Using guitar slides: where do I start?

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This is surely the first question asked by all those guitarists who, in a particular moment of their lives, fell in love with the sound of Ry Cooder, Derek Trucks, Duane Allman, or Eric Sardinas… all of them are masters of a technique employed to play the guitar and whose sound is unique and hypnotic: the slide. Now that you’ve encouraged yourself to use guitar slides, you wonder where to start? It’s normal… That’s why, from MusicNexo we’ll give you a hand unveiling the origins, the major keys, and everything you need to know to master this technique. Let’s get started!

bottleneckA bottle, the start of everything

Nowadays, those ‘tearful’ notes we appreciate in different musical styles, like Blues or Country, are possible thanks to the use of guitar slides; however, this technique was already in used in the last century, only in a different way… It was in the early 1900s, when a blues musician from the southern United States came up with the idea of cutting the neck of a bottle and using it to play the guitar (that is why this technique is sometimes called “bottleneck”). How did he do it? He placed the cylinder of the bottle in one finger and sliding it over the notes to generate that particular sound, similar to a person moaning.

It was after that when the use of this technique began to become widespread… Furthermore, the instruments used at that time (not just bottles, but also rings, knives and other similar objects) differ a lot from the guitar slides we use today. This takes us to the first point that you have to consider if you want to start practicing this technique …

Types of guitar slides

At present, you can find different types of guitar slides, whose choice will depend on the particular tastes of each musician or the sound they want to achieve. Virtually all guitar slides in the market have a tubular shape, but they differ in the material from which they are made. Thus, you should know that, for example, metal guitar slides offer a more high-pitched tone, they are heavier and therefore, difficult to use, and they do not require so much pressure on the strings; while glass guitar slides offer a softer and warmer tone, are lighter and easier to use, and require more pressure on the strings.

Brass chromed slide


Glass slide


Brass chromed and ergo design slide


Also, make sure that the tube size is the correct one: it must fit the finger on which you will use it, leaving the rest free to play the chords.

Learning to use guitar slides

As we discussed before, the technique to achieve this type of sound is obtained by sliding the slide over the strings, up or down the tuning fork. However, there are several things you should know:

– The pressure you put on the slide should not be excessive, because, to get a clean sound, the strings should never touch the fingerboard (that is, it is more about resting it on the strings rather than pressing on them). Keep this in mind, too, if your guitar strings are too low, since a high action is needed to slip the slide without the frets becoming an obstacle.

– A fundamental aspect to get the right sound is to place the slide correctly. So when you play the guitar with your fingers, you press the strings right in the middle of the fret; however, when you do it with the slide, you must place it directly on the fret. Also, you should note that the slide is completely parallel to the fret. Taking these aspects into account, you will stay in tune at all times.

– When using guitar slides, it is usual that, in addition to obtaining the desired sound, they generate a background noise in the part of the strings that are not being played. Therefore, our recommendation is that you place the slide on the little finger or annular to be able to use the index finger and the medium to mute the rest of the strings.

With these basic guidelines, you are ready to take slide and get to practice.

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