MARTIN McNEILL                      

bottleneck blues

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I'm sometimes asked what tips I can offer would-be blues slide players. I'm self-taught and no expert. But here are some thoughts:


* Identify the players you like and listen carefully. I recommend old-school players like Fred McDowell, Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Earl Hooker, Robert Nighthawk, Bukka White, Robert Johnson and Willlie Johnson. And of more recent vintage, Ry Cooder.


* Try different tunings. I play in open E, open G and open D as well as in standard tuning. Each tuning has its own feel and technical challenges. Open E is E B E G# B E.

Open G is D G G B D.

Open D is D A D F# A D.


* It's not all about slide. Play chords, bass lines and finger-style lead runs alongside the slide work. Playing slide alone can sound great but it's restrictive.


* Use fairly heavy gauge strings. This will depend on the tuning you're using, your guitar and what your fingers can take. Generally, light strings don't allow for decent slide playing. Heavy strings sound gutsier, stay in tune better and respond well to the slide. Find the balance between sound and playability that suits you.


* The action on your instrument might need to be raised a bit. If the action is very low the slide will hit the frets.But don't set it so high that it messes up the intonation or makes finger work a pain.


* Playing cleanly and in tune can be a challenge, even for experienced slide players. Trust your ears; if it sounds wrong, it is.


* Slide vibrato is crucial -- "trembling" your slide finger as you play. It takes hard practice; you'll know when you're getting it right.


* Tone is king. Concentrate on getting the best natural tone from your instrument, whether acoustic or electric. I go for a clean amp setting, enhanced with reverb and vibrato.


* Choose a slide that suits you; there's no right or wrong. I used to favour glass -- including actual bottle necks -- but now I tend to use fairly heavy brass or copper. A thin glass slide can be good starting point.


* You can use any finger  but I think the little finger is best and it leaves your first three fingers free for fretting.


Happy sliding!