Bottleneck Slide. Part 1

Part one of a 2 part article explaining the techniques associated with bottleneck slide guitar playing.

Ultimate Guitar

Legend has it that a blues guitarist while boarding a train heard a local man playing a guitar in a strange voice-like, wailing manner. He noticed that the man was using the blunt end of a butter knife to fret the notes. The man boarded the train and took the technique with him and spread it around. Later the Coricidin medicine bottle became the standard for playing slide guitar, while some enterprising (yet impoverished) blues guitarists, broke the neck off of beer and wine bottles. Hence the term, bottleneck slide.

Since that time, slides have been made out of everything from chromed steel to glass to porcelain, and the technique has been moved from acoustic blues to southern rock and beyond.

The Basics

Before you can start playing slide guitar, you'll need a slide. Aside from all the new types you can get, (ceramic, half size, movable etc etc) there are two main types, glass and metal. As a basic rule of thumb, glass is mellow and smooth, metal is harsher or brighter. Glass is also generally not as heavy as metal, so it has less sustain, a quality which can be both good and bad. Also, its important to keep in mind that most electric guitars, need very little help in the way of achieving a harsh tone, so the increased sustain of electric combined with the inherent bite, make glass slides more at home on electrics, and brass or steel slides more at home on an acoustic.

In reality, however, you don't even need to decide between the two. Slides are extremely inexpensive, so go to your local guitar shop and try a few on, find a size that fits you and buy one of each (read the next paragraph before doing so). You can experiment to find your favorite sound when you get home.

The next step is to pick a finger. Put the slide on either your ring, or little finger. Which finger you use is a matter of preference, some like to use the little finger, because it leaves three fingers open for fretting notes behind the slide, others prefer (like me) to use the ring finger, because it offers a little more control. Try both, pick one, and make it a habit.

The third item on the list of things to know before you begin, is tuning. Although its true that you can play in whatever tuning you like, some work better than others. Most people use an open tuning, like Open E for example. Open E is basically tuning your guitar so that when you don't fret any notes, it plays an E major chord. You can achieve this buy tuning up the 4th and 5th strings 2 frets, and the third string 1 fret. Drop-D tuning, allows you to play the 5th and 6th strings as a power chord, and use the remaining strings in scale patterns that you already know for licks.

I, personally, usually play in standard tuning and avoid playing more than 2 strings at a time because its easiest for me to play remember scales in a tuning I know. If your really inventive you could even tune to a 9th chord, minor chord, or any other form you could think of.

So there you have it kids, a second article explaining the more advanced parts of bottleneck slide will be up shortly, so practice these ideas while your waiting.

41 comments sorted by best / new / date

    nirvanafuk23: bring on more...i wanna learn how to play slide...any one know any good slide songs that are a little simple? and to that question - Am I Wrong by Keb Mo - all it is is him singin and his guitar/nothin else- if u can d/l it or go out and buy his cd
    Right on, this is one area I've played around with a little. This could be a start of yet another "love thing" on the guitar. Thanks, and don't be making us wait too, too, long for part #2 eh?? cheers
    How do you make your own slide? I'm fed up with only being able to buy thin metal ones or insubstantial glass ones. I want to make one from a real bottle. Any tips? I saw an article once somewhere on how to make one but I cant find it again...
    i use a zippo cigarrette lighter. I just keep it in my pocket and whenever im gonna use it i take it out. It works pretty well.
    bring on more...i wanna learn how to play slide...any one know any good slide songs that are a little simple?
    Comments lsw444: How do you make your own slide? Well if u want a non-thin metal one then find an old socket from a toolbox that fits your finger...but a glass one will be a bit harder...if u have a glass cutter then you can just cut a neck off a wine bottle but if ur without one of those then follow these steps: first, decide how long u want ur slide and mark it off with a marker - then take some tape and wrap it around the bottle about an inch up from ur mark - take a hammer and break the big part of the bottle (dont bash the hell out of it) - now the neck should be brokin off right at the tape so take the hammer and slowly start chiping away at the glass till u get it 2 a good length - edges will b sharp so take a file and round them off and there u have it
    Brilliant! I made a solid metal slide out of the insert out of one of my inhalers. Pretty rustic but I love to slide.
    I play slide quite a bit, I use a Brass Slide for Acoustic and a Glass Slide for Electric. I do this because I find the glass causes less noticeable friction with the electric strings.
    Tom Martin
    You don't need to use either your ring or little finger. I use my second finger, and, hate to break it to you, but so does Steve Vai.
    tom, you could hold the slide in your hand if you wanted to, but the general consensus, is 3rd or fourth finger, for a number of very legitimate reasons. second article will be submitted tonight.
    i got a glass slide before and it smashed before i even got to play on an amp with it!!! Great article though
    good introduction, i'll be waiting for some more advanced techniques and ideas in the following series. i usually tune open E or G on my acoustic. when i first went down to my local music shop and asked about their slides, they gave me a deal because i have skinny fingers. if you are a kid that always brings around an acoustic with you and your friends, try some slide guitar and the new style will really blow everyone's mind.
    That's sweet, nice job. By the way, the man at the station was W.C. Handy, who said he thought it was the 'weirdest music i've ever heard in my life.' I ADORE the blues.
    I used to use the lid off a tube of lipstick for a slide, but it never really worked so I stopped trying.
    open g is low to high d g d g b d ... try a "buzzsaw" or modal g tuning low to high d g d g c d to get a ry cooder feel ..peace shao fu
    hey yall... any mention of bottle neck and youre a friend of mine... my personal fave is open g tuning... it just seems to work the best with my intuition... my coricidan glass just flat out sings... let your strings get a little dirty for that old sound... try playing in the corner of a room... about three feet to four feet to midrange load a mic... good ole rojo taught us that one... and whatever you do, do not play hellhound on my trail on halloween... itll scare the bejeezus out of ya... in fact... im bout to get down on some rojo right now... peace... shao fu
    i love playing slide and i cant wait til your next column my fav tunings are open G and open E my fav songs to play are little red rooster and no expectations by the stones, but i like to play slide over just about everything brian jones is my fav slide player, he was one of the first in england to do it and was a wild and wycked guy (i cant wait to see the movie) but playing old blues tunes by robert johnson, son house, leadbelly etc are so much fun
    thanks man, that wa a bit helpful, look forward to the next part tho coz i have difficulty playin with a bottleneck atm, maybe i jus need to prac or maybe i need to get a different size, i duno!!!
    sweet article. very basic, which is good. ive been thinkin bout tryin slide and inventing my own type sound wiht it, since i dont realy play blues.