The guitar is king in many different types of music, but I think that blues music can really showcase the skills of a goodaxeman. There are so many options, you know? Steel guitar. Slide. That gorgeous, rich sound of a Gibson or that electric sound of a Stratocaster. It’s all just so good.
The steel guitar (to clarify, I mean the actual instrument and not the slide method of playing; I’ll discuss that later) in blues playing tends to be a lap guitar. Steel guitars actually originated in Hawaii but was incorporated into southern music like bluegrass and honky-tonk rather quickly. As another genre of music to come from the south, the steel guitar also found a home within blues. A good place to start if you want to listen to some good music is anything by Sol Ho’opi’i. Also, check out John Lee Hooker’s “Healer” album. I like steel guitars because it adds such an amazing tone to any song.
Playing slide guitar means that you are using a metal tube called a slide, typically worn on one of your fingers (sometimes you use a metal bar and that’s called a steel). A common style of the slide is a bottleneck slide, which looks exactly like you’re picturing. It actually originates back to one-stringed African instruments. Sharing a common ancestor, so to speak, with blues music, it definitely lends itself well to the genre. A slide adds a different and unique sound to any song. If you really want to hear some great slide guitar, check out Elmore Brooks—especially Dust My Broom. If you’ve heard B.B. King’s Please Love Me, it will sound familiar—King borrowed it. So did the Yardbirds for The Nazz are Blue. Other really great songs are The Allman Brothers Band’s Statesboro Blues and Steve Miller Band’s The Joker.
There are many blues guitars out there, but for me, there isn’t anything more classic than the Fender Stratocaster. It is an old school guitar; early models started in 1954. That classic shape and sound have been favored by musicians like Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaugh, Ike Turner, and Eric Clapton. Also, the guitar Hendrix set on fire at Woodstock? That was a Strat, too.
Gibson makes several models that are (or were) favored among blues guitarists. B.B. King played a variety of models over his long career, including a few ES models. His iconic guitar, Lucille, is an ES-355. T-Bone Walker also played several ES models. Muddy Waters mostly played either a Gibson L-5 or a GA5. According to Gibson’s website, he also played a Les Paul. Jeff Beck, Peter Green, Duster Bennett, Duane Allman,and Jimmy Page also played with Les Pauls. George Thorogood plays an ES-125.
There are other brands and other guitarists, obviously, but these are my favorites!