Now, I’ve been attempting to learn slide guitar for about 15 years and each time I’ve given up after about an hour. Well, this past Saturday, I was watching some TV and noodling around my tele with a glass slide because I had recently done a gig with a good friend who’s a monster lapsteel player. He sounded so good that I was inspired to try to slide yet again. After about 20 minutes, I sort of zoned out and let my mind drift while still moving the slide around the fretboard. Suddenly, I realized I was playing Amazing Grace perfectly in tune. Whoa, I tried to figure out what I was doing differently and I couldn’t play in tune anymore. Wtf????
Slide guitar isn’t really like playing guitar, it’s more like singing. You have to listen and let your brain naturally adjust the slide movement to the correct pitch the same as when you use your vocal chords. You don’t physically aim for the notes like pressing your fingertip on a string at a particular fret. When you sing the notes are constantly being adjusted to correct the fluctuations in pitch like an airplane maintaining a level flight. As long as I keep my hand relaxed and my focus on singing I can play pretty decent slide guitar. I messed around with some different tunings and figured out a bunch of pedal steel type licks. It’s so much fun to play slide and I’m having a ball navigating all the songs I already know but on slide.
Standard tuning (EADGBE) doesn’t really lend itself to slide playing unless maybe you are sliding in 4ths, (using the 1st and 2nd strings), or maybe in thirds (using the 2nd and 3rd string). You can also use the 4th, 3rd and 2nd string to slide major chords up and down the neck. But for single string slide playing, practice angling the slide so that it doesn’t brush against the other strings that you don’t want sounded. You might have to also use your right hand to mute those unwanted strings too. It can be done, but it takes practice to get it to sound good.
For slide, you would want to raise your “action” a bit (at the bridge and nutt) and use heavier gauged strings, but again, try to allow for fretting notes also. If you don’t intend on playing both with slide and fretting with fingers within one song, and you can afford to, set up two guitars: one easier for fingering (and bending) and a bit stiffer (heavier gauged strings and raised action) for slide.
Many guitarists like brass slides for acoustic guitars and glass or chromed slides for electric. Some swear by ceramic slide. Taylor guitars just released slides made of ebony. I also like my aluminum slide sold by Fender (the red one above).
Brass, aluminum, and some porcelain slides have slighty rougher surfaces that kind of grab the strings, causing them to sound a little as you slide against them. Some porcelain slides might have a rougher, unfinished side just for this reason. The black slide with a red rim is one of those.
The ebony slide is very interesting. I want to say it imparts a warmer tone, but that may be wishful thinking on my part. Violins, violas, cellos, and the double bass have ebony fret boards with no frets, so this material makes sense as a slide. It’s a very hard lightweight slide with a slight tooth to it.
Depends on a few factors. What tuning are you using? How heavy is your attack? What sound are you going for? It’s not uncommon for slide guitarists to use heavier strings especially when playing with opening tunings you have to down tune for.
Most people first start from a lower (or no) volume and then bring it up after the attack of the note(s) . This is usually accomplished by manipulating the guitar’s volume knob, usually with the pinky finger or by using an in-line volume pedal between the guitar and the amp (my own preference). Usually, enough volume without picking can be achieved just by applying and sliding the slide on the guitar strings, so a subtle fade-in effect can be accomplished by that means, but it would be very subtle and probably should be used only in recording or when no one else is playing. Incidentally, the technique of eliminating the attack is also often used to simulate a “backwards” effect, since with any passage that has been reversed by any conventional means (flipping the tape; reversing a sample; etc.), the notes’ attack is at the end of the passage – therefore, by masking the attack through using a volume rise after the attack is going to be more like a backwards passage. Usually, this technique is enhanced by adding a touch of flanging and/or phasing, as well as altering ine’s playing style (all upwards bends in a passage that’s reversed become downwards bends, so this can also by accomplished by means of playing style).
But if you’re tuning up to open E or open A, you may not need heavier strings. I play a lot of slide. I find anything lighter then 10 gauge to be problematic. You can totally do 10 guage unless you’re tuning down to open C in which you might need 11’s or 12’s.
You may also look into raising the action on your guitar a little as well. It helps the playability with a slide. The higher the action, the easier it is to play slide.