It was an eye-opener when I learned that you had to target specific notes when bending guitar strings. I quickly noticed that it was difficult to bend a minor 3rd on an acoustic guitar.
So I created a bend map that shows at which point on any string you can increase the distance of your string bends. Trust me on this, you want to create a string bend map for your guitar and I’ll show you how to do it.
What exactly is a guitar string bend map?
I created a guitar string “bend map” for my Larrivee acoustic guitar to know how far I can bend each guitar string. The map shows the frets where I can bend a particular interval: 1/4 step, half step, whole step, minor third and major third.
Take a look at my music intervals article if you are unfamiliar with the terms half step, whole step, or minor and major thirds.
It takes time, and great pain, to find where the bend interval changes, but it’s worth the effort. You definitely should build a bend map for all your guitars, especially your acoustic guitars. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t bend strings on an acoustic guitar because you can!
Building an interval map for bending guitar strings
I was working on bending a whole step on all of my guitar strings and I noticed that some strings at certain frets wouldn’t bend a whole step. A half step is all I could bend the strings on my acoustic.
And forget about trying to bend a minor third. I couldn’t bend that far on any string – until I started mapping out the entire fretboard. My guitar string bend map is for my Larrivee acoustic using Elixir Nanoweb light gauge strings.
Hopefully, you know how to test that you are bending to a target note. In case you don’t, here is how you do it.
You want to pick your starting note and then pick the target note. Start with a 1/2 step or the note one fret away. Then pick the starting note again but this time bend to the target note.
Use your ear to make sure you reach the target note. Check out the article and video on string bending techniques on Justin Sandercoe’s site. He explains and shows the process I mention above.
The process of building a guitar string bend map:
1. Print out or draw a guitar fretboard with all 6 strings and fret markers to at least the 12th fret.
2. Pick any string at any fret, but I recommend a higher string in the middle of the fretboard.
3. Start by trying to bend a half step (1 fret).
4. If you can bend a half step, then try to bend the string a whole step.
5. Then try a minor third bend. You probably won’t be able to bend a string that far on an acoustic, but you can on an electric guitar.
6. Now test the same string on frets closer to the open strings. See if you can bend the string up to the interval you reached in the steps above. Don’t bend the string at every fret unless you enjoy pain in your hand and fingertips. Test the string every 2-3 frets.
7. At some point, your bend interval will decrease. You want to mark the change in bend intervals on the drawing of your fretboard (your map).
8. Keep moving backward and repeat the process until you reach the 1st fret. Now you should have a map of that string from your starting fret to the 1st fret.
9. Go back to your starting fret and do the same process but moving up the fretboard.
10. Make sure to check frets you skipped when you reach a change in the bend interval. You want to make on your fretboard diagram EXACTLY where the change occurs.
11. Stop the process when you run out of frets or you can’t reach the highest frets.
12. Go to the next string of your choice and repeat the entire process.
Bending guitar strings at the 1st fret
It’s darn near impossible to bend any string at the first fret. You probably think it’s stupid to even bother trying. Go the distance – bend every string at every fret including the first fret.
If you have an acoustic guitar, you probably can only bend a string at the 1st fret as far as I can – a 1/4 step. That’s okay. Let’s look at the first fret in standard tuning (E-A-D-G-B-e).
The first fret notes are F-Bb-Eb-Ab-C-f. Curls or 1/4 step bends are mostly used on the flat 3rd to hint at the major 3rd. Think the ♭3 of the blues scale.
Both F notes would be good over a D major or D7 chord. The B♭ on the A string works for a G major chord. E♭ on the 4th string would be great for a C or C7 chord.
The A♭ on the G string is a little bit of a problem being that most people tend not to play blues in C or F major with open strings. I do. The open B string is the flat 5 and the A♭ would be a good note to curl over an F7 chord.
And finally, the C at the first fret B string would be good over an A or A7 chord.
It’s up to you if you want to try 1/4 note bends on the strings at first fret. I think you should test out strings bends at every fret.
Bending guitar strings on the bass strings (E-A-D)
Let’s face it, bends sound best of the bottom 3 strings, but I skipped no string and no frets. I wanted to know the capability of my guitar in terms of string bending.
You might as well do them while you’re at it. I’m amazed at the bend intervals I can reach with the 6th string. By the way, you pull down when bending the 6th, 5th and 4th strings (EAD), and push up on the bottom 3 strings (GBE).
I often do a 1/4 step or half step bend on the G at the 3rd fret of the 6th string over an E major chord.
Looks like I need another wrap on my 6tf string tuning peg – I only have 2 wraps. It was more than a little out of tune after doing the minor and major third bends.
Here is my guitar string bend map and what I learned about my guitar
The B string rules! Though the low E string can bend minor thirds starting at the 3rd fret, it’s too bassy to be a go-to bending string. Let’s look at each string’s bending intervals:
- The high E string \ 1st string: only a 1/4 step bend at the 1st fret, half step bends from the 2nd to the 8th fret and whole step bends from the 9th fret on.
- B string \ 2nd: 1st fret 1/4 step bend, 2nd fret half step bend, 3rd to 9th fret whole step bend, and 10th fret on I can bend a minor 3rd!
- G string \ 3rd: 1/4 step bend only for the 1st to the 4th fret, half step bend from the 5th to the 9th fret, and a whole step bend from the 10th fret on.
- D string \ 4th: 1/4 step bend only for the 1st to the 4th fret, half step bend from the 5th to the 8th fret, and a whole step bend from the 9th fret on.
- A string \ 5th: 1/4 step only at the 1st fret, half step bend from the 2nd to the 4th fret, and a whole step bend from the 5th fret on.
- Low E string \ 6th: 1/4 step bend only at the 1st fret, a half step bend at the 2nd fret, a whole step bend at the 3rd fret, minor third bend from the 4th to the 9th fret, and a Major third bend from the 10th fret on.
Who says you can’t bend whole steps and minor thirds on an acoustic guitar? Well, they are wrong. By the way, I have 21 frets on my guitar, but I can only reach the 16th fret on the high E string.
I assume the reason why D & G strings can only bend a 1/4 step on the first 4 frets is that their tuning pegs are at the top of the headstock. But I don’t quite understand why the B string performs so well, but the high E does not. Any ideas?
I’m extremely bummed that I can’t bend a minor 3rd at the 9th fret of the B string – G# to B. That would be fantastic for an E or E7 chord. Though overall, I’m excited to use my bend map and attempt to play better leads by throwing in some choice bends here and there.
Building a guitar string bend map won’t necessarily make you a better player, but your bends will sound great. You’ll know exactly where to go to bend any note up to a target note. Plus it’s another exercise to help you learn the notes up and down the fretboard.
Bending guitar strings on an acoustic guitar is possible. You just need a guitar string bend map and be able to memorize where the bend intervals change.
“It’s your mind, it’s your creativity, it’s your guitar, and most importantly, it’s your music – do what you want to do (just make sure it sounds good)” ~ quote by Kernix