Killer slide techniques with Sonny Landreth

Check out this video lesson with tab

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Photograph by Sandro
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Example 1: Sonny transforms the basic open E chord, played at the 12th fret with the slide to a dominant seventh, by fretting behind the slide on the 10th fret with his first finger
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Example 2: "The way I learned from Chet Atkins, was that the third finger controls [picks and mutes] the first string, second finger the second string, and first finger the third string. The thumb then controls the bottom three strings. Basically, any string that you're then not playing, that finger rests on the string and mutes it. When you get used to it, you will gain a lot of control and it makes it much cleaner." Watch out for the doublestops in bar 7 - Sonny uses his thumb and first finger for the pinches on the fourth and sixth strings.
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Example 3: Use the picking technique outlined in Ex2 to play this but, as Landreth points out, "Drag your fingers behind the glass to mute as well - that's a basic technique of slide. The combination of trailing fingers with fingerguarding really cleans it up."
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Example 4: "The most beautiful aspect of slide guitar, to me, is the gliss and the vibrato. That is something you really have to master, and the fingerstyle is really important with that." Make sure you use fingerguarding and trailing fingers to keep the open strings muted in this example.
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Example 5: This is Sonny's scale, played at the 10th and 12th frets on all six strings. The resulting notes give you a six note scale: 1 2 3 4 5 b7, which is basically the mixolydian mode with the sixth omitted. Pay close attention to the right hand fingering under the notation. If you're not sure what it means, look at our tab guide linked to in this article.
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Example 6: Use your thumb to strike the strings from low to high (thick to thin). The slide should play all the notes at the 12th fret, with your first finger fretting behind the slide to add the sus2 at the 10th fret on the third string. "When you start to get a feel for it [fretting behind the slide], start laying out these chords - just something really simple - and get used to holding [sustaining] it."

Sonny Landreth was born in Canton, Mississippi, but now based in Lafayette. He is best known for his work as John Hiatt’s guitarist, but has also released numerous solo albums.

In this video lesson Sonny sheds light on his unusual technique of fretting notes behind the slide.

Sonny plays in several open tunings, but kept his guitar in his favourite open E chord tuning throughout the lesson (E B E G# B E).

If you are new to the concept of slide guitar, two important things to consider before you get started are: the type of bottleneck you use, and how your guitar is set up for slide.

Sonny uses a Jim Dunlop Pyrex Glass Slide, in Heavy Wall Thickness, 215 (medium) gauge. “I started using these a long time ago. I’ve got a lot of old bottlenecks [the original type of slide was simply the top cut off a bottle, then refined] – you can get a fantastic vibrato with them, ’cos they’re flared on the end where it’s cut – but a lot of what I do is around the 12th fret and I use all six strings, so having that straight edge is a lot more helpful.”

Playing slide on a low action ‘shred machine’ with ultra-light strings is not a good idea. “If you really wanna play slide, the most important thing is to get a guitar dedicated to slide.”

The beauty of dedicating one guitar to slide, and getting the bigger strings on it, is that it’s a much bigger sound.” Sonny’s strings are a hefty .013-.056 gauge, and his guitar is set with a high action that not only lets those slide notes ring clear (remember: when using a slide, it should ‘float’ on the strings – never push down onto the fingerboard), but it also allows him to fret notes behind the slide. “You want enough height so that the notes you slide sustain. But there should also be enough so that if you reach back and fret behind it, there’s enough room for the string to go underneath the glass.”

Click here for our free tab, and there's also a tab guide here if you need help understanding it. For more information check out the official Sonny Landreth website.

Landreth vid