The guitar slide has been with us for a long time, and it won't be going away anytime soon. Guitarists have been using slides to add soulful expression to their playing since around the time when the small body "blues box" or parlor guitar was the norm, and it has since been used on other guitars like regular acoustics, resonators, cigar box guitars and even electric guitars ever since.
From blues, to country, folk to world music, even rock and pop - all have benefited from a great slide lick or two, and as such the guitar slide is very much as relevant today as it was in the past. Here you will find some of the best guitar slides on the market, arranged into three groups based on their material to make it easy to find one that fits your playing style.
A Few Things to Consider About Slide Guitar:
Material and Wall Thickness
There are three popular types of guitar slides in the market today, glass, metal and ceramic. Glass and metal slides offer distinct feel and tone, glass being smooth and warm, while metal being rough and bright. Ceramic slides on the other hand serve as an intermediary for the two. In addition to knowing which type of material you prefer, you have to consider the right thickness. Thinner walled slides offer better control because your fingers are closer to the strings, however rigidity and durability can be an issue. Thicker walled slides are more durable but harder to control, note that the resulting sound tends to get warmer as the wall becomes thicker.
Since we all have different finger sizes, there really is no one-size-fits all solution when it comes to guitar slides. It is best to find one that fits your finger snuggly so you won't have to exert extra effort in keeping the slide in place. In case you can't find one, there are various workarounds like stuffing the interior of the slide with leather or rubber.
String Gauge and Setup
String height and mass are important considerations for playing slide guitar. While you can do slide work on a shred friendly low-action neck, the general rule is that slide works better on necks with fatter strings and high action. The specifics of the right setup can vary depending on your playing style, tuning and experience, but starting out with your regular action parlor guitar will do. The more you play slide and learn its intricacies, the more you'll understand what the right string gauge and setup is for you.
Here are The Best Guitar Slides:
Glass Guitar Slides
Glass slides offer a smoother playing feel, and produces a warmer and thicker tone that emphasizes the middle harmonics of your sound. It is the most commonly used slide taking after the bottle neck slides of old, without the sharp edges. The obvious downside is it can break when mishandled. See how Derek Trucks put the glass guitar slide to good use:
Derek Trucks Signature Slide
Manufacturer: Jim Dunlop | Price: Usually about $18
Derek Trucks is widely revered as a guitar slide virtuoso, and its amazing how he creates melodic lines with his improvised glass medicine bottle slide. Being at the forefront of producing guitar accessories, Jim Dunlop worked with Trucks to faithfully replicate his slide for us to use. If you're looking for a glass slide that's sure to produce bright and crisp tones on both acoustic and electric, then this is your best bet. Dimensions: 22 x 30 x 71mm
Dunlop Pyrex Glass Slide
Manufacturer: Jim Dunlop | Price: Usually under $5
This seemingly straightforward glass slide is currently the best selling in the market, in addition to being top selling it is also listed with tons of positive feedback. The medium sized version (20 x 25 x 60mm) is the most popular one, with its size 11 ring size fitting well for most guitar players and producing a warm tone with plenty of mids that lets your tone stand out. Just make sure that you don't drop it, and it'll give you great slide tones for sure, better yet get an extra for backup since this guitar slide is super affordable.
Ernie Ball 4228 Glass Slide
Manufacturer: Ernie Ball | Price: Usually under $10
Made from borosilicate glass, the Ernie Ball Glass Slide is designed to be durable while providing a smooth gliding surface. The result is a clear and pleasant voice that many players have come to like. While the medium size fits most players, it is available in three sizes so you can pick one that better suits your finger or your playing style. Reviews have been consistent in saying that this glass slide is great for softer more melodic slide playing. Dimensions: 8mm long, 28mm outside diameter, 4mm thick.
Planet Waves Glass Slide
Manufacturer: D'Addario | Price: Usually around $9
Planet Waves is another popular guitar gear manufacturer that have their own line of slides, and their glass slide is their most popular. It's well known for having a smooth finish and edges, making it easy to slide over strings that produce the expected warm and thick glass slide tone. Wall thickness is 4mm, while length is 48mm. Inner diameter varies depending on the size you choose, medium being the most popular fitting the average American hand. Although a bit pricier, the finish quality of this slide more than makes it worth the money.
Metal Guitar Slides - Brass & Steel
Metal slides have a rougher feel which results in a semi-distorted tone that emphasizes the upper frequencies. This brash quality has made metal slides the favorite of blues and rock players. If you are looking for a cutting slide tone with great sustain, then you should look for either steel or brass guitar slides. As expected, metal guitar slides are tough and reliable. Check out Johnny Winter and his steel guitar slide:
Dunlop Johnny Winter Texas Slider
Manufacturer: Jim Dunlop | Price: Usually around $10
This lightweight metal guitar slide is designed specifically to complement Johnny Winter's fast pinky slide guitar style. It's lighter weight and thinner profile makes it easier for your pinky to move around the fretboard, which means that you can accurately hit the right notes and do so faster. As expected, the tone produced by this slide is bright and aggressive, taking after its name sake who is known for "from-the-gut" blues slide guitar playing. If you are looking for a blues friendly slide that you can wear on your pinky, check this one out.
Fender Steel Slide
Manufacturer: Fender | Price: Usually under $10
The Fender brand needs no introduction, with their extensive experience and guitar technology know how, it is only expected that they come up with good and practical accessories such as the guitar slide. Instead of being overly aggressive, the lightweight design results in a sweeter tone, while still emphasizing the upper frequencies as expected from steel slides. Sustain is great especially when used on an electric guitar, while acoustic guitar players can also benefit from the slide's biting tone. Dimensions: Length: 60 mm Wall thickness: 1.5 mm, Inside diameter 19 mm.
D'Andrea Steel Slide
Manufacturer: D'Andrea | Price: Usually under $30
This steel guitar slide from D'Andrea offers the best bang per buck with its 2-in-1 package of a standard steel slide and a knuckle slide. Both of which produce a bright tone with rough edges that work great for rock, blues and other aggressive musical styles. The extra knuckle slide is an interesting piece that allows for extra slide control that's not possible from a regular slide, and it can be an interesting way to try going beyond your usual licks. If you're into rock, blues and country, and you're looking to get serious with slide guitar playing, then check this one out.
Dunlop Eric Sardinas' Preachin' Pipe
Manufacturer: Jim Dunlop | Price: Usually around $15
The Preachin' Pipe is a faithful reproduction of Bluesman Eric Sardinas' handmade brass slide, which was sculpted into shape by his years of playing on his favorite instrument, the Dobro. Now the same preachy tone can be yours, without having to wait for your slide to be naturally tapered. Its uniquely shaped body and weighted end allows for easy and accurate slide playing, and pushing it on the strings result in the same bluesy and preachy tone that works great for both acoustic and electric guitars. This is easily the coolest looking slide in this list, and is well worth its price tag.
Rock Slide Balltip Tarnished
Manufacturer: The Rock Slide | Price: Usually around $25
If you're looking for a worn out brass slide to match your equally worn out instrument, then the Rock Slide Balltip Tarnished may very well just be what you need. More than just your average brass slide, this one is aged by hand to have the appearance of age. And since hand processing is used, each slide will look different from the other, some having more black, or rust colors, making each one a truly unique and personal musical tool. Interestingly, only the look is aged, because the finish remains as smooth as non-aged brass slides. Although a bit pricey, this is a stylish and useful slide that's worth the investment.
Clayton Brass Socket Slide
Manufacturer: Steve Clayton | Price: Usually under $15
Steve Clayton and his team created the Brass Socket Slide in honor of the tool sockets that were actually used by musicians of the past. It retains the same 12 star interior for good grip and snug fit while doing away with the weight issues of tool sockets, having equalized weight on both ends. It also features a cut-out relief which makes moving your finger with the slide more comfortable. Finally the smooth finish and craftsmanship make it comfortable to both your eyes and your hands.
Ceramic Guitar Slides
Ceramic slides have characteristics that sit somewhere between glass and metal. The feel of these slides can vary depending on the ceramic mixture, so they can play as smooth as glass or rough like metal. The resulting tone is a healthy mixture of warmth and highs, while the medium sustain that you get is not as short as glass, but not as long as metal. One thing to keep in mind with ceramic guitar slides is that they are fragile, at times - more fragile than modern glass slides, so make sure you keep them safe. Watch the Rocky Mountain Ceramic Blues Boy Slide in action:
Rocky Mountain Slides Ceramic Blues Boy
Manufacturer: Rocky Mountain | Price: Usually around $20
The "Blues Boy" was the first guitar slide to come from Rocky Mountain, taking over 3 years of experimenting with ceramic mixes until they found the right one. What makes this slide special is that it works well with guitars that have low action, making it ideal for standard electric and acoustic guitars without requiring any action or string height adjustments. It is also interesting to note that bending your finger allows this slide to get the the right notes without hitting the frets too much. If you're looking for a great slide guitar that works for low-action instruments, then get this one. Just don't forget to plan ahead and prepare storage options because this one breaks quite easily.
Dunlop 255 Joe Perry "Boneyard" Slide
Manufacturer: Jim Dunlop | Price: Usually under $20
Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry may not be considered as a virtuoso by some, but he sure knows how to apply soulful slide sounds to their chart topping hit songs. This signature "Boneyard" porcelain slide reflects his guitar style, versatile enough to work on both acoustic and electric, and polished enough to make sliding through your strings easy and convenient. While the price point is a bit higher compared to other slides, the premium feel and sound that you get from this slide makes the pricing justifiable. If you're looking for an all-around slide, then check this one out.
Since most guitar slides are affordable, don't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and try ones from a different maker or with a different material. This way you get to experience for yourself the feel and tone difference that might inspire you to create new music.
At the end of the day, the guitar slide is just a tool, it's your creativity that makes it fun and fulfilling, so why not have one more?
You can share your experience and ask questions about guitar slides in the comments below.