How to Play Slide Guitar

Learn how to play slide guitar. This technique will add a whole new sound to your guitar playing even using the same notes as a regular lick, it will sound like a new lick.

Slide guitar will fit into most music styles but it is used in Country, Blues and Rock most often. Slide guitar is often called bottle neck guitar because that’s what they used to use as a guitar slide.

This style started out as a tool for singers to answer their lyrics like background singers or to give that lonesome train whistle sound and mood.

Slide Steel Guitar

Don’t confuse slide guitar with the Steel guitar used in Country music. Steel guitars have more strings and use pedals to change some of the strings pitch. These are usually played sitting down because a Steel guitar is like a guitar neck on a small table some have two necks on one table tuned differently.

Steel guitar players bend notes as they use a slide. We are limited in this area because we can’t bend and slide at the same time however two guitars could get close to this sound with some practice. One sliding and one bending into the same note or notes or harmony notes.

Steel guitars sound really good in Country music. There are some licks we can get on slide guitar that sound like some of the Steel guitar licks.

The Hawaiian slide sound is believed to be the first slide guitar before the Steel and Bottleneck versions.

Dave Mason does a version of his song Every Women using a steel guitar in it.

Slide Guitar Set Up

To be able to play slide guitar you may have to make some changes to your guitar and strings.

You need to use medium to heavy strings to get a good slide sound, thin strings don’t work good.

You might need to adjust the height of your strings so you don’t get fret buzz or banging sounds.

Usually an acoustic guitar can used the way it is without changing things unless you have extra light strings on it.

For electric guitars you need one that can sustain a note which is any guitar nowadays with all the electronic goodies out there.

The preferred guitars by slide players are the National resonator guitar , Gibsons’ Les Paul and the Fenders’ Stratocaster.

Any guitar if set up right will work, the above guitars are preferred by top slide players because they can afford them.

Slide Guitar String Height

If you are going to fret notes as well as play slide you have to set your string height so you can do both.

If you set the strings too high you will have a hard time fretting notes and chords.

If you are going to use the guitar for strictly slide the string height won’t matter. This also limits your playing on this guitar. I like to be able to fret chords and notes as well as play slide.

Another thing you need to check with your strings on electric guitars is that sometimes the strings are set to the curve of the fingerboard. Your strings need to be inline for the slide to hit them all. You can adjust them at the bridge.

Slide Guitar String Gauge

You need to use a medium to heavy gauge string to get clean slide notes. This is true even if you use distortion, you won’t get the right basic sound to distort.

If you are used to extra light strings you may have to get used to this extra pressure you have to use to play notes. Slow down because you won’t be able to play as fast until you get used to them and strengthen your muscles.

You don’t need real heavy strings just heavy enough to give you clean sound on all strings. Every guitar is different so you will have to experiment to get a set you like.

Guitar Slide Types

There are several different types of slides each one gives a different tone.

  • Steel = Loud – Good for Heavy Metal
  • Brass = A little more mellow than Steel
  • Glass = A very Smooth sound
  • Ceramic = A slightly different sound than glass

Glass Slides

Click image to go to a glass slide page

Ceramic Guitar Slides

Click image to go to a ceramic slide page

Metal Slides

Click image to go to a metal slide page

The best way to find out what you like is to try them. Every guitar is different and will produce different results with various slides.

The slide should be long enough to cover all the strings. It should fit just right, not too tight and not too loose.

Most players use them on the little finger so they can still play chords and notes. This may take a little practice to be able to finger a chord with the slide on your finger. Keep at it and you will get it. Relax your fingers.

How to Hold a Slide

This is better to show you in a short video.

An introduction to the site

The picking hand in traditional slide usually plays a steady bass line with the thumb and a melody line with the fingers.

This is a good way to introduce yourself to fingerpicking.

You can use a thumb pick which helps accent the bass notes.

Finger picks are for Steel guitar and Banjo players because the strings are heavier and tuned with more tension.

Pick Picking

You can use a pick also especially with electric slide where someone else is playing the rhythm and you are only playing the lead or fill-ins.

You can hybrid pick too. This is where you play a note with the pick and also play another one or two notes with your fingers. This lets you play just the strings you want like finger picking actually because it’s half finger picking.

Slide Guitar Tunings

Standard Tuning

You usually have your guitar tuned to an open chord when playing slide guitar but not always.

George Harrison from the Beatles played slide in the standard tuning. It’s a good way to add a little something to normal playing without changing tunings.

Standard Tuning Open Chords

In standard tuning the 2, 3 and 4 strings are a major G chord and the 3, 2 and 1 strings are an E minor chord.

Open Tunings

There are two open tunings that are used most of the time. The E tuning and the G tuning.

Both of these tuning can be tuned a whole tone away from E and G. The E can be tuned down to a D tuning and the G tuning can be tuned up a whole tone to the A tuning.

The E Tuning

The E tuning is the same as the E major chord. E B E G♯ B E from heavy E to light E.

The D tuning is the same except one whole tone lower. D A D F♯ A D – 6th string to 1st string.

The G Tuning

This tuning is based on another barre chord type. The tuning is one octave lower than this chord.

The 2, 3 and 4 strings stay the same as the standard tuning. Keep track of the 3rd string to know which chord you are on. I find this easier than trying to remember the A is now G.

The A tuning is one whole tone higher than the G tuning. That’s the only difference except it’s harder on the guitar neck.

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