Harrison Marsh introduces electric slide playing in standard tuning, in the style of players such as Derek Trucks, Duane Allman and Warren Haynes.
In this brand new series (as a result of a reader request), RGT’s Merv Young’s introductory lesson looks at slide in standard tuning.
Slide guitar is an instantly recognisable and a very expressive way of playing and many of its heroes, such as Robert Johnson, Elmore James and Son House, come from traditional blues. Players such as Duane Allman, Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks have explored a wider mix of genres, although still with a strong blues base. While open tunings are synonymous with slide (Derek Trucks plays almost exclusively in open E), when starting out it can really help to use standard tuning, as it allows you to use your existing fretboard knowledge.
Choosing a slide can be difficult due to the range on offer. A quick check of what your favourite artist’s slide is made from can help as this, in part, defines the sound is. Glass slides produce smooth, pure notes while steel provides a more traditional sound with a harsher tone and more string noise. Many artists including Ry Cooder are strong advocates of heavier slides for better sustain and tone but for beginner or intermediate players, slides that are too heavy can be difficult to control and may press down on light electric strings, thus detuning them or, worse, clanking on the frets. That said, the slide should sit tight on the strings (directly over the fret and not angled).
One of the most important parts of slide playing involves muting the other strings with your fretting hand (muting between the nut and the slide). This means that you only hear the note that you are playing, and not random unwanted ones. For this article, all examples are played fingerstyle, using the fingers to mute the strings between notes with the thumb resting across strings lower than the one being played. This damping effect with both hands reduces unwanted string noise and makes your slide playing more articulate. I use the slide on my third finger; this is most common among electric slide players and allows a comfortable hand position.
The most important thing in slide playing is using your ear to get good intonation; since the frets are no longer part of the equation a great deal of accuracy is required. Vibrato is a great way to ‘centre’ your intonation and we’ll be looking at this throughout the series.
the most important thing is using your ear to get good slide intonation, since the frets are no longer part of the equation
Derek Trucks uses fingerstyle and wears his slide on the third finger