You’re in for a treat today. If you’ve ever fancied trying out slide guitar but weren’t sure where to start – we’ve got you.
For the price of a pack of strings, you can pick up a cheap slide and give it a try. Pretty sure that once you get bit by the slide bug, you’ll never go back.
In this article you’ll learn about everything you need to get started:
- Best setup for slide guitar
- Which type of slide to buy
- Beginner slide techniques
If you need a little inspiration before we begin, check out this monster solo from slide virtuoso Ariel Posen.
Imagine how cool it’d be to learn slide guitar from that dude! 😱
Well, you don’t need to imagine. He’s put together an unbelievable Slide Guitar Master Class for us. Check it out for free with our 14-day trial.
What is slide guitar?
It’s more than just a thing you wear on your finger. A slide is a way to make your guitar sound more fluid and vocal.
Whenever there’s an opportunity to add another tool to your tonal belt – you should grab it with both hands. The slide is not just a blues sound, there really are a lot of possible ways to express yourself with this style of play.
Can you play slide on a regular guitar?
Technically you can play slide on any guitar, but there are definitely some that work better than others.
Classical nylon-string guitars are not really suited to slide, but anything with steel strings (electric or acoustic) will work. Of course, there are some qualities to look for if you want to really get the best sound.
The most important factor is not actually the guitar you have, but how it’s set up.
Guitar setup for slide
Unless you plan on buying a slide-specific guitar like a resonator (pictured below) then you’ll probably want to make some changes to your setup.
It’s not essential to make these changes to your guitar to play slide, but it will certainly make it easier, and sound cleaner.
Here are a few simple modifications you can do to make your guitar more slide…able?
- Higher action: To avoid playing a fret, it’s better to have the strings further away from the fretboard. You may even need to get a taller nut to achieve the desired height.
- Thicker strings: This works two-fold. Thicker strings mean more tension, which again reduces the likelihood of hitting an unwanted fret. Heavier strings will also have slightly more sustain.
- Pickup choice and height: Many slide guitar players favor P90s, but humbuckers are also very popular. Remember that if your string action is higher, the pickups will also need to be raised.
- Compressor pedal: Some slide players also use a compressor pedal to add some sustain and make the dynamics slightly more consistent.
What type of slide should I buy?
There are many different choices of slides. Much like choosing a guitar pick, there’s no right or wrong answer – it just comes down to the tone you want, and personal preference.
Here’s a quick rundown of the different slide materials and their qualities:
- Brass slides – Brighter tone
- Glass slides - Smoother more rounded tone
- Chrome/Steel slides – great for electric guitar
Size and thickness
Thickness, much like the choice of material, is mainly about tone preference and playability.
- A thinner slide usually sounds more trebly and has considerably less sustain.
- A thicker slide is usually preferable in terms of tone, but the extra weight can be a hindrance.
- If you can, get down to a guitar shop and try some out – it's really important to find a slide that fits your finger.
Which finger do I use for slide guitar?
This is really up to you – experiment to see which is most comfortable. For most people, it’s a choice between ring or pinky finger.
The ring finger has more control because it’s stronger. You also have the benefit of being able to use your pinky to mute above the slide.
The pinky finger gives you the opportunity to fret notes ‘behind the slide’ using index, middle, and ring fingers – you can almost play as you normally would (minus the pinky finger).
What’s the best tuning for slide?
There are many different tunings that work well with a slide.
- Some people favor an open tuning as it allows you to play an entire chord with the slide across all six strings.
- Others prefer to stay in standard tuning so they can switch between styles on the fly.
If you want to learn more, check out our article on alternate tunings.
Beginner slide guitar techniques
It’s down to personal preference whether you play with a pick or with your fingers. Usually, a combination of both (hybrid picking) works nicely.
- Ariel uses a technique he calls ‘sandwiching’.
- This is when you use your thumb and ring finger to mute the strings above and below the one you’re playing.
- The index and middle fingers are free to strike the string in between.
- Use your thumb as an anchor point. Many beginners float their thumb which makes playing accurately much more difficult.
- Use the tip of the slide. Another common mistake is to lay the slide across all the strings – this makes it harder to play single-note lines cleanly.
- Use your fingers to mute behind the slide. A lot of scratchy unwanted noise can come from behind the slide – resting just one finger on the string can dramatically clean up the sound.
Beginner slide guitar exercises
Now you have a basic idea of left and right-hand slide technique it’s time to put it to use.
Here are some simple exercises to practice playing single notes on each string. Take your time and focus on intonation (make each note the correct pitch).
Who are the best slide guitar players?
If you want some more inspiration, we recommend you check out some of these great slide players.
Also known as the ‘King of the Slide Guitar’ – take a trip back to the 50s with this fantastic example from one of the all-time greats.
You know you’re doing okay when you leave B.B. King and John Mayer Speechless. This clip really shows how expressive the slide can be.
Here’s some beautiful acoustic bottleneck guitar. As you can see, the slide isn’t just for solos – it works great as an accompaniment to vocals too.
There are many more slide guitar legends out there – go down a YouTube rabbit hole and discover them for yourself!
The best way to learn slide guitar
Slide guitar is really all about feel. It can take a while to initially get the hang of it, but with a bit of time and patience, it’ll start to feel more natural.
Like learning any new skill, experimentation is great, but you need some guidance too. As part of the Pickup membership, you get personalized feedback on your playing from our team of professional guitarists.
Get started with Ariel Posen’s Slide Guitar Master Class with a 14-day free trial to Pickup Music. 🎁
Author: Richard Spooner
Master the art of expressive slide guitar.Learn more
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