Acous­tic slide

Har­ri­son Marsh pro­vides an in­tro­duc­tion to con­tem­po­rary acous­tic blues and the early slide play­ers that in­flu­enced to­day’s great ex­po­nents.

Guitar Techniques - - LEARNING ZONE -

Fol­low­ing on from last month’s in­stal­ment that looked at elec­tric slide play­ing, this month we fo­cus on the acous­tic side of things. A heav­ier slide can be ben­e­fi­cial here as acous­tic gui­tar strings tend to be thicker; heav­ier slides pro­vide more sus­tain and im­proved tone. Make a de­ci­sion early on about how smooth or raw a sound you want as this will give you some­thing to aim for in terms of how much mut­ing and vi­brato to use, how hard to at­tack the gui­tar and how much fret noise you al­low as well as the type of slide you use.

In the last in­stal­ment we were aim­ing for very clean re­sults, but with acous­tic play­ing, how­ever, many play­ers feel a lit­tle more string noise is part of the genre. It’s com­mon to as­so­ciate res­onator guitars with slide and while they are pop­u­lar with play­ers such as Son House and, later, Eric Clap­ton, lots of play­ers use reg­u­lar acous­tic guitars. One big dif­fer­ence be­tween elec­tric and acous­tic slide play­ing is that the acous­tic style al­lows for bass note ac­com­pa­ni­ment and there is a wealth of blues phras­ing on of­fer here. For elec­tric, I wear my slide on the third finger of my fret­ting hand. For acous­tic play­ing, how­ever, I have moved my slide to my 4th finger as many play­ers do. This may feel awk­ward at first, but it frees up your abil­ity to fret notes in be­tween us­ing the slide and al­lows you to ro­tate your fret­ting-hand wrist to bring the slide away from the fret­board when fret­ting notes with the first and sec­ond fin­gers. Tak­ing the slide away from the string and putting it back without cre­at­ing un­wanted string noise is a skill in it­self and


can take a lit­tle while to per­fect.

It’s a good idea when you get to the use of vi­brato in the ex­am­ples, to prac­tise without it at first to en­sure good intonation, then add vi­brato later and work on this sep­a­rately. Some play­ers have a very wide, ex­pres­sive vi­brato and oth­ers have a more sub­tle, fo­cused ap­proach that sticks closely to the in­tended pitch. The idea is to give the slide play­ing a vo­cal qual­ity. You will no­tice when lis­ten­ing to play­ers like Bukka White that, as well as intonation and tone, there is also a huge dy­namic range used; so pay care­ful at­ten­tion to your own dy­nam­ics.

Ry Cooder: play­ing great slide on his old Martin D-45

Any acous­tic gui­tar will do for slide. As with elec­tric a higher ac­tion is ben­e­fi­cial and a flat­ter ra­dius on the fret­board can be use­ful if pos­si­ble. Steel res­onator guitars are great fun but far from es­sen­tial and var­i­ous guitars have been used by fa­mous slide play­ers from Robert Johnson’s in­fa­mous Gib­son L1 with very small body and typ­i­cal‘boxy’blues sound ,to Ry Cooder’s use of Martin Dread­naught-style in­stru­ments. All ex­am­ples here were recorded us­ing a Martin 00016.

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