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Go-To Tunings for Blues Slide Guitar

The vocal timbre and mournful wail of the slide guitar has become inseparable from the concept of Blues Guitar.  However, in order to master the classic Blues guitar styles associated with the finger slide, you must first familiarize yourself with the different tunings that are key to those styles.  Below is a list of my favorite, and most used, tunings for Blues Slide Guitar.  With each tuning I’ve included a video, demonstrating how that tuning can be used to create a stylistic mood, which differs with each tuning.  Remember, the more tunings you become familiar with, the more versatile you will be as a musician.

OPEN D & OPEN E TUNING
Open E: (E-B-E-G#-B-E) – tuned to E major chord
Open D: (D-A-D-F#-A-D) – tuned to D major chord
These two tunings are basically the same tuning… the only difference is that Open D is tuned one whole step lower than Open E.  The tighter string tension of Open E makes it easier to play with low action, but the lower pitch of Open D produces more low-end body, and can give you a swampier vibe.  That swampy vibe is all over this following video clip, which is is Open D tuning…

 

OPEN G & OPEN A TUNING
Open G: (D-G-D-G-B-D) – tuned to  G major chord
Open A: (E-A-E-A-C#-E) – tuned to A major chord
These two tunings are also, in essence, the same tuning.  The difference is that Open G is tuned a whole step lower than Open A.  Delta blues guitarists like Robert Johnson made this tuning style famous.  The sound of this tuning is great for solo guitar Blues playing, and allows the player to construct elaborate bass lines, since the root note is on the 5th string, as opposed to the 6th (bass) string, thereby allowing the player two bass strings for the thumb to play bass lines and 4 strings for the fingers to pluck melody notes.
Listen to how the bass lines play an important role in this following video, which is in Open G tuning…

 

STANDARD TUNING
Standard Tuning: (E-A-D-G-B-E) – not tuned to a chord
Standard Tuning is the most widely-used and standardized tuning for conventional 6-string guitar playing.  It’s great for fretted (non-slide) playing because it makes many chord shapes and scale patterns comfortable for the fingers to reach.  While it presents certain challenges for slide guitarists, Standard Tuning is actually a very versatile tuning for slide playing, offering many convenient chord fragments, both major and minor, up and down the fretboard.  The key to understanding how to play slide guitar in Standard Tuning comes with learning how to mute the unnecessary  strings, to prevent them from sounding.  I have created an entire instructional DVD for playing in Standard Tuning, which you can check out.. just CLICK HERE for more info.  The following video is an example of slide guitar in Standard Tuning…

 

OPEN Dm & Em TUNING
Open Dm (D-A-D-F-A-D) – tuned to D minor chord
Open Em (E-B-E-G-B-E) – tuned to E minor chord
While these tunings are not very well-known historically, they are some of my personal favorite, and most-used, slide guitar tunings.  They are particularly great for playing in minor keys, but also work very well for Blues styles, even if the underlying harmonies are major.  Again, these two tunings are essentially the same tuning, but Open Em is tuned one whole step higher than Open Dm.  The following video shows how this tuning can be used in both fretted and slide styles.  The acoustic rhythm guitar is tuned to Open Dm, and the 6-string lap steel is also tuned to Open Dm…


Thanks for keeping the Roots alive!  Click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles.

~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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The 12-String Guitar ~ The Heavy-Hitter of Acoustic Blues Instruments

Today, the 12-string guitar is often associated more with folk music and simple open-chord strumming than with intricate lead guitar, ragtime, or traditional blues.  But some of the most influential blues musicians of all time forged timeless classics wielding their 12-strings.  In the following video, I’ll demonstrate many of the classic Blues styles and techniques that have proven the 12-string to be the heavy-hitter of acoustic stringed instruments.

LIVE STREAM LESSON: Blues Pickin’ & Sliding on the 12-String Guitar 

Early Blues greats like Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell played the 12-string guitar almost exclusively.  These artists took advantage of the full-bodied tone and assertive dynamic presence of the 12-String, to accompany their powerful and expressive singing voices.  Back in the early days of audio recording, it was difficult for microphones to pick up the intricate details of a 6-string acoustic, especially when it was competing with a full-volume Blues singer belting out a vocal melody.  The 12-string’s acoustic volume is almost double that of a 6-string, providing a much fatter bed for the vocals to lay over, in the mix. 

Blind Willie McTell “Travelin’ Blues”

 

Even Blues artists that are known for their 6-string electric guitar playing have been know to cut some of their most distinct tracks on solo acoustic 12-string.  Two great examples of this are Jimi Hendrix’s “Hear My Train A Coming” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Life By The Drop.”  The intricate and sensitive single-note lead lines in these two tracks are fattened up by the doubled strings of the 12-string guitar.

Jimi Hendrix “Hear My Train A Coming”

Stevie Ray Vaughan MTV Unplugged

Stevie Ray Vaughan “Life By The Drop”

 

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive!  Click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles.
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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3-String or 4-String? How to Decide Which is Right for You!

3 string or 4 string guitar

When you are in the market for a Roots Instrument like a 3-string or 4-string guitar, one of the most common questions is, “Which one is right for me?”  I get this question on a daily basis, and it all depends on the goals, tastes, and experience level of the player.

Advice for Beginners:

If you are a total beginner, or planning on purchasing a 3- or 4-string guitar for a beginner, you really can’t go wrong.  Both 3-string and 4-string are much easier to learn than conventional 6-string guitar… mainly because less strings require less muscle strength in your hands and less multi-tasking.  Most 3-string and 4-string guitars are tuned to “open tunings,” meaning that the open strings are tuned to a chord, so it’s easy to play many chord changes with just one finger on your fretting hand, as opposed to learning and practicing complicated chords shapes on the 6-string for hours before playing your first song. 

The main difference between the 3-string and 4-string when it comes to beginners is that the 3-string is just plain easier than the 4-string.  The 3-string is really the perfect beginner instrument for anyone wanting to learn a stringed instrument, but wants to play music right away.  It’s simple, easy to pick up and play, and still teaches you all of the fundamental techniques such as fretting, building muscle memory, strumming, fingerpicking, and more.   It’s also perfect for children who have smaller hands with less muscle strength. 

If you know that you will want more complex harmonies, tuning options, and a larger range between your lowest and highest notes on the guitar, then the 4-string will be a slightly better and more versatile option, as long as you don’t mind the challenge of an extra string.  You can enjoy the best of both worlds by beginning with a 4-string, but only stringing it up with three strings at first..  once you get the hang of it, you can add the extra string and take your playing to the next level. 

Advice for Players with Some Experience:

If you are already playing a stringed instrument, the 4-string might be a better option.  It has more tuning options, a larger range, and can be tuned to mimic other stringed instruments like the ukulele, tenor guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, etc.   It’s also great for players who are already familiar with stringed instruments, but want to add the look, tone, and feel of a roots instrument to their palette.

If you are experienced, and just want a simple instrument that is easy to play, and will inspire you to “do more with less,” the 3-String is a perfectly simple, rugged & rocking’ roots instrument.  Just tune it up, crank it up, and have fun! 

Check out the Videos Below:

Below are two videos that will give introductions to the 3-string and 4-string guitar. 

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive, and don’t forget to click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles!

~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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This Video Features a Guitar by Algoma Acoustics: http://www.AlgomaAcoustics.com

This Video Features a Guitar by Algoma Acoustics: http://www.AlgomaAcoustics.com
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How to Play Mississippi Hill Country Blues: Break it Down, and Build it Back Up!

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If “Delta Blues” is the soul of modern Blues music, then “Mississippi Hill Country Blues” is the beating heart.  This style of early Blues is was forged by pioneers like Mississippi Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and more recently, bands like The North Mississippi Allstars.  Both Delta and Hill Country Blues refer to the region the styles originated from, and both are similar in their emphasis on rhythmic syncopation, use of both fretted and slide guitar, and gospel-like inflections.  Where they differ is that Mississippi Hill Country Blues generally has fewer chord changes than other Blues styles and puts more emphasis on conjuring a hypnotic repetition in the harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic aspects of the song.  These qualities combine to create a magnetic groove that pulls you in and keeps your foot stomping.

In relation to guitar, Hill Country Blues musicians often take advantage of Open Tunings (tuning the open strings of the guitar to a chord).  Then the thumb of the picking hand beats out a rhythm on the bass strings, while the melody (often doubling the vocal melody notes) is played on the high pitched strings.  A talented Hill Country Blues musician can mimic the sound of an entire band (bass, drums, rhythm guitar, and lead guitar) at the same time.

The key to mastering these techniques is to break the separate parts down individually, learning the rhythm first with your thumb, and then the melody with your remaining fingers.  Once the two separate parts can be played comfortably, the two parts must by brought together (sort of like band practice!).

The following video is an excerpt from my instructional DVD, “Roots Music According to Justin Johnson: Slide Technique for the 3-String Guitar.”  It includes an overview of how to approach this style, break it down into it’s parts, and add slide guitar and rhythmic inflections.  The techniques in this video apply just as much to 4-String and 6-String guitar players.
To learn this full lesson with TABS and similar lessons on 3-String Delta Blues Slide Guitar, Chord/Melody Slide Playing, Left & Right-Hand Slide Muting, and much more… check out out the full-length DVD, available at www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html.

Thanks for Keepin’ the Roots Alive, and don’t forget to click the “FOLLOW” button on the right column of this page to stay up-to-date with my newest lessons!

~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
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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
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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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