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How to Play Slide Guitar: The Essential Secrets!

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Whether you are a total beginner with the guitar slide, or a pro, it’s always good to refresh your approach, refine your technique, and sharpen the nuances of your playing to ensure you’re at the top of your game.  From my experience performing, recording, and teaching slide guitar, I have developed some simple methods that will help you improve tone, touch, and control, and will save you months of practice if you develop these good habits from the beginning.

The key is gaining control.  If you are properly holding the slide and lightly anchoring your sliding hand to the back of the neck, you will be able to easily gauge the slide’s pressure on the strings.  It will also be much easier to keep the notes in tune and develop reliable visual references on the fretboard.

The following video lesson is an excerpt from my new instructional video series, “Slide Technique for the 6-String in Standard Tuning,” which covers these slide guitar essentials in detail.  If you enjoy the excerpt, the full instructional series is available on DVD or Digital Download at: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html.

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive, and don’t forget to click the “FOLLOW” button on the right of this page to stay up-to-date with new articles from Roots Music School!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

 

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Handmade Guitars with a Blues Bias – Interview with Little Crow Guitars

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jj sig little crowEver since I was a kid, when I brought my first electric guitar home from the hole-in-the-wall record store down the road, I have been searching for “my sound.”  I started off with soaking up classic Blues-inspired rock, and then began tracing those riffs and tones back to where they came from.  Having first been inspired by bands like Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Clapton, and Pink Floyd, I was immediately drawn to the Fender sound.  I played for years in different bands, performing everything from Blues and Rock to Reggae and Country, all with that trusty Strat by my side.

Then one day I picked up a 4-string cigar box guitar, and my search for tone took a sharp turn.  I became drawn the the one-of-a-kind nature of the back-porch tone that came from homemade Roots instruments.  The fact that instruments like my Ironing Board Lap Steel, or Washtub Guitar, or Axe-handle One-String Diddley Bow, were made from found objects created an authentically bare-bones tone… it was a sound that reflected the eclectic history and DIY nature of Early Delta and Chicago Blues.

The classic tone of a Strat, and the rugged, down-home tone of the handmade & homemade roots instruments are two sides of the same coin… but I had always wondered if there was a way to merge these two worlds of tone into one sound that captures the classic quality of a vintage solid-body electric guitar without losing touch with the Rootsy simplicity of the earliest forms of Blues Guitars.  This search led me to Dave and Viv Street of Little Crow Guitars, a company based in Perth, Western Australia.  Once I got to know their work, and learned about the methods and philosophies behind their guitars, I realized that this was the company I had been looking for, for that perfect marriage of classic and one-of-a-kind.  In addition to their lines of high-end, custom guitars and basses, they have introduced a brilliant line of guitars called the Blues Plank Series which boasts some of the most innovative and daring Blues-inspired guitar designs I’ve ever seen.

I recently caught up with Dave Street from Little Crow Guitars to ask a few questions about guitars, guitar-building, and the history and inspiration for Little Crow Guitars. blues-plank-bo3-resonator_0143-1024x680

Q:  What was the inspiration for creating Little Crow Guitars?
A: 
I’ve always had an interest in musical instruments. In my early years of furniture making I made some tongue drums and marimbas. A couple of years ago (mid 2012) when we were having a quiet period for furniture sales, my thoughts turned to musical instruments again, this time guitars. As often happens this was spurred on by an event of fortuitous synchronicity: I heard a radio interview about a well known Australian Luthier and how he got started. I was inspired and this set the wheels in motion. We wanted a bird as our logo and after some deliberation we settled on the Little Crow — Australian and pretty well suited to the blues ethos.

Q:  One thing I love about your instruments, is that you use a lot of Australian timbers that aren’t often seen in American guitars.  Do you have any favorites, and reasons for favoring certain woods?
A: 
Our favorites are Mountain Ash and Blackwood. Both are well known (in Australia anyway) as good tonewoods. Blackwood is actually related to the Hawaian Koa and has similar qualities. Mountain Ash is less used as a tonewood which I’m surprised about, as it is amazingly resonant. It’s a little trickier to work with, as it is subject to internal checking (tiny cracks) so it has to be carefully graded. These timbers grow in Victoria and Tasmania. Here in West Australia we have West Australian Sheoak which is also a good tonewood and very stable. We use this for fretboards. We also use some Hard Rock Maple, Rosewood, Queensland Maple and Fijian Mahogany.

blues-plank-bo-series_0113-1024x692Q:  Your instruments all showcase your amazing woodworking skills.  What kind of background do you have in woodworking?
A: 
I actually came to Australia as a surveyor. Shortly after arriving, I met fellow South African Neil Erasmus who was a practicing cabinet maker of immense skill. He encouraged me to take up woodworking and suddenly I’d found the creative outlet I needed. We ended up moving to West Australia and setting up shop together where I learned all my woodworking skills. Later I met my wife Viv and we set up our own business called Ironwood Studio which has now been going for 23 years. Viv is the finishing expert in the business and she has carried this through to our guitar-making endeavor where she finishes all our guitars with a beautiful satin oil finish. Viv is also the reliable sounding board for new ideas and like a lot of creative partnerships she’s often the unsung hero who keeps the show on the road.

Q:  Your slogan is “Handmade guitars with a Blues bias.”  Has blues music been a big inspiration for the designs at Little Crow Guitars?
A: 
Well I’ve always listened to blues music in one form or another and when it came to making guitars it felt comfortable aligning ourselves with the blues genre — it’s the music we know and feel comfortable with. So we make guitars that we know will work in the blues field. It’s not so much a conscious design decision about the blues, but more an intuitive thing, having seen the guitars all the bluesmen over the years have played. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for something new and innovative — I think the blues can be endlessly innovative and we hope to be part of that in a small way.   100_DSC_5428-Copy-1024x680

Q:  To me, the Blues Plank Series from Little Crow Guitars represents a perfect marriage between custom shop quality and affordability.  What is the concept behind the Blues Plank Series, and what type of models are currently available in it?
A: 
About a year after starting to make guitars I became aware of the cigar box guitar revival. This appealed immediately and instinctively to my love of minimalism. But not having much of a tradition of cigar smoking in Australia and so a lack of used available boxes I started thinking about other options. Petrol cans and biscuit tins were a possibility but then I thought: what about a basic solid body? We were already making 6-string guitars, why not 3- and 4-string as well. Then I saw Ted Crocker’s Honeydripper and was inspired. Then I heard Justin Johnson playing and was further inspired. Then I plucked up the courage to ask Justin if he’d be willing to demo and showcase a solid body 3- or 4-string (by this time dubbed t
he Blues Plank). He embraced the idea wholeheartedly, much to our delight, and they’ve been developing ever since, with Justin’s help and guidance.
We make a neck-through construction (NT 3,4) and a bolt-on construction (BO 3,4, resonator and bass).
The Blues Plank 6-String is also a neck-through construction. Initially produced with a single P90, this is still in development and will be available with other pickup configurations. A bolt on 6-string is also in the pipeline.

You can check out Little Crow Guitars’ website at: http://www.LittleCrowGuitars.com

Thanks for reading, and if you like this interview, please click the “FOLLOW,” button at the top right of this page to stay updated with future articles from RootsMusicSchool.org!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

 

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Classic Melodies on the Godfather of American Roots Instruments – The One-String Diddley Bow

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The One-String Diddley Bow is an American Roots instrument with only one string, and is usually played with some form of a guitar slide.  It is the simplest form of a guitar, with some examples consisting of little more than a string and a stick.  However, the significance of these instruments on Roots and Rock & Roll music cannot be understated.  Because the diddley bow is so easy to make, it was often the first musical instrument performed on, by the legends of Blues and Rock music such as B.B. King, Lightning Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, and Bo Diddley (who took his stage name from the diddley bow).  Because the diddley bow is so rudimentary, it is the perfect guitar teacher… forcing you to make a lot of music with one single string.  This eventually teaches you how to make more with less, and create more distinct and captivating music.

I was recently asked if I could create some tablature for the one-string diddley bow for two classic melodies, “Amazing Grace,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  These two melodies are perfect introductions for both learning to play the diddley bow, and learning to read tablature.  The melodies are so recognizable, that most people could easily sing them note-for-note from memory, and the range of each song fits nicely on a diddley bow (which has about a two octave range).  Most importantly, though, is the power that these melodies have to move people, cause them to reflect, and bring them together… and that is the true power of a deeply moving melody!

In case you are not familiar with the concept of tablature (tabs), let me give you a quick explanation…  Tablature is a type of written musical notation that indicates the position of each note on the instrument, rather than giving a specific pitch for each note in the melody.  It is perfect for an instrument like the one-string diddley bow, because it can be hard to tune the open string of a rudimentary diddley bow to a specific, determined pitch, therefore, making it hard to hit a defined set of notes.  Instead, the tablature gives you the number of the fret, or fret marker, to indicate the pitches.  This enables you to learn the melody once, and it will automatically be transposed into whatever key your diddley bow is tuned to.

In the tablature below, the melody is indicated by the chromatic fret position of each.  Above each note are the corresponding lyrics.  These tabs are arranged this way in case you are not familiar with reading rhythmic notation.  The notes correspond to the specific lyrics associated with them, giving the notes a rhythmic context.

Okay, now that the academic stuff is over with, it’s time to learn some music!  Below, I have a simple arrangement of each song, written out in tab form.  Then, I have a video of me performing the song based on that original arrangement.

I would like to thank Peter Murphy of Blind Kiwi Blues (www.BlindKiwiBlues.com) who built the one-string diddley bow that I use in these videos, and Rocky Mountain Slide Company (www.RockyMountainSlides.com) who designed and crafted the ceramic tonebar that I use in the “Amazing Grace” video.

Thanks for reading, and click the “FOLLOW” button on this blog to get the newest articles sent straight to’ya!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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AMAZING GRACE TABS



SSB TABS


If you are interested in diving deeper into the playing techniques, songs, and Roots music techniques that are associated with the one-string diddley bow, check out my Instructional Video Series on the diddley bow, available on DVD or via Digital Download HERE!

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“Dust My Broom” 3-String & 4-String Lesson ~ Slide and Fretted Arrangements

In this lesson, I teach a beginner arrangement of Elmore James’s, “Dust My Broom,” for the 3-string and 4-string guitar.  While this song was originally recorded by Robert Johnson on solo acoustic guitar, it was the Elmore James version on the electric guitar that really emblazoned it onto every Blues band’s set list till the end of time!  The slide guitar riff that opens the song, and is repeated throughout James’ version, has become one of the most significant and influential slide guitar riffs in history, forever assuring his status as a true legend of the Blues.

 

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~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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“Hoochie Coochie Man” 3-String & 4-String Lesson ~ Slide and Fretted Arrangements

The rhythm guitar riffs in “Hoochie Coochie Man” introduce some of the most important and fundamental Blues Guitar techniques, such as call-and-response, muting, rhythmic syncopation, 12-bar-Blues, and more.  Hope you enjoy it!

 

Thanks for your support, and please click “FOLLOW” on this blog,
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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3-String Guitar Lesson – Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”

Pink Floyd’s song “Wish You Were Here” is a true Rock & Roll masterpiece!  It’s one of those songs that has been so firmly planted into the world’s musical consciousness that it’s hard to think of a world before it.  The intro guitar riff is one of the first riffs I ever learned on guitar, and David Gilmore’s acoustic guitar solo at the beginning of this song might as well have written the rule-book for classic rock acoustic guitar solos.

Aside from being an amazing song to listen to, this song is the perfect etude for learning the fundamentals of guitar technique, whether it be on a conventional 6-string or, in this case, the 3-string guitar.  The intro teaches you chord/melody playing, the solo teaches you the fundamental techniques behind string bending, string sliding, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, and the chord changes include some of the most commonly used open chord voicings.

Enjoy the lesson, and click “FOLLOW” to get new articles sent directly to your inbox!
~Justin Johnson

VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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Blues Guitar Soloing is Easier Than You Think

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When you listen to Blues guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughn or Johnny Winter, you can’t help but appreciate the way they can blaze through a series of notes while somehow still retaining that Bluesy, Soulful feeling in their tone, phrasing, and articulation.  But, when you are first learning how to solo over a Blues song, it can be really tricky to break into those quick runs, and not lose that feel.

To me, the secret to developing your own voice when soloing is by breaking your scales, patterns, and riffs into smaller, easily digestible sections.  This way, you can apply and develop your own voice, inflections, and favorite techniques over small sections of the scale, and then learn to connect those sections once they are comfortable.  Then, before you know it, you will be able to quickly nail those fast musical lines, not by practicing the whole scale or riff, but by mastering the sections and then linking them together.

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In the following videos I explain how you can start with a scale diagram, break it down into playable patterns, and then break those patterns down into riffs and solos.  In other words, I’ll show you how to turn scales into your own unique Blues solos on the 3-String and 4-String!

Keep pickin’ and don’t forget to click “Follow” on this blog to stay in touch!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

I’ve also created backing tracks for you to practice these techniques over on MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL.  Check it out, and be sure to SUBSCRIBE to keep up with the latest!

 

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