Bottleneck Slide Basics (Guitar Lesson)

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Orville Johnson

Bottleneck Slide Basics

Orville Johnson covers the basics of the bottleneck slide. He talks about the history of slide guitar, choosing a slide, and proper technique.

Taught by Orville Johnson in Blues Bottleneck Slide seriesLength: 26:49Difficulty: 1.0 of 5
Lesson Overview / Objectives

Welcome to the Phase 2 Blues Bottleneck Slide series with Orville Johnson! In this introductory lesson, you will learn the following information and skills:

-Set-up tips for slide guitar.
-How to choose a slide that is appropriate for you.
-Play the E major scale horizontally across the first string.
-Learn how to play some basic slide guitar exercises. These technical exercises will prepare you for the slide guitar licks that Orville teaches in later lessons.

Origin of Slide Guitar

The origin of slide guitar is often a source of debate among musicologists. Some believe that a foreign object was first used to play "slide guitar" on the Hawaiian islands. Then, as traditional Hawaiian music creeped into the lower 48 states, blues guitarists in the South began to explore the possibilities with the slide. Other musicologists argue that slide guitar playing developed independently in both Hawaii and in the Southern United States at almost the exact same time. Although the exact origin of the slide is unknown, it gained wide spread popularity by the end of the 1920's.

Benefits of Playing Slide

1. Playing slide allows you to imitate the human voice on guitar. The human voice is capable of performing "glissandos," or slow, gradual slides from one pitch to another. This technique can also be performed on guitar with a slide. Keep in mind that a glissando can also be imitated by performing a gradual bend.

2. A unique timbre is produced by the slide. The change in timbre or tone that the slide produces can add

3. Learning slide guitar techniques is quite beneficial if you are struggling to break out of vertical scale patterns. Playing slide forces you to play within a more horizontal framework. This is due to the fact that slide licks minimize string crossings. In other words, it is easier to shift up to a higher position on a single string rather than moving to a higher string.

Slide Guitar Set-up Tips

Playing with higher action is extremely beneficial when playing slide guitar. If you play slide with low action, unwanted noise from the frets will occur.

You must also be aware of your guitar's neck radius. Guitars necks either have a flat radius or a round radius. With a round neck radius, the strings arch across the fretboard. The actual surface of the fretboard is rounded or arched as well. It is slightly easier to play slide on a guitar with a flat neck radius. Flat necks allow you to lay the slide completely flat across every string. Consequently, you do not have to adjust the finger holding the slide when moving from one string to the next.

Choosing a Slide

1. Material

Slides are typically made from one of three different materials. Glass, metal, and porcelain slides are the most common. Each material produces a distinct tone. Guitarists such as Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt, and Joe Walsh prefer glass slides because of the rich sustain that they produce. The thickness of the glass is directly proportional to the sustain length. Glass slides also produces the warmest tone. Metal slides are also very popular among blues, rock, metal, and country guitarists. Metal slides produce a brighter, much more aggressive sound than glass. They create a much dirtier sound due to the extra string noise that they produce. Finally, porcelain slides produce a tone that is a sort of middle ground between metal and glass. These slides produce the least amount of string noise. Aerosmith's Joe Perry typically plays with a porcelain slide.

2. Size

Slides come in a wide variety of lengths and thicknesses. Regardless of which material you choose, the slide should fit comfortably. Most players prefer to play with a slide that extends to around the tip joint of the slide finger. A slide that is as long or longer than the finger can be very difficult to control. Also, make sure that your slide is not too loose or too tight. The slide should be tight enough not to fall off if you turn your finger upside down. On the other hand, it should be loose enough to pull from your finger with little effort. If your slide is slightly too loose for you, insert a piece of felt or tape inside the slide.

3. Which Finger Do I Use?

The finger used is strictly a matter of preference. Most players favor the pinky finger, because it frees up the other three fingers for playing chords and single notes without the slide. Orville prefers to use a thin, chrome-plated slide on his pinky. However, famous guitarists such as Son House, Duane Allman, and Warren Haynes have been known to use the third finger. Bonnie Raitt and Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots typically use their middle fingers when playing slide. These players sacrifice the ability to play chords and regular fretted notes in order to use the slide on a stronger finger.

Proper Slide Technique

A. Slide Angle

Make sure that the slide rests directly on top of the strings. Do not angle the slide. If you do, you will hear the sound of the slide scraping across the bottom of the fretboard and neck. Rest the slide only on the strings that you are playing. If you cover all six strings, but do not pluck them, unwanted string noise will result. Keep the slide parallel to the frets at all times. When playing a note, the middle of the slide must rest directly over top of the fret. If you place the slide where you normally fret a note, the note will sound flat.

Be careful not to let the "paralax view" throw you off. A paralax is the apparent difference in location of an object when it is viewed from two points that do not occur on a single, straight line. Sometimes the slide is slightly past the fret when you think it is directly over it. This results in a note that sounds slightly sharp. Use your ears to guide you and tell you what is in tune. This will come with time and diligent practice.

B. Play Lightly

Lay the slide across the strings as lightly as possible. Keeping the left hand wrist and forearm as relaxed as possible helps immensely in this department. You want to avoid the sound of the slide traveling across the frets. This also causes a decrease in resonance, tone, and sustain. Having higher action definitely helps in these areas. Higher action also minimalizes unwanted string noise.

C. Vibrato

Practice sliding up to the 12th fret across the entire length of the fretboard. Apply a vibrato to the 12th fret note. Shake your finger back and forth while keeping the thumb fixed to the back of the neck. When performing a double stop combined with vibrato, you must keep the slide parallel to the frets. Otherwise, one of the notes will sound out of tune.

Various musical situations call for different types of vibrato. The distance you move the slide determines how wide the vibrato is. The speed at which you move your wrist determines the rate of the vibrato.

D. Muting Techniques

When playing slide, left-hand and right-hand muting techniques must be applied.

1. Left-Hand Muting

Drag one or more left-hand fingers behind the slide to mute the strings that you are not playing. This will eliminate unwanted string buzz and sympathetic vibrations that muddy up the sound. These noises become even more noticeable when playing electric guitar. However, you may want to allow the additional strings to ring in certain situations to create an ambient effect.

2. Right Hand Muting

When switching from one string to another, the initial plucked string most be muted before the subsequent string is plucked. Otherwise, the first string will continue to ring over top of the second string that is played. This can be accomplished by making contact with the first string with one of the right fingers or by tilting the palm of the hand towards the desired string. When the palm contacts the string, it will stop vibrating. In most situations, the two notes will clash with one another. However, there are some exceptions. For example, you may want to play a double stop consisting of two notes on adjacent strings at the same fret.

E. Picking

Slide guitar can either be played by plucking the strings with the right hand fingers or by using a pick. Playing with the fingers produces a softer, warmer tone. Many players prefer to play with the fingers because they are able to perform complex right hand muting techniques since the index finger and thumb do not have to hold onto the pick. In contrast to playing with the fingers, playing with a pick produces a brighter and louder tone. Spend a significant amount of time playing with both techniques. You may want to have the option of using either technique in order to tailor your tone appropriately to the context of a specific song.

Slide Exercise 1 (Horizontal E Major Scale)

To practice your ability to play cleanly and in tune, work through a horizontal version of the E major scale on the first string. This scale consists of the following pitches: E, F#, G#, A, B C#, D#, E. Orville explains the fret locations of these notes at 01:05 in Scene 4. Tablature to the scale can also be found under the "Supplemental Content" tab. Practice the scale without the slide until you have it memorized. Then, play the scale with the slide. Remember to follow all of the technique rules listed above. Listen to Orville's demonstration of the exercise at 01:45 in Scene 4 several times. Strive to imitate the sound that he produces. Notice how he mutes the first string with the right hand index finger after plucking each note in the scale.

Exercise 1A

This exercise is quite similar to the first exercise. However, an open E note is now inserted between each note in the E major scale. Orville demonstrates this exercise at 03:48 in Scene 4. This exercise will greatly improve your intonation since the tonic note can be used as a strong reference point. It's much easier to tell if a note played with the slide is out of tune when an open note not played by the slide is added into the equation.

Exercise 2

Repeat exercise 1. This time around, slide into each note from the previous note in the scale. Make sure that you are articulating (picking) each note. Orville provides a demonstration of this exercise at the beginning of Scene 5.

Exercise 3

A descending form of the E major scale is played in this exercise. Play a long "glissando" into each note. A glissando is a long steady slide. Similar to Exercise 1A, an open E string note is inserted between each note played with the slide to ensure that each is in tune. This exercise is demonstrated in Scene 6. Notice how Orville hammers onto the first string with the slide after plucking each open E note. In other words, each glissando note is not articulated. Only the open E notes are actually picked.

Exercise 4

The final and most challenging exercise of the lesson features a repeating sequence played in a descending fashion within the horizontal major scale. Refer to Scene 7 for a demonstration of how this exercise should be performed. Do not get sloppy with your intonation! Play the exercise along with Orville to ensure that you are playing in tune.

Final Thoughts

Learning to play slide guitar is almost like learning how to play the guitar all over again. Even very advanced players struggle when first trying to play slide guitar. Be patient with this new technique. With proper practice and solid instruction, you will master this technique in no time. Always remember JamPlay instructor Hawkeye Herman's cardinal rules of music when playing slide. Visualize where you are going next. Do not place all of your focus on what you are currently playing. Also, crawl before you walk. Walk before you run. Do not begin your adventure into slide guitar by trying to play all of Duane Allman's improvised slide solos. Start with basics such as playing through scales and simple exercises.

Additional Resources

For more information on slide guitar, check out the following books:

1. Electric Slide Guitar - book / cd by David Hamburger (Hal Leonard Corporation)
2. The Slide Guitar Book by Fred Sokolow (Hal Leonard Corporation)

Video Subtitles / Captions


Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

zumacraigzumacraig replied

The "Left Hand Technique" would fit better before the exercise portion. I really couldn't do the exercises correctly until I skipped ahead to the left hand section. Thanks! Great lesson. Can't wait to do more.

olsonvictoriaolsonvictoria replied

Just want to say thank you for the solid logic and clarity of your lessons. Your is my introduction to JamPlay, and I feel like I hit the jackpot on this first go. Very specific to my interests, and very well done. Appreciate it greatly!

berniewberniew replied

Hi Orville. In the exercises, you very clearly describe how to transition from one note to the next once the slide is it on a string.. Any suggestions or info on dealing with when you go from picking (say) the open E to the first contact of the slide with the string for the F#? eg: as close to the nut as possible? about 1 fret below? doesn't matter? Should the string be "blocked" when the slide contacts first? When I try it, it can sound a bit dopey... sort of a hammer-on effect...

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

Ideally, you should be able to hit the string both ways- open, and then putting the slide on it getting the hammer on effect you mention, even tho it'll be a little buzzy sounding as you touch the vibrating string-or hitting the open string as part of your scale, mute it, apply the slide to the string quietly, then slide to the F# note.

berniewberniew replied

Of course! DOH! Use the "pick-blocking" technique unless you actually want to hear the hammer-on effect. Thanks!

berniewberniew replied

I liked the "pick-blocking" tip. Also Lesson 1, Scene 4, around 3:10: "If you try to play the scale and it sounds like this [plays E-Maj horribly out of tune].. then you need to work a little bit" LOL :-)

cstenselcstensel replied

Mr. Johnson, I think a very good case can be made for country slide guitar to be originally influenced by Hawaiian music, but the first recorded account of blues slide guitar was a story told by W. C. Handy, about something he heard in the South in 1906. If Handy was telling the truth (and there's no reason to think he wasn't,) it is doubtful that early black slide players had ever heard Hawaiian music at that time.

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

Thanks for reiterating what I stated at 1:57 in the lesson intro.

rsiefermanrsieferman replied

Love it. When can we expect more Orville? I've been messing around with lesson books and not getting the sound I want. Actually SEEING it being done makes a world of difference. Keep 'em comin' !!!

josmjosm replied

Hi Orville , Can you offer any insight on why my 2 different guitars sound much different with slide -- my Ibanez , which is solid maple all around, sounds pretty tinny with slide . On the other hand , i also have an little old Stella Harmony which is made of solid birch, that sounds pretty good with slide using the same strings ( Martin Bronze light ) Many thanks, JM

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

There are so many variables in evaluating sound that it would be hard for me to say without actually hearing the 2 guitars. Not only the woods, but the size of the box, the string action height, and the nut and bridge materials will all have an effect...oj

jereneojereneo replied

Hello Orville, Can you please let me know which brand of strings you are using and the gauge range ? Many Thanks, Jerene

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

On this guitar I'm just using a light gauge set.

hastng6hastng6 replied

great lesson! if you"re taking taking requests, i"de love to learn Ry Cooder"s Feelin Bad Blues. From the movie crossroads. keep the slide lessons coming.

mulegemamamulegemama replied

Orville - I know why you are one of my favorites...there are lots of excellent players and some wonderful teachers, but you are both! Please keep building on this series!!

tunelessbluestunelessblues replied

Is it important to have the slide right down to your knuckle? I see that is how you have it, but i feel better with it only down to my second joint on my pinkie, is this incorrect? Thanks

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

I think the important things are keeping your finger straight when sliding and not bending at that knuckle. you'll notice I keep my other fingers straight. They are doing a lot of muting and blocking to keep the string noises under control. If you flex your pinky it will be harder to keep them straight to do that muting. Also important is not having the slide longer than the end of your little finger. If you're using a short slide that doesn't stick out past the end of your finger and keep the pinky unbent while sliding then that could work.

ozblokeozbloke replied

Orville, i meant to ask in my last question, when i use my pinky, as you're doing, i find that as i go up the neck to the twelth fret, it's very difficult to keep my thumb on the back of the guitar, infact i have to take it off the back all together, is there any way i can rectify this?

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

One thing that might be causing you a problem is the way you hold your guitar. Notice that I rest my guitar on my left leg which gives my left hand total access to the neck. If you use the right knee position, your body blocks your arm and causes you to change the angle of your hand. The position I use is based on classical guitar position. Maybe check out some of the classical lessons for more info on this way of holding your guitar. This is just one possibility, based on the limited info you gave me. Good luck.

ozblokeozbloke replied

Thanks Orville for getting back to me, i see now how you're doing it! Bet regards.

ozblokeozbloke replied

Orville, you are a very talented instructor, how come you only have 2 chapters, you mentioned in lesson one that you were gonna teach some songs with normal tuning, and i can only see 'got to move'...please please more..more more on your slide techniques! Many thanks.

gsturngsturn replied

Vey comprehensive lesson. Thanks.. You are a very good instructor.

raelzraelz replied

I buy a slide just out of curiosity - to try it out. The very next day, a first video from slide guitar series comes one jamplay. Incredible :) Looking forward to next videos!

jboothjbooth replied

What can I say, we are avid mind readers and telepaths :>

raelzraelz replied

You indeed are :-D Thanks for the suggestion, unfortunately I'm not of legal age to buy one in our country :P

kvdalykvdaly replied

Raelz - you should buy a lottery ticket...just to see what happens.

gibstratgibstrat replied

thank you orville, more slide lessons please!!!!

kathykathy replied

Great, great lesson. So THAT's why my sliding has been sounding like a sick cat more often than not. ;) Very much looking forward to this series.

uderfrykteuderfrykte replied

Awesome! Maybe someday there'll even be a Phase 2 section for slide! I'd sure want that! =))

uderfrykteuderfrykte replied

Wait... That's exactly what's happening now! Thank you, Orville!

axisaxis replied

Fantastic lesson Orville really looking forward to this series

CarolLBCarolLB replied

Thank you very much, Orville. I've always wanted to learn to play slide but I never knew where to start. You've clarified many things.

Blues Bottleneck Slide

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Bottleneck slide guitar is a method of playing the guitar using a slide to mimic the sound of the human voice. The term slide is describes the sliding motion of the slide against the strings, while bottleneck refers to the original material of choice for such slides, which were originally chopped off necks of glass bottles. Using a slide can expand the aural diversity of the guitar and give another avenue for expressiveness.

Bottleneck Slide BasicsLesson 1

Bottleneck Slide Basics

Orville Johnson covers the basics of the bottleneck slide. He talks about the history of slide guitar, choosing a slide, and proper technique.

Length: 26:49 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
You've Got to MoveLesson 2

You've Got to Move

Orville Johnson uses his version of the traditional blues song, "You've Got to Move," to demonstrate proper slide guitar technique.

Length: 18:23 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Trouble In MindLesson 3

Trouble In Mind

Orville Johnson teaches the classic blues song "Trouble In Mind" using a slide.

Length: 21:37 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Soul of a ManLesson 4

Soul of a Man

Orville teaches a beautiful slide guitar arrangement of "Soul of a Man."

Length: 8:52 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Country BluesLesson 5

Country Blues

Orville Johnson teaches the catchy tune "Country Blues" in a slide guitar style.

Length: 22:13 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
John HenryLesson 6

John Henry

Orville teaches the song "John Henry" using a slide.

Length: 22:53 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Sitting on Top of the WorldLesson 7

Sitting on Top of the World

Orville Johnson teaches a slide guitar version of the classic blues tune "Sitting on Top of the World."

Length: 23:32 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Guitar RagLesson 8

Guitar Rag

"Guitar Rag" was one of the first blues songs ever recorded. Orville Johnson teaches a slide guitar version of this masterpiece.

Length: 15:36 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Tampa Red StyleLesson 9

Tampa Red Style

Orville Johnson explores the slide guitar style of Tampa Red.

Length: 18:11 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Mississippi Hill Country Style Part 1Lesson 10

Mississippi Hill Country Style Part 1

Orville Johnson takes a look at Mississippi Hill Country style in open G tuning.

Length: 18:37 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Mississippi Hill Country Style Part 2Lesson 11

Mississippi Hill Country Style Part 2

Orville Johnson takes another look at Mississippi Hill Country style, this time in open F tuning.

Length: 19:38 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Bottleneck Slide TechniquesLesson 12

Bottleneck Slide Techniques

Orville breaks down some of the more advanced bottleneck slide techniques such as string dampening and playing fretted notes behind the slide.

Length: 37:33 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Orville Johnson

About Orville Johnson View Full Biography Orville Johnson was born in 1953 in Edwardsville, Illinois and came up on the St. Louis, Missouri music scene, where he was exposed to and participated in a variety of blues, bluegrass and American roots music. He began singing in his Pentecostal church as a young boy, in rock bands in middle school, then took up the guitar at 17,with early influences from Doc Watson, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Chuck Berry. In the early 1970's, Orville spent several seasons playing bluegrass on the SS Julia Belle Swain, a period-piece Mississippi river steamboat plying the inland waterways, with his group the Steamboat Ramblers.

Orville moved to Seattle, Washington in 1978, where he was a founding member of the much-loved and well-remembered folk/rock group, the Dynamic Logs. Other musical associates include Laura Love, Ranch Romance, File' Gumbo Zydeco Band, Scott Law, and the Twirling Mickeys. Johnson, known for his dobro and slide guitar stylings and vocal acrobatics, has played on over 100 albums. He has appeared on Garrison Keilor's Prairie Home Companion, Jay Leno's Tonight Show and was featured in the 1997 film Georgia with Mare Winningham. His musical expertise can also be heard on the Microsoft CD-ROMs, Musical Instruments of the World and the Complete Encyclopedia of Baseball. He teaches as well at the International Guitar Seminar, Pt. Townsend Country Blues Week and Puget Sound Guitar Workshop.

Orville released 4 recordings in the 1990's: The World According to Orville (1990) Blueprint for the Blues (1998) Slide & Joy (1999) an all-instrumental dobro tour de force and Kings of Mongrel Folk (1997) with Mark Graham. He also appeared on 4 discs with the File' Gumbo Zydeco Band and produced Whose World Is This (1997) for Jim Page and Inner Life (1999) for Mark Graham. In the 21st century, he has released Freehand, a new Kings of Mongrel Folk disc, Still Goin' Strong, and been featured in the soundtracks of PBS' Frontier House and the Peter Fonda flick The Wooly Boys as well as the compilation cd Legends of the Incredible Lap Steel Guitar.

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