Slide guitar is a guitar fretting technique. Instead of using your fingers to fret the strings, an object (with the form of a bottleneck) is held softly against the strings. The slide guitar technique has a very own sound because of the way it forms the pitch. It can be used to get very exact pitches, also false ones. Slide guitarists often prefer a steel guitar, or a guitar made for sliding.
The slide technique finds his start on the toy instrument, the “diddley bow”, a one-string African instrument. The technique became popular because of African American blues artists using the slide technique. Sylvester Weaver was the first guitarist to record solo pieces using slide guitar. Later on more and more artists started to use the slide guitar technique on their CD’s.
Late Duane Allman was a very important man for the slide technique, he brought it into rock music among some others. In 1971 Duane releases a CD (“Layla and other Assorted Love Songs) with Derek and the Domino’s. There he shows of his slide skills and showed other how cool this technique could be. Allman always used an empty Coricdin medicin bottle, which he placed over his ring finger. Other slide guitarists, like Bonnie Raitt, Rory Gallagher and the guitars of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Rossington, also picked up the medicine bottle usage. Nowadays these bottles are out of production, but replicas are being produced.
For playing slide guitar, you should first get a slide. Slides have been produced in all kinds of materials. Nowadays people still use the neck of a glass bottle, but also stainless steel tubes or Chrome or brass tubes. A normal slide is one to two inches (2.5 - 5cm) long and approximately three quarters of an inch (2cm) diameter. Porcelain and ceramic slieds are also used because of their capacity to absorb finger sweat. People also use steel bars, laid across the strings and held by the fretting hand’s fingers. Even knifes are used as slides. The reason that there are all these different slides is because of their sound. Every material has his own sound.
A normal guitar can be used to play slide guitar, most people prefer to set the action higher when playing slide. This action change makes the sliding easier, but fretting harder. When you want to fret while sliding, it might be a good idea not to raise the action to much. The lap steel and pedal steel guitars are guitars played in a horizontal position. With these guitars slide playing is very common. Resonator guitars, like the dobro, are used with sliding a lot as well. These guitars are normally played in the “normal” way. The "normal" way often uses a tube kind of slide, while the lying style is often seen with solid bars, or “Bullets”. These "Bullets" have an overhand grip because of the fact that the hand doesn't go underneath the neck.
The slide softly touches the string; the strings may not hit the frets. It’s position is parallel to the fret, depending on what note you want to play. The string’s pitch can be changed by sliding the slide up or down the fretboard. The exact placement is up to the player, but for beginners it might be good to stay exact above the fret, because then you’re sure to have a nice pitch. For more advanced players, the frets are just a visual tool and nothing more. The vibrato technique is very easy with a slide, just move the slide up and down little bits. Beacause of the freedom in pitch, it’s possible to evoke all kind of sounds, like crying or whistling. Of course the smooth note transition is a great tool, but also a hard one to use.
The big limitation of the slide lies in the fact that there’s only one chord shape, and that’s just straight in one line. With some tuning adjustments it’s possible to do some chords, but it’s never as free as finger playing is. This is also why a lot of players put the slide on their middle or ring finger. Then they can still use their pinky and ring finger (if not in the slide) to make more chord shapes. The index finger is normaly softly touching the strings behind the slide to avoid stringbuzzing.
The guitar can be held in two ways: The “normal” , where the fretboard faces the same way as your knees, or the lying way, where the fretboard faces the sky. The lying guitar can be place on the lap, on a chair or held with a belt. When playing in this position, the player’s fingers point away form him and his hand is not around the neck. The index finger is nearest bridge, while the pinky is nearest the nut.
Slide players prefer using open tunings a lot of times. They tune there guitar in a way that a chord is played without the use of fretting fingers. The only thing left to do then is slide the slide to the right fret for the right chord. In this way it’s the same as when a finger-guitar player uses an E shape (or any other shape) and makes all major chords with it using bars. For instance op E tuning is E B E G# B E , when playing this on the third fret it’d be a Gmaj chord, when on 5th fret it’d be a Amaj chord and so on.
Slide guitar is most often combined with fingerpicking. This can be done with finger-plectrums, nails or the fingertips. However some players prefer using a plectrum.
Slide guitar isn’t easy to play and there are two main factors for that: firstly it’s harder to get the right pitch and it can be hard to mute the undesired strings. When playing notes, the slide always touches other strings, making them vibrate. This gives unwanted sounds and the strings have to be muted. This can be done in several ways, like touching the string with the free fretting fingers, or by using palm mute on the right strings. Standard guitar playing learns people to press the frets so that the strings touch the wood, with slide guitar this is absolutely not allowed. This can be a tricky factor when starting as well.
List of slide guitarists
Doyle Bramhall II
Steve Howe (lap steel guitar)
Blind Willie Johnson
Lee Roy Parnell
Hound Dog Taylor
Homesick James Williamson
Related GMC Lessons
--Kaznie 20:02, 16 May 2008 (CEST)