Slide guitar can be something that we all aspire to be great at. Slides are effectively a cylindrical hollow pipe, used to slide along the strings creating a very different expressive tone that isn’t easily achieved through normal fretting.
In the past old bluesmen would have taken the tops off of a bottle of wine, or used old medicine bottles. Jimi Hendrix had been known to use a beer bottle or lighter as a makeshift slide. Whilst these certainly worked to an extent, fortunately enough we don’t have to make do with such improvisation today as there are hundreds of slides on offer that come in a whole host of shapes and dimensions and are made from a wide range of materials too.
Because a slide is essentially something you wear, the one you choose will depend on the individual player themselves and what sound they may be trying to achieve.…what may work for one player may not suit the next player and vice versa. Here’s a breakdown of some of the different elements you may wish to consider when choosing which slide is the best for you;
Slides are made in various lengths to suit different playing needs. Some players want a slide that will cover all six strings at once whilst other players may only want to play a few strings at a time so won’t necessarily need something as long. A full-length slide will usually measure approximately 70mm in length and be enough to cover all six strings. The smallest slide we supply is the Jim Dunlop Shy Slide and knuckle slide and both come in measuring at approximately 25mm in length and there are a whole host of lengths available in between these two measurements.
The size of the slide you choose will certainly depend on the size of your fingers and exactly which finger you are choosing to place the slide on (some players wear a slide on the middle finger, some on the ring finger and some on the pinky).
A slide that may be perfect for use on your ring finger may not be ideal for your middle finger due to the difference in sizing of your digits. When considering a size it’s also advised getting something with a little bit of extra room in there. In the heat of the moment, your fingers will tend to sweat, heat up and expand. If your slide is pretty tight before you even start playing, chances are it’s going to prove a bit of a task to get the slide off when you’ve finished. Likewise, you don’t want to choose a slide that is too large as it will tend move around excessively on your finger. A slide that’s too loose will almost certainly hinder your technique and control you have over the slide and in turn the tone you are able to achieve.
Jim Dunlop offer a large range of slides all in varying sizes. The sizing of a slide is measured by inside diameter and outside diameter. Jim Dunlop also offer their inside diameter measurements by ring size too.
The inside diameter measurement of a slide refers to the main hole in the slide where your finger will fit through.
The outside diameter measurement of a slide incorporates the entire slide, not just the area where your finger goes. In other words it takes account of the thickness of the slide from one outside edge right across to the other.
For instance 2 slides may both have an inside diameter of 20mm but one may have a larger outside diameter meaning the material is thicker.
A slide can come in various materials. The most common are glass (sometimes pyrex), brass, chrome, stainless steel and porcelain.
Each material has it’s own tonal characteristics. One is neither ‘better’ than the other, but will certainly offer a different sound depending on what you are trying to achieve.
Some may scrape a bit more brittle, some smoother sound when travelling across the strings
Below is a general outline of the typical tonal response you can expect from each type of material;
Glass – Clean, Smooth Warm tone. Light in weight so not as much sustain
Steel - Used on electric – brighter tone, heavier than glass more sustain
Chrome –.Bright Tone, Versatile sound
Brass – Warm and Resonant tone, tend to be heavier
Aluminium – Light, smooth
Porcelain – Brighter than Glass but warmer than brass. Thicker walls better sustain, less scrapey
The overall weight of the slide will be highly dependent on what it is made from. Obviously the larger the slide the heavier the slide will tend to be, but also the material of the slide will be highly influential on the weight, for instance the same sized slide will be heavier in brass than it will be in glass. This is just something to bear in mind too as the weight of a slide will have an effect on how easy it is to control. For instance, a really weighty slide will be easier to control on your middle finger than it will on your little finger.
A heavy slide will also produce a greater depth of tone and longer sustain. Much like strings, there is a bit of a trade off here. A heavier slide will give you better sustain but (especially to begin with) will feel a little more difficult to control.
Unique Features and Signature Slides
Not content with the standard cylindrical pipe, many manufacturers have developed unique shapes, sizes and features to make their slides more versatile in their use and comfort.
There are a whole host of virtuoso slide players out there from Derek Trucks, Sonny Landreth, The Landreth Brothers (no relation), Keb Mo and Joe Perry. Many of these players have their own signature slide by various manufacturers and each slide has it's own unique size and shape characteristics.
The Rock Slide is a great example of this. The inside of these slides taper towards the top creating a nice snug feel on the finger and helps prevent them from moving about too much. It also has a nice cutaway around the bottom of the slide so that you are able to bend your finger without it getting caught on the bottom. In addition the slides also have a nice little flat point on the side to rest your adjacent finger for added comfort.
The Jim Dunlop Shy Slide is another innovation that is pretty unique. This diminutive slide attaches to your finger using a velcro strap and doesn't tend to get in the way as much as a full sized slide would allowing you to play fretted notes whilst being able to use your slide at the same time.