One of my favourite little earcatching guitar tricks is to get around the neck using slides. It serves a sonic purpose as well as an ergonomic one: sure, it helps you to play a wider selection of notes than you would otherwise be able to, but it also allows you to inflict all sorts of grace notes and phrasing choices on your poor little notes.
Sometimes these slides might be several frets long, sometimes they might take you all the way across the neck, and sometimes they might be little incremental ones – there’s just something cool and vocal-like about making your way around the fretboard this way as opposed to simply picking every note.
Let’s look at some of my favourite sliding licks. All of these tend to sound best on the neck pickup with a goodly amount of gain and maybe a bit of delay set for half-note repeats in time with the song, and they work at all sorts of speeds.
They actually string together into an evolving melody that’s a bit Guthrie Govan-esque, except for the final bar which is more Steve Vai-like. This is from my “songs I’ll get around to finishing someday” file.
This first lick is based around the exact same pattern you would use to play a power chord on the lower strings. Pick every note downwards and be sure you don’t press too hard, or the slides will be messy and jerky. I tend to play with a pretty light touch – one benefit of this is that you can set your strings much lower, which is great for playing super fast and having smooth legato phrasing. If you play with a light touch, you won’t get all the annoying fret buzz that would otherwise kill the sustain.
Figure #2 is kind of like Figure #1, except this time, we’re sliding notes on the E string instead of the B string. So it’s almost like Figure #1, except inverted. When I play this type of stuff, I downpick the B string and upstroke the E. After a while, it starts to feel pretty natural, and you’ll just develop a sixth sense for when to pick and when to slide. As always, start slow and work your way up the metronome.
Figure #3 is another similar idea, but instead of playing off the power chord shape, we’re gonna shift one string further apart to work with the octave. What I like about this is that it sounds almost like some kind of weird harmonic or feedback technique.
This bit was inspired by an old Richie Kotzen magazine column from 1991, where he demonstrated how to give the sonic illusion of tapping without actually tapping. This example is nothing like what he played, but it’s what led to the original idea. Hell, maybe in 24 years, I’ll read a lick you wrote after reading this lesson.
Figure #4 uses the good ol’ minor pentatonic shape that everyone knows. All we’re doing with this part is sliding up on one string, and then down on another. I’ve put the strings into pairs using the outer, middle and inner strings (E/E, A/B, D/G).
You can use whatever strings you like, but this has a really weird, otherworldly feel about it because the harmonic jumps are so very drastic. Vai plays a similar lick in “Blue Powder” on his Passion&
Warfare record, but he’s not doing it within the pentatonic sale. New scale, new lick. Sweet.