On his latest solo album, Reasons Why, which features a collaboration with Cory Wong, celebrated Canadian guitarist Ariel Posen continues his evolution as a multi-faceted artist.
For years, Ariel Posen has captivated listeners with his tone. Starting with his first solo album, 2019’s How Long, and on through successive releases such as 2021’s Headway and a sprinkling of EPs, the Canadian guitar virtuoso has distinguished himself for his unique approach to sound. His playing is warm and rippling; it has a way of grabbing you, or at times even jabbing you, but once it does, it changes up and envelopes you like a comfy pillow. His lyrical lines don’t just sing—they swoon. All of this is to say that he doesn’t do just one thing with his sound. There are nuances and levels to his artistry.
“To me, the sound of the guitar should be just as expressive as the human voice,” Posen says. “The biggest part of my sound is just dynamics and getting in touch with the guitar. A lot of people max out the volume knobs on their guitars, but I’ve found that there’s so much tenderness and so many beautiful textures when you’re at 6 or 7. It’s more of a true sound. Whether I’m using a slide or not, I like to use an overdrive pedal into a clean amp. That way, it’s not a harsh overdriven sound; it’s clean but with headroom on the edge of breakup.” He pauses, then adds, “It’s very much like a Jeff Beck thing. There’s a poetry to it.”
Ariel Posen - Time Can Only Tell
Posen cites his early years of playing with trios in clubs as being crucial to his development. “I became something of a Swiss army knife and played as many different styles as possible—blues, jazz, folk, and bluegrass,” he says. “Before then, I tried to emulate my heroes—people like Doyle Bramhall II, Robben Ford, John Mayer, Jimmie Vaughan, and others. By gigging with trios, I realized that I needed to flesh out my own sound more. I didn’t have to play what other people expected. I could go for originality.”
“To me, the sound of the guitar should be just as expressive as the human voice.”
Later, while backing up other musicians before he turned solo, he was schooled in team-playing, and learned important aspects of dynamics. “Because I was surrounded by a lot of other players, I didn’t focus so much on the guitar,” he says. “I played with a lot of good drummers, and that taught me the importance of groove and having good timing, the kinds of things that make a song feel good and not just sound good. I feel like both experiences came together in what is now my own style and sound.”
That beautiful sonic expressionism is one of the hallmarks of Posen’s newest album, Reasons Why, a record that also demonstrates the guitarist’s remarkable growth as a singer and writer of deeply personal yet highly relatable songs. On the gorgeous, atmospheric single “Didn’t Say,” he examines how unspoken truths could have saved a doomed relationship. The easy funk groove of “I Wish We Never Met” is juxtaposed by the gnawing pain of missing a lover while on the road. Likewise, “Man You Raised” is a swaggering, butt-kicking rocker highlighted by two chest-beating solos, but the narrative element is tinged with wistfulness and regret.
A Leslie cabinet was among the old-school tools on Posen’s new album. And in the studio, Posen relied on just two amps: a Two-Rock Traditional Clean model, and a 3-watt Greer Amps Mini Chief.
“More and more, songwriting is like therapy for me,” Posen explains. “It’s an opportunity to share something very intimate but in a way I might not be able to do in real life. It’s like writing your feelings in a journal. Now, you probably would never share your journal entries with somebody else, but for some reason all those barriers go away with songs—at least for me they do. And it’s not even difficult. It’s just a way of speaking the truth. When I can get it right, I think other people can listen to one of my songs and say, ‘Hey, that sounds like my own experience. That resonates to me.’ That’s what I’m going for.”
Typically, Posen eschews writing while touring, so the extended Covid lockdown period between 2020 and into the early part of 2022 provided him with an unexpected opportunity to hunker down and work out some material. So that’s what he did—sometimes with songwriters Jason Nix and Jason Gantt (both of whom contributed to Headway), and other times with fast-rising Canadian singer-songwriter Leith Ross. He wrote “Man You Raised” with fellow guitar star Cory Wong. “Fortunately, a lot of the people I like to collaborate with were home, too, so it worked out,” Posen says. “It took a few months for me to get into the creative zone, but once I did, I hit it hard and worked at it every day, like I was going to the gym.”
Surprisingly, he employs the exact opposite approach when it comes to playing guitar at home. “When I’m on my own, I just play for the sheer enjoyment of it,” he says. “I’m kind of off the clock, without any kind of agenda. Whatever happens, happens.” Still, he notes that inspiration can strike at any time. “There will be ideas for songs that hit me when I’m messing around, but I don’t force them. I’ll just leave myself a voice memo. Even if I don’t listen back to it for a year, I know it’s there.”
Once Posen had amassed some 30 songs, he whittled them down to 10 cuts that ticked off all the boxes musically and lyrically. Working with his usual co-producer Murray Pulver, he made extensive demos of each number, playing guitars and bass, programming drums, and laying down scratch vocals. From there, he turned the material over to his band—bassist Julian Bradford and drummer JJ Johnson, along with percussionist Jon Smith and keyboardist Marc Arnould—and said, “Here’s how I hear it. Now, do it better. Do it right. And do it the way you’re feeling it.” At certain times, he offered strict guidelines—“Don’t play the crash cymbal here,” or “Simplify the backbeat”—but mostly his rule was, “Do your thing.”
“There will be ideas for songs that hit me when I’m messing around, but I don’t force them. I’ll just leave myself a voice memo. Even if I don’t listen back to it for a year, I know it’s there.”
Despite his reputation as a supreme tone king, Posen asserts that he isn’t married to a particular sound—nor even a certain guitar—during writing and demoing, preferring to respond to inspiration in the studio. “Whatever feels right when we’re cutting tracks is what I go with,” he says. As he did on Headway, he utilized a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster on a significant portion of Reasons Why, as well as some of his other go-to guitars, such as an Eric Johnson signature Stratocaster and his Mule Resophonic StratoMule, plus a Case Guitars J1 model outfitted with Ron Ellis P-90 pickups. “The J1 is a Les Paul-style guitar with a chambered body,” Posen says. “It delivers a very warm, thick sound that I love.”
Ariel Posen's Gear
To create the broad spectrum of sounds on his new LP Reasons Why, Posen turned to his favorite tools, like his Fender Jazzmaster, an Eric Johnson Strat, and a Mule resonator, but he also invited some new friends to the party: a Gretsch White Falcon, and a guitar from Irish builder Kithara.
Photo by Lynette Giesbrecht
- Mule Resophonic Stratomule
- Fender Stratocaster Eric Johnson Model
- Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster
- Gretsch White Falcon
- Case Guitars J1
- Kithara Harland
- Josh Williams Mockingbird
- Collings D1AT
- ’60s Martin 000 (tracking down the model)
- ’60s Gibson Hummingbird
- ’50s Kay
- Morgan Concert Model with Sitka spruce top
- Yamaha Dreadnought in Nashville Tuning
- Modern Recording King Acoustic
- Mule Resophonic Mavis Baritone
- Two-Rock Traditional Clean
- Greer Amps Mini Chief
- Hudson Electronics Broadcast-AP
- Analog Man King of Tone
- Kingtone The Duellist
- Kingtone MiniFuzz
- Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets
- Hologram Electronics Microcosm
- Eventide H9 MaxMorningstar MC6
- Chase Bliss Audio Thermae
- Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall
- Chase Bliss Audio Habit
- Victoria Reverberato
- DanDrive Austin Blender
- Greer Amps Lightspeed
- R2R Electric Vintage Wah
- R2R Electric Two Knob Treble Booster
- Demedash T-120 Videotape Echo
- Mythos Pedals Argo
- Keeley Hydra
- Leslie cabinet
Strings, Slides, & Picks
- Stringjoy (.014–.062) for low tuning
- Ernie Ball (.011–.054) for standard tuning
- Dunlop Tortex 1.14 mm
- The Rock Slide Ariel Posen Signature Slide
In addition to experimenting with a Gretsch White Falcon (“Great for arpeggios and big, open chords”), he also tried out a custom-made Kithara Harland guitar that he designed with the company’s founder, Chris Moffitt. “I had this idea for a Strat-style guitar with a Tele bridge and a Bigsby,” Posen explains. “It’s set up really cool, and it worked out great for a couple solos and arpeggios.”
In the studio, Posen relied on just two amps: a Two-Rock Traditional Clean model, and a 3-watt Greer Amps Mini Chief. But in terms of effects, he went wild, calling on well over a dozen pedals and rack units to create absorbing textures and unconventional sounds. He lists the Chase Bliss Audio Thermae and the Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets as two MVP pedals, but he also sings the praises of the R2R Electric Vintage Wah unit. “It’s a single enclosure with a switch and a knob, and it gives you all the sweet options of a wah pedal,” he says. Posen made dramatic use of the pedal for the squawky rhythm tracks on the gritty rock ballad “So Easy,” as well as for the growling, throaty slide solo of the otherwise shimmering “Learning How to Say Goodbye.” “I was just looking for something different that didn’t sound like what everybody else does,” he says. “I was simply trying to innovate to a degree.”
Sometimes, he goes old school. On both “So Easy” and the chilling arpeggios in the majestically orchestrated “Didn’t Say,” he ran his guitar through a Leslie cabinet. “I’m pretty good at getting sounds from all the new pedals,” he says, “but sometimes there’s just no substitute for the real thing.”
Posen says songwriting for Reasons Why was like going to the gym: He had to work hard at it everyday to pull out the tracks that made the record.
Photo by Calli Cohen
Posen likes to use the word “authentic” when describing his goal for record-making, and on Reasons Why, each emotional high he achieves is earned and feels real, whether it’s on the haunting, hymn-like “Broken But Fine,” or in the way he blends introspection and vulnerability in the aching ballad “Choose.” As a lyricist, he gives you just enough to draw you in, but nothing is forced or feels burdened by unnecessary detail—which is great, since explaining emotions is so limiting.
Having first established himself as an in-demand guitar-for-hire with such disparate acts as the Bros. Landreth and Tom Jones, Posen is a true showman at heart, and he knows when to turn on theatricality. Each solo is replete with bravura—the resonant, pinched-harmonic lead in “Feels This Way Too” reaches to the heavens, and he concludes the graceful yet hypnotic album opener, “Time Can Only Tell,” with an unexpected, bellowing roar that mimics the human-voice-like quality of a saxophone. He never draws attention to technique, though. There’s a casual looseness to the solos; they’re not haphazard or sloppy, nor do they meander. They sound wonderfully alive, as if Posen is acting on instinct and losing himself in impulsive, even uncontrollable, bursts of spontaneous creativity.
“I’m pretty good at getting sounds from all the new pedals, but sometimes there’s just no substitute for the real thing.”
As it turns out, many of the solos were thoroughly premeditated and fully integrated into each track. “‘So Easy,’ ‘Learning How To Say Goodbye,’ ‘Didn't Say,’ and ‘Man You Raised’ were 70 percent the way I did them on the demo,” he reveals. “For me, it’s my first take of something where it feels very honest and exciting. After that, I’m just replicating it or trying to come up with something new that's not the original intent. For the solos that I was attached to, we did them a few times in the studio, but I rarely, if ever, veered from the demo. There were some screws that needed to be tightened, but that was about it. Some things were improvised, and usually those were first takes. It’s all about being in the moment.”
Stuck at home during the pandemic lockdowns, Posen tapped artists like Cory Wong and Canadian songwriter Leith Ross to help him from afar to bring his new record to life.
Photo by Lynette Giesbrecht
Despite the fireworks, the album has an uncluttered feel to it. Posen doesn’t weigh his songs down with superfluous guitar tracks, though that’s not to say that he isn’t big on experimentation. He points to “Didn’t Say” as an example of where he used a number of guitars—an electric with a rubber bridge that’s double-tracked, two Nashville-strung acoustics panned left and right, another electric on which he plays dyads, and an electric pedal steel for swells. “That one is extremely orchestrated, and there’s a lot going on,” he says, “but I tried to do it in a way that doesn’t take you out of the song.”
As for how Posen and his live band, including Bradford and Smith, will pull off all the material when they head out on tour, he’s currently working that out. “It’s always the same thing, where I go, ‘Okay, I’ve got these awesome tracks. Shit, how am I going to reproduce it on stage?’” he says with a laugh. “So I have to reduce everything to the core elements, where it’s just the parts I want to air guitar to. By design, we play live as a trio. I could add people to the band, but we have a really special thing as a trio. I love bands like the Police, Nirvana, and Green Day, and I could always appreciate what they did on record and what they did live. I want us to be the same way. I love the spaces in the music that comes from that approach. It’s raw and dangerous, and when you get it right, there’s nothing quite like it.”
Ariel Posen – “Man You Raised” TELEFUNKEN Live At Sweetwater Studios #gearfest2023
In this recent live studio performance, Posen nails two heat-seeking solos on his trusty “Mule,” while leading band members Julian Bradford and Jon Smith through a gutsy version of his new track “Man You Raised.”
Five ways Indian-inspired drones can help you improve your intonation.
• Create simple and meaningful blues phrases in the style of B.B. King.
• Understand how to emphasize chord tones over a blues progression.
• Learn how to use repetition to build tension in your solos.
Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
Improving your intonation on slide guitar can be a real challenge when you’re flying solo—one is definitely the loneliest number in this context. Most people don’t realize it, but when you’re learning slide guitar, you’re not just developing your muscle memory. Training your ear to discern the subtleties of pitch variation is as important as developing your touch.
Playing with a slide opens the door to much greater pitch inflection then simply fingering a note on the fretboard. When fretting notes, the main challenge is to avoid using a death grip—applying too much pressure will result in a note going sharp. But when playing with a slide, you can easily sound sharp or flat on any given note. Too many players simply rely on their eyesight to tell them when their slide is in tune. Although this can work, to truly master slide you need to learn to hear when it’s in tune. I’ve often had to adjust for a string that went a little out of tune onstage, and when that happens, you can’t trust your vision to bail you out.
One of my favorite ways to help develop my ear for slide intonation is to play against a drone. The drone acts as a pitch anchor. If you’ve been playing guitar or any instrument for a period of time, you’ll be able to hear if you’re sharp or flat when playing against a drone.If you’re new to guitar, it may take a little while, but you’ll learn to decipher subtle pitch variances over time.
There are several ways we can approach using a drone. My favorite method is to use an app for the iPhone called iTabla. It allows me to choose several drone instruments and pitches. It even has rhythms to play along with. To this day, I still practice slide with this app.
You’ll also find drones on YouTube that musicians have created. However, this isn’t my favorite method because I find YouTube to be distracting. When I’m practicing, I want to be in a place of Zen, not drawn to the computer screen like a fly to a bug lamp. ZAP!
Yet another method is to use a looper pedal. I’ve been using the Pigtronix Infinity looper, but really any basic looper will work. When making your own loops, avoid adding too many intervals to your drone. It may be tempting to add a 3 or a 5 to create a chord. Try just the root layered a few times. If you can digest the sound of one note looping, do that.
Whatever drone method you employ, it’s a good idea to turn off your phone when practicing. Distractions ruin your concentration. It’s not about quantity of time, but quality.
Make sure you tune your guitar first! This is going to be crucial—not only for when you’re playing slide, but also when creating the loop. Tuning should be your mantra. Tune, tune, tune. Repeat with me….
To get the party started, I created a loop for us to play along with. Here is a long version of the loop for practice. (Click the link here to download the loop as an MP3 along with a PDF.)
Your instrument’s timbre can greatly influence your slide experience. Adjusting the guitar’s tone for slide makes the learning experience much more enjoyable.
It can be very difficult to learn slide on an acoustic guitar, and this is especially true for dreadnought flattops. That’s because slide is all about midrange, and many dreadnoughts are a bit scooped in the mids. Also, the sustain on most acoustic guitars—or lack thereof, when compared to an electric—presents a challenge. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I am saying it will be more frustrating. If you want to take the acoustic route, consider nabbing a resonator guitar. They’re naturally lush in the frequencies that complement slide, which makes them a great match.
Amps and Effects
On the electric slide front, I avoid completely clean tones from Fender blackface-style amps. Blackface amps have a scooped midrange, making them the electric equivalent of an acoustic dreadnought. If I do use a blackface or silverface Fender, or an amp inspired by these classic designs, I use a few tools to assist my slide-playing experience.
For example,the right overdrive can embellish the slide in a flattering way. This is a place where I really like the Klon. Some argue it’s a boost, some say it’s an overdrive. Whatever. All I care about is that a Klon is rich in midrange. You don’t have to drop a ton of cash for an original Klon that you’ll be too scared to step on. There are many Klon-inspired pedals out there, but I prefer the J. Rockett Archer Ikon paired with a glass or porcelain slide. These two can really bring the whine out of your guitar—in a good way.
Slide guitar loves compression. Compression allows us to play with more nuance because it increases the guitar’s sustain. This means we can attack the string less and hear intonation more clearly. Currently, I’m using an Origin Effects Slide Rig, but of course, any good compressor will work.
Don’t think of overdrive or compression as cheating. It’s not. You don’t call putting jelly on a peanut butter sandwich cheating, do you? Slide, overdrive, and compression are like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (Unless you have a nut allergy, that is.)
Much has been written about guitar setups intended for slide. I’m not going to tell you to have a dedicated guitar that’s configured for slide. I rarely do that unless I’m on a long tour and using a specific guitar for slide every night. In general, I play slide on the same guitar I’ll play the rest of the set with. However, action that’s too low will hinder your slide playing. You have to find balance, but it is possible. It might take some experimentation, but you can play slide on the same guitar you play all the time. Typically, I use a guitar strung with a .010 set for both regular and slide guitar.
In the following audio examples, I used the bridge pickup on a stock Fender American Standard Stratocaster into a Victoria 518 with both the Archer Ikon and the Origin Effects Slide Rig. I recorded it with an AEA A840 ribbon mic and the UAD Helios 69 Unison preamp.
What I Never Learned in Study Hall
Now it’s time to dig into some exercises. First, we’re going to work using the slide on one string. I know, Captain Boring just showed up to the party and brought water and white bread as treats. But bear in mind that everything you will learn on one string can be applied to all six strings. Personally, I like starting out on the 3rd or 2nd strings. The 1st string presents some of its own challenges, especially on a guitar that’s not set up well for slide.
We’re going to work out some examples in the key of D major (D–E–F#–G–A–B–C#). At first, we’re not going to use the entire scale. We’re going to play chord tones from a D major triad (D–F#–A) against the D drone. We’re naturally used to hearing the sound of chord tones. Because of this, it will be easiest to develop our intonation using these notes.
One more thought before we dive in: Technique has an impact on intonation, and an inconsistent hand position can make your pitch wander. My thumb moves with the slide, always sitting behind my first finger, and I suggest you try that too.
Let’s make sure to not use vibrato. We don’t want anything masking the note we’re starting from or landing on. Yes, I know it will be painful at first. Be prepared when your loyal dog goes running, your spouse scrambles for noise-canceling headphones, and your kids beg to sleep over at a friend’s place.
Right now, we’re just using the 2nd string. But over time, you could apply this exercise to different strings using the same notes. You could also include a chord extension after you master simple triads. Try adding a 7 or b7 to the chord.
In Ex. 2, you’ll hear me sliding from A (the 5 of the chord) up to D (the root). I also add some major 7 (C#) and major 6 (B) flavors for color. I’m still only using one string and no vibrato.
This exercise (Ex. 3) is built around descending moves. I start by sliding from the root (D) down to the 5 (A). Then I move from the 6 (B) down to the 3 (F#). The rest of the example simply consists of methodically moving through the chord tones.
In Ex. 4, we start to infuse some country blues into the lines. We’re also going to use more than one string, though this doesn’t mean we’ll be abandoning the one-string practice routine.
In beat 1, listen for a subtle downward slide. There isn’t a destination note—we actually stop at the point before it would reach a half-step lower. This drop is the type of expressive move that the slide makes possible. In beat 2, you’ll hear a b3 slide into a 3—a classic country-blues move. At the end of the measure, you’ll play the b3 on the 4th string before resolving to the root on the 5th string.
Remember how I said the 1st string is tricky to slide on? Now that you’ve developed some control over your slide and intonation, I think it’s time we try to incorporate it a little (Ex. 5). In measure one, we’ll start off by sliding from the root (D) up to the 2 (E) on the 1st string. Next, we’ll do a similar move, but we’ll slide up to the 3 (F#). At the beginning of measure two, I slide from the root (D) up to the 5 (A). I’m definitely taking the training wheels off for this one.
It’s important not to move through these exercises too fast—either in tempo or content. The point is to improve your intonation, so take your time and work on developing pitch accuracy. Once you gain this, it will remain with you for life. If you really want to test your ear, turn the lights off and find the notes against the drone. It will be terrifying at first. But after you practice this way a few times, it becomes quite empowering.
Coax extra mileage from a familiar lick by slipping in some sly slide moves.
• Understand when and where to combine slide with fretted notes.
• Create drone-style licks using open strings.
• Develop a better sense of intonation. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
Here’s a thought: You don’t have to exclusively stick to slide technique when that bottleneck is on your finger. Why not use those three other fingers? For this lesson, we’ll explore how to sneak the slide into your “normal” fretted licks. It takes skill and practice to merge the two techniques, but the resulting sounds are well worth the effort. For these examples, we’ll focus on mostly roots and blues-style licks in standard tuning. As we launch into these examples, it’s important to think of your slide finger as a normal finger with a slight extension that lets you emphasize legato lines. Don’t switch back and forth between the two styles … instead, make them one!
Our first lick (Ex. 1) is based around a G minor pentatonic scale (G–Bb–C–D–F). For the first notes of measure one and measure three, use the slide to “bend” the note just a bit before the pull-offs. This works great over a G7 vamp.
Let’s move to the key of A for Ex. 2, which illustrates a good way to hot-rod whatever pentatonic shapes you’ve grown bored with. Play the first measure normally and then bring in the slide for the notes on the 3rd string, while quickly shifting to fingers to fret the notes on the offbeats.
Also in A, Ex. 3 starts in the lower register in open position and then uses the slide to outline the A major pentatonic scale (A–B–C#–E–F#). Note that this lick requires a little bit of playing behind the slide with your index finger to grab that F# at the 4th fret.
Ex. 4 is all about getting the most out of the melody by just using one string. Fret the first half with your fingers, and then use the slide for all the notes on the 2nd string. Try to be as expressive as you can—think like a vocalist.
Ex. 5 starts in open position, where we have some lower register double-stop licks. Where Ex. 3 focused on the major pentatonic, this lick outlines the minor pentatonic. We also do some string skipping with the slide, so when moving it across the fretboard, be sure to use your picking hand to mute the strings you aren’t playing. Muting unused strings with the picking hand is an essential part of playing slide guitar.
Next up is Ex. 6, which is in 3/4 and begins with the slide and a 6th-string drone that creates a sitar-like sound. This line is followed by a simple E minor blues lick that ends on the 3 (G#), while still droning the low E. A classic and swampy blues lick.
A blues lick in C, Ex. 7 has a strong swing feel and could be played over a shuffle. This lick is commonly played with fingers, but here we’ll be playing the double-stops with the slide and focusing on heavy legato.
Blues in flat keys! Ex. 8 is in Ab and starts with some diminished sounds before it straightens out on the minor pentatonic with the slide. As in Ex. 4, we have a lot of movement on the 2nd and 3rd strings, so try to be extra expressive.
Things get a little trickier in Ex. 9. We begin with a double-stop in the lower register, while using the slide on the 7th fret. It’s important to tip the slide when you’re playing behind it with your fingers, so you don’t lose the resonance on the 7th fret. Follow up with a descending run in the minor pentatonic scale.
Fittingly, Ex. 10 is probably the most difficult of these examples. It starts with a jangling open-string lick that you could see as E–E7–Aadd9–G6 with the top two strings ringing out. Follow that up with a similar movement with the slide from Ex. 3, but here we’re sliding from the 12th fret on the G string up a half-step before plucking a double-stop at the 14th fret to flesh out that E triad.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into integrating slide with fretted notes. Just remember to keep your slide hand relaxed, stick with it, and have fun. Most of these examples are based around feel, and don’t rely solely on technique, although that will help. Think musically and dynamically, and the sounds will come. Let me know how you get on with these examples, and feel free to get in touch with me.