1981 Arlen Roth




Duane Allman's Slide Style
Tunings, Licks, & Technique
(first published in 'Guitar Player', October 1981, Vol. 15 No. 10)

Duane Allman and slide guitar. To many devotees of Duane's playing with and without the Allman Brothers, the two will forever be inseparable. Duane's slide style had an unmistakable identity that was solely his own, and he possessed one of the most fluid and expressive bottleneck sounds around. Eric Clapton, when asked about his own slide playing in his August '76 Guitar Player interview, responded: "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."

The Slide

Countless objects can be used as slides: Bottle necks, socket wrenches, pill bottles, knives, and brass tubing (my favorite) are just some of the objects that have been seen in the hands of slide players. When choosing a slide, it is important to have something with ample weight so you don't have to press down too hard on the strings, risking a lot of fret and fingerboard noise. In other words, the slide's own weight should help carry it along. Duane almost always used Coricidin bottles, and Lord knows they worked for him. However, the aspiring slide player should be forewarned about a couple of drawbacks to this type of slide. First, it really doesn't have the proper weight to get a truly clean, loud sound (keep in mind that Duane played very loud with the Allman Brothers, mainly utilizing Les Pauls and Marshall amps). Also, this slide was shorter than the width of all six strings, making full chording and lower licks on the slide quite difficult to execute. Lastly, this type of slide has a closed-off end, and it can get awfully stuffy in there for your finger. You also lose the ability to use the tip of you finger, which, if exposed, can let you know where the end of the slide is for more accurate playing.

Try a few types before you decide on the right slide for you. This photo illustrates the proper slide position on the pinky (or on the ring finger if you want total Duane accuracy), with the tip of the finger exposed. Note the fingers touching the strings behind the slide to damp out any overtones created by the slide. This slide is the brass type I prefer:


We'll be using some special symbols to indicate what your slide should do. This means that you slide up to that note from approximately two frets below it without giving the original position of the slide any real time value:

This means the same thing, only this time you slide down to the note from approximately two frets above:

And this means you pick only the first note and then slide to the next, giving both their notated time value:

Open Tunings

Duane's favorite tunings were open G [D, G, D, G, B, and D, low to high] and open E [E, B, E, G#, B, E, low to high]. These are two of the most popular open tunings for slide guitar, with the latter being more reminiscent of the days of the acoustic Delta blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Son House. Open E is more represented in the later playing of Chicago bluesmen such as Elmore James and Tampa Red, who were important in bridging the gap between the rural and the hotter urban styles.

Each tuning has what I call a "box" pattern: an area that, due to the new tuning of the guitar, puts the notes of a blues scale within a closer proximity of each other. You'll see what I mean in this example of the open (utilizing open strings) and closed (no open strings) box patterns for an E tuning. (Remember that the slide should be positioned directly over the guitar's frets:


Here are the two box positions for open G tuning. Note how the movement and arrangement of notes are just like E tuning, except moved one string higher:


Standard Tuning Slide

Duane played slide in standard tuning quite often. In fact, on some recordings it's a bit hard to decipher any difference between his work in open or standard tunings. One way to be really sure is to listen for any moment where a full group of notes are struck that are definitely not in standard tuning. For instance, the high E, B, and G# of E tuning are giveaways, as would be the high D, B, and G notes for open G tuning.

Standard tuning slide is quite difficult and rather limited due to the lack of closer box patterns. Probably the greatest reason for the use of this technique lies in those rare moments when you are called upon to perform both fretted tasks (left-hand fingering) and slide playing in the same song. This situation has occurred more than once for me in the studio, and that's enough for me to know that standard tuning slide should not be taken lightly. Damping strings to prevent any notes other than ones you're sounding to ring out is also crucial to this style, since we are not tuned to any specific chord and therefore must be careful not to sound any extraneous notes.

Here is the main blues pattern Duane used for his standard tuning slide work:

The Right Hand

Fingerpicking is essential to proper slide technique, and even though Duane used a flatpick for his lead playing, he always fingerpicked for slide. I recommend a thumb-and-three finger approach to slide playing; this style affords you the greatest damping capabilities so important to clean slide playing. Below are two examples of what I mean. In the first exercise, your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers pick the G, B, and high E strings. When the high E string is sounded, the thumb should simultaneously come across and stop the G and B, leaving only the high E to ring. This is an example of how damping is done 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 in the opposite direction - towards the low E string - the fingers that played the strings should then serve to stop and rest on the same string, if you wish to damp them out. If the lick continues in the same direction over other strings, you should continue to use your 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers as a group for playing and damping, saving your thumb for rhythmic bass notes and damping:

Slide Licks

The following are examples of some slide licks in the Allman style, broken down into the categories of open E, open G, and standard tunings. Take note of the similarities between them, as well as their differences. Don't forget to keep the slide straight and damp properly with your picking hand if necessary:


"Remembering Duane"
By Arlen Roth

Here is a 12-bar blues lead slide solo in open E that I've titled "Remembering Duane." 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 would suggest listening to and absorbing as many of his recordings as possible before continuing your slide studies and playing this piece in the right spirit. If you want to further your study of slide guitar, I suggest that you read my book, Slide Guitar (Oak Publications, 33 W. 60th St., New York, NY 10023, or you can write to me care of Hot Licks Instruction Tapes, 46 Warren St., New York, NY 10007). Good luck!


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