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• Learn to phrase like a vocalist.
• Understand the basics of bottleneck slide guitar.
• Develop flowing, singing blues licks.
One of the most ominous words in the guitar lexicon is “feel.” It’s a word that’s thrown around liberally, yet it’s really impossible to prove or disprove someone’s “feel” because the term is so subjective.
Over the years, it seems to have split the guitar-playing nation into two camps, the shredders and the slow-feel players. Now, we could talk for hours and hours on what this mystical word means and we’d be no closer to an answer, but I do find it insulting to say that a player like Yngwie Malmsteen has no feel when the man plays with fiery passion and excitement—just listen to that vibrato! I’m certain Yngwie deeply feels every note he plays.
When it comes down to what music touches us as humans, we have to ponder a few questions: Does it make you want to sit and cry? Does it make you want to jump up and run around the room like a lunatic? When you pick up your guitar do you want your phrasing to sound robotic, almost sci-fi? Or greasy and gritty? Majestic? Nasty? Peaceful? Manic?
No matter what the intention is, the only real limitation is your ability to put that feeling across with those strings. And the notes aren’t enough—it’s about the attack, the dynamics, the vibrato, and the phrasing.
In my opinion, the guitar’s limitation is its frets. I know they help tremendously with chords, but when you compare the guitar to an instrument like the voice, you realize that we’re severely restricted when it comes to melodic expression. The human voice is capable of the sweetest vibrato. It can bend notes sharp, slide in and out of them, and, of course, create sounds between them. For the longest time I’ve wanted to imitate the human voice on the guitar, and the way to do this, I ultimately discovered, was slide guitar.
Okay, I didn’t grow up in the Mississippi Delta. I’m from a very small town in England and I was born in the late ’80s, so I wasn’t exposed to the music of Robert Johnson or Elmore James. I wasn’t raised on the Allman Brothers or even George Harrison. I do remember one of my first experiences with slide guitar was listening to the incredible Brett Garsed’s Big Sky, and when the track “Drowning” came on, I knew that somehow it just felt good. When I found out he was using a slide I became obsessed and had to look back at all the greats, from Muddy Waters and Duane Allman, to newer players like Derek Trucks and Allen Hinds. Before long, I had guitars dedicated to slide. I even thought I’d try my hand at fretless to see if I could do something similar there.
Below are links to videos of several incredible slide players for you to check out. Have a listen and try to describe what you hear. Focus on the idea that these players try to play something they might sing. This list could go on for pages, so I encourage you to go and do your own research.
Brett Garsed – "Drowning"
Derek Trucks – "Midnight in Harlem" (solo)
Sonny Landreth – "Next to Kindred Spirit"