Slide Guitar for Beginners

For this article a short brief with some useful tips for those of you would like to explore slideguitar.

           What kind of Slide?:

Thinking of Slideguitar, the first thought which comes to mind is:”What kind of slide do you use?”
There are the metal ones, brass and the glass-type of slides. I mention “type of” as most slides bought from a shop will be made out of hard plastic, maybe this is for safety reasons. You could make you own slide from a bottle, you will need to cut the neck of a winebottle, for instance, and then you would need to polish it so it will be smooth and you will prevent any nasty cuts. You could also make your own slide out of a metal pipe. Similar as with the glass slide, you will need to polish the slide to get it to feel smooth on your fingers.

Okay, now we know what are the most commonly used slides you may wonder how do they differ: Metal ones are heavy, the brass ones are harder and the glass ones are the least heaviest. Each material will give you a different sound. Metal ones do sound direct and colder, the glass ones have a bit more twang. Experiment with different materials to find the ones you like best.

          Which Finger to Wear Slide on?

Find a slide which fits the finger you want to use, the slide should fit snuggly around your finger, not too wobby, but also not too tight. Obvious eh?
Different players wear slide on different finger: Some of them use middle finger for slide playing, while others prefer to wear a slide on their pink. Personally I prefer pink, because it leave the other three fingers free for playing. I play phrases and use to slide on particular notes, but again, different players have different approaches, later more on this.

         Slide Playing and Your Guitar:

The slide is used to slide over your strings, do you apply a bit of pressure, but you do not press strings down as when you are fretting a chord, or single string.
To get the best sound you may want to use a heavier gauge string: 011’s on electrics and acoustics 0.12 and upwards. Your action should not be too low. Low action will cause the slide to touch the frets quicker and more often. The volume of your sound will also be lower.
In a nutshell: Heavier strings and higher action will give you the best sound.
Should I now have a guitar set up for slide? All depending on your idea. I have all my electrics set up with 0.11’s and the action is a bit higher than what the typical beginner would prefer. Even if you do not play too often slide, the guitar will sound better set up that way: More tone and volume!
Personally I would not fuss too much over the finer details, just get a slide, maybe change strings if you are using 0.8’s and give it a go.
Once you get on with it you can always alter your guitar to how you prefer it.
Overal you should be able to get a nice, full rounded tone out of your slide, but there are quite a few things you can do to achieve this read on.

          Slide Guitar and Your Amp:

You know what harmonica players do to get a better tone: Use a bit of distortion, to get that harmonica to sound a bit fuller. Similar for slide guitar. The kind of distortion you want is mild overdrive. Something like a Tubescreamer type of pedal will give you that tone straight away. Set your amp up for a basic, straightforward sound, just a bit of bass and treble will do. Stay away from using reverb (The slide will gibe you the idea of reverb on its own when you get it right!) or any other effects as this will help you to achieve a better technique. One you feel more confident you can always experiment with using effects while you play slide, but for now keep things simple!
If you have a choise of various amps, use the most simple and basic amp you have, complex tonestructures may get it the way in the beginning. Again use common sense, no need to buy another amp for slide, just use simple gear.


There are the players who have their guitar set up in a particular tuning and they tend to use this tuning for when they play slide.
Personally I like to use standard tuning, because it is versatile and you can mimick a lot of open tunings by simply altering one, or maybe just two strings instead of retuning about 4 to 5 strings. I also like the Capo a lot for these kind of techniques. In a later blog I will give you some specific tips for Capo and slide. Will also get a video where I will show some of those techniques close up.

        Playing ideas:

When it comes to playing slide you can play chords or single notes.
Elmore James “Dust My Broom” is a great example of how to play chords with the slide. All the chords are of the “A” shape, an easy shape for using slide, since you can use the three notes of the chord on the D,G and B string, no stringjumping and easy to keep that slide nice and steady. Just give it some vibrato at the end of the phrase.

Another example: The long note which rings out during intro is a single note. Ry uses single notes and chords, he really mixes it all up

To get a good, solid tone out of the slide mute the strings behind the slide. The postion on your fingers will vary depeding on which string you play. When you do not apply this technique the sound of the slide may be tinny. You will get better at this with practise.
You can mimick chords by playing the open, 6th string and play the A string on the 7th fret. Play both strings at the same time: Use your thumb for the open E while you slide on the A 7th fret. Make sure you apply vibrato on the slide to sustain the note. When you do it right you will get that nice, glassy sound.
You can apply this technique to all your open strings and mimick chords in this way.
Next step is to use the slide in a phrase: Play a phrase and apply the slide at the end of the phrase. Repeat same phrase and apply slide to same last note, but now an octave (or even two ocataves) up.
Look into it, and before you know it you will find your own unique way to playing slide guitar.

Have fun and hope to see you soon again,