How To Play Like . . . Duane Allman
(first published in 'Guitar Player', July 2004)
In the late '60s, Duane
Allman's blazing slide work with the Allman Brothers Band
inspired a generation of rockers to explore bottleneck guitar.
While he may not have been the first to slam Delta blues licks
through a cranked 100-watt Marshall stack, he certainly exposed
more ears to that fat, squawky sound than any guitarist before
him. Today's slide-wielding rockers, including Derek Trucks,
Sonny Landreth, Eric Sardinas, and Warren Haynes, all owe a debt
Skydog-as he was known to his bandmates, friends, and
fans - relied on open-E tuning for much of his incendiary soloing.
Here's the formula for morphing standard tuning into open E:
- Raise the fifth string (A) a whole-step to B.
- Raise the fourth string (D) a whole-step to E.
- Raise the third string (G) a half-step to G#.
Low to high, this yields E, B, E, G#, B, E. Unlike dropped D,
open D, or open G - which are all lowered tunings - open E is a
raised tuning that increases string tension. If, like Allman,
you're playing slide on an electric guitar equipped with light
strings, open E's added tension can work to your advantage:
Strings 5, 4, and 3 offer greater resistance to the slide's
weight, and the neck gets a tad more relief - effectively raising
the action between frets 3 and 10.
Like most slide players, Allman played fingerstyle, using his
picking-hand fingertips to pluck selected strings while
simultaneously muting others. Allman's slide of choice was a
Coricidin medicine bottle, so for a wicked "Statesboro Blues"
whine, seek out a lightweight, thin-walled glass or Pyrex
Ex. 1 will give you a feel for Allman's melismatic slide
technique. Notice how the grace notes help you glide from one
bar position to another. This distinctive "Duane-ism" makes a
line sound almost vocal. Each triplet move can be a lick unto
itself, so be sure to splinter this phrase into its component
elements and recombine them in different ways. Go for a rich,
singing tone with pronounced upper mids.
Inspired by Allman's sassy "Trouble No More" riff, Ex. 2 will
turn heads, once you dial in the position shifts, intonation,
and stinging tone. Notice the duplicate notes in bar 1. After
playing high A on the first string (beat two), we echo it on the
second string (beat four). This sleight-of-hand lets us shift
our focus from frets 5 and 8 to fret 10. To keep the octave jump
clean (bar 1, beat four), mute unwanted string noise with your
fingertips and the underside of your picking hand thumb.
The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East [Mercury/Chronicles]
is the bible for rockin' slide guitar, so if you don't have a
copy, be sure to get one and listen to it loud and often.