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I tell you, all them scounds could play good; I don't know which one was best. I liked that Lonnie - he was the big fat one - I liked his violin playin', but that other one, what played violin and piano, too, and everything, I believe it was Bert. They both played so good, it'd be hard to tell how to judge which one played the best - Houston Stackhouse remembers the Chatmon brothers, The Voice of the Blues

Author Topic: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?  (Read 4705 times)

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Offline Westside

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How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« on: September 23, 2012, 01:07:45 AM »
How do you set up your guitar for slide playing? Do you replace the nut and saddle, or maybe you just shim them?  I would like to get some input so I can get started in getting my parlor in shape for learning slide.

Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2012, 01:12:40 AM »
My slider is an old no name Chinese kid's guitar. I didn't shim the nut at all, just the saddle with a couple hunks of toothpick at each end. Strung it with a set of Martin mediums, works great! Hope it helps.
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2012, 01:14:39 AM »
Also, what make is your parlor?
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2012, 01:32:25 AM »
Unless you have a very low action, you probably wont want to make much, if any adjustment to the bridge and nut.  Certainly you could shim them.  Very much doubt there's any need to change them.  Most slide playing involves fretting as well, so you dont want a nasty action that prevents that.

You may well need heavier strings though- at least on the top e.  On the few occasions I have used my Martin as a slide guitar, I have swapped the top e (usually an 11 or 12) for a 14 to give enough reiststance and prevent slide clanking on the frets too much. 

Many people with resonators tend to put heavy strings on for slide anyway, and you may find you get a better tone by doing so on a flat top as well, but you have to set that off against the risk of damage!

Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2012, 01:38:03 AM »
I never go heavier than a 13 for the top string. Most players use an 11 or 12, but I need volume.
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2012, 01:43:25 AM »
Hence the suggestion of just changing the top string, for a 14, to give the extra weight to make slide playing comfortable if the action is pretty low.  Id be very nervous about putting 16s on a flat top parlour.

Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2012, 01:50:13 AM »
A 16 for the top string? That thought alone gives me the willies!
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2012, 01:55:00 AM »
Ive always found that a 14 is enough for slide playing on a flat top, and that the rest of the strings dont need changing- so you stick with your usual set of 11s or whatever, just swap the top string for a 14 - and away you go.  Full set of 16s on a wooden guitar seems likely to kill it!  I do use 16s on resonators from time to time, though have reduced that to 14s and 15s recently. 

Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2012, 01:58:01 AM »
I have to agree with Slim. How does that Washburn sound? Been thinkin of getting one soon
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Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2012, 02:29:16 AM »
If I were in your shoes, I would go with a standard medium set. As a part-time repairman, I have watched in horror as a bridge with resophonics on it flew off mid-song and knocked out the performer. It was a new guitar, and a Martin to boot. There are just some things I can't reccomend.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2012, 02:31:48 AM by frailer24 »
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline Stuart

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2012, 11:27:48 PM »
As a part-time repairman, I have watched in horror as a bridge with resophonics on it flew off mid-song and knocked out the performer.
Are you being facetious? That sounds a bit far-fetched.

That's why guitarists in-the-know use Plate Mate from Stew-Mac:

http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Bridges,_tailpieces/Acoustic_guitar_bridge_pins/Plate_Mate.html?actn=100101&xst=3&xsr=15682&tab=Pictures

It keeps those ball ends down below the bridge plate where they belong and prevents them from creeping up, pulling your bridge off and whacking you upside the head with it!

Install Plate Mate from Stew-Mac--it's the slide guitarists' best friend!  ;D

Offline Adam Franklin

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #11 on: September 24, 2012, 12:18:58 AM »
I'd have to agree with Norfolk Slim. There is a tendency to go with really heavy strings and a high action to play slide. I do use fairly heavy strings on a resonator (15-56), that's due to a hard playing style though. On my flat top, I use 12's straight out the box.

I always recommend students start with a standard action & strings, this builds up technique rather than relying on string tension/height to control the slide. When you get more experienced, you can make more of an informed judgement about the setup you'd like.

Let us know how you get on.

Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #12 on: September 24, 2012, 01:08:08 AM »
In response to those who may have thought I was stretching the truth, I was not remembering correctly. It was not a Martin, but a good copy of a pre-war 0-18. I also found out from searching my repair log, it was about a decade old. The glue joint failed beforehand, so string tension may have not been the big factor. I have, however, watched decent classicals strung up that way turn into a nightmare as the neck pulled away from the body and yes, the top of the bridge broke off. Sorry for the memory loss! Hard to keep things straight after the wreck.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2012, 03:33:48 AM by frailer24 »
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline uncle bud

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #13 on: September 24, 2012, 07:48:31 AM »
Sorry, a 16 on a wooden parlor guitar? What is this, a macho string gauge smackdown? "For great tone that lasts 15 minutes, at which point your guitar folds in half, I recommend a 21. Those things sing!"

Geezus. Start with a 13 and see how you like it. Or start with a PoS guitar you can afford to have buckle.



Offline Stuart

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #14 on: September 24, 2012, 10:13:58 AM »
It depends on the setup, Ryan, along with the radius and other factors, including the slide. I have a Ted Thompson guitar that I string with lights (12 on top), and it works just fine, but my D-35 with a slightly lower action wouldn't work no matter what strings and slide I used. Scale length is a factor as well as it affects string tension.

It's a combinations and permutations thing, but in the end technique is what you'reafter. However, you have to practice and develop it on a guitar that will work for slide (and fretting as well) and "you can't polish sh*t," as the old saying goes.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2012, 12:03:41 PM by Stuart »

Offline dj

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #15 on: September 24, 2012, 11:31:21 AM »
You might also want to think about trying a set of Newtone Aloha strings.  They're 15 - 56, but made for wood-bodied Hawaiian guitars - the wound strings have a lighter gauge core than normal, so they tune to pitch at lower tension.  I've had them on my old Stella Hawaiian for a couple of years now (high bass, but tuned to F: FACFAC) with no apparent damage to the guitar.   

Offline blueshome

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #16 on: September 24, 2012, 12:02:06 PM »
Those Washburn parlours sound nice, I've an acquaintance who plays one, gets that pre-war vibe.
I wouldn't put more than 12's on it, maybe add a 13 top string. Experiment with a few sets when you get the guitar. The action should be set up for fingerpicking, not super-low, you need to put a bit in to get a decent sound out.

With all respect to Mr.Feldmann, slide doesn't need anything special by way of strings or set up if you can develop a good touch. This rush to heavy strings is a fairly recent phenomenon, mostly led by the resophonic guitar community.

Offline Michael Cardenas

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #17 on: September 24, 2012, 01:46:44 PM »
I like dj's suggestion of the aloha set, but bending and fretting a .15 throughout a song in Open E might not be such a gas. I also agree with Slim's suggestion of the .14 the idea being a closer balance in tension and gauge between the standard .13 to .17 spread. I can't admit having two strings next to one another which are only  2 mm apart aids in tonal balance. On the top end the closer you can get to the 4 mm spread the better.

Lately I've been in Open E and the strings which hate the tuning most are low E, D and the high E (.13) being most unforgiving. After today I am tempted to rely on a .14 for the top just to keep recording momentum at a max.
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Offline NotRevGDavis

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #18 on: September 24, 2012, 02:27:26 PM »
I use John Pearse #700M Mediums (.013, .017, .026, .035, .045, .056) on my Larrivee 000-50 (12-fret) and I had Gryphon shim the nut when I could only take one guitar to PT and I wanted to play slide. I actually prefer the slightly higher action when I'm not playing slide.
I have D'Ad EJ42 (.016, .018, .028, .035, .045, .056) Resophonic on my NRP "Model 97" (metal) Tricone because I wanted a slighly bigger 1st string and the John Pearse #790NR (.013, .017, .026, .036, .046, .056) on my NRP M-1 (wood) Tricone came on the guitar when it was new.
I have only tuned the 97 and the M-1 to standard a few times it never seemed a problem. I have tuned the 000 to almost everything with no problem. It likes standard in D and "Crossnote" or open D minor but stays mainly in standard in E.

Once you play slide the day will come when you will join the ranks of the "Resonator Hooligans".
Got the name, still workin' on the licks!

Offline uncle bud

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #19 on: September 25, 2012, 07:40:34 PM »
Start with a 13 and see how you like it. Or start with a PoS guitar you can afford to have buckle.
You are speaking of a normal "run of the mill" pack of mediums?  The Dobro strings are basically a set of mediums with the 13 swapped out in favor of a 16. Bob Brozman recommends a beginner use mediums with the 13 swapped for a 14 or 15, which is pretty close to a 16 ;).  Do you think that would make a huge difference as far a tension goes?  I might have to order some more strings than.  Tom's suggestion seems to be getting dismissed here and it's making me rethink the Dobro strings! Although this guitar was intended to be pretty much used just for slide playing, if I put 13s on it, I'd be able to play fingerstyle as well.

I haven't seen Tom's suggestion dismissed, might have missed something, but in the clip you posted from his Fred McDowell lesson he says he uses a 14 on the top string and a 24 unwound string for the 3rd. He also has a higher saddle. So he had set up the guitar specifically for slide, and is using a 24 on the 3rd string specifically to get McDowell's sound. An unwound 24 is putting a lot more tension on the guitar than a wound 24, since the core on the wound string would be much thinner. At least that's my limited understanding. He also says he does not use this set up in his personal playing but has done it to get McDowell's sound, and presumably he knows exactly what his guitar can handle. All that to say, I would want to know my guitar well and make sure I wasn't about to cause damage whatever string gauges I used - just be careful and see what results you get. You could, for instance, start with a light set and swap the top string for a 13. You are tuning up in that Fred lesson, so already you're getting better conditions for slide playing. For an unwound 3rd string, you could start with a 21 or even a 20. Or if it's a heavily built parlor, use a regular medium set and swap the 3rd for a 21 for starters. If you need to increase gauges from there, you can.

As for Brozman, I presume he is talking about stringing resonators, not wooden parlor guitars. Frankly, I find his playing of limited interest for actual country blues. It is more his own Brozmanistyle, technically brilliant, which is fine, if you like that kind of thing.

Looks like Tom Feldmann does a nice Fred lesson there, IMO.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2012, 07:42:30 PM by uncle bud »

Offline Rivers

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #20 on: September 25, 2012, 08:25:07 PM »
Quote
All that to say, I would want to know my guitar well and make sure I wasn't about to cause damage whatever string gauges I used - just be careful and see what results you get. You could, for instance, start with a light set and swap the top string for a 13

Exactly. You can play perfectly good slide with light gauge strings. If you can't then sorry but you're not going to get there just by putting on heavier strings. You might get slightly better tone, but that's all. Do not destroy perfectly good wooden body flattop parlors with heavy strings, send them to me for a reasonable price, I will look after them. Go for incremental improvements, work on technique with a standard setup, then tweak the materials and tolerances. When the bridge flies off and/or you hear a loud bang take a deep breath, get over the PTSD (takes about a year), and regroup.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2012, 08:49:13 PM by Rivers »

Offline Rivers

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #21 on: September 25, 2012, 09:05:08 PM »
Best of luck there. I had a Gibson guitar from the 60s that came alive, briefly, after I put on Snarling Dogs heavy strings. Tone heaven for a day, followed by a loud bang that eventually consigned it to the dustbin of guitar history. You live and learn.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2012, 09:06:12 PM by Rivers »

Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #22 on: September 25, 2012, 09:35:06 PM »
Westside, now that is a great idea! I was afraid you'd be trying to tune to F Vastapol (that's what I have to do on my clunker).
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #23 on: September 26, 2012, 01:08:13 AM »
I should get a tailpiece for the "Clunk Machine". That may help things a bit with the crap bridge.
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline Michael Cardenas

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #24 on: September 26, 2012, 10:18:19 AM »
An unwound 24 is putting a lot more tension on the guitar than a wound 24, since the core on the wound string would be much thinner. At least that's my limited understanding.
This is true, I use an unwound .26 and the string when tuned to an A flat is a punishment on the bridge.
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Offline Rivers

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #25 on: September 26, 2012, 07:40:14 PM »
A quick search might help: http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=2754.msg21214#msg21214

In fact I might merge this whole thread into the previous thread quite soon <sigh>
« Last Edit: September 26, 2012, 07:46:30 PM by Rivers »

Offline Rivers

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #26 on: September 26, 2012, 08:30:21 PM »
The luthiery threads we haven't really worked on indexing down to a single tag much, I think we need to get around to doing that. I'll take a look on the weekend. It would make it much easier to provide a single useful reference.

Offline NotRevGDavis

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #27 on: September 27, 2012, 09:03:16 AM »
Some manufacturers supply string tension guides. D'Addario is here as a .pdf- should cover almost everything. If not here is a  string tension calculator.
G


<on edit>
I also have a set of Micheal Messer strings 16-59 (Michael Messer National guitar strings tune to pitch at lower tension than other guitar strings of the same gauge) I wish I could Find out the total tension on these guys!

Is the 12 string constructed in a much different way than a 6 string to be able to handle the tension?  The 12 string that I have in front of me (a cheap Martin/Sigma) looks to be constructed in much the same manner as my 6 string Martin Dead? 

Be careful when using Micheal Messer/Newtones strings they will unwind if cut before tightened on the tuning peg I used to use them they are a great product but they are hard to find and $$$. Strings and Beyond carries them in the U.S.. National ResoPhonic uses the John Pearse Resos on their Resonators now.

I have a Taylor 355 Jumbo 12-string I use Dean Markley VintageBronze Mediums .012/.012 .016/.016 .026/.010 .034/.017 .044/.024 .054/.030 without problems even after replacing the high third string with a .013 but I keep it tuned down to D standard. Sounds much different.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2012, 03:12:25 PM by NotRevGDavis »
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Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #28 on: September 27, 2012, 01:10:24 PM »
For UK folks, Eagle Music do some own brand strings made by Newtone- and presumably very similar to the more expensive ones...  You cna make up your own preferred gauges troo.

Offline Johnm

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #29 on: September 27, 2012, 09:29:29 PM »
Hi Ryan,
It occurs to me that you might consider a more empirical sort of approach to this whole issue of set-up and string gauges for playing slide.  However much you think about issues in advance and get advice from others, the best thing you end up with is what worked for other people.  Since what you're really interested in is what will work for you, the only real way to determine that is to start playing and pay attention to what you find as you go.  Are you getting a lot of rattles with the slide?  If so, either it's too heavy or your strings are too light.  Just start playing with the set-up you already have and make adjustments as necessary.  It's definitely possible to over-think such things.  No amount of research can supply you with the perfect answers in advance of your actually getting on the instrument and playing it.  And once you start doing that, things will become clearer and you'll care less what other people think and what their experiences have been.
All best,
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Offline frailer24

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #30 on: September 27, 2012, 10:36:02 PM »
Johnm, that is the best advice I have heard, including my own. I myself started with a friend's setup, and modified it to my taste. It is a trial and error process indeed.
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline nobro

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #31 on: November 08, 2012, 02:43:40 PM »
Yes, tension is the most important factor to consider when trying to determine string gauge choices. How tension will affect your particular guitar is extremely important to take into consideration. Not all guitars are created equal in this regard. Some guitars can handle a lot of tension and hold up under the stress, just like some string gauges and some can't.

The tension that your particular instrument will be subject to is determined by how you choose to tune the strings you select. So, first, determine what type of tunings you'd like to explore and I see that you've already mentioned what those tunings are. Then, as John has stated, select your string gauges accordingly. If you find that too much tension is an issue, use a lighter gauge string set to avoid string breakage and instrument damage. Conversely, if you are using a low tension tuning, heavier string gauges will help to tighten up your action, so it won't feel like your're trying to play with strings made of limp spaghetti.

Generally, if your guitar's action has high tension, whether via the tuning you use or due to the heavier string gauges you choose, or both, it will enable you to use a heavier slide without bottoming out against your frets. A low tension tuning demands a lighter weight slide or an extremely sensitive touch to avoid the same bottoming out.

As John explains, the only way you're going to know how the tension of your tunings and string choices will affect your particular instrument is via your own personal experimentation. My string gauge choices, on my particular guitar and the tuning choices that I choose, will not necessarily work for your guitar and your tuning choices. Expect to loose a few strings in the process. It's all part of the journey.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2012, 10:20:08 PM by nobro »

Offline harriet

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Re: How do you set up your guitar for slide playing?
« Reply #32 on: December 04, 2012, 05:18:18 AM »
Hi All,

My experience has been different per the type of instrument - the three acoustic types I have explored are metal resonator, x-braced and ladder braced. I couldn't get a good sound on an x-braced guitar- I think they require heavier strings, mediums 13-56.

My  two metal body resonators are all 16-56 martin bluesgrass and Michael Messer brand nickel and about 3/8" at the 12th fret, along the lines of a national, tuned to open D or G and I use a green glass slde.

The ladder braced parlours, from the 40's - 60's, are 12 frets except for one and they are all strung light or extra light Martin pb, some have a custom set I made up, tuned to either to open D or G, or a step higher to open E or A. I use a green glass slide.

The action varies from is medium to low and I test by sliding on the 3 bass to see if the material ie. pb, 80/20 or nickel is ok and the tension is correct for the guitar and go with what the guitar sounds best at. I prefer open E or A.  I'm trying to study Fred McDowell and some of his pieces are in F so I capo up to follow along with him.
 

« Last Edit: January 06, 2013, 03:32:17 PM by harriet »

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