Slide Guitar...

Slide Guitar...
Authored By John Nicholson

If you’ve ever tried to play slide guitar, it's really hard. Or I think it is. Whereas you can deploy any amount of effects pedals when playing lead guitar, there’s nowhere to hide with slide guitar. One of the things the stroke has deprived me of is an active enough left hand with which to form chords and play lead guitar but I wondered if I could still play slide as I didn’t have to wiggle my fingers. No. 

In actual fact it requires a greater degree of dexterity and subtlety. I couldn’t play slide at the best of times, so I was never set to be a pound shop Johnny Winter.  But if you press down too much, the slide rattles up and down the frets and sounds terrible. You want to touch the bottom three strings very lightly but it’s beyond me. I’ve spent some time watching Derek Trucks play and the man is a genius, building the solo from a whisper to a scream. I suspect he tunes his guitar to allow him to play as many open strings as possible. He also punctuates solos by playing the 6-strings so the slide grates against the wound strings and makes a sort of barking noise.

There’s the pedal steel of course. You even sit down to play that. But you need your left hand to be operative. I do like the noise it makes when played in rock music, especially by the Robert Randolph band or Jeff Healey. It’s too often a little lachrymose in country music, sounding like a weeping child.

If you don’t play with a light touch, you just sound like you’re playing with boxing gloves on. I have the Johnny Winter Captured Live! album where Johnny plays some extraordinary, fast slide on Highway 61 Revisited. It’s all done on pure instinct of course and improvised on the spot. It’s mind blowing and I don’t think it can be reproduced. He doesn't make a mistake despite flying up and down the neck at speed. Whatever drugs are coursing through his veins clearly gave him some sort of super power.

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