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more... GearMay 2008Hipshot ProductsParsons Guitars

Close Up The Honky Tonk: A Look at Pull-Strings

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The Parsons/Green system was originally developed for Fender''s B-Bender Tele. The Fender Custom Shop had released a limited edition Clarence White Tele, which, while popular, also proved to be a challenge to manufacture consistently, with the added time needed for proper StringBender installation, equating to high costs for Fender. When faced with the task of coming up with a less-expensive, easier-to-manufacture solution, Gene enlisted the help of Meridian Green to come up with a design which mounted the moving parts on the backplate. Their completed design made installation much less of a chore, with more weight and a less smooth feel than the Parsons/White being the trade-off. While Fender is no longer producing a Bender Tele, Hipshot has picked up the slack by offering the Parsons/Green system for $380, installable by the end-user - provided the end-user is comfortable taking a router to their favorite Tele.

The feel of a Parsons/White StringBender is arguably the most comfortable for novice string-pullers - the front-strap actuated lever retains its familiar position, leaving the guitar''s inherent balance unscathed. Tuning duties are handled by a small screw on the bass bout of the guitar which is easily adjusted with a pick, limiting how far the strap can be pulled, and therefore the pitch at the end of the lever''s travel. The Parsons/Green system will feel right at home to anyone familiar with the Parsons/White system, with some minor variations, such as a scroll-wheel on the back instead of the screw on the guitar''s bass bout. Despite the added heft and not being as smooth as the Parsons/White, the P/G bender makes a fine choice for entering into the bender club.

Both systems have spawned two distinct schools of thought in regards to tuning. One is to tune a few cents sharp, leaving some wiggle room to nudge complex voicings at various spots on the neck into tune. The disadvantage to this approach is losing the point-and-click simplicity of exact tuning. Going the second route - precisely tuning a whole step up - helps when starting out by taking your ear out of the equation, allowing the player to concentrate solely on the new physical movements needed to make the bends flow. This is assuming that you are starting out with a single bender on a single string - B being the most popular, with G quickly gaining ground due to Brad Paisley''s prowess.

Another thing to be mindful of when strapping on a bender-equipped guitar is how much weight you are (perhaps unintentionally) placing on your neck via your fretting hand, making in-tune open D and A chords a challenge. Watch Marty Stewart or Brad Paisley''s posture a little more closely the next time you see them on CMT - they let the strap hold the guitar, making sure to avoid inadvertent pushes or pulls on the neck. This tends to be more of an issue for pickers who like to wrap their thumbs over the neck to fret notes, but is easily overcome once the player becomes comfortable with letting the guitar simply hang there.


Close Up The Honky Tonk Shake Those Hips
But what if you''ve got more motion in your hips than in your shoulders? Hipshot offers the Hipshot String Bender on its own for folks who like to dip their toes in the water before they dive in. Designed by David Borisoff, the Hipshot consists of an outboard system that sits on a plate mounted behind the guitar''s bridge via the rear strap button. The Hipshot is unique in that it provides full pull-string functionality with no permanent modification to your guitar and is available with an assortment of palm levers and toggle tuners in a modular configuration. This design gives the user the final say in which strings go where, ultimately allowing “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Cinnamon Girl,” and “Mama Tried” to co-exist peacefully on a set list without any undue stress or the need to constantly re-tune or swap axes. While it doesn’t feel as integrated as the other more invasive systems, the Hipshot delivers impressive string-bending capabilities. The “hip lever” is operated via a bar mounted at a right angle to a lever, to which the bended string is mounted; a thumbscrew is provided for tuning chores. The device is engaged by either pushing the neck away or swaying your hip, hence the “Hipshot” moniker.

The toggle-tuner’s ability to effortlessly shift from standard to open G to drop D tunings cannot be overstated. In addition to changing tuning from one song to the next is the ability to switch to drop D for the bridge of a tune and back to standard for the chorus. Although much of the same capability is available by installing Scruggs pegs – banjo tuners with two stops adjusted by set screws to provide two tunings on the same string – the toggle tuners require a much simpler and less invasive installation, proving less fussy for guitar duties.

Although the Hipshot can initially seem a little awkward, the process quickly becomes second nature. Ease of use, low-cost and simple installation counter a notchy feel and added difficulty when trying to hit half-step, in-between bends (compared to other systems), although both the hip lever and palm levers can be specifically set for half-step bends if desired. But there is no mistaking that the Hipshot is a highly functional, fun and easy solution for turning your guitar into a genuine pull-string machine. Although it is often thought of as the gateway drug to more expensive and integrated systems, the Hipshot is an extremely viable end-all/beall solution. With high-profile pickers like Will Ray and Dave Edmunds putting them to good use, it would be wrong to assume the Hipshot is a toy. Additionally, the Hipshot may be the only solution for guitarists who suffer from commitment-phobia yet want to cop some pedal steel licks.

For the consummate string bender, the option of using both Hipshot and P/G systems in one guitar is intriguing. In this setup, the Hipshot actuates the G string while the Parsons/Green handles the B bending chores, delivering the familiar push-down-for-B, push-away-for-G set up. With toggle tuners installed on both E strings and the A, open G tuning is achievable in a grand total of three seconds. The combination of both systems on one guitar is less schizophrenic than one would think, offering up surprising flexibility, with the Parsons/Green and Hipshot systems working relatively seamlessly in tandem.
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