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.”