Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Slide guitar or bottleneck guitar is a particular method or technique for playing the guitar that originated in the country blues. Instead of altering the pitch of the strings in the normal manner, by pressing the strings against the fretboard with the fingers, a slide is used. The slide is a usually a tube of some hard material about 1 to 2 inches long, though a knife may be used, as in knife guitar. Commonly these are made from glass (such as a bottleneck), although metals (normally steel or brass) are also used, with each type of giving the sound a distinct characteristic in terms of tone, clarity and duration. The slide is pressed against the strings (lightly, so as not to touch the strings to the fret board), producing a sustained tone which can be continuously varied by moving the slide across the neck. Many slide guitarists will still use their free fingers to fret the strings if they want to mix up the sounds they get from their guitar.
In this style the guitar is usually tuned in an open tuning, where the strings are tuned to sound a chord when not fretted ("open"); thus sliding the bottleneck up down the guitar neck, parallel to the frets, moves the root and entire chord up and down, allowing the player to change chords with one hand and without fretting any strings. This is most often to a major triad: D-A-d-a-d'-f#'. These tunings can be traced back to the 18th century through the banjo, predate the Hawaiian guitar, and, has been traced by David Evans to a one-string toy-instrument: the 'diddly bow ', which resembles one-stringed African instruments. The tuning and bent note filled playing style resembles the blues-harp. (van der Merwe 1989, p.66-67)
Many experienced guitarists use other tunings as well. Occasionally a bottleneck is used on only the highest two strings of a guitar in standard tuning, usually in live performance to introduce just a short passage of bottleneck effect into a piece which otherwise consists mainly of guitar played in standard fashion. In this case, the bottleneck is usually worn on the fifth finger, leaving the others free to fret chords in normal fashion.
Some specialised makes of guitar are commonly used to play slide. These include resophonic or resonator guitars, commonly also known as dobros after the Dopyera brothers, whose company first made them. Rather than the sound being produced by body's hollow, a special bridge transfers the vibrations from the strings to a metal cone placed inside the body. Slide guitars may also have higher tension strings and a raised bridge to bring the strings higher off the fingerboard.
The technique appears to have originated with classic African American blues artists. Some of the blues artists who most prominently used the slide include gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson, Son House, Lightning Hopkins and legend Robert Johnson. The sound has since become commonplace in country and Hawaiian music. It is also used occasionally in Classic rock, mainly by bands, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin, that have been heavily-influenced by the blues. Arguably the most influential classic electric blues guitarist is Elmore James, who's riff in the song "Dust my Broom" is considered textbook. Blues legend Muddy Waters was also very influential, particularly in developing the electric Chicago blues slide guitar from the acoustic Mississippi Delta slide guitar.
Though rarer than slide guitar, some musicians have used slides with bass guitars, known as slide bass. Mark Sandman of Morphine was probably the best known proponent (with Morphine, he perfomed primarily on a custom 2-string slide bass guitar), though Bill Laswell, Kevin Rutmanis and Marc Sloan have also played slide bass. John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin has performed on a custom-made bass lap steel.
- van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0193161214.
- Evans, David.
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