You may find it difficult to move the strings from under your fingers to the sides, but they shouldn’t be unmovable.
If you find the strings hard to bend then the tension might be too high. If that’s the case then you need to check if your guitar is in tune or if it’s tuned an octave higher.
It’s also possible that your guitar is properly in tune but the strings are still hard to bend. To solve this problem you could tune it beneath the standard tuning, either one-half step or one whole step.
This is something I used to do when I was still new to bending strings. With slightly looser strings I could actually do it, however, this option may lead to string buzzing.
8. Adjust The Neck
The action is the distance between the fretboard and the string and adjusting the action is one way to help you with string bending.
If that distance is too high you might find it hard pressing the strings down against the fret let alone bend them. Then again if it’s too low then you might experience difficulties catching the strings while bending.
A guitar with a longer scale is another guitar neck-related issue you might face that can get in the way of performing bends.
So, if the distance between the nut and bridge on your guitar is too long your can either tune down your guitar so that the strings are looser and easier to bend or consider playing on a guitar with a shorter scale.
9. Fretboard Maintenance
Cleaning your strings is not enough and your fretboard needs just as much care.
Fretboards get dirty over time and because the accumulation of dirt and sweat is gradual you may not notice the gunk accumulated around each fret until it gets in the way of your string bending.
That’s why remember to wipe your fretboard and your strings with a microfiber cloth after each session and give it a thorough clean when you’re restringing your guitar.
10. Adjust String Tree
Perhaps since string trees are small and located on the headstock they end up going unnoticed, but they actually play an important role.
A string tree provides downward pressure on a string so it will sustain properly when played open and won’t rattle and buzz within its nut slot.
If your guitar has a metal string tree then you might experience problems when bending, specifically tunning issues, because of the friction created by the constant contact between the metal tree and the metal string.
To reduce this friction you can either switch to a string tree made from a slippery material such as graphite or a string tree with built-in rollers.
You can avoid changing the metal string tree if you make sure to keep it clean, this way you will avoid corrosion that can increase friction problems.
11. Lubricate Nut Slots
You can also experience tuning problems if there’s friction between your strings and their nut slots. But this friction can also make string bending harder to perform.
You see when there’s friction it means that you have to use more force when playing and you can easily avoid this problem by lubricating the nut slots.
I use a regular pencil containing graphite that I have laying around in the studio this will make the nut slots slippery and reduce the friction that may get in the way of your bending. If that feels too medievaly you can have a locking nut installed instead.
What Strings Are Better For Bending?
As I’ve already mentioned choosing the right strings can truly change your bending game for better or for worse.
Roundwound strings with a lighter gauge are much easier to bend and nickel-plated strings work best for bends on electric guitars because pure nickel strings tend to feel a little stiffer. You should also avoid steel strings for bending because they are harder to press down.
If you are planning on doing bends on an acoustic guitar then you should be prepared to struggle for some time because it’s going to be more difficult regardless of the string material you go with. You can try a lighter string gauge to make it easier, but you will risk losing some of the volume.
Nylon strings are known to be more flexible and they are overall easier on your fingers, but you might find that the bends are not as pronounced as they are on steel or nickel strings.
If you are on the lookout for a set that can support your bends and make your solos stand out then you may want to look at the best strings for bending that made it on our list, both for electric and acoustic guitars as well as for big bends!
Remember that when it comes to guitar strings and bends you can always experiment with different alloys and see what works for you!
Are Lighter Guitar Strings Easier To Bend?
Light-gauge guitar strings are much easier to bend because they lack the stiffness and tension that heavy gauge strings offer.
You can of course bend and manipulate thicker strings but that requires a lot of finger and wrist strength that not all guitarists have, especially ones that are just starting out.
Light strings are also known for their soft but clear sound and they also produce good tremble which suits the bending technique.
However they are not without flaws and compared to the loud heavy gauge strings, light strings don’t have the same sustain, they make it harder to maintain intonation, and the lighter you go the easier they break.
Will Bending Guitar Strings Break Them?
Good quality strings are made to hold up to a lot of tension, and it’s common for old strings to break when they reach the end of their life cycle.
But this doesn’t mean an aggressive style of playing won’t cause a new string to break. Techniques like bending can definitely cause strings to snap more often, but this doesn’t mean it should be the norm.
If your strings keep breaking every time you bend them then it could be a problem with your technique, the strings themselves, or the guitar.
How Tight Should Guitar Strings Be When Bending?
You should be using standard tuning on your guitar even when bending. The strings should feel loose enough that you can bend them one step higher up the fretboard, but you still need to put some effort into it.
You definitely don’t want the strings to be too loose because when playing you are likely to switch between different techniques like strumming and fingerstyle, so you want them to maintain sustain.
That being said, if your strings feel too tight and you find them too hard to bend then you could tune down your guitar either one-half step or one whole step. This should loosen the strings enough for you to bend without losing the sustain.
I also want to note that switching from an electric guitar to an acoustic can make bending feel incredibly hard. That’s because acoustic strings are heavier and acoustic guitars tend to have a higher action which means that pressing the strings down and bending them will require more strength.
Figuring out why your strings are hard to bend can help you find a solution to this problem, but you still need to know the various steps you can take in order to make strings easier to bend.
It’s also important to take a moment and observe your own bending technique, how strong your fingers are, and if they get enough support from your wrist.
Take a look at your guitar and of course the strings themselves, their quality, and how light or tight they are.
And remember that no matter what the cause might be you can always find a way to bend the strings to your will!