Wednesday, November 08, 2006

5 Basic Tips for Playing Slide Cigar Box Guitar

These basic tips are for out and out beginners and relate to my own three-string fretless CBGs but equally relate to more conventional guitars that you intend to play slide on where you would normally tune to an open chord.

  1. Tuning the guitar - Decide what tuning you are going to use. My preference for blues on CBGs is an open "A" tuned either A-E-A or A-D-A the two A's being an octave apart. It depends what guage strings have been supplied too as to whether an open "A" will result in a suitable tension for the guitars. CBG's supplied by me will have a help sheet telling you what has been fitted. A-E-A is a good starting point - try it and get familiar with it before experimenting with others. Make life easier when tuning by getting a decent electronic tuner like the Korg CA-30 which will show you exactly what note you are playing rather than the basic ones with just standard EADGBE tuning. It will be really handy when trying alternate tunings later.
  2. Type of slide - There are many things you could use as a slide. Some prefer metal, some glass, some bone! I find metal gives a bit more volume with CBG's than glass and it doesn't break. Get a decent heavy one too - it helps when applying vibrato. I use a bought brass tube slide. Again you can experiment later with different types once you've got the basic techniques off.
  3. Using/holding the slide - Again there are diferences of opinion and what suits one doesn't suit another. You can play the guitar on your lap and hold the slide in your left hand (if you're right handed) but most will hold the guitar in the conventional way across the chest. Which finger? I recommend the little "pinkie" finger. The reason being it leaves three of your best fingers free. Not important here but if you eventually apply your slide skills to a conventional fretted guitar, you might want to form some fretted notes or chords as well in which case you can leave the slide on the pinkie and still get by with three good fingers.
  4. Applying the slide to the string - The slide acts as a "movable" fret, that's why there is no need for actual metal fret wires on the neck. The fret positions on mine are marked on purely for a visual guide as to where to place the slide for a given note. The first important rule is to place the middle of the slide right bang over the fret mark where the wire should have been - not over the dots. The second important thing is to just apply enough pressure to make a clear note without the string rattling against the slide. A common mistake is thinking you need to press down hard enough for the string to touch the neck. You definitely don't want that. Pluck an "open" string first without using the slide anywhere, then try the slide at the 5th fret, you should be able to hear when you have it in the right place unless you are tone deaf in which case take up golf instead!!
  5. Plucking hand technique - once again there are preferences, plectrum (pick) or fingers. I used to be mainly a plectrum man till I started with CBG's. I find there is much more scope with fingers. You can use them to "dampen" strings you don't want to ring out and finger picking styles sound great on these guitars. I let the nails grow a little bit long on my right hand for this. If you are worried about looking a little bit "girlie" with them you can soon restore you're macho cred by giving a demo on your CBG. They are incredibly cool instruments.

    So that's the rudiments for a complete novice. Watch this blog for some more tips that will soon have you playing and grinning all over your self satisfied mug. Enjoy!

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