One of the most expressive and satisfying playing styles is slide guitar.
Though most often associated with the blues, slide guitar occurs in all genres of music.
Slide guitar has been used in solos and riffs by artists such as Queen, The Beatles, Ratatat, White Stripes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and countless others you might not initially suspect.
Whatever genre you play, there is an opportunity for slide guitar waiting to happen and you’re going to need the right guitar slide for your playing style.
How do you go about picking out the best guitar slide if you’ve never played slide before?
In this article I’m going to help you decide what type of slide is the right one for you, and then I’m going to give you some suggestions on specific slides to try out.
Snapshot: 3 Guitar Slide Materials (and My Recommendations for Each)
How Do I Pick Out the Best Guitar Slide?
Just like choosing the right guitar pick, there are multiple aspects to consider when picking out a guitar slide that feels and sounds the way you want it to. Let’s take a look at some of those aspects.
There are actually a wide variety of guitar slides out there in different shapes, sizes, finger designs, and more, so categorizing slides can get a bit tricky. However, the one thing that just about every slide on the market shares is that almost all fall into one of three material categories: Glass, Metal, or Ceramic.
It is for this reason that all of my suggestions are going to fall under one of these three material categories. I’ll explain more on this below, but there is much more to consider when picking out the perfect guitar slide.
The first question you need to ask yourself is: What finger are you going to put your slide on?
It’s totally up to your personal preference. There are some advantages to each digit you may want to consider. The ring finger seems to be the most commonly used finger, as it seems to get the best leverage and control. The pinky is another great one to consider though, as it frees up your other three fingers for chords and licks.
Some even prefer their first or second finger for the stability they provide, but I find that this leaves your remaining fingers somewhat limited in what they can do. I would only recommend doing this if you’re in open tuning and don’t plan on doing any kind of solos, chords, or licks. What fun is that?
Once you pick the finger you’re going to use, you want to get a slide that fits snuggly on your finger so that it isn’t moving around while you play. However, you don’t want it so snug that you can’t take it off when you need to. Keep in mind if your hands swell in the heat! You may want multiple sizes depending on the weather.
Some slides are long enough to cover your entire finger, limiting your ability to bend your knuckles. This requires you to bend your wrist or angle your left hand, which is a side effect that players have dealt with for years.
However, there are also beveled and smaller slides that sit just on the top third or half of your finger. This allows for greater mobility, but perhaps less stability.
Everyone’s hands are different, so pick the one that feels best to you.
The thickness of your guitar slide affects three things: stability, durability, and sustain. The thinner your slide, the more control you get as your fingers are closer to the fretboard.
The tradeoff is that you get less sustain. Because metal slides are harder than glass ones, they produce more sustain even than some of the thickest glass slides.
Having a thicker slide is often ideal for glass slide players as this adds more durability (therefor less of a chance of it shattering in your case or on stage) as well as more sustain.
In general, I would recommend that price be the last thing to worry about when it comes to picking out the right slide, because just about all slides are inexpensive. There are some experimental or signature designs that reach closer to $50, but for the most part slides can be purchased for well under $20.
This is good news if you’re new to slide playing, because if you get the wrong slide or you want to change your approach, you can get another one for little cost. I say get a bunch and try them out. Having a collection of slides in the studio or on the road is never a bad thing.
The 3 Kinds of Guitar Slide Materials (and My Recommendations for Each)
Best Glass Guitar Slides
I’ll start off by admitting that glass slides are my personal preference. They have a smooth feel around the edges compared to metal slides, and offer a round, warm tone. They also glide across the strings, making them a great choice for electric guitar. I especially like using glass slides on a Stratocaster or Telecaster that has bright pickups, as the material helps to tame that harsh high end.
I would also recommend glass slides if you’re playing a clean or edge of breakup tone on your electric guitar. Glass seems to absorb some of your dynamics, almost like a compressor. This is good if you’re trying to round out spanky clean guitar tones.
Glass slides come in many varieties of found objects such as the tops of wine or beer bottle necks, but perhaps the most famous is the use of a glass medicine vial. Though not as common place an item these days, manufacturers like D’Addarrio and Dunlop make modern versions that are worth checking out.
If you have the skill set or know of a glassblower, go find a whiskey, wine, or beer bottle and stick your finger in it. If it fits, you can have the neck heated off and boom, you have a custom guitar slide. Just make sure to try and only include the part of the neck that is flat, as any curve will make holding strings down more difficult. DO NOT try this at home if you are not a trained professional.
The only real downside to glass slides is they’re made of… glass. So, they are fragile and can break easily. If you’re taking a glass slide out on the road with you, make sure you have backups and that you keep them in a padded guitar case at the very least.
Recommended Glass Guitar Slides
- Dunlop 275 Blues bottle Slide – time tested classic
- D’Addario Short Slide – Greater finger mobility, covers less strings
- Mr. Power Glass Guitar Slider w/ Case – Protected glass slide
Best Metal Guitar Slides
Metal guitar slides are harder than glass ones, resulting in a different tone and feel entirely. Metal slides typically sound brighter, punchier, and more aggressive.
They also typically have more sustain. This makes them an ideal slide for acoustic and dobro style guitars, with thicker strings and possibly no amplification. That being said, metal slides sound mighty mean when played on a distorted electric guitar too.
When it comes to metal guitar slides, you’re most often going to see them either made of brass or steel. I personally think this is splitting hairs when it comes to the sonic differences, but brass is slightly darker sounding.
I recommend picking a beveled metal slide to allow for easier finger bending. They are also just a little more comfortable, as many metal slides have sharp edges to them.
Once again, if you have the skill set like Ron Swanson, you could make your own metal slide out of scrap metal or piping.
Metal slides are also easier to manipulate into new designs. If you see any non-circular slides, they are more than likely made of either brass or steel. If you’ve tried a bunch of traditional, circular slides, I would recommend expanding into new slide designs such as the JetSlide.
Recommended Metal Guitar Slides
- Fender Steel Slide – Perfect for beginners
- GuitarX X120 2 Pack – Two sizes for all applications
- Rock Slide Swamp Slide – Beveled, heavy brass
Best Ceramic Guitar Slides
If you just can’t pick between the smooth, glossy feel and tone of a glass slide or the hard, punchy tone of a metal slide, then Ceramic might just be the best option for you. Ceramic slides are somewhat of a middle ground between glass and metal slides.
Because ceramic slides sit in between metal and glass in terms of hardness, texture, and feel, the sound that comes from these slides is somewhat of a mixture of the two as well. Ceramic works well for either electric or acoustic guitars.
This could make for a great option for those who don’t know which they prefer, and they make for a good beginner’s slide. Just make sure you don’t drop these slides, because they can be even more fragile than glass depending on what they are made of.
Ceramic also allows for cool design aesthetics, as professional musicians can put their stamp literally right on the slide. They can be made to resemble alligator skin, stone, or any number of colors and just about anything else you can imagine. So, if you’re one for flare, this is an added bonus to going with ceramic.
Recommended Ceramic Guitar Slides
- Star Singer Desert Slide – Polished with cool stone design, any size
- Dunlop 258 Joe Perry “Boneyard” – Worn by the man, himself.
- Dunlop 263 Mudslide – Thick, black porcelain
Give Slides a Chance and Stick With It
Picking the best guitar slide is only the first step to playing slide guitar; slide guitar is a whole new way of playing. It takes practice, and some let it go once they realize that this is the case.
I guarantee that if you pick out the right guitar slide, even if it takes a couple of tries, and if you put your mind to it, you will get better and you will find yourself reaching for your slide more and more.
If you’re looking for tips to improve your slide playing, I highly recommend this video by guitarists Rhett Shull, where he gives you his top 5 tips for improving your slide playing.
Funny enough, the first tip is “Picking the Right Slide”.
Don’t let picking the wrong slide discourage you from learning how to play slide guitar. Slides are cheap, so go buy a few and try them out. Swap with your guitar friends and see what kind each of you prefer. Or start your own collection and enjoy all of the slide types for what they offer. You can think of your guitar slides as tools in your tool box. You never know when you will need to use them to get a particular job done.
I hope that this article has been helpful in showing you all the different kinds of guitar slides that are available to you, no matter what genre of music you play. Whether you prefer acoustic guitars, electric guitars, dobro, you play heavy blues or light Hawaiian tunes, there is a slide that will fit your hands.
- Best Guitar Slide Options & How To Pick The Right One (Glass, Metal, Ceramic)
- Best Guitar Stand Options – How To Choose The Right One
- How To Choose The Best Guitar Pick For Your Playing Style
- Best Guitar Cases: How To Choose The Right One For Your Needs
- When To Change Your Guitar Strings & Why You Should
Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.