SLIDE GUITAR BASICS
Today slides come in all sorts of exotic shapes and sizes – some even rather suggestive. One’s choice of slide is a bit of a personal decision. However, here are some tips for what kind of slide might best suit your needs. Keep in mind that you will probably want to buy a small assortment of slides to experiment with.
You can choose from metal/brass, glass or ceramic slides – there might be other materials out there but these are the best. Glass tends to be a little smoother than metal but some people say metal is louder. I like the sound of brass, but unless the brass stays polished it has a tendency to get a little ‘sticky.’ These days I prefer ceramic, it seems to combine the best qualities of both metal and glass; it slides better on the string with a consistent pressure. The metal slides are thinner and therefore a bit easier to direct and get accuracy directly over the fret. If you go for glass I recommend a thicker glass to the thinner variety: thinner glass slides have a tendency to sound thin. You can also use household objects such as a socket from a socket wrench set or the cut-off top of a wine bottle (a blues classic!)
Placement: Most players place the slide on their pinky; this gives you the most flexibility, allowing the other fingers freedom to fret other strings and make chords. There are, of course, many players (some of them presented in this book) who place the slide on their ring, middle or even their index finger! The slide should fit snuggly and you can compensate for a loose fitting slide by stuffing some foam or candle wax into it.
As your slide touches the string keep in mind that you don’t need to apply too much pressure to the string: it’s more important to keep consistent pressure as you slide from note to note. The slide should only cover the string(s) that you are playing slide notes on. For instance, if you are playing notes on the high E-string you should only cover that one string with the slide. A lot of slide playing occurs on the high E-string, and here are a couple points for getting good sound. First, you are covering just the E-string with your slide. As you move from note to note keep consistent pressure on the string. Finally, tilt the slide slightly away from you and the fretboard; thus avoid hitting other strings and nasty overtones.
A critical aspect of slide playing is string dampening, which can be achieved with both hands. There are times when you want string noise and overtones and there are times when you don’t want it. These tips are for those times when you don’t want it. First, as you drag the slide across the strings use one or more of the fingers of your left hand to touch and drag along that string with the slide. I use my index finger, which results in a slight ‘cupping’ of my hand. This technique will rid you of some unsound string overtones. The cupping of the hand also tends to consolidate your hand, making it feel as if it is one appendage moving rather than five independent digits. Also, in conjunction with your thumb planted behind the neck it helps you to get more of a ‘swirling’ rotation of your wrist as you move from note to note.
You can also use the palm of your right hand (forgive me, lefties!) to dampen notes. I often rest the palm of my right hand on the bass strings if I am playing slide notes on the higher strings. After I play the note on, for instance, the G-string and slide, then move to the B-string, my palm would descend to the G-string to deaden that string.