Hello everyone and welcome to my first of several columns on slap guitar. We will be covering the basics of the technique and sound of slap guitar and move gradually to more advanced studies. The first question you might ask is why would you, the guitarist, want to slap? Isn’t that the bass player’s job? Yes, this is what most people think but slapping on guitar opens up another musical avenue for you to explore. When the band has a real funky pocket going behind you why not turn off the distortion and take a refreshing slap solo. You’d be surprised by the reaction of the crowd when you start slapping on guitar. Check out an excerpt from one of my songs, Cleanup, in which I take an unaccompanied slap solo. LISTEN Slapping can also be used in conjunction with chords to make a funky rhythm part, or used when playing solo guitar. Its application is also great on the acoustic guitar. Lets jump in shall we.
Guitar and Amp Setup
In order to slap convincingly you need the right sound. I have found that guitars with single coil pickups work best for getting the right sound. My guitar has two humbuckers but has coil taps which makes the humbuckers single coil. I find the two best sounds are the neck pickup as a single coil (sound 1) and the in between sound you get from combining the neck and bridge pickups as single coils (sound 2). I also use a 7-string guitar which helps me get down to those lower bass notes. You can do plenty of great stuff on a 6-string though and you can tune it down if you wish to get some more thump.
As far as your amp your going to want a clean sound with a little bit of compression if possible. For the EQ you generally want to cut the mids and raise the low and high end. For example: High-8 Mid-3 Low-8. Every amp is very different so you will have to experiment with your settings. Solid State amps also tend to be better than tube amps for achieving this sound but you can still get a good slap tone out of a tube amp.
You want to use your thumb of your picking hand and slap the string on the edge of the fret board with the knuckle of your thumb. The movement should come from your wrist and the thumb should be relaxed almost bouncing off the string. With your left hand you should only depress the note when you slap with your right hand. This way the note doesn’t ring out and sounds more percussive. Slapped notes have an S below them.
Now lets add in the pops with Ex.2. You want to use your index finger to pull the string away from the guitar and then release it to let it snap back. With your fretting hand again you want to only depress the note when you snap it with your right hand. You only want to press it very lightly so you get the more percussive sound. Popped notes have a P below them.
Funk It Up!
Now that you’re slapping and popping, let’s do a cooler sounding musical example. We’ll build it step by step again. You will see a new technique here in which sometimes you slap or pop a dead string (denoted by an x). To do this place your left hand over the string but don’t fret a note. Also use more than one finger to deaden the string so you eliminate all harmonics. This really sounds percussive. Start with the slapping. (I have included a clip where it is played slowly for each example and a clip of Ex.4 being played with the 7-String).