When you are new to playing slide guitar there are a matter of issues to look at. You may have questions like: “Do I need to use open tunings?” What kind of slide should I be using?” How should I set up my guitar for playing slide?”
Before we go into any of the issues above let me go more into detail about why to play slide? There are some guitarists who have turned playing slide guitar into a career. For those playing slide is all they do. Then theres are the guitarists who are good at using a slide, they use the slide as a variety in their sound, just like an effect or a different technique. Playing slide is just a part of what they can play.
When you are new to playing slide you may want to spend some extra time with the slide to get some chops under your belt, to develop a clean technique ect. Once you get the hang of it, it is like any technique, you will be able to use it at will.
You can use the slide on your ring finger or little finger. Personally I like the idea of using pink because it keeps your other three fingers free for fretting ideas. Using your pink will give you the ability to play melodic ideas with your fingers and to use to slide next to those ideas.
When starting out, playing ideas on the high E string first, try to play as clean as you can: Use the slide only on one string: This may be a bit tricky when you only play over the high E, because all the other five strings will get in the way. Use the top end of the slide. Once you can play in this manner, playing over more strings will be a lot easier. Try to control the sound as much as you can.
Slide with the slide right above the fret to get the right note, listen carefully and learn to play in tune all the time. Start slowly, once you get the hang of it speed up your ideas.
Learn to play with vibrato, this will make the note sustain and is a natural part of playing slide guitar, the better your vibrato technique the better your silde playing will sound like.
Keep your other fingers of your fretting hand curved while you use the slide, this will mute all the unwanted noice you create. Keeping your fretting fingers curved over the strings will mute any unwanted noise. Again, this may feel unfamiliar and strange at first, keep at it, once mastered you will have a great sounding clean slide techinque.
Finger Stlye or Pick?:
Try using both your fingers and a pick. Ideally develop a technique where you can hold the pick while not using it and use the rest of your fingers for fingerstyle ideas. Once you can do this you can flick between using a pick and using your fingers. If you have not used your fingers much for playing fingerstyle you will find at some stage your fingertips may start to hurt because your fingertips may be a little soft, Keep at it and your fingers will accustom themselves to your needs.
Glass or Brass Slide?:
The kind of slide you use is a simple as your choice of pick: Try various types of slides, find the once you like the sound-and feel of. Brass slides sound softer than Glass ones. You can make your own as well, just experiment with what works. I would not try too much of the Zippoo Ligher idea, as it takes a few fingers to hold the lighter, also the microphone stand may give you less desired effects compared to a dedicated slide.
Guitar and Set-up:
Ideally your guitar should be set up with the action a little higher than how you would normally like it. This is one of the resaons why I have all my guitars set up like this. It means any guitar is ready for playing slide and none of them will give that sound of hitting the slide on the metal frets. A higher action will give your guitar a better sound, you may want to try this idea as well. Once you can play, a higher action will not have any impact on your playing ability. Try it.
Another way is to keep a guitar set-up for slide playing, You may also want to keep this guitar in a different tuning compared to its standard norm of Low E, A, D, G, B and high E
The string gauge to use runs along similar lines of the action: Thicker strings will give you a better and fuller sound regardless whether you use a slide or not. It may be an idea to go up a gauge to explore your sound a bit more. Thinner strings may make it harder to keep your slide playing in tunne: You need to put a slight bit of pressure on the slide and this may sometimes be enough for the string to bend ouf of tune a bit, the thicker your strings are the less issues you will have with this.
There is the idea that for playing slide you need to use different tuning. Just because Ry Cooder does this for most of his songs, does not mean you need to do this as well. If you have never explored any other tunings you should try some different tunings anyway, even if you do not want to explore slide playing.
Personally I like the idea of using the slide as a different sound, and a different mode to your playing. Alternative tunings limit your options, once you have explored some of them you will find out how you can use them. Slide playing can be done with any tuning, it may be better to incorporate the slide into your exhisting style of playing.
Enjoy and hope to catch you soon again,