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A naive question from a non-musician, so be kind please.

I'm curious whether playing with a bottleneck slide requires different tuning than 'ordinary' playing. I've seen great players picking and fretting in what seem like a perfectly normal style, then introducing a bottleneck and playing in what feels like a totally different style, with no retuning.

In other cases, I've seen a player in the same situation switch guitars just to play bottleneck, presumably because it requires a different tuning.

So do the first class of players just learn to pick differently on a guitar tuned for bottleneck, or what?

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    To address the core of your question, does it require a different tuning: Unless a guitarist corrects me, no. There might be a tradition of other tunings, but no reason you can't use a slide with standard tuning. You might see people switching guitars for other reasons, like reaching for a steel guitar for resonance. Oct 12, 2021 at 16:34
  • @AndyBonner - slide playing is far more effective when the tuning favours the harmony of the piece. 'Require' opens a big can of worms.
    – Tim
    Oct 12, 2021 at 17:57
  • My basic lack of understanding: I'm not sure how often a slide player hitting chords or even multiple strings at once. I was assuming we were talking a mostly melodic, "lead" context. Oct 12, 2021 at 17:58
  • Open tuning is more typical, but standard can be used too. premierguitar.com/lessons/a-beginners-guide-to-standard-slide Oct 12, 2021 at 18:32
  • @Tim - yeah, 'require' wasn't the best word. Good info here regardless.
    – Jim Mack
    Oct 12, 2021 at 19:39

3 Answers 3

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Yes - and no. Standard tuning will mean judicious angling of the bottleneck or whatever's being used. A perpendicular angle will give a minor triad on the top 3 strings, but moving it to an angle can produce a major one - albeit not spot on in tune.It'll also give a major triad (the relative major at the same fret, and the VII either 5 or 7 frets away)- Theodore, thanks for the reminder!

For that reason, most players will have an open tuned guitar, where perpendicular placing will make major or minor chords easily. Another (slight) problem for some is that for slide playing, the strings are better with a higher action, which means for ordinary playing, it's not so pleasant. So either way, there's a compromise - or use (at least) two differently tuned guitars.

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    A perpendicular angle will also give a major triad in 2nd inversion on the 2nd through 4th strings. That's How I'll often play slide chords on a standard-tuned guitar.
    – Theodore
    Oct 12, 2021 at 21:36
  • @Theodore - true - completely forgot that - I use it in songs in G, for a harmonic chord at 12th fret (G) and 7th fret (D). Thanks for the reminder!
    – Tim
    Oct 13, 2021 at 6:46
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This is of course up to you how you tune the guitar, but slide guitar players often use open tunings, to make the most use of the slide touching several strings perpendicularly.

See e.g. What is an "open tuning"?

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    This is also covered well in the Technique section of Wikipedia's article on Slide guitar.
    – Aaron
    Oct 12, 2021 at 16:19
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There's a lot to playing slide that becomes much easier when you tune to an open tuning, especially when you're playing and accompanying yourself.

However, a triad (root, third and fifth) comes for free on the second, third and fourth strings of a guitar in standard tuning, making it easy to jump between bottleneck and standard playing. You might want to string the guitar up with higher tension strings and higher action than you would normally like, but nothing too out of line. This makes more sense in a band situation.

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