Slide Guitar

There are a few a few lessons in the slide directory but none of them really tell a beginner how to play slide. The basics of slide guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
Slide Guitar
When I started playing slide I had a hard time 'cause I could never find someone to how me the basics. There are a few a few lessons in the slide directory but none of them really tell a beginner how to play slide. I'm hoping that this lesson will give you that and get you started on a great part of guitar playing.

Before You Start

1. Your Slide

There are two main types of slide -- glass and metal. Glass gives you a warmer tone than metal and is lighter, however it can break if it is dropped. Metal has a brighter tone than glass and is heavier, but is practically indestructible. Keep in mind that there are different types of metals used for slides and each type will give a different tone. As well, the thickness of the sides of the slide affects your tone -- thicker sides give you a bigger tone and vice versa. There are also various lengths of slides and different diameters for the inside. Yes, there are many variables but slides aren't very expensive (generally they range from about $5-$25) and you should just experiment with different kinds until you find what you like. Also don't rule out different materials like ceramic, plastic, or bone -- I just have only used glass and metal and don't want to write about something I don't know much about (if anyone cares I'm currently using a medium length Dunlop glass slide with thick sides).

2. Your Guitar

Got a guitar with crappy intonation and strings a mile off the fretboard? Or a few bum frets? No problem! This guitar will work fine for slide because you don't really use the fretboard for slide (unless of you'r fretting notes behind the slide -- more on that later). In fact a great use for a guitar that is hard to play normally is to make it a designated slide guitar. Just watch out for crappy tuners if you're gonna be using a bunch of different tunings. This works fine if you just want to dabble in slide but if you're gonna be playing it seriously you should get a good guitar to set up just for slide.

3. Your Set-Up

You will have a much easier time playing slide if your guitar is set up properly. Because you don't want your slide to touch the frets you want heavy strings (12s or 13s) and high action. However if your gonna fret notes behind the slide (more on that later) you don't want too high action and heavy strings make it hard to play normally. I play a Fender Telecaster with '10s and medium high action. If I had another guitar I'd probably put on heavier strings and raise the action a bit. However I don't have too much trouble on what I have as long as I don't tune down (i.e. put it in open G or D or a tuning where some of the strings have their pitch lowered) because that will give me less to support the slide.

4. Tuning

Slide can be played in just about any tuning. Open D (low-to-high D, A, D, F#, A, D); G (D, G, B, G, B, D); A (open G up a whole step) and E (open D up a whole step) are common but you can even play in standard. Personally I recommend using open E which has been used by such legends as Sonny Landreth and Duane Allman, but it is important to know a variety of tunings and when to use them.

5. PickingĀ 

You can use a pick for slide but I'd recommend trying fingerpicking either with your bare fingers or using fingerpicks. Not only does this give you more tonal options but it also allows you to mute with your fingers (more on that later).

6. ToneĀ 

I don't want to talk about this too much because I know that tone is subjective but something I'd recommend is having your tone all the way down (the least trebly possible). The reason for this is that slides normally will brighten up your tone and if you have your tone high up you'll get a really bright screechy tone. With your tone down you can get a really nice warm tone. I want to stress that this is just something that works for me and there is no reason why you'd need to do it. However, if you're having trouble with your tone I'd recommend you give it a try. Another thing, don't overdo it on the distortion.

Now you're ready to start playing!

Getting Started

To get started put your slide on a finger. You can use whatever finger you find comfortable but I would recommend using your third or fourth and not using your first as this does not allow you to use a fret hand finger for muting. I find that the third finger gives me more control and better intonation but it doesn't allow me full use of my other fingers, which the fourth finger does. Use whatever is comfortable but I recommend using your pinky as it gives you much more freedom. When you play slide you just lightly touch the strings. Do not press down. You do not want to touch the frets or fingerboard.

Proper Intonation

One of the most painful things in the world is bad slide playing. Most of this is due to bad intonation (meaning not having your notes in tune). The thing to remember about intonation is play right over the fret. This is the single most important part of playing slide. The only way to improve your intonation is lok at where your playing and listen to whether or not your notes are in tune.


Without plucking any strings rub your slide against the strings. You'll hear some strings sounding. You need to stop these strings from ringing out when you play. This is where muting comes in. There are two ways to do this and you should use a combination of both. Drag a left hand finger behind the slide. With your picking hand palm cover any bass strings that you're not playing (for maximum muting use a thumpick or your thumb and use your fingers to mute strings)


Vibrato with a slide is very easy. Pretty much what you do is quickly shake the slide ever so slightly over the note (i.e. move it slightly up the fretboard and slightly down the fretboard very rapidly). This will slightly raise and lower the pitch. There is really no way to say how much you want to modulate the pitch, just experiment 'till you get what you like. Many players have an almost constant vibrato as it can help cover up less than perfect intonation and it sounds good.

Advanced Techniques

Here are some more advanced techniques which you should attempt once you have the basics down:

01. Escape Notes

Start by having your finger resting on the string behind the slide. Quickly slide up to a note and as soon as you reach that note pull up the slide. Your finger will prevent the note from ringing after you remove the slide. You should hear a very short, staccato note.

02. Grace Notes

Grace notes on slide are very similar to what you do when you play standard. Basically what it is is you play one note and then very quickly play another note. The first note should not take up any time. You can do this through slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, or bends when playing standard. With a slide this is only done throught slides. basically what you do is start above or below your desired note and quickly slide into it. Not much to it.

03. Fretting Behind The Slide

This technique was pioneered by slide virtuoso Sonny Landreth (though I believe it was done before he was even born by delta blues guys like Robert Johnson). It's pretty self explanatory: when you have your slide down fret a note below the slide. The string will go down and (hopefully) will not be touched by the slide. For this to work you have to make sure that the slide does not touch the string. You can fret behind the slide with the slide on your finger but I'd definitely recommend having it on your pinky if you're gonna be using this technique a lot. The advantage to doing this is it gives you more complex tones (by mixing fretted and non-fretted notes) and just gives you more freedom (for example it allows you to play a minor chord in a major tuning.

04. Microtones

Another great thing about slide is that you aren't limited to just playing the notes available in standard playing (A, C, E flat, F sharp etc). You can play the 'notes inside of notes' called microtones. To do this you simply place your slide in between two frets instead of right over one. However, don't think that you can get away with crappy intonation by just saying that you're using microtones.

05. Going Beyond The Fretboard

Yet another great thing about slide guitar (there are just so many!! ) is that you don't need frets. That means that you can play beyond the fretboard for extra high notes. When you're doing this you have to be extra carful about your intonation because you have nothing to show you if you are in the right place. Another thing to remember is that you can't go beyond your pickup. So, if you're on your neck pup and you slide is in between the bridge and neck pup's and you're not hearing anything you'll know why. That is why I stay on my bridge pup while playing slide.

06. Behind The Slide Harmonics

Here's a really cool thing you can do. What you do is pluck the strings behind the slide and you'll get a really unusual sound. It's kinda hard to describe. This works best at the 12th fret but also works at the 5th and 7th frets.

Essential Listening.
Playing slide (like all music) is all about listening. You can practice 10 hours a day for 20 years but if you don't listen to what others are doing you won't gert anywhere.

Here are some of my favourite slide albums and songs (which have great slide playing but are on an album which doesn't have much other slide playing) as well as others which I may not have heard yet but have been highly recommended and which I will be picking up eventually.

  • The Allman Brother Band - Live At The Fillmore East (if you get any CD on this list this is the one to get. The original version is good but you should get the 2003 remaster as it contains several more slide tracks than the original).
  • Sonny Landreth - South of I - 10
  • Ry Cooder - Boomers Story (this is my favourite of his stuff but any Ry Cooder will be amazing including the Crossroads soundtrack and his work on the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers).
  • Eric Sardinas - Black Pearls
  • The Allman Brothers Band - Hittin' The Note (this is a recent album with Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes on guitar).
  • Derek Trucks - Derek Trucks
  • Fleetwood Mac - Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (this is their first album back when they were a blues band and is not to be confused with the Stevie Nick/Lindsay Buckingham era crap).
  • Johnny Winter - Second Winter
  • Derek And The Dominos - Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs
  • Muddy Waters - His Best 1947 To 1955
  • Elmore James - The Sky Is Crying: The History Of Elmore James
  • Son House - The Original Delta Blues
  • Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings
  • Charlie Patton - The Best Of
  • Irish Tour - Rory Gallagher

  • Joe Walsh - Rocky Mountain Way
  • Led Zeppelin - You Shook Me, In My Time Of Dying

    I hope this has helped you get off to a good start playing slide. To continue your learning listen to some of the albums and songs mentioned on the previous section, learn some songs with slide playing, and check out some books on it or guitar magazines.

106 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Dude, Bad to the Bone is a George Thorogood(sp?)song. And how could you not mention Freebird or Tuesday's Gone by Lynyrd Skynyrd?
    george harrison has some amazing slide in all his solo stuff
    I'm relieved someone has said this - he was beyond comparison as far as his slide playing went. Although the slide on My Sweet Lord is the most well-known, there are many other superb examples, such as Give Me Love and others from the Living In The Material World album. All his slide playing was flawless and inspired and in my opinion he was the greatest exponent.
    awesome, I've never been able to play slide guitar and sound good, hopefully this will help. thanks
    Don't forget about Jack White, and Xavier Rudd. But thanks for that article. I'm really interested in fretting behind the slide...its proven to be a hard skill to fully master.
    Check out the guitar solo on THE WHITE STRIPES song I want to be the boy warm your mothers heart
    you know, another hero of slide Guitar is Jack White of the White Stripes. Check out his cover of death letter(especially live versions, man. mother of god), or his songs, Like 7 Nation Army, Red Rain, and Little Bird.
    jack white! watch under blackpool lights dvd, you'll see some great slide playing!
    Interesting stuff. I will probly look at the things you listed. Would help if you put some examples on here.
    gtrfrek wrote: whicked new tricks thanx, i would suggest "four walls of raiford" as a good slide song,a little mellow but has some good little riffs in it.
    Bleu Edmondson Has a pretty good cover of 4 walls of raiford that has a ton of good slide work in it
    Great stuff... I bought my first slide today and although it sounds horrible at times I will keep on trying because it is the most fun I've had in ages
    Paragrahp 1...
    -- thicker sides give you a bigger tone and vice versa
    What do you mean with "bigger"?
    Fallen Syn
    Wow this is good for me cause I just got a slide yesterday so now there are more songs for me to check out thanks (also another song that makes heavy use of the slide is In My Time Of Dying by Led Zeppelin really cool tune)
    i think the one thing you fail to point out is how daunting it is to start playing with this technique. i'm sure many (myself included) excitedly purchased a slide with the aim of being the next Sonny Landreth or Duane Allman and upon the first attempt decided it was just too damn difficult! it probably feels as alien as picking up a guitar for the first - it is a complete rethink of the techniques we already know and we are essentially teaching ourselves a whole new cache of physical movements and actions which can at first be extremely tough. so the only thing i would add to what you have said already is to remember PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. focus on muting the strings with your fret-hand's spare fingers and playing a very simple phrase. if you are not in an open tuning you can play a simple slide lick by placing the slide at 10th fret (A note) of the B string and sliding this up to the 12th fret (B note). once you are comfortable playing this simple phrase, try adding an extra note, perhaps the 15th or 16th frets of the B string (the minor and major 3rds of the scale respectively). the real joy comes when you start using these major/minor thirds - sliding up to or down to these notes should give a real blues sound. to sum up, it is important (as when you first picked up guitar) to really practice the physical side of things before the real fun starts!
    Thanks for the great lesson. I got a dunlop glass slide about a year ago, but really have only fooled around with it a few time's as I dint know how to do much more productive works with it. Also does anyone know where I could get backup/lead slide parts tabbed? Thanks!
    great i just started to play slide this is a very good helper more please if you can find the time much thanks skydog56
    Great lesson, really helpful. Has no one mentioned the intro to Invincible by Muse yet? Easy, and I love it!
    Nobody here likes Scar Tissue by the Chili Peppers? Thats a very easy song to learn how to slide. Went and bought a slide just to learn that song. Took about 15 minutes to get it down pat. Awesome lesson!
    real good lesson dropkick, keep it up ! thanks for mentioning rory gallagher cos hes the best,go to `YouTube`and watch `too much alcahol music with meat on the bones!!!!! Also,great tip about intonation, it makes a big difference to get it right.
    so when you play a fret behind the slide it wont have the tone of a slide
    I just started playin some slide and its so fun I use a cheap glass slide and a zippo and a bic lighter also made a few slides out beer bottles super fun
    This was a great lesson to learn from. This is something that I have not tried, or tried very little. I do have a slide but I havn't pursued it. One trivial thing I noticed and I'm sure you all know this anyway. In the recommendations of albums and artists to listen too for this type of playing, Derek and the Dominos was listed. The one fact that wasn't listed along with this was that on that album Duane Allman was also playing with Eric Clapton so I'm sure he was the one doing all the slide playing. Just a little FYI that I'm sure you all know. Smiledoc
    Bright Eyes has some great slide sections that there backing guitarist plays. Does anyone know any of there tabs?
    I'd also mention for example [b]High Hopes by [b]Pink Floyd as an example of slide guitar usage (and I'd recomment watching it live). Because there you can see a somewhat [i]different usage, while usually it is part of the [i]rhythm guitar or [i]shredding, in this song it is a [b]solo (and the guitar is on Gilmour's [i]lap). Just for further inspiration.
    Very good instructions but why no mention of George Harrison? whose slide technique was flawless and inspired. The two that spring to mind are: My Sweet Lord - surely the most well-known slide playing on record of all time and Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth). No one has come close to the beauty and precision of those.
    Rod Price, original lead and slide player for Foghat ,I think is very underated, He does some great stuff with a slide. (Third Time Lucky, Stone Blue, Driving Wheel, Slow Ride, Sweet Home Chicago, It Hurts me too off of Foghat Road Cases CD.) RIP rod, and Lonesome Dave
    Death Letter live in LA. Look it up. (White Stripes, in case you didn't know)
    love the song example Derek Trucks - Derek Trucks haha just all his stuff is so mindblowing, no one song
    theres also quite a bit of awesome classic rock tunes with a little blues style by cinderella,like bad seamstress blues:fallin apart at the seams,the more things change,shelter me,heartbreak station (mostly the solo),and alot more
    Great article. After playing for 10+ years I finally just got around to learning some slide, and it's some of the most fun I've had playing in a long time. I also completely coincidentally just took up harmonica. Sex!!!
    This piece of slide guitar blew me away. Its roy rogers, playing blues on a 12 string. Amazing stuff.
    luther dickinson of the black crowes (and of the north mississippi all stars) is THE modern day master of slide guitar.check out his work on the black crowes: warpaint,before the frost/untill the freeze,and croweology. all of these albums are filled with fantastic slide playing from him and rich robinson the bands other guitarist.
    cortez0 wrote: I just love Walkin' blues! slide guitar and a harmonica= sex
    No, slide guitar and a harmonica = sex for your ears Great lesson man, keep it up Examples would be helpful.
    Lowell George of Little Feat; unbelievable slide technician. look into it kiddies.
    ngls wrote: Paragrahp 1... -- thicker sides give you a bigger tone and vice versa What do you mean with "bigger"?
    Kinda... chunkier. You can tell the difference when you hear it, but it's hard to explain.
    I bought a slide 5 months ago, I didn't like how my play was sounding'cause I wasn't muting the other strings, actually, I'll kick ass now on....
    another song that has some slide guitar in it is pink floyd - high hopes. but the recent live version by david gilmour sounds good on the slide solo. lan3y
    well i,ve got my slide and im ready to go..great info you did on it..going to start with that easy one freebird..