Five Reasons You Suck at Slide Guitar

Have you ever bought a guitar slide and had intentions of ripping new leads with it, only to discover when you get home that it’s damn near impossible to use? 

I’ve been there, too. 

Playing slide guitar takes a little dedication in practice, but also in the way you set up your gear, too. 

Here’s a quick rundown of five roadblocks that might be keeping you from sliding: 


1. You suck because your guitar is in standard tuning. This is the biggest killer of new slide players. Don’t try to play slide in standard tuning. The old blues guys played in open tunings which allowed the slide to become a moveable chord up and down the neck.  As a starter, re-tune your guitar to open D (D A D F# A D) and rake that slide up to the 12th fret like Elmore James! 

2. You suck because your strings are too light, and the action is too low. Slide guitar is different than shred guitar. If you want to grind out some deep grooves with that new slide on your finger, get some heavier strings on your guitar that will maintain pressure as you slide. (My electric guitars are strung with .012 sets with wound G strings.) Also, raising your action keeps your slide from clacking on the frets. 

3. You suck because your non-slide friends told you to study Sonny Landreth and Derek Trucks.That’s like learning to drive a car using your rich uncle’s Lamborghini! Sonny and Derek are amazing players, but they’re the top-level masters. Start where they started, with the foundational slide heroes. Fill your playlist with Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and even some George Thorogood.  Don’t let non-slide friends tell you how to play slide.

Wait… skipped over those last sentences.  Listen to George freakin’ Thorogood!  Anything that Lonesome George plays on slide is perfect stuff to learn.  He frequently downplays his playing because it’s so basic. But that’s why it’s so fantastic for new slide players.  George freakin’ Thorogood has inspired thousands and thousands of new slide players.  If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be playing slide guitar.

4. You suck because you’re putting the slide on an uncomfortable finger. So which finger is correct for slide? The answer is, there is no correct finger! If the slide feels comfortable on your pinkie, then that’s where you should wear it. I use my ring finger. Bonnie Raitt puts her wine bottleneck slide on her middle finger. Australian slide wizard Dave Hole uses his index finger and plays with his hand over the top of the neck!  If it feels good on a certain finger, then go with it.  There is no fashion in slide guitar.   …continued below

5. You suck because your slide doesn’t fit right. This one has a simple solution: Collect more slides! I now have more than 50 guitar slides, from generic slides sold in guitar stores to hand-cut wine bottlenecks, spark-plug sockets (they make awesome slides!), medicine bottles found at flea markets and even strange contraptions like The Edge Slide, which mimics Blind Willie Johnson’s pocketknife. 

One extra suggestion: Get a dedicated slide guitar. Heavy-gauge strings and higher action might not be the best thing for your main axe. Instead, find the cheapest, gnarliest guitar and convert it to slide. Hound Dog Taylor played the shittiest, cheapo Japanese guitars through old Silvertone amps with blown speakers, and it was the greatest sound ever. For some reason, slide guitar sounds fantastic when played on junky guitars. Old electrics such as Silvertone, Teisco, Harmony and other off-name brands from the Sixties are prime axes. But your kid brother’s abandoned First Act electric guitar will work, too. 

Good luck! I’ll leave you with the late, great Hound Dog Taylor—all 12 fingers of 'im. Turn it up!



4 comments

  • Tom Temple
    Tom Temple
    Thanks for the slide article. You hit five very good points. A dedicated slide guitar, preferably fretless makes a big difference. I found, after several years of trying different things, that a nice three-stringer with no frets and a good humbucker and tone-volume circuit makes and excellent slide guitar that is easy to learn and can kick out some great leads. Tuned to a simple 1-5-1 tuning and it sounds great and the middle and bottom strings play well together. Number six might be: You suck at slide because you haven't learned how to dampen stings with both your right and left hands. Letting strings just ring away usually just sounds muddy. Striking one or more strings during a slide move then immediately damping the stings creates a crisp clear sound. Listen to pro slide player and you'll notice this. Number seven might be: You suck at slide guitar because you haven't downloaded any good guitar backing tracks in the correct key. There are hundreds if not thousands of great backing tracks free online. Using a track of a song you already know gives your slide work the backing it needs to make a slide lead really sound great. Number eight might be: You suck at slide guitar because you are thinking too much. I found that just relaxing (including hands and fingers) is a key to playing well. Don't fret (pun intended) too much and just enjoy what you are doing. Thanks again for the article. Hope you have fully recovered.

    Thanks for the slide article. You hit five very good points.

    A dedicated slide guitar, preferably fretless makes a big difference. I found, after several years of trying different things, that a nice three-stringer with no frets and a good humbucker and tone-volume circuit makes and excellent slide guitar that is easy to learn and can kick out some great leads. Tuned to a simple 1-5-1 tuning and it sounds great and the middle and bottom strings play well together.

    Number six might be: You suck at slide because you haven't learned how to dampen stings with both your right and left hands. Letting strings just ring away usually just sounds muddy. Striking one or more strings during a slide move then immediately damping the stings creates a crisp clear sound. Listen to pro slide player and you'll notice this.

    Number seven might be: You suck at slide guitar because you haven't downloaded any good guitar backing tracks in the correct key.
    There are hundreds if not thousands of great backing tracks free online. Using a track of a song you already know gives your slide work the backing it needs to make a slide lead really sound great.

    Number eight might be: You suck at slide guitar because you are thinking too much. I found that just relaxing (including hands and fingers) is a key to playing well. Don't fret (pun intended) too much and just enjoy what you are doing.

    Thanks again for the article. Hope you have fully recovered.

  • Vince Sbordone
    Vince Sbordone
    Excellent advice as I had 3 of the "YOU SUCKS" for my 3 string cigar open E. 1. Always on the ring finger, felt odd. Experimenting with pinky, middle and index. 2. Brought the action up a bit. Big difference in fret contact. More practice at a lighter touch will eliminate all the fret contact. 3. I have a slide that's too loose and inserted a piece of felt. Fit is good. I also play my 3 string on my lap with the slide between my thumb and first finger. That has a nice feel for me. Music - Elmore, Muddy, and all the OLD TIMERS. Thanks Vince.

    Excellent advice as I had 3 of the "YOU SUCKS" for my 3 string cigar open E.

    1. Always on the ring finger, felt odd. Experimenting with pinky, middle and index.
    2. Brought the action up a bit. Big difference in fret contact. More practice at a lighter touch will eliminate all the fret contact.
    3. I have a slide that's too loose and inserted a piece of felt. Fit is good.

    I also play my 3 string on my lap with the slide between my thumb and first finger. That has a nice feel for me.
    Music - Elmore, Muddy, and all the OLD TIMERS.

    Thanks
    Vince.

  • David Nyberg
    David Nyberg
    Some great points there and in the other comments. I always sucked at slide. I got very discouraged until I just decided to go for it. I still suck, but I don't care and I'm getting better. Like Vince, I found that 3-Strings on the lap made it much easier. I'm still looking for the "Right Slide" and I know I will find it. I think I'm up to 10 or so slides and a few tone bars from when I had a Pedal Steel. Thanks, Dave

    Some great points there and in the other comments. I always sucked at slide. I got very discouraged until I just decided to go for it. I still suck, but I don't care and I'm getting better. Like Vince, I found that 3-Strings on the lap made it much easier. I'm still looking for the "Right Slide" and I know I will find it. I think I'm up to 10 or so slides and a few tone bars from when I had a Pedal Steel.

    Thanks,
    Dave

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Five excellent- and inspiring- reasons. I’ve not played much six-string since discovering, then building, three-stringers, but I now realise that my 50-something year old Kay 100 with the totally knackered frets but a great scuzzy-sounding pickup would be ideal for the Hound Dog Taylor treatment. I’ve got some monstrously heavy strings and- of course- a bunch of great Stubby Slides (and a few longer ones), so that my weekend sorted! Oh, and thanks for the shout-out to George Thorogood- Delaware’s finest!

    Five excellent- and inspiring- reasons. I’ve not played much six-string since discovering, then building, three-stringers, but I now realise that my 50-something year old Kay 100 with the totally knackered frets but a great scuzzy-sounding pickup would be ideal for the Hound Dog Taylor treatment. I’ve got some monstrously heavy strings and- of course- a bunch of great Stubby Slides (and a few longer ones), so that my weekend sorted!

    Oh, and thanks for the shout-out to George Thorogood- Delaware’s finest!

Please or register to post.

Add comment