The sound of slide guitar is an experience like no other. It can be a raunchy blues solo, or a gentle and soulful slide accompaniment, or even a psychedelically infused voyage into the unexplored.
Slide guitar has the potential to take your playing to places you never thought it could get to.
Whether you want to emulate the sounds of your favorite slide players like Derek Trucks or Duane Allman, or you just want to see what a slide feels like in your hand, this simple device immediately invites you to approach the guitar in a completely new way.
But just what goes into a guitar slide? How do you know if you’re getting one that will suit you? What features and specifications are important to look out for if you’ve never bought a slide before?
For such a simple tool, there is a lot to think about!
Let’s dissect just what goes into a good guitar slide.
Table of Contents:
- I. Guitar Slides 101: Everything You Need To Know
- II. Which Finger Should You Wear Your Guitar Slide On?
- III. Getting The Right Fit
- IV. Guitar Slide Weight & Thickness
- V. Guitar Slide Material & Tone
- VI. Best Glass Guitar Slides
- VII. Best Metal Guitar Slides
- VIII. Best Ceramic & Porcelain Guitar Slides
- IX. You Can Never Have Too Many Guitar Slides!
Guitar Slides 101: Everything You Need To Know
Let’s start with the basics.
A guitar slide is a smooth surface which is “slid” against the guitar strings to produce notes. Technically, the slide can be any smooth surface.
In the past, old blues men of yore would improvise slides from all kinds of items. A glass bottle, a spoon, a lighter, or even a ring could all make for a slide in a pinch.
Eventually, the neck of a glass bottle gained prominence as the improvised slide of choice. With the proper sized bottle, breaking off the neck allowed the finger to be inserted to impart a previously unheard of degree of control to the guitarist’s slide playing.
From here, the modern slide was born. Today, a guitar slide is typically a smooth tube made from glass, metal, or ceramic, which can be worn over the finger. With a bit of practice, a guitarist can use the slide to hit notes, effortlessly slide between them, and do all of the nifty slide guitar tricks that have become a staple of in many musical styles.
Which Finger Should You Wear Your Guitar Slide On?
This is the first – and perhaps the most important – question when choosing a guitar slide. You want to find a slide which fits snugly, allowing you to move quickly and manipulate it without fear of it falling off.
Depending on which finger you choose to play the slide with, the diameter of the slide’s opening will have to vary quite a bit if you decide to switch from, say, your ring to your pinky finger.
Typically, beginner slide players gravitate towards using the ring finger to hold the slide. This makes sense in many ways, as the ring finger is strong and flexible, easily able to hold up the slide.
But while it requires more practice and some conditioning, many of the most venerated names in slide guitar prefer to use the pinky finger instead. Using the pinky frees up the rest of the hand to play “standard” guitar parts. With a bit of practice and dedication, the pinky can become just as strong and nimble as the ring finger.
That is assuming it has an appropriately-sized slide!
Getting The Right Fit
Your ideal guitar slide will be a little snug, but not so tight that it restricts blood flow or is difficult to remove.
This gives you security while moving across the fretboard and enables you to be more dexterous with your use of the slide.
A slide should fit comfortably over the first two joints in your finger. When you bend your finger downwards towards the floor, the slide should not fall off.
Your slide should also cover the width of your fretboard –- all six strings – without hanging over the edge too far. If there is a lot of slide hanging over the edge, then you’re just carrying unnecessary weight!
Guitar slides are measured in ring size. If you know your ring size, you’ll have a good starting point to figuring out which slides to go for.
For the perfect fit some guitarists prefer to do a bit of customization. With just a little glue and foam, you can create interior padding to help you get just the right fit.
Guitar Slide Weight & Thickness
If you’ve found the ideal size, you might notice different options regarding the thickness. Clearly, thicker slides will be heavier, and heavier is harder to play, right?
For the most part, yes. However, there are some benefits to having a big heavy slide. Thick slides create more sustain, volume, and add a certain characteristic to your tone that thinner slides can lack.
Despite this, a thinner slide is more nimble, and puts your fingers in closer contact with the fretboard. This improves the sense of “feel” as you play slide.
Ultimately, this is a personal debate that every slide player needs to decide for themselves. Fortunately, all it takes it a little bit of experimentation.
If you’re new to slide and concerned with the weight of the slide on your finger, opt for a thinner and lighter slide to begin with. You can worry about the nuances later!
Guitar Slide Material & Tone
Many of the properties of the different guitar slide materials relate to the principles of weight and thickness we discussed above.
Because the materials are quite different from each other, different types of guitar slides can vary quite a bit in tone. Here’s a quick run-down:
- Glass: Glass has the “smoothest” tone, ideal for more complex slide work and harmonious playing. Glass slides tend to glide the easiest across the strings. Though somewhat fragile, modern glass slides are fairly thick and durable. However, glass tends to have less sustain and generates less volume than some of the thicker, heavier alternatives.
- Metal: Typically made from brass or steel, metal slides are much heavier and generally thicker than glass. This gives them a lot of sustain and they can create a lot of volume without much effort. Some find metal slides to sound a bit “harsher” and more piercing than the relatively light-sounding glass slides. Popular with blues and rock artists.
- Ceramic & Porcelain: Ceramic and porcelain slides aren’t nearly as popular as glass or metal, but they offer a nice compromise between those two extremes. Sliding around smooth like glass but offering some of the sustain and punch of a metal slide, ceramic or porcelain slides are worth investigating for anyone looking for something slightly off the beaten path.
Best Glass Guitar Slides
Dunlop Tempered Glass Slide
One of the best known names in slides, guitar picks, and other accessories, Dunlop’s slides have been used by countless artists and aspiring players alike. These are simple glass slides made from a durable tempered glass that can stand up to some abuse.
Dunlop’s glass slides are available in a wide variety of sizes and thicknesses. What is great about them is that, other than these slight adjustments, they are all pretty much the same reliable slide. These are lightweight yet made from durable glass.
They look, feel, and sound great. Plus, they are quite affordable. An excellent way to start slide playing, and a recurring staple among professionals.
Dunlop DT01 Derek Trucks Signature Blues Bottle Slide
If you ask a fan of the slide guitar who their favorite modern slide guitarist is, there is a decent chance that Derek Trucks will be at least somewhere on the list.
Working with his sponsor Dunlop, one of the leading slide brands, Trucks produced this custom “blues bottle slide” with its distinctive bottle-lip shape and finished with his signature.
The slide looks quite elegant and plays beautifully. It’s a precise reproduction of the very slide used by the master himself on stage and in the studio, so you know without a doubt it’s a design that has been tried and tested.
Best Metal Guitar Slides
Dunlop 285 Preachin Pipe
Aside from having a super cool name, the Preachin’ Pipe brings a lot to the table. It has a unique shape which is concave on the outside where it contacts the strings. This gives the Preachin’ Pipe an extremely unique angle of approach on the strings, letting the player more easily play multiple strings for beautiful sliding chords and bluesy doublestops.
The Preachin’ Pipe was designed specifically for the needs of blues slide guitarist Eric Sardinas. The unique tapered shape gives this slide a distinctive look and its clever design features make it a real joy to play with.
Made from brass, the slide maintains fairly thin walls which contribute to it remaining fairly lightweight. Yet it packs an excellent sustain and some of the brilliant, ringing tone of brass.
The Rock Brass Guitar Slide
Guitar slides aren’t a product that sees a whole lot of innovation. For the most part, why would you need to? A slide is just a nice smooth surface to make some noise with.
The Rock is a brass guitar slide which has proven that there is some room for improvement. It features an ergonomic design that incorporates a knuckle cutout on one side of the slide which lets it rest comfortably against the other parts of your hand.
The interior of The Rock is also tapered to create a better grip on your finger and lets you provide extra control while playing.
Plus, they have clearly gone out of their way to balance the slide brilliantly. It creates a wonderful tone, exceptional sustain, great volume, and still manages to feel lightweight for a metal slide.
Dunlop 220 Chromed Steel Guitar Slide
No frills. Just beautiful chromed steel sliding up and down your guitar neck. These Dunlop slides are made from high quality steel and are a serious workhorse that won’t let you down.
Very basic in design, these Dunlop steel slides are available in a huge variety of sizes and thicknesses to choose from. Definitely a brand that will pop up in any serious slide guitarist’s collection.
Best Ceramic & Porcelain Guitar Slides
Few names in the world of blues-rock command as much respect as ZZ Top legend Billy Gibbons. His playing – and his mojo – are legendary. With the RWS12, Dunlop has attempted to package a bit of that mojo for mass consumption by any guitarist brave enough to put one on.
Made from smooth porcelain, this is an excellently balanced slide. It offers good sustain and volume while still retaining something of the beautifully slippery feeling and tone of a glass slide.
If you’re looking to ZZ Top as a reference for your slide playing, this is an obvious place to start!
Dunlop 246 Moonshine Ceramic Guitar Slide
With a tone unique to ceramics, this Dunlop is as beautiful to look at as it is to hear. The elegant blue finish will certainly distinguish this slide from any other in your collection, but the tone lurking in it will accomplish this even better.
With a mellow tone that doesn’t rocket into some of the wailing areas of steel but isn’t quite as gentle as glass, the Moonshine ceramic guitar slide is ideal for the guitarist looking for something that doesn’t quite sit at either end of the spectrum of most slide guitar tone.
The ceramic is durable and designed with a porous interior that absorbs finger moisture while playing, keeping the interior of the slide dry and secured to the guitarist’s finger.
Whether you’re looking for something entirely different or just curious what ceramic sounds like, this is a slide worth experimenting with.
You Can Never Have Too Many Guitar Slides!
If you find the breadth of selection a bit overwhelming, don’t fret. Remember that guitar slides are pretty inexpensive and experimentation is cheap.
Serious slide players tend to have huge collections of slides. And they don’t just set them aside to gather dust, either.
The unique tonal characteristics and the individual “feel” of each slide mean that they are all special in their own way and worth coming back to when a particular musical situation arrives.
Good luck and keep experimenting!