5 Things About Slides

September 19, 2011


Slide is a rootsy form developed by artists who simply used whatever they could get their hands on to create haunting glissandos and singing sustain. If you want to experiment with slide playing, but don’t own a factory-made slide, use whatever you can find in the house, garage, or tool shed that might get the job done. Early proponents used animal bones, metal pipes, and medicine bottles (Coricidin was a favorite). Blues man Cedell Davis uses the edge of a table knife, and Lowell George used an 11/16" socket from a socket-wrench set. It’s all good!


While you can use whatever object slides easily across the strings, is hard enough to evoke a sustained note, and is comfortable to hold and play with, different materials do have different sounds. Chromed or nickel-plated steel will be bright and zingy, brass will be fat and creamy, glass will be warm and round, and clay will be warmer still. For metal slides, many players swear by the density of drilled-out rods over purposemade tubes. Whatever sounds best to you is the one to go with.


A guitar set up for shred will likely be a nightmare to play bottleneck on. It will have you knocking frets, and making all kinds of unwanted noises. If you are going to get serious about slide playing, you will probably need to raise your guitar’s action a little. The higher the strings, the easier it is to play slide. Players who fret notes and play slide on the same guitar can usually find a happy medium where the action is still easy enough to allow fretting, yet also high enough to slide on smoothly.


It definitely pays to explore some open and alternative tunings if you want to get the most out of the style. You can do plenty in standard tuning, but if you really want to sink your teeth into slide, find your way around open-G and open-D tunings at the very least, as these will open up lots of classic licks that can’t be accessed in standard tuning.


Wear your slide wherever if feels most natural. Using a slide on your little finger might provide the most flexibility, because it leaves three contiguous fingers free for standard fretting—or for achieving some nifty behind-the-slide fretted voicings. Some players advocate using your index finger for similar reasons, while others say the ring finger gives you the best results. Great artists have done their thing with a slide on every possible finger, so try them all and see what sticks.

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