SLIDE GUITAR

Har­ri­son Marsh with more great ideas for play­ing slide guitar in open G tun­ing.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

The ear­li­est slide play­ers were coun­try blues gui­tarists, of­ten us­ing open tun­ing. The record­ings of Bukka White, Son House and Robert John­son have in­flu­enced vir­tu­ally every slide player since, and many of th­ese songs are now stan­dards for slide gui­tarists, such as Dust My Broom, Walkin’ Blues and Rollin’ And Tum­blin’.

Open G tun­ing (low to high DGDGBD) has been pop­u­lar with many play­ers, in­clud­ing Robert John­son (though John­son him­self tuned each string a semi­tone higher and then used a capo at the 2nd fret). The open tun­ing al­lowed for John­son’s bass ac­com­pa­ni­ment that made Keith Richards think he was hear­ing two gui­tars. John­son’s in­flu­ence can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated - think of Clap­ton’s Un­plugged al­bum. Open G is also stan­dard for Do­bro play­ers, and it’s pos­si­ble to im­i­tate coun­try and blue­grass play­ers such as Jerry Dou­glas us­ing open G tun­ing and a slide, and lis­ten­ing to Do­bro and lap steel play­ers can be an ex­cel­lent source of ideas for phras­ing.

Ton­ally, slide play­ing has been re­fined over the years with gui­tarists such as Martin Simp­son ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent slide ma­te­ri­als. Some play­ers use shorter slides that only cover the higher strings, mak­ing open-string basslines eas­ier to play. Us­ing bass notes and melody in a fin­ger­style ap­proach is a key part of acous­tic slide play­ing, and the com­plex­ity of bass lines range from sim­ple open-string drones to com­mon fin­ger­style pick­ing pat­terns. Switch­ing be­tween fret­ted notes and the slide or chang­ing the di­rec­tion of the slide can be a chal­lenge for keep­ing good in­to­na­tion. Keep in mind that it’s not nec­es­sary to slide into every note and it is well worth­while prac­tis­ing play­ing notes with­out slid­ing, es­pe­cially when ‘fret­ting’ the note after an open string.

Pay close at­ten­tion to dy­nam­ics and tone as sub­tle changes in the pick­ing hand can have a big im­pact on the over­all per­for­mance. All ex­am­ples were recorded us­ing a slide on my third finger but ex­per­i­ment with the slide on your fourth finger and find what’s most com­fort­able to you. As al­ways my first and sec­ond fret­ting-hand fin­gers are damp­ing be­tween the nut and the slide as this is vi­tal if we are to avoid un­wanted strings ring­ing.

open tun­ing al­lowed for robert john­son’s bass ac­com­pa­ni­ment, that made keith richards think he was hear­ing two gui­tars

Open G is a great tun­ing for Do­bro blues and coun­try

Any acous­tic guitar is suit­able for slide. You can get some great re­sults from par­lour size in­stru­ments. Robert John­son used small-bod­ied Gib­son acous­tics with Eric Clap­ton and Martin Simp­son us­ing Martin’s 000 and OM style. Higher ac­tion is prefer­able. I recorded all ex­am­ples on a Martin 00016 with a Martin Simp­son Wol­fram sig­na­ture steel slide. Ex­per­i­ment with glass and steel slides for dif­fer­ent tones but en­sure the slide fits cor­rectly.

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