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