MARTIN McNEILL                      

bottleneck blues

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I'm sometimes asked what tips I can offer would-be slide players. Here goes:


* Identify the players you like and keep listening to what they do. I'd always recommend digging back into old-school players but it's a matter of taste. Blues slide heroes include Fred McDowell, Tampa Red, Kokomo Arnold, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Earl Hooker, Robert Nighthawk, Bukka White, Willlie modern greats like Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks.


* Try different tunings and decide which to concentrate on. I play slide in open E, open G, open D as well as in standard tuning. Each tuning has its own sound and technical challenges.


* It's not all about slide. Ideally, playing should combine chords, bass lines and single note runs both fingers and with the slide.  I always mix finger fretting and slide playing in each tune. Playing slide alone can be beautiful...but 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. However, these days I use less heavy strings than I used to and favour flatwounds.


* The action on your instrument shouldn't be too low or the slide will clash with the frets.


* Intonation is the big challenge, even for experienced players. Hitting a few slow notes bang on is better than a wild run that isn't quite in tune. Use your ears!


* Tone is king. Amps can work wonders but first and foremost concentrate on getting the best natural tone from your instrument. Personally I go for a ultra-clean amplified sound, with a bit of reverb and vibrato, but many players love to blow your socks off playing through an overdriven valve monster.


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


* 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. 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.