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Friday, July 24, 2009

Tunings, tunings & more tunings...

If you hadn't heard it before, I will inform you now:

To be familiar with playing slide guitar is to be intimately familiar with alternate tunings.
Most of these tunings are open tunings in a particular key. Open G is extremely prevalent, as are open D, open C, open A & open E. Open tunings, are, quite simply, tuning the strings of the guitar so that strumming all of the strings will produce a single coherent chord. That chord is frequently a major chord, but I also use minor tunings to produce a more ominus atmosphere to some of my compositions.

Because of the use of open tunings, it becomes easier to focus your attention on right hand fingerstyle techniques and picking patterns, , alternating & monotonic basslines, banjo-rolls, etc....

All of this is not to say that it is impossible to play slide blues with standard tuning (EADGBE), but it is trickier to successfully accomplish, since the chances of gliding along 2 or more discordant strings is significantly greater. When in an open tuning, everything you play generally sounds harmonious. If you DO decide to play slide blues in a standard tuning, be sure to do your homework on how to properly dampen the strings that you do not intend to play at any given time, or the results will be ugly!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Choosing a slide

When choosing a slide to play with, there are several considerations:

Which finger do I put the slide on?

Generally, it's either the pinky or ring finger, but there have been some notable exceptions.

What material the slide should be made of?

Slides are available in several materials including brass, chrome, glass & bone.
I lean towards brass for a rougher, more growling sound, and chrome for a smoother, warmer sound. Glass is well-suited to electric guitar, since generally you play with lighter strings and the lighter weight helps the overall feel. People improvise with beer bottles all the time while gigging in bars, as well as one blues player who uses an old-fashioned antacid bottle. I haven't tried bone yet, but I'd love some feedback from anyone who has, so feel free to comment.

(If your fingers sweat a lot, brass tends to leave a green slimy residue that isn't much of a big deal, except that it's gross as hell...)

How long should the slide be?

This is really dependent on personal preference, but generally it's good to size the slide relative to the length and girth of your slide finger. If the tip of your finger pokes out a little bit, you can feel which string you're on and it facilitates overall sensitivity.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Re: Strings and things

In my previous post I briefly touched upon the topic of guitar strings.

I'd like to add a couple of things that may not be obvious to everyone out there.

1)When playing slide, the more tension you have on your strings, the easier it is to get a good, clean tone when playing notes with your slide.

2)If your action on the guitar (distance between strings and the fretboard) is too low, you may inadvertently clack up against the frets with your slide. Really light strings compounds this phenomenon quite significantly.

3) If you put extremely heavy gauge strings on your guitar, exercise caution and common sense for the following reasons:
-Your pretty pink little fingertips won't be ready for them right away if you plan on doing any fretting whatsoever.
-You will snap the strings unless you lower your tuning according to the gauge and max tension.(The specs should be listed on your string package)
-You risk warping the neck of your guitar.

4)Phosphor-Bronze alloyed strings generally sound the best on your dobro or resonator guitar, in my humble newbie opinion.

I'm sure I'll thing of more to add later, but that's it for now.

Finding time to get to the woodshed

I'm beginning to realize that it's consistency, not raw volume, that matters when it comes to honing your proficiency with an instrument. Tendonitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries notwithstanding, it's still far better to practice for 20 minutes five times in one week, rather than practice for 2 hours straight once a week. I've tried both, and it's easier to keep your momentum if you do something often.

I imagine it's much the same as working out at the gym. Overdoing it once in a blue moon doesn't condition anything; It just burns you out and hurts your motivation. In particular, if you use 18-gauge and 22-gauge strings respectively on the two unwound high strings of your axe, this will end up shredding your fretting fingers unless you've been building those calluses up for quite some time or you play using so-called "pure slide" technique, which doesn't employ any fretting whatsoever. ..

Just like the tortoise, slow and steady wins this thing.