The Instruments

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Blues Harp (Harmonica)

A simple instrument, the harmonica is simply blown in one side and notes come out the other through the use of vibrating reeds. Thanks to great harp players like Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Walter, the Blues harp has become an absolute staple of the Blues instrument repertoire. Many Blues enthusiasts don't consider a Blues band 'genuine' unless it's got it's harp player lined up, and much of the time, they're right. Each harmonica can only play one key, so much of the time a harp player will have an entire handfull of different harmonicas waiting.
Little Walter revolutionized the harmonica sound by putting a microphone to it and playing his harp through an amplifier, which created a unique sound that is still talked about with glowing enthusiastic reverence from many harp players.


Great Blues that showcases the Blues Harp
Blues Masters, Vol. 4: Harmonica Classics      (buy album)
Various (original) Artists


Notable bluesmen that used the Harmonica
Sonny Boy Williamson II
Little Walter
Charlie Musselwhite
Paul Butterfield
Howlin' Wolf
Junior Wells



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Acoustic Guitar

The first Blues musicians were poor farmers, singing to pass the time and entertain their friends. They often had cheap used guitars, many of which at the time made by a low-end manufacturer called Stella. Acoustic Blues were at the center of the Blues revival of the 60s, and the first delta recordings were all acoustic. Though the men in the twentys and thirties, sharecropping on the farms weren't professional, nor did they take music lessons, many of their recordings show incredibly interesting and unique advanced techniques! They could make some good money recording songs for labels, and since electric guitars, when they finally did come out, were too expensive, acoustics enjoyed a long life. Today, acoustic is often categorized as a folk or traditional "country" style of blues, though it's still played on full force!


Great Blues that showcases the Acoustic Guitar
The Complete Recordings      (buy album)       (download album)
Robert Johnson


Notable bluesmen that used the Acoustic Guitar
Robert Johnson
Lead Belly
Bukka White
Mississippi John Hurt



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Solid Body Electric Guitar

Gibson Les Paul Special

Six strings of E-lectrified heaven! When the crowds were getting larger, guitarists needed a way to play loud enough to be heard. It was out of this that the pickup was born! Pickups are the heart of electrics. They hear the vibration of the strings and send that as electrical current to an amplifier. The first electric like we know today was made by the immortal Bluesman Les Paul. It was lovingly called "the log" because it was made out of a 4x4 wood fencepost! Gibson is out there making the Les Paul to this day! Right on it's heels came the Fender Esquire guitar, and the two have dominated electric ever since. So many musicians have made this their own that it's a book in itself to name them all. The diversity of the electric is a contributing factor in it's popularity. The exact same guitar in the hands of two different people can have a unique and different style and sound to it. An electric gives you more possibilities and variations in sounds than you can shake a stick at! Blues just wouldn't be Blues without the electric guitar.


Great Blues that showcases the Electric Guitar
Sweet Tea      (buy album)       (download album)
Buddy Guy


Notable bluesmen that used the Electric Guitar
Buddy Guy
B.B. King
Guitar Slim
Albert King
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Joe Bonamasa
Tab Benoit
Muddy Waters



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Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitar

Perhaps the most versitile and famous semi-hollow body guitar was the Gibson ES-335, played by the likes of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, "Gatemouth" Brown, Eric Clapton, and a whole host of others. The semi-hollow body is exactly as it says, the body is not fully hollow and the body is thinner. As a result, they didn't produce as much feedback, which was necessary, as the musicians often had to play at high volumes. The guitar produced a warmer tone as well, which solid body guitars, which were only first appearing on the market when semi-hollows had come out, lacked.


Great Blues that showcases the Acoustic Guitar
One Kind Favor      (buy album)       (download album)
B.B. King


Notable bluesmen that used the Semi-Hollow Body Guitar
B.B. King (King's world famous "Lucille" is a Gibson ES335 semi-hollow)
Chuck Berry
Muddy Waters



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Slide Guitar

W.C Handy had his first run-in with the Blues in 1903, on a railroad platform in Tutwiler, Mississippi. He heard an old, ragged guitarist, playing slide guitar with a pocketknife and singing about "goin' where the Southern cross the Dog." He wrote this whole sight down and became the first man to document our Blues. When Blues music gained popularity, people would play it on their laps often, not holding it, and slide things like broken bottlenecks or pieces of steel (earning it the additional name, Steel Guitar) along the strings to make an eerie sound as the pitch changed. Many of the Blues greats played slide at one time or another, including Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Slide has proven timeless in the Blues, as many contemporary slide guitar musicians are gaining an rapidly ever-growing fanbase. Derek Trucks and Duane Allman, among plenty of others, are/were extremely talented slide players! Interestingly, the slide guitar actually originated in Hawaii!


Great Blues that showcases Slide Guitar
Blues Masters, Vol. 15: Slide Guitar Classics      (buy album)
Various (original) Artists


Notable bluesmen that used the Slide Guitar
Son House
Muddy Waters
Elmore James
Robert Johnson
Duane Allman
Derek Trucks
Johnny Winter



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Bass Guitar

Bass guitar gets neglected because, far more often than not, it's a rhythm instrument, and not lead. But without those warm undertones of walking bass lines, one could hardly get along a respectable blues song. Willie Dixon, who did more for the Blues than nearly any other man, played bass on possibly hundreds of albums for the likes of Muddy, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and a handfull of other Blues legends.


Notable bluesmen that used the Bass Guitar
Willie Dixon
Tommy Shannon
Donald "Duck" Dunn
Jack Bruce
Wesley "Junebug" Jefferson



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Diddley Bow

This list wouldn't be complete without it! If A Diddley Bow isn't a Blues instrument, what is?! They were usually made with a wooden board attached to a box with one wire fastened down on either side. That's it. Blues men made their music using any means necessary, and the Diddley is the perfect embodiment of it. They'd play it plucking like a guitar and sliding along different places on the board to create different pitches. Muddy Waters made one as a kid, so did Buddy Guy! Bo Diddley, you guessed it, took his stage name for it. Many Blues men look at the Diddley Bow with affection, usually because it was their first stringed instrument.


Notable bluesmen that used the Diddley Bow
Muddy Waters
Bo Diddley



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Piano

Piano has been in the Blues since there were Blues. Musicians like Roosevelt Sykes and Pinetop Perkins' Boogie Woogie style of jumping piano Blues set the standard for pianists for generations. Much of the piano style was influenced by ragtime, in contrast to the slower country guitar style. Piano usually adds an upbeat rhythm and jump to a song. Today, Piano Blues is still every bit as relevant, with famous New Orleanian Dr. John carrying on the tradition with his rich, very colorful blues set to his unique piano style.


Great Blues that showcases the Piano
Otis Spann Is the Blues      (buy album)       (download album)
Otis Spann


Notable bluesmen that used the Piano
Pinetop Perkins
Dr. John
Professor Longhair Roosevelt Sykes
Otis Spann
Booker T.



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These are by no means the only instruments used in the Blues, bur rather the most prominent ones. Other instruments include the Saxophone, Trumpet, Banjo, even Whiskey Jugs...