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|The Lick That Started It All
Early in 1967, Gene Parsons had the foresight to bring his mono, reel-to-reel tape recorder from home to record his combo playing at a local El Monte, California club called the Nashville West. The band, consisting of Gib Guilbeau on vocals, Wayne Moore on bass, Gene on skins and Clarence White on electric guitar, was also called Nashville West. In 1978, this recording was released on vinyl as Nashville West on the Sierra-Briar Records label, and eventually showed up on CD in 1997 on Sierra Records.
The first track on the CD is called – what else? – “Nashville West,” and it demonstrates the technique that ultimately spawned Gene’s development of the StringBender. With the high E string tuned down to D, Clarence pulls off a behind the nut bend up to E the second time through the main theme.
The following is an extremely simplified example of the Clarence’s technique. His sense of time is unparalleled, so the main thing you should take away from this is how something as simple as a whole step bend behind the nut can make your guitar sit up within a part, as well as offer a little taste of what is possible with a proper, bender-equipped axe.
No overview on pull-string systems would be complete without mentioning Glaser benders. Developed by Joe Glaser in the late-seventies, his benders use an ingenious installation method requiring several small routes rather than one large one to lessen the removed wood’s impact on the instrument’s original sound. These routes are located under the pickguard, neckplate, and bridge. There is also a single, small diameter (3/8”) hole drilled through the length of the guitar. The small lever actuating the device resides on the neck plate, altering the guitar’s strap location, although the change in feel is fairly negligible. According to Joe, he places the lever here because it results in a more effective pull due to the straighter angle of the strap in relation to the lever. Accordingly, the Glaser system is the smoothest of the bunch, featuring a screw at the guitar’s lower bout for adjusting the lever’s resistance, allowing the player to select from breath-and-it’ll-go-sharp easy to my-shoulder’s- sore hard and all points in between.
Glaser’s ingenious and unobtrusive installation leaves little doubt why players like Jimmy Olander and Brent Mason rely on his benders. With smooth, effortless operation, the only negatives that can be leveled at the Glaser system are the change in feel due to the strap’s new placement and installation waiting times. Joe installs the bender systems in his shop, but benders are just one of the items Glaser’s business handles. The resulting turn-around times can end up being counted in months rather than weeks.
The biggest difficulty when trying to choose a pull-string system of your own is lack of availability. Since Fender quit producing the B-Bender Tele, the question of where to try one out has become even more pertinent. Fortunately – or perhaps unfortunately – pull-string systems aren’t for everybody, so they often pop up used. Keeping an eye on TDPRI.com’s classified section and eBay can turn up the occasional deal. Putting the word out on your favorite Tele forums and dutifully perusing your local Craigslist classifieds can also help unearth hidden gems.
If sleuthing around isn’t your cup of tea, the Hipshot system is hard to beat and can easily deliver journeyman-level bender fun without demolishing the Christmas club funds. By the same token, if you have the extra cash and don’t mind jumping right in, give Gene or Joe a buzz and tell them what you’re looking for. Both are passionate about what they do – choose the one who speaks to you.
If you’d like to learn more about these pull-string systems, check out the following websites.