by Arlen Roth
Duane Allman and slide guitar: To many devotees of his playing, with and without the Allman Brothers, the two will forever be inseparable. Duane had a fluid, expressive style that was his alone. Eric Clapton, asked about his own slide playing, said, “I think what really got me interested in it as an electric approach was seeing Duane take it to another place. There were very few people playing electric slide that were doing anything new; it was just Elmore James licks, and everyone knows those. No one was opening it up until Duane showed up and played it a completely different way. That sort of made me think about taking it up.”
Well, it’s made a lot of others think about doing the same, and Duane’s playing has spawned countless slide guitarists who have emulated his unique style and phrasing. Read on for the full guitar lesson including audio, charts, power tab, and more…
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Slides and Tunings
Any number of objects can be used as slides, including bottlenecks, socket wrenches, pill bottles, knives, and brass tubing (my favorite). When choosing a slide, you want something with enough weight that you don’t have to press down too hard on the strings, thus avoiding a lot of fret and fingerboard noise. In other words, the weight of,the slide should help carry it along. Duane almost always used Coricidin bottles, and Lord knows they worked for him.
Duane’s favorite tunings were open G (DGDGBDl,o w to high) and open E (EB.EG#BE, low to high), two of the most popular slide tunings. Each tuning has a “box” pattern: an area that puts the notes of a blues scale within close proximity of each other. Ex. 1a shows an open box pattern (using open strings) Ex. 1b shows a closed box pattern (no open strings); both are in E tuning.
Examples 2a and 2b show the open and closed box positions for G tuning. Note that the movement and arrangement of notes are just like those in E tuning, but moved one string higher.
Duane also played slide in standard tuning. In fact, on some recordings it’s a bit hard to discern whether he’s playing in open or standard tunings. One way to be sure is to listen for any moment where a full group of notes are struck that are definitely not in standard tuning. For instance, in E tuning, the high, E, B, and G# are giveaways, as would be the high D, B, and G notes for open-G tuning.
Standard-tunings lidei sm ore difficult and rather limited due to the lack of closed box patterns. Damping strings is crucial to this style-you are not tuned to a specific chord, so you must be careful not to sound any extraneous notes. Ex. 3 shows the main blues pattern Duane used for his standard-tuning slide work.
Fingerpicking is essential to proper slide technique, and although Duane used a flatpick for playing lead, he always fingerpicked slide. I recommend a thumb-and-three-finger approach; this affords you the greatest damping capabilities.
In Ex. 4a, your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers pick the G, Ii, and high-E strings. When the E string is sounded, the thumb should simultaneously come across and stop the G and B, leaving just the high E to ring. Ex. 4b shows how to damp when a lick moves in the direction of the high E string, and how Duane achieved such a smooth, fluid approach to his playing.
If the lick moves towards the low E string, the fingers that played the strings should then stop and rest on the same string to damp it. If the lick continues in the same direction over other strings, use your 1st 2nd, and 3rd fingers as a group for playing and damping, saving your thumb for rhythmic bass notes and damping.
The last examples are slide licks in the Allman style: Ex. 5 is E tuning, open position;
Examples 6a and 6b are in E tuning, closed position;
Examples 7a and 7b are G tuning, open;
Examples 8a and 8b are G tuning, closed;
Examples 9a and 9b are in standard tuning.
Finally, “Remembering Duane” is a slide solo in E tuning. It suggests his style and is basically a summation of some of his most memorable work. If you haven’t heard much of Duane’s playing, I’d suggest you listen to and absorb as many of his recordings as possible before continuing your slide studies.