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Whether you just want to experiment for a few licks, or want to base your entire playing style around it, the guitar slide is a very cool and unique tool.
It’s also a relatively simple tool, and while picking out the best guitar slide slide for you isn’t rocket science, there are some factors to consider, namely the size of the slide and the material it’s made of (since it affects the sound).
Slide Guitar 101: The Basics
If you’ve found your way to this article, chances are you know about slide guitar, so feel free to skip this part. Here are some slide guitar basics for the uninitiated:
The technique of playing guitar with a slide has been around for a long time, since the early 1900s.
There are 2 styles of slide guitar: One is on a stringed instrument that lays horizontally with the strings facing up like a lap steel guitar. The other is placing a little tube-like device (i.e. the slide) on your finger and playing a guitar in the more traditional style, held against your body. That’s the style we’re focusing on in this guide.
Slide guitar is most popular in country-style and blues-style music. Once you buy your preferred slide, you place it on your finger - typically ring or pinky - and “drag” the slide over the strings lightly, keeping the slide parallel with the strings and not actually hitting the frets which results in a very smooth sound when gliding from one pitch to the next.
How to Choose Your Guitar Slide
Let’s keep it simple and break this down into the 3 things you need to know before adding a slide to your shopping cart:
Guitar slides are made from:
Glass: A smooth texture that provides the warmest, mellowest tone. Keep in mind glass slides are more fragile!
Metal: Typically brass or steel. Metal slides are sturdier and more durable than glass, and the sound is a little louder and more “rough around the edges” in a good way.
Ceramic: A middle ground between the way glass and metal slides sound.
Since your finger is inserted in the slide, it needs to be comfortable and not squeeze so tight that your circulation is cut off!
Since everyone's fingers are slightly different this might require some experimentation. If the slide is too large you can always place some kind of a lining inside to keep it from flying off your finger.
3. Dunlop (probably)
Dunlop is the market leader when it comes to making the most variety of slides. They make them in all sorts of materials and sizes, so if you notice the majority of the list is Dunlop slides, it’s not because we have any kind of special relationship with them - they simply make the most.
Here are the best guitar slides around, grouped by material:
The Best Glass Guitar Slides
Dunlop DT01 Derek Trucks Signature Blues Bottle Slide
If you’re into slide guitar you should definitely be familiar with Derek Trucks (of The Derek Trucks Band, The Allman Brothers Band, and Tedeschi Trucks Band). Well, this is his signature slide by Dunlop.
It’s a “glass medicine bottle” style, very very smooth, and sounds great. Functionally it’s extremely similar to the Dunlop 276 Blues Bottle slide, but it has the bonus of featuring Dereck Trucks’ signature.
The only things to keep in mind are 1) it only comes in a large size and 2) you won’t automatically sound like Derek Trucks!
The Dunlop 210 is simply a good glass slide. It’s Dunlop’s base model, and is available in a variety of sizes and wall thicknesses (medium, heavy, and regular). The 210 model is medium size and medium thickness. It’s sturdy, and sounds good.
Ernie Ball is a very trusted name when it comes to strings and guitar accessories, so it's no surprise they make a great glass slide. It’s durable Pyrex glass, and comes in 3 sizes, small, medium and large.
The Shubb Axys Reversible Slide is a very ingenious design, because it allows you to play normally while wearing the slide (due to one half of it being open), then when you want to play with the slide you simply rotate it on your finger. It also comes with 3 sizes of inserts so you can experiment based on the size of your fingers.
Rotating the slide only takes a second, but you might have to use your other hand to help you which means taking it off the neck of your guitar for a moment. It’s not the cheapest slide around, but it’s an indispensable tool if you frequently go back and forth between slide and regular fretting.
Available in both medium (Dunlop 243) and large (Dunlop 246) sizes, this slide is ideal if you’re looking for a nice mellow tone (somewhere between glass and metal). The interior has a rougher texture which is porous, meaning it’ll absorb moisture and stay situated on your finger.