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Greasing Strings: Slide Guitar, Past And Present

Muddy Waters pioneered Chicago's now-signature electric blues.
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Muddy Waters pioneered Chicago's now-signature electric blues.

In American music, slide guitar (also known as bottleneck guitar) is a technique employed primarily by blues guitarists. It involves the use of a smooth cylinder that can fit over a player's finger, which is then moved up and down the neck of the guitar, raising and lowering the pitch of the strings without ever putting the strings in contact with the fretboard.

Slide guitar was fairly common among the solo acoustic guitarists of the 1920s through the mid-'40s. In the late '40s, when blues guitarists in bands found that they had to resort to amplification to be heard in noisy Chicago dance halls, the technique became somewhat less prevalent. A resurgence of slide guitar occurred in the late 1960s, when many young blues-rock guitarists began employing the technique.

In the following list, you'll hear examples of slide guitar that range from 1927 to 2002. As always, in a list of only five songs, it's hard to choose whom to include and whom to leave out. So, as always, we encourage you to use this list as a springboard and a way to suggest more guitarists. If you like what you hear, be sure to seek out the delights of other great slide players, such as Willie McTell, Robert Johnson, Sylvester Weaver, Fred McDowell, Johnny Shines, Son House, Ry Cooder, Bob Brozman, Hound Dog Taylor, Taj Mahal, Lowell George, Keb' Mo', Sonny Landreth and Derek Trucks, to name just a few.

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