The History Of Slide Guitar

West African Music Instruments

There are a number of competing entities that want to take credit for the origins of the slide used in guitar playing. The Hawaiian influence can not be denied. But it is known that in West Africa a string attached to a gourd was played with a bow and the pitch changed by sliding a bone on the string.

The Slide For Guitar Playing

The West African traditional music brought to America with the slaves combined with the slide for guitar playing created a haunting sound that increased the popularity of the guitar. A prerequisite of the slide was an American version of the West African bow called the jitterbug. This was used by negro slaves in the early 1900’s in what would be an early version of blues. When the string was plucked a slide, possibly bone, slid along a single string. The sound could be similar to the human voice and caused a haunting sound.

The Guitar Is Cheaper And More Portable Than The Piano  stock-photo-old-blues-guitar-blue-image-299109440.jpg

The guitar was becoming more popular in the early 1900’s because of cost and portability. It could be mail ordered and was a way for those living in rural areas to get a musical instrument. With the African experience of the jitterbug it was a natural progression for useing knives, bone or glass to change pitch on the strings of a guitar.

The Hawaiian Influence

The guitar was becoming more common and very important in the development of “roots Music.” A Hawaiian musician by the name of Joseph Kekeku made a slide guitar recording. It was popular in the states and added to the popularity of the Negro slide blues style. The music spread and caused manufacturers to increase production of guitars. National, Gibson and Rickenbacker were producing resonators. The Hawaiian lap steel was becoming more popular than the Spanish-style guitars. The Hawaiian influence began to spread into all types of folk music. Blues, mountain hillbilly and country with a dobro style all added slide into their repertoire.

The Development Of Slide Guitar

Although differing cultures like to lay claim to inventing slide guitar it developed by a cross-section of nationalities. The American melting pot helped the development as it did with all the roots to major genres of music. The development of slide led to the likes of Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Son House and many more. Slide guitar music is an American phenomena just like Rock and Roll, Jazz, Cajun, Motown, Bluegrass, Country Western and Swing.

Roy Rogers is an accomplished blues and slide guitarist! You can find his and other guitarist’s music by clicking the link in the Itunes banner.

Top Slide Guitar Players

.Muddy Waters
. Bonnie Rate
. Robert Johnson
. Johnny Winter
. Son House
. Mississippi Fred McDowell

stock-photo-hands-of-man-playing-electric-guitar-guitarist-hands-fingers-with-metallic-slider-pressing-268519694.jpg December 13, 2015
Playing Slide Guitar

. Roy Rodgers ( not the cowboy )
. Rory Block
. Elmore James
. Ry Cooder
. Blind Willey McTell
. Joe Walsh
. Lead Belly
. Eric Clapton
. John Fehey
. Leo Kottke
There are many more. Most of these players can be found on youtube. Leo Kottke and Ry Cooder are
two that influenced me into playing slide. Please check my What is slide guitar page.

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I am a retired trucker that is persuing my dream of being a musician/songwriter.I play guitar,fiddle,harmonica,sax,and also like jug band instruments. I enjoy acoustic to electronic music from jug band, blues,jazz,to church worship music. I am also building an online internet web home business and have found a fantastic company to learn with.Life is good and the Lord is blessing

10 thoughts on “The History Of Slide Guitar

  • October 28, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Hi Marty,

    What a fascinating article, you have clearly done your research here.

    Whenever I think of slide guitar, I always think of those blues players, fantastic! Of course, Hawaiian guitar springs to mind as well.

    Do you have a preference for material on the slides? Glass, metal, stone, bone? I prefer the bottleneck style myself, although I guess I could try using a standard slide with the guitar in my lap; any thoughts on that?

    • October 28, 2016 at 5:58 pm

      Hey Al,
      Thanks for commenting. I have used a slide with my guitar from the beginning when I was influenced by the old blues acoustic players, Muddy Waters, and a more folk style Leo Kottke, and others.In my old drinking days, I would cut off the neck of a wine bottle and sand the edges. Since those days are thankfully gone I use store bought brass and stainless steel slides.
      I still prefer the sound of glass but they can break if you drop them so, although I have glass slides I usually use a metal slide. I also have a ceramic that I like but it is heavy and is more difficult to avoid fret noise.
      I enjoy slide guitar with acoustic as well as electric guitar. I used to only play in “open D” but now play regular tuning also.


  • April 28, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    Ok, that makes sense. I have listened to country music at certain points over the years and I think I was actually hearing the dobro. Though I have heard the slide guitar alot and love it. Any chance you could put some of your recordings on your site? It would be great if we could hear them.


    • April 29, 2016 at 1:45 am

      I do have some sound cloud links on my sites. They are my own songs. I can’t put other people’s songs on my site because I don’t have the rights or am not licensed. When my business develops I may buy a license so that I can share more of my recordings.

      On Soundcloud, which is a free download, I go by “goodfoot” all small case. One of my faves is “I could not Stay Away”. It is about a drunk going to “the Last Chance Saloon” and on the way he passes the church of “Salvation and Deliverance”. He “Could not Stay Away” and gets saved. There is a link for that song on my web site.

      Also “Back Slider Blues”.
      My recordings are home grown but I do play all the instruments. Thanks for stopping by Lynn
      and for your support,


  • April 28, 2016 at 9:12 am

    What a great article. I never knew the slide guitar had such a rich history. You used the words “haunting sound” in your article which desribes the sound perfectly. Whenever I hear a slide guitar I just sit back, take notice and listen. It is always a treat to learn more about any subject and your site is really very good.
    What are your thoughts on the Dobro?

    Lynn Drew

    • April 28, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Hi Lynne, Thanks for reading my article on the history of slide guitar. The dobro is another method of using a slide that comes from the same roots. It is better-suited to a country style and is played laying flat like a table top. It is the precursor to the lap steel guitar. Very beautiful to listen too.
      Although I play some country, I play more blues style and combine fingering with the slide. Thus, I hold it like a guitar.

      I do some demo recording and have a song that is one of my better recordings and my slide work sounds like a dobro.
      I do add some slide in my electric guitar play in our church worship band.


  • February 16, 2016 at 1:54 am

    I think the slide guitar is one of the most beautiful instruments ever invented. Love its soulful sounds and the possibilities are endless. I used to listen to Robert Johnson the whole day; his musical sense was just superb. Nice post Marty!

    • February 16, 2016 at 2:20 am

      Thanks for your comment Gin, I have played some slide since I started playing guitar. I was always into roots music as I had some friends that were fanatical about it. I didn’t know how much of an influence it would have. As well as Robert Johnson and the other Delta blues players 2 that influenced me in my early days were Ry Cooder and Leo Kottke. I do a Ry Cooder song,” No Banker Left Behind”. I would like to get his permission to go public with it. I think it makes a good statement no matter what your political leanings are.

  • February 2, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Wow this article that you have here is very informative. I always wanted to play the guitar but I never knew anything about it. Now that I know a little more I hope that i can go on to learn it.


    • February 3, 2016 at 12:07 am

      I am glad you found the information useful Smed. I find it interesting that you are checking out the slide guitar.
      I have been working on slide since I started learning guitar. I always found that when you had a road block it was good to change things up and it would get you going again. If there is anything I can help you with, whether it is playing, equipment, or where to find something don’t hesitate to ask.


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