I get a lot of email and questions about how to start playing slide guitar. When I answer, I try to remember what it was like way back then when I first started playing.
Although it has been about 17 years since I first started, I can still remember sitting in my bedroom desperately trying to play some guitar with a slide.
So some of you may think that I just picked up a slide and sounded ok. Because you know, some people are just born with it. THIS IS COMPLETE AND UTTER CRAP! Yes some people may have been born with a little more skill, but even so, they have to practice like mad to get where they are.
Did you know that Derek Trucks plays around 300 shows a year. He has also been doing that for about 15 years I believe. Let’s see, that is 4500 shows or so since he has started gigging. This is an approximation and it is probably more. That is a lot of playing! Yes he is gifted, but look how much effort he has put into his gift. How much are you willing to sacrifice?
Just so you know, you don’t have to play this much to sound good. You just need to dedicate some time every day and don’t quit!
So we’ve established that is does take practice, so here’s what happened when I started.
Back around 1993 or so, I figured I would try out slide guitar and put the metal slide against the strings. Of course I had mad distortion going on, because anybody that’s anybody plays with your Peavey Backstage amp with the gain button in and the overdrive to full! That’s what Zeppelin sounded like, or so I thought.
Anyway, so I put the slide on the strings and start playing notes with a pick. What came out of my guitar sounded pretty much like a dieing cat. I remember my Mom telling me that if I didn’t stop that racquet, I would have to quit playing. So yeah it sounded awful!
I was trying to play the Black Crowes “Twice as Hard”, but I couldn’t quite get it. Another beginning song I tried was “Bad to the Bone”. Eventually I tried some Allman Brothers which was next to impossible! I couldn’t play with the strings muted. How did he get just one string to sound? Duane Allman’s slide guitar solos were impossible. I didn’t even know that something like open e tuning even existed. In fact, I didn’t start playing open e tuning until about 2002. Up until then I played only standard tuning slide.
I tried all kinds of slides, and even a socket wrench piece or whatever you call it. It just seemed that everything was out of tune with the song, and it was very hard to keep all the strings from ringing at once.
Somewhere I found out (probably through a magazine) that a lot of slide guitar players played with their fingers. I figured I would give this a shot and really didn’t know where to start. Around the same time, I started taking classical guitar lessons in college. I believe this helped me to develop my right hand technique. It is not exactly the same technique, but I kinda just adopted my own thing out of it.
After practicing this stuff for about a year or two I finally started to put some things together. So I continued to practice, made a little headway, and that’s when I started listening to Warren Haynes.
Warren sounded awesome! I had taped a live concert of him with the Allman Brothers in New Jersey off the radio, and that really sold me on what could be done with standard tuning slide guitar. He was playing the Allman Brothers stuff without using open e tuning. I vowed I would learn this style so I spent a lot of time with a cassette tape and the guitar. Rewinding, rewinding, rewinding. Then I realized you didn’t have to press stop on the cassette deck, you could just tap the rewind button and let go to get back to the part. Very time consuming!
One of the first Warren solos I learned was “No One To Run With”. It wasn’t terribly difficult and sounded great. I was using a Fender Twin by then with an American Strat. I paid $400 for the twin and about $450 for the guitar. I didn’t get them at the same time though. I believe I was using a Mexican Strat for a while with a Hot Rails pickup in the bridge position.
I desperately tried to get Warren’s tone with that strat. I would use the neck pickup, and turn the tone knob all the way down. I think I was also using a Rat pedal at that point as well. I really wanted a Les Paul or some kind of guitar with humbuckers in it, but that wouldn’t come till about 10 years later.
Open E Tuning
So then I continued to woodshed on Warren’s style for a few years when I eventually got decent enough to play in bands. Around 2001 I started experimenting with open e tuning. I heard Derek Trucks again on CD after seeing him live when he was about 14 in 1998 or so. My roommates actually sat in with the band, which I thought was really cool.! I didn’t talk to him though. I think his dad was there, and the bar only had about 10 people in it. He did sound amazing though! I think he was using the Washburn. That starts a whole other story which I’ll talk about later. Anyway, that’s a bit about what it was like for me when I began my journey to play slide guitar. In the next installment I’ll continue on with this story.
If you want to know what I have learned after so much trial and error, I have produced 5 DVDs worth of material on how to play in Open E Tuning and 3 DVDs of how to play slide guitar in Standard Tuning. Honestly I wish I would have had something like this when I was learning. It would have saved me a lot of time practicing the wrong thing.
What has your experience been with slide guitar? Let me know below by posting a comment.