Slides… there’s so many of them! The vast variety of different shapes, sizes and materials could have you sliding up the wall when it comes to choosing the right one!
Different types can give you a different sound and feel. Don’t worry though, it’s a good thing! If you know which sound you want to achieve then you can buy the right one for you and your guitar!
Glass ones are ideal for using with an electric guitar as they allow a warm, smooth tone whilst being relatively light. They are great for playing more mellow parts, especially with a cleaner tone. A light slide when using light strings is a good start, as it’s not going to push the strings down too much and hit against the frets. If you have a high action i.e. the strings are quite high off the fingerboard then you would be able to get away with a heavier one like brass.
They come in a number of thicknesses and sizes. Some cover all 6 strings; some are half size and only cover 3 or 4. The thicker, bigger slides tend to show less resistance on the strings, which allows a smoother glide, but overall you may get a bit less control as your fingers are further from the strings!
If you’re using glass with an acoustic it will sound ok, but you don’t get as much of a snappy, crisp tone which can be desirable with that type of instrument.
Check out ‘Derek Trucks’ to see a glass slide in action.
Pro: Lightweight, ideal for electric guitars
Con: Doesn’t give as much of a full sound when used on an acoustic
These tend to be quite heavy and are therefore much more suited to an acoustic guitar where the strings aren’t going to be pushed down too much. These will give you a much darker, louder tone. They aren’t that suited to an electric guitar because of their weight. They may push the strings down too much and you won’t get the sound you need. Again, if your strings are high off the fingerboard then they can work quite well. Some players will have a guitar dedicated just to playing slide where they will raise the action so they can play with a different type.
These come in different thicknesses so if you’re thinking about getting your first one it’s best to go for a thinner, lighter one so you can build up your technique before moving onto the thicker ones. Again, the thicker ones can allow easier gliding over the strings and when using it with an acoustic can give you deeper, louder tones.
Listen to a bit of ‘Robert Johnson’ to hear this style of slide in action!
Pro: Awesome dark, full tones when used on acoustics
Con: Can be too heavy for an acoustic
This type works great for electrics, they’re lightweight and the metal on metal combination gives a deep, snappy tone that sounds awesome with a bit of overdrive. You can also get a really dark, gritty sound, which is perfect for those roaring solos. They’re also equally as good for an acoustic but can lack some of that full-bodied sound that a brass one can offer. If you want to be playing some dirty old blues in an open tuning with a load of drive then go for one of these!
Check out ‘Joe Bonamassa’ in his session at Guitar Center to see this type in action.
Pro: Light whilst giving a full, dark tone
Con: Not as full or dark sounding as brass for acoustics
These types are great as an ‘all-rounder’. They allow a gritty but smooth tone with greatly enhanced sustain. There porous material is great for those hot and humid gigs. They are very fragile so make sure you have a backup if you're gigging!
Pro: A great blend between all slide types.
Con: Very fragile, so hold on to them tight!
So what’s the verdict?
Sometimes, it just takes a bit of experimenting to see which gives you the sound you want and what feels the most comfortable. If, however, you’re buying your first slide and you’re really unsure of what to get then here’s a quick summary:
Clean – Glass
Dirty – Chrome / Ceramic
Brass / Ceramic