A great DVD is the John Hammond-hosted "The Search for Robert Johnson". This 1991 documentary features both Johnny Shines and Honeyboy Edwards. talking about Johnson's guitar strings, and tunings. They personally knew him and not once do they mention that Johnson used a knife. In fact they themselves used "bottlenecks" in the film.
Knives were indeed popular among some slide players. But they have a "scrapey" sound. Robert Johnson, Patton, and Blind Willie sound much too smooth to have used a knife. I hear a rounded edge touching the strings so
I believe they used bottlenecks.
: Just to put a cat among the pigeons, I was
: wondering if there's any actual evidence
: that Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert
: Johnson, or anyone one else, for that
: matter, actually played and/or recorded
: using what we now call
: "bottleneck" style guitar in the
: 1920s or '30s?
: Enlargements of the (relatively) recently
: discovered "studio" portrait of
: Patton, clearly shows him playing
: "knife" style on a "12
: fret" parlour held at 45 degrees on his
: Further evidence in favour of Patton's use
: of "knife" style, comes from
: recordings like "When Your Way Gets
: Dark", played in open A, which features
: regular slide excursions up to the 17th fret
: (assuming he was tuned 'up' to open A, or
: the 19th fret, if he was tuned 'down' to
: open G and capoed at the 2nd fret), which
: are hardly easy to play
: "bottleneck" style. This lick
: found it's way into Robert Johnson's
: "Come On In My Kitchen".
: Both Patton and Johnson also often tended to
: play slide out of 'Spanish' tuning pitched
: in keys as high as B and B flat.
: We tend to forget that pre-war steel string
: sets came in just one gauge: 14 to 64. Prior
: to the mid-'30s, guitars had no adjustable
: truss rods and only a few, top-of-the-line,
: instruments even had an inert truss rod.
: Cheaper instruments within the financial
: reach of blues players would not have been
: able to take the string tension of a set of
: steel strings tuned to open A without
: Just in standard tuning, a string set like
: this tuned to concert on a guitar with a
: 24.8" scale, generates 220 lb ft of
: torque on a guitar bridge. That's probably
: more than the peak torque your car puts down
: to the road through its driven wheels.
: Skip James recorded using a Stella 12
: string, strung with only 6 strings and tuned
: down to "cross note" 3 frets below
: I suspect everyone else tuned down and used
: a capo. Try playing bottleneck on a "12
: fret", tuned to open G and capoed at
: the 4th fret to play in the key of B. What
: used to be your 12th fret is now fret 16.
: Now play that Patton lick that used to go to
: fret 17, but which now goes from fret 16 to
: fret 21. Easy, isn't it?
: Now forget about "bottleneck" and
: play it "knife" style, as I'm
: convinced they did, back in the day.
: Any thoughts?