Derek Trucks is one of the finest slide players to ever pick up an electric guitar – learn how to add his lyrical soloing style to your repertoire

Derek Trucks
(Image credit: Taylor Hill/Getty Images for ABA)

Derek Trucks is the nephew of Butch Trucks, the original drummer in the Allman Brothers Band, so naturally, the child prodigy Derek was influenced early on by Duane Allman’s slide guitar style.

Over time he has formulated his own highly personal approach to slide guitar playing. His style is very lyrical with a more legato approach than many great slide players. His band with his wife Susan Tedeschi is one of the most popular blues-based live acts on the worldwide scene.

Trucks is a great accompanist. In fact, it’s worth listening to his records just for the way he accompanies his wife’s voice and guitar solos. He is also a fine non-slide soloist, too, and in the examples here I’ve used a slide for nearly but not all of the notes.

Intonation is always an issue with slide playing, so it’s really important to make sure that you can hear the bass in the mix. A great tip that Dominic Miller from Sting’s band recently told me is that you should use your eyes as well as your ears – so look at the frets. For slide playing you want to be directly above the fretwire to replicate the intonation of a normal fretted note. 

When you are more experienced you can explore further nuances of intonation but for now aim to hit the pitch exactly. Fretting-hand damping is also a vital part of slide playing.

If you want single-note lines to come out clearly (without the sympathetic ringing of other strings), try gently holding your fretting-hand first finger straight across all the strings, keeping it parallel to the slide.

Picking-hand damping is also important if you want to avoid all the strings ringing out. Like Derek, you may want to just use fingers, or perhaps try damping with the fingers that you’re not using to hold the pick. As with bending strings on the guitar, you should regularly check the accuracy of the notes you’re aiming at by playing the fretted note’s pitch before you practice going for the same note using the slide.

The licks here are all pretty melodic and don’t stray too far from the blues. Note that sometimes I’m playing the bluesy Minor 3rd and sometimes the Major 3rd, as is common with blues players like Trucks. 

Get the tone

Amp Settings: Gain 6, Bass 6, Middle 5, Treble 6, Reverb 3

An American amp with reverb is probably best for this sound, plus a good overdrive pedal. A compressor pedal will help to give you maximum sustain, and delay is useful for this, too (sustain is vital for slide playing). Also, experiment with different kinds of guitar slides until you find one that suits you. I used glass in the past but have settled on a closed-end brass slide. 

Example 1. Developing a theme

Here we develop the idea in the first bar and the idea builds and flows from there. Be careful with the grace notes, as they are short!

Example 2. Descending Mixolydian lick with added Minor 3rd #1

Here we start by walking down the C Mixolydian mode (C-D-E-F-G-A-Bb). The slide from Minor to Major 3rd adds a more bluesy character.

Example 3. Descending Mixolydian lick with added Minor 3rd #2

We again start with a run down the Mixolydian mode and also target the Major 3rd from a semitone below. See if you can take these ideas and develop them.

Example 4. High second-string lick

Here we slide way the second string for a Trucks-style legato feel. Derek’s intonation is flawless, so keep checking yourself against fretted notes from time to time.

Example 5. Solo

Our solo takes the above ideas but embellishes some of them to get deeper into the style. While some of these licks sound simple, it can be difficult to execute them convincingly, so practice slowly and deliberately. Listen out for any extraneous noises from in front or behind the notes and be mindful of your string damping.

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