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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Slide is a fun way to expand you guitar repertoire

By Ted Slowik

Some of the most iconic, memorable riffs and licks in all of rock and blues history are played on slide guitar. Think of Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" (a Robert Johnson song) or a lot of solos by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter and the Allman Brothers and the distinctive sound of a wailing or mournful slide will come to mind.

Some players seem to take to slide naturally. Here's a clip from 1993 of a 13-year-old Derek Trucks (son of drummer Butch Trucks) playing "Layla" with the Allman Brothers. He was an amazing prodigy even back then! Other great guitarists, including Pete Townshend, shun the slide and rarely, if ever, use it.

I've always liked the sound of the slide but only recently begun to experiment with it. I bought my first slide, a glass one, less than a year ago. Depending on the sound you're going for, you can use slides made of metal, glass or other material. Usually it slips over the ring finger on your left hand, if you're a right-handed player.

Slide has appealed to me because I love blues and roots rock music. I recall reading that Robert Johnson used a bottle neck as a slide. You can play slide on both acoustic and electric instruments. If you use effects, a little delay goes a long way to enhance the sound of slide.

Playing slide is particularly fun in open tunings, though you can also play slide leads in standard tuning. I picked up an inexpensive Epiphone electric guitar to keep in open tuning, which encourages me to practice slide. It only takes a minute or two to tune a guitar to an open tuning, but it's even easier when there's one sitting there in open tuning and you all you have to do is pick it up.

As I've been playing slide, I've focused on improving the tone. It takes a little practice to get used to the sound, and figuring out where on the fret you want to place the slide. You want to eliminate fret buzz as much as possible, and find that sweet spot where the note is in tune. As you get used to it you can wiggle your slide finger and start to make some really cool sounds.

My guitar teacher Kev Wright loaned me an acoustic Fender Resonator dobro, which is a steel guitar. I played some slide on it in an open tuning and it sounded great. I haven't ever played any pedal or lap steel instruments, which have a very distinctive country sound. But I do love the beautiful sounds they make.

Today I'm sharing a clip of my progress on slide guitar. I'm not there yet but it's coming along. I'm playing an old original, "Balcony," that I wrote back in the 1980s about my friend Dave Kent's apartment on Chicago Avenue in Westmont. I'm having a lot of fun learning slide, something that always seemed to intimidate me until I tried it and discovered I liked it.