10 Giants of Slide Guitar



Do you love a good slide guitar? Here's a look at the most influential slide guitar players ever.

Playing slide guitar

The history of slide guitar goes back to Africa, where musicians playing one-stringed violins used bones or similarly shaped and smooth-surfaced objects to vary the pitch of their string.


In America, that instrument became the diddley bow. And from there the technique was transferred to guitar. Anyone who’s heard Derek Trucks lately knows there’s been considerable evolution since.

The first ever account of someone playing blues, describes a young man playing slide guitar with a knife. It seems slide has always been there, from the birth of the blues to classic rock acts such as Aerosmith and modern bands such as Sonic Youth, who  use the slide to make noise! Jack White of the White Stripes is another modern player who is adept of the traditional slide.

Here are 10 great slide guitarists well worth hearing, as chosen by the Gibson website. These guitarists have played a key role in the style’s advancement: And after you feel inspired by their music, why don't you try playing slide yourself?

Robert Johnson

Columbia Records proclaimed this guitarist “King of the Delta Blues” decades after his death in 1938 at age 27. Although records by Charley Patton, the Mississippi Sheiks, and plenty of other Delta blues artists far outsold Johnson during his life, his posthumous popularity has fulfilled the label’s wishful thinking. It has also made Johnson — famously photographed holding a Gibson KG-14 — one of the most influential early rural Mississippi slide men and led – rightly so — to the canonization of such Johnson recordings as “Cross Road Blues” and “Traveling Riverside Blues.”

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Blind Willie Johnson

This Texas preacher and gospel bluesman played slide in open D, a excellent tuning for his gruff vocal style on such classics as “The Soul of Man” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” — the latter a stunning showcase for his nimble slide playing in both the high and bass registers.


Muddy Waters

The great blues innovator is slide guitar’s primary link between the acoustic and electric eras. Among the dozens of classics he created while minting the ensemble sound of electric Chicago blues are “Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” which has been covered by Cream and a host of other notables. Only a handful of guitarists, in particular ex-Waters sidemen Bob Margolin and Paul Oscher, can recreate Muddy’s distinctive, unhurried, whinnying slide tone.

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Elmore James

James’ hair-raising emotional resonance and burning intensity more than compensated for his lack of diversity. His open E sound on the gems “The Sky is Crying,” “Dust My Broom,” and more is unmistakable thanks to his use of a hyperamplified acoustic guitar with a crudely attached pick-up. On top of that, James’ crackling high-voltage singing is packed with thrills.

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Mick Taylor

One of the hallmarks’ of Taylor’s long career with John Mayall, the Rolling Stones, and as a solo artist is his thick-voiced slide playing, most often on a Les Paul Standard or an SG. Taylor’s slide tour-de-force with the Stones was the rarely played Exile on Main Street jewel “All Down the Line,” where his brawny exuberant style took the band back to their earliest blues roots.


Duane Allman

This late guitar legend is by far the most emulated and revered slide player of the rock era. Whether on a Les Paul or his cherry red SG, Allman achieved a buttery tone with a coricidin bottle for slide and a Marshall at his back. His most famous slide playing is featured on the Allman Brother’s version of “Statesboro Blues” from Live At Fillmore East and on Derek & the Dominos still-inspiring story of lost love “Layla.”  Thirty-eight years after his death debate rages among hard-core Allmans’ fans about whether Duane or Derek is the band’s best all-time slider.


Billy Gibbons

If you’ve heard Z.Z. Top’s “Just Got Paid” or their rock radio classic “Tush,” you’ve heard what Gibbons can do with a Les Paul and a slide. Often he’ll tune to open A or open E before donning the metal tube. Just this month the Gibson Custom Shop has begun building exacting reproductions of Gibbons’ most famous Les Paul: the iconic ’59 Sunburst Standard the Texas guitar slinger dubbed “Miss Pearly Gates.”


Ry Cooder

Cooder has extended slide’s blues roots in all kinds of directions starting with a traditional base and moving into Cuban music with the Buena Vista Social Club, African music with Ali Farka Touré, and just about any other direction in folk music he’s chosen to travel.


Sonny Sharrock

No less than the father of free jazz guitar, this late musical adventurer applied the trilling and modal explorations of John Coltrane to Gibson L-5s and Les Pauls, the latter plugged into a Marshall half-stack in the final years of his career. Sharrock’s slide playing wasn’t for the faint-hearted, but it was relentlessly adventurous and uncompromising.

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One Comment on “10 Giants of Slide Guitar”

  • Christopher Nowak
    8th October 2019

    Lonnie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson may be possibilities.

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