Posted by: kubiakl | September 24, 2008

A Note On Slides

If you don’t play guitar, this post may bore you.  If you do play guitar, you may already know about what I’m writing.

But I’m going to write it anyway.

Because I can.

I think we’ve already established that I love the sound of slide guitar.  I didn’t realize it until tonight, but all of the songs on here are heavy on the slide.  Eventually that will change, but while I’m on the idea I thought it would be good to talk about the slides themselves.

For the uninitiated: A slide is basically just a tube worn on the finger.  Instead of fretting notes (pressing down in between the fret bars), the slide rests lightly on the strings directly over the frets.  A slide can also be a tone bar (lap steel, pedal steel, and dobro players use these), which is held between the fingers but serves the same function.  Since I’m none of the above, we’ll stick with the tube style of slides.

The most common materials for a slide are glass, ceramic, and metal (either aluminum or bronze).  Within those categories are plenty of sub-categories that I’m not going to mess with.  We’ll keep to the basics.  So, with the idea that these are broad generalizations, here we go.

Glass has a very smooth feel and produces a clear tone.  Thinner glass feels light and “whippy” and is perfect for an electric guitar.  A heavier touch is needed on acoustic, so thicker walled glass slides work better.  Two common types of glass slides (besides the generic open ended tube) are the medicine bottle and the bottleneck.

The medicine bottle is based on the old Coricidan cold medicine bottles.  Duane Allman really popularized the use of these.  They sound great, but there’s a catch – since they have a closed top, it gets a little humid in there.  Check the bottle for seams as well, when a seam catches the string it’s not pretty.  I didn’t know this and ended up with a blues bottle slide that never gets used.

A bottleneck is pretty self explanatory.  They cut the neck off a bottle and grind the ends.  Again, great sound… but the lip of the bottle can get in the way if you’re not very precise.

When I use a glass slide, it’s a shorter Dunlop slide with thicker walls.  I have a thin-walled slide but since my guitar playing is kind of heavy handed I stick to the thicker one more.  It’s just about as long as the fretboard is wide and works perfectly for my style.

Ceramic sides have a porous inner surface that keeps your finger a little cooler and drier when you play.  The tone is warmer than glass, and really shines on an acoustic guitar.  There are tons of different brands/styles of ceramic slides.  My favorite is another Dunlop – the Moonshine slide.

Mine has the writing wrapped around the top though, so it may be an older model.  This is the slide I usually reach for.  Part of it is the tone, but I think a lot of it is the fact that my finger doesn’t feel like it’s been in a sauna when I get done playing.

Metal slides also come in different flavors.  You get more string noise out of a metal slide (which can be a good thing) and they are certainly more durable than the others.  I’ve lost two glass slides to my own stupidity but my bronze has been around for years.  It looks like this:

I don’t use it very often at home because ceramic and glass sound better to me, but during travel it’s the slide that goes with me.  I can’t be trusted with fragile things.

Since all I’ve done is given you a quick overview, I’ll list a few companies that are known for making good slides:

Big Heart Slides

Jim Dunlop Slides

Rocky Mountain Slides

I haven’t had the chance to try Rocky Mountain yet, but the descriptions are pretty enticing.  If you are the owner of one leave a comment and let us know how you like it.


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