Slide guitar is one of the most recognisable sounds in music, and the tone can be absolutely magical; from weeping country solos to raucous and unrestrained blues riffing, and everything in between. Players such as Ry Cooder, Duane Allman, Ariel Posen, Lowell George and Robert Johnson have all made the slide an integral part of their musical vocabulary, with awe-inspiring results.
But choosing a slide can be somewhat mysterious: there's seemingly endless variations of material, weight, shape and sizes available, and it's hard to know where to start. With that in mind, here's a rundown of everthing you should know before pulling the trigger on your next slide. And make sure to check out our huge slide range here, with slides from Rock Slide, National Reso-Phonic, Dunlop, Taylor and more.
The first important consideration is what your slide should be made from. Slides can be made from almost anything, but the most popular by far are Glass, Metal and Ceramic.
Glass slides are usually made from Pyrex or tempered glass. It has a smooth, warm tone, and depending on the thickness of the wall can vary from thin to thick, with a corresponding thinner to thicker tone. Glass slides hearken back to the days of using a wine-bottle neck as a slide, and can instantly give you that well-known tone.
Metal slides are almost always made from Brass, Nickel, Steel or Nickel-plated Brass. They have a heavier weight, with more sustain and a brighter, more metallic tone - as you'd expect! Generally, the darker the metal used, the warmer the tone, with Nickel and Nickel-plated Brass being the brightest and most cutting.
Ceramic or Porcelain slides are somewhere between glass and brass for both weight and tone. Their porous and tactile interior absorbs perspiration and keeps slide in place, making them great for sweaty gigs.
Taylor guitars has developed the Crelicam Ebony slide, using ebony from the same source used in their guitars. It has a dark, mellow quality which is beautiful for gentler slide sounds.
A large part of a materials character is in its weight. Make sure you have a slide that’s the appropriate weight for your guitar’s string height and gauge. A loose rule of thumb is bigger strings, higher action - heavier slide, lighter strings, lower action - lighter slide. Choose a slide heavy enough to get the tone and sustain that you want, but not so heavy that the weight of it flattens the strings and feels unwieldy. A slide is supposed to glide over the frets, and an overly heavy slide causes nasty noises like string scraping and knocks. Of course, many guitarists make those scrapes and rattles part of their sound - it's definitely worth experimenting!
Which finger you wear your slide on is strictly personal choice. A ring-finger slide is the most common; it allows you to wear a bigger, heavier slide that puts more weight on the strings for a bigger tone, more sustain and more control. A good metal or heavier ceramic slide is a great choice for the ring finger, but any material will work well with a little practice.
With the pinky finger, you lose control but gain extra flexibility, giving you the ability to freely switch between slide and fretted notes. A pinky slide will be smaller and lighter, meaning you may have to work a little harder to get the right tone and feel. Ceramic or heavier glass slides are a great choice for the pinky.
Bonnie Raitt famously used a middle finger slide, which not only looks cool but frees up fingers either side of the slide for fretting.
Slides are typically sized S, M, L, and XL, which refers to the inside diameter of the side.
Small — Ring size 4–7.5
Medium — Ring size 8–10.5
Large — Ring size 11–13.5
Extra Large — Ring size 14–16
Take this with a grain of salt though - slide sizes vary between manufacturers. A good starting point is to figure out which finger you want to use for slide, get a rough ring size, and pick the closest size. Your slide should be snug enough to stay in place without falling off, but loose enough to be comfortable. And try not to get stuck!
Shorter slides are useful if you want to wear a slide and switch back and forth between fretting and sliding, and will allow your finger to bend out of the way. Longer slides can span the whole fretboard, which is great for open tunings and lap steel.
Tonebars are designed for lap steel and pedal steel guitar, and allow more control and weight to accomodate the high action and heavier strings of these instruments.
Slides can expand your musical vocabulary and lea you to new and exciting sonic territories. Like any other musical tool, once you have the basics you can experiment with new materials, textures and brands. And also just like any other musical tool, they can easily become addictive!
Comments will be approved before showing up.
Sign up to get the latest on offers, new releases and more!