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 recommend Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Tampa Red, Earl Hooker and Fred McDowell, but there are many, many other fine players including modern blues-rock guys like 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. Maybe the easiest is open D (or open E -- same thing with the notes up a tone).


* 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 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.


* The action on your instrument should be fairly high. A matter of taste, but if the action is set too low 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.


* 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 and wrong and no need to use expensive "designer" slides. I used to favour glass -- including actual bottle necks -- but now I tend to use fairly heavy steel ones. A thin glass one is probably a good starting point for a beginner.


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