Discover the guitar slides used by some of the greatest slide guitarists of all time
The world of guitar slides is not easy to navigate. As is often the case with guitar gear, when it comes to picking the right guitar slide, there is an overwhelming amount of choice. Not only do slides come in different shapes, sizes and thicknesses; they are all made from different materials.
Each of these elements affects their tone and playability, and so they are important to consider.
If you are confused as to where to begin with looking for a new guitar slide, I would recommend reading my article ‘How To Choose The Right Guitar Slide‘. There I cover everything you need to understand the fundamentals of guitar slides. I look at the different shapes, sizes and materials from which slides are made. And I look at how these different elements affect both tone and playability.
Alongside that article however, I wanted to look at the guitar slides used by some of the greatest slide guitarists of all time.
This is partly for academic interest. I love to learn about the gear that different guitarists use, and the impact that this has on their tone.
More importantly though, I hope the information outlined here helps you to choose the right guitar slide for your set-up. For whenever you are thinking about buying a new piece of gear – be it something as small and inexpensive as a new pick, or as significant as a new guitar – I think it is always useful to look to your heroes for inspiration.
And whilst copying your blues guitar heroes certainly doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to create killer blues tones, it will set you on the right path.
Here then I have compiled a list of some of the most notable slide guitarists of all time. I have detailed the types of guitar slide they used, and if known – also on which finger they wore their slide.
So whether you are trying to recreate the tone of your favourite slide player, or you are just looking for inspiration more broadly, I hope the information in this article helps.
Here are the guitar slides used by some of the best slide guitarists of all time:
Although the slide guitar style had existed prior to the 20th century, it was first popularised in the Mississippi Delta. Early guitarists would take cheap and readily available materials and use them to slide up and down their strings. Of these, the necks from glass bottles were amongst the most popular. And it is for this reason that slide guitar is often referred to as ‘bottleneck’ style.
In addition to glass however, these early players used a variety of different materials for their guitar slides. This included the blades of knives, long pieces of bone and small sections of pipe.
I suspect that they chose these materials partly because they were readily available, rather than for any specific benefits relating to tone or playability.
Yet regardless of whether or not that is the case, these are the materials still used by guitarists today. And as you will see, there are very few – if any – players who have strayed very far from the design of these early sides.
So without further ado, let’s start by looking at the guitar slides that these early players used:
Known to many as the ‘Father of the Delta Blues’, Charley Patton was one of the earliest slide guitarists to be captured on record.
Patton actually alternated the type of slide he used. Sometimes he played with his guitar on his lap and used a knife, as is more typical in Hawaiian guitar. However when he played slide in the more conventional style, he used a brass slide.
Unfortunately it is not known on which finger Patton played his slide.
Blind Willie Johnson
According to most sources, Blind Willie Johnson used the back of a knife as a slide. And this played quite a significant role in determining his style and sound. As music historian Steve Calt observed when speaking about Johnson:
Opposed to other bottleneck artists he varies the speed of his vibrato drastically, often speeding up as he slides into a note. He is also one of the few bottleneck artists with the ability to consistently sound 3 or 4 discreet melody notes upon striking a string once, a skill that reflects uncanny left-handed strength, accuracy and agility
Although trying to use a knife as a slide wouldn’t be my first recommendation, if you want to recreate Johnson’s raw tone, a metal guitar slide would work well.
Although much of Robert Johnson’s life remains shrouded in mystery, it is believed that he played using a metal guitar slide, which he wore on his fourth finger.
I am not sure if Johnson used a bronze guitar slide, but you can buy Robert Johnson Bronze Legacy guitar slides made from tractor bushings. Robert Johnson’s son Claud commissioned and endorsed these slides. So if you are a big fan of Robert Johnson and would like to recreate his raw slide guitar tones, his legacy slide could be a great place to start.
Mississippi Fred McDowell
As a young guitarist, Mississippi Fred McDowell initially used a pocket knife to play slide. However, McDowell was unhappy with the sustain and volume the knife produced. And so he started to look for other materials.
According to McDowell’s protege – Tom Pomposello – McDowell tried a range of different guitar slides before he eventually settled on the neck from a Gordon’s gin bottle. McDowell cut the slide short – as his style was focused more on single note lines than on full barre chords.
McDowell wore his slide on either his third or fourth finger, depending on which tuning he was using. He used three different tunings – open E, open A and standard tuning.
When he played in open E, McDowell wore the guitar slide on his third finger. Then when he played in either open A or standard tuning, he wore the slide on his fourth finger.
Booker T. Washington White – known more commonly as Bukka White – was one of the masters of the Delta blues slide style. According to White, he inspired Son House to play slide. As he once stated:
Son House got that slide from me. He wasn’t using no slide when I run up on him. He wasn’t using even the bottleneck, too. And after, the next time I’d see him, he had a bottleneck. And so he’s been bottlenecking ever since.
Whether or not that it is true, White’s slide playing did have a profound impact on his cousin, B.B. King. King was amazed by White’s slide technique, but struggled to play with a slide. And in an attempt to recreate the singing sustain of White’s slide, he ended up creating his famous butterfly vibrato technique.
Although the specific slide that White used is not known, he played a metal guitar slide. He wore this on his fourth finger. And in all of the pictures I have seen of him, the slide appears to be made of steel, rather than brass or copper.
Whether or not Bukka White did have a profound influence on Son House, the latter’s skill as a slide guitarist is beyond doubt.
As is true of many of the early Delta bluesmen, the specific guitar slide that Son House used is unclear. It is however known that he used a metal slide, which he wore on his ring finger. Additionally, most commentators believe that his slide was made of copper.
Capturing the Delta blues sound
Upon reflection, I would argue that referring to early slide guitarists as playing ‘bottleneck’ is actually a little misleading. For as you can see from the list above, metal guitar slides were by far the most popular choice amongst Delta blues guitarists.
This is perhaps not so surprising. Many of these guitarists were playing resonator guitars made from metal. And combining the distinctive tone of these guitars with a metal slide helped them to produce the raw and biting sound that characterises Delta blues.
Metal guitar slides also helped to serve a practical purpose. Most of these early guitarists were playing to audiences without amplification. So they needed to use a material that would resonate and sustain. And metal guitar slides would have helped them in these efforts.
As such, if you want to capture the raw sound and feel of Delta Blues, I would recommend opting for a metal guitar slide. The size, shape and weight of the slide that you choose will depend on your personal preference and playing style. Having said that, some initial options to consider are as follows:
- Dunlop 220 Chromed Steel Slide
- Fender Brass Slide
- D’Addario Chrome Plated Brass Slide
- Dunlop Brass Slide
- Rock Slide Swamp Slide Tarnished Brass
- Polished Copper Pipe Guitar Slide
When combined with the right acoustic or resonator guitar, any of these guitar slides will help you to dial in the raw and fiery blues tones of the early Delta blues guitarists.
By the middle of the 20th Century, the blues had become electrified. Musicians were no longer playing on plantations or street corners. There was an established blues scene in cities like Chicago and Memphis, and the popularity of the genre was ever growing. Musicians were playing to larger audiences. And they were doing so with the aid of amplifiers.
This enabled them to create a whole range of different tones. And crucially, it resulted in the creation of an overdriven guitar sound. This presented new opportunities for slide guitarists, many of whom started to create the searing slide guitar tones that we now associate with the style.
Here are the guitar slides that these Chicago bluesmen used to such great effect:
Almost all modern day slide guitar players cite Elmore James – the ‘King Of The Slide Guitar’ – as one of their major influences. The iconic introduction to ‘Dust My Broom‘ is one of the most recognisable and distinctive slide guitar licks of all time. And it is one that has been imitated by innumerable bands and musicians.
To my surprise, there seems to be very little information about James’ slide set-up. And unlike many of the other early guitarists listed here, there is a lack of photo evidence which might help point us in the direction.
Having said that, James was influenced to play slide guitar by Robert Johnson. As noted above, Johnson used a metal slide. And so I suspect that James did the same. This would not be surprising, as his slide guitar tone is bright with a lot of treble and bite.
Perhaps more than any other guitarist, Muddy Waters played a key role in electrifying the blues. He fused the country style Delta blues with a new and totally different style of playing that we now refer to as Chicago blues.
Waters’ slide playing reflected these different styles. And it went on to influence a whole range of different guitarists. This included Johnny Winter, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, amongst others.
Like many of the early Delta bluesmen, Waters used a small metal guitar slide. And he wore this on his fourth finger.
Hound Dog Taylor
For most guitarists, recreating the exact set-up of Hound Dog Taylor is a little tricky. This is because he was born with 5 fingers and a thumb on each hand. So although Taylor wore his slide on what for most of us would be our fourth finger, it was in fact the penultimate finger on his fretting hand.
When it came to his choice of slide, Taylor opted for brass. This helped him to create the biting and fiery slide tone for which he is famous.
B.B. King once said of Earl Hooker: ‘To me he is the best of modern guitarists. Period. With the slide he was the best. It was nobody else like him, he was just one of a kind.’
Hooker used a short steel guitar slide, which allowed him to switch quickly between fretting notes and using his slide. Unlike most slide guitarists, Hooker also played slide in standard, rather than open tuning.
Although I wasn’t able to find any specific information on the finger on which Hooker wore his slide, I suspect it was on his fourth finger. This is because the renowned slide guitar player Robert Nighthawk taught Hooker to play slide.
Although Nighthawk does not have a large catalogue of his own music, he had a significant impact on the slide guitar style. He wore a short metal slide (with what to me looks like a closed top) and wore this on his fourth finger.
Like Robert Nighthawk, Tampa Red may not be as well known as some of the other Chicago bluesmen in this list. But he too had a profound impact on the Chicago blues scene and on the slide guitar style.
His single string slide work and vocal playing style influenced musicians including Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk, Elmore James and Big Bill Broonzy. As Broonzy once commented:
A man like Tampa Red has got a style of his own, playing guitar with a bottleneck on his little finger, sliding up and down the guitar strings. He’s the first one I’ve ever seen or heard doing that
Although the specific slide that Red used is unknown, his contemporaries all refer to him using a ‘bottleneck’. And in some cases they specifically refer to him using the neck from the top of a bottle. This suggests to me that his slide was made of glass, rather than metal.
Additionally, various guitarists from the time noted that Red used a slide that was short and fat. As such, if you are looking to recreate Red’s distinctive single string lines, a short glass slide with a heavy wall would be a great choice.
Capturing the Chicago blues slide sound
Like Delta blues, Chicago blues has a raw and biting sound. And so it is perhaps little surprise that aside from Tampa Red, all of the players listed above used metal guitar slides.
If you want to recreate the tones of these early electric guitar players then, I would recommend doing the same.
As noted above, the specific slide that you choose will depend on your personal preference and playing style. But it is perhaps also worth noting that these Chicago bluesmen were some of the first to focus on single string playing.
So if you are looking to do the same, then it could be worth trying out a slightly shorter guitar slide. This will not work so well if you want to play barre chords across all six strings. But it could be a great choice if you want to play single note lines.
Some great options to consider here are as follows:
- D’Addario Chrome Plated Brass Guitar Slide
- The Rock Slide Brass Guitar Slide
- Polished Copper Pipe Stubby Guitar Slide
- Ernie Ball Chrome Plated Pinky Slide
These guitar slides will all help you to playing fiery single note lines and recreate the stinging tones of the Chicago bluesmen listed above.
Moving into the 1960s and ’70s, both the blues genre and slide guitar playing continued to evolve. Players took the early amplified tones of the Chicago bluesmen and took them up to the next level. They pushed the boundaries of the guitar – with regards to both their playing and tone.
This happened on either side of the Atlantic. It resulted in a huge spike in the popularity of the blues, and turned it into a mainstream genre.
This period also saw a boom in the availability and variety of different guitar gear. Companies like Fender, Gibson and Marshall started creating cutting edge guitars and amplifiers. And the rigs that guitarists used became increasingly sophisticated.
I will explore the effect that this had in more detail below. But for now it is worth pointing out that this did have an impact on the guitar slides these players used.
Here are the different guitar slides that some of the most notable blues rock slide guitarists used to dial in their killer tones:
Duane Allman famously used a glass Coricidin medicine bottle for his guitar slide. So the story goes, Allman started playing slide when his brother Gregg gave him two presents for his birthday. The first was a copy of Taj Mahal’s debut album, featuring Mahal’s version of ‘Statesboro Blues‘. The second was a bottle of Coricidin, because Allman had a cold.
Coricidin is no longer sold in glass bottles. But if you really want to replicate Allman’s set up with authenticity, you can actually buy old vintage Coricidin bottles on sites like Reverb. Just one ward of warning – because of Allman’s legacy, these come at a premium. You will struggle to find one for less than $100/£100.
Thankfully, there are some much cheaper alternatives. A good place to start would be the Derek Trucks Signature Slide. Allman heavily influenced Trucks. And so Trucks’ slide is built to model Allman’s Coricidin bottle. It is the same weight and is closed at the top. It also has the same indent at the bottom of the slide where the lid for the medicine bottle would have originally been.
Johnny Winter used a lightweight chrome guitar slide which he wore on his fourth finger. The chrome slide gave his tone a sharp and aggressive bite, and allowed him to execute licks and solos at speed.
If you want to recreate Winter’s searing slide tone, then I would recommend his signature slide – the Johnny Winter Texas Slider. The Dunlop 220 Chromed Steel Slide and the Dunlop 228 Chromed Brass Slide would also work well.
Throughout his career, Ry Cooder has been fairly reticent when it comes to discussing the nuances of his technique and set-up.
As a result, the exact guitar slide he uses is unclear. Having said that, when Cooder plays electric guitar, he uses a glass slide, which is quite heavily flared at the top. In addition, in a 2012 interview he did share some insight to his set-up, when he stated:
All I know about bottleneck is, what you really want to do is get you one, but get the right weight…People use ’em too light and I don’t see why they do that. But they do, and you don’t get any tone that way
So if you are looking to create Cooder’s beautiful slide tones, I would recommend opting for the Dunlop 234 Tempered Flare Slide. Alternatively, any glass guitar slide with heavy walls would also work well. When it comes to wearing his guitar slide, Cooder always uses his fourth finger.
Billy Gibbons uses two of his own Signature Slides, which he wears on his middle finger.
The first of these – The Billy Gibbons Mojo Slide is made from glass and is based on the ‘Blues Bottle’ design. It has a closed top, and an indent at the bottom of the slide. The only difference between this and most blues bottle guitar slides is that – in true Billy Gibbons style – the Mojo Slide is designed to stand out. As a result, it is bright red, rather than transparent.
The second slide that Gibbons uses is his Signature Ceramic Slide. This isn’t bottle shaped and so has an open top. This slide is also made of ceramic, rather than glass.
If then you want to recreate the slide guitar tones of Gibbons, either of these two guitar slides would make a great option.
Like Billy Gibbons, Joe Perry also uses his own ceramic Signature Slide. This comes in a variety of different sizes – giving you the option to choose a guitar slide that either covers half or the whole of your finger. Perry wears his slide on his third finger.
Duane Allman taught Joe Walsh to play slide guitar. And in fact Allman gave Walsh one of the Coricidin bottles that he used to play slide. Although Walsh used a glass slide for most of his early career, he didn’t use that specific slide for fear of it being damaged. Unlike Allman, Walsh also wore his slide on his middle, rather than on his third finger.
In more recent years, Walsh seems to be using brass guitar slides with more frequency. However based on interviews it would seem that this choice is practical. Walsh worries about damaging his glass guitar slides when travelling, and instead opts for brass. As such, if you are looking to recreate the tones of Walsh from his time with the Eagles and in his early solo career, I would recommend opting for a glass guitar slide.
The Derek Trucks Signature Slide based on Allman’s Coricidin bottle would make a great choice, as would any ‘Blues Bottle Slide‘. If you don’t want to use a slide with a closed top, then a standard glass slide would also work well.
In his early career, Rory Gallagher always played with a brass guitar slide. He paired this up with a Fender Telecaster to produce a very sharp and biting slide tone. Later in his career though, Gallagher followed in the footsteps of Duane Allman and switched to using a glass Coricidin medicine bottle when he played electric guitar. He did however stick with a brass slide when he played his National Resonator or an acoustic guitar.
Gallagher also changed the finger on which he wore his slide, depending on which guitar he was playing. When he played an acoustic or resonator guitar, he played slide with his fourth finger. Conversely, when he played slide on his electric guitar, he used his third finger. So if you want to sound like Rory Gallagher, you have a few different options.
Having said that, even though Gallagher used glass guitar slides later in his career, I would recommend opting for a slide made from brass if you want to recreate Gallagher’s searing slide guitar tone. The tones that he crafted on songs like ‘I Could’ve Had Religion‘ and ‘Who’s That Coming?‘ are sharp and biting. And in my opinion a brass or metal slide will work better for recreating them.
Slide guitar virtuoso Sonny Landreth uses a Dunlop Glass Slide with heavy walls. Like Ry Cooder, he initially played using a flared guitar slide. And he did so because this allowed him to use a specific vibrato technique. However he later switched to using a straight slide, because in his own words ‘a lot of what I do is around the 12th fret and I use all six strings, so having that straight edge is a lot more helpful’.
Landreth also wears his guitar slide on his fourth finger. He is renowned for fretting chords and playing single notes behind his slide. So by playing with the slide on his fourth finger, Landreth leaves all of his remaining fingers free to play ‘normal’ guitar, alongside his slide.
Bonnie Raitt uses a custom made Dunlop glass bottle guitar slide. In her own words – when asked why she initially chose to use glass guitar slides, Raitt stated:
I didn’t know any different! I literally soaked the label off a Coricidin bottle until I got to college and saw people playing other types. I’ve never used anything but glass. Jim Dunlop makes them for me.
As such, it is a little bit difficult to work out exactly what type of guitar slide Raitt uses. From pictures though, it would appear to be that one closely resembles the neck of an actual glass bottle. All of her guitar slides are coloured. They also appear to be slightly flared and to have a lip at the bottom (as you would find on a real bottle).
When it comes to crafting his slide guitar tone, George Thorogood aims to ‘extract vengeance’ from his set-up. In his own words:
Some people think that because you have this shiny piece of metal on your finger that you’re going to be playing all graceful. Not me. I been known to use a piece of copper pipe and rough it up with sandpaper – make it scratchy so it can dig into those strings. You gotta make ’em fight back
If then you want to recreate the fiery slide tone on songs like ‘Bad To The Bone‘, I would recommend opting for a metal slide. And copper would be the obvious choice. Something like this Polished Copper Slide would work well.
British bluesman Chris Rea didn’t even start playing the guitar until his early twenties. But when he did, it was after hearing Charley Patton on the radio. Rea quickly started learning slide, and used his ‘older sister’s nail varnish bottle’ as his first guitar slide.
Rea became hooked on the slide style not much later. This was after he saw Ry Cooder performing live. Recalling that night, Rea stated that the ‘solo he (Cooder) did…just blew me away, absolutely blew me away. So I needed to know how he got the sound and why he got that sound.’
Whilst it remains unclear as to whether Cooder specifically influenced Rea’s slide guitar set-up, it would be a fair assumption. Like Cooder, Rea uses a glass guitar slide, which he also wears on his fourth finger.
Although the exact slide Rea uses is unknown, from pictures and videos it seems that he uses a heavy walled and straight slide. So although his set-up is very similar to Cooder’s, Rea doesn’t use a flared guitar slide.
Lowell George was fairly unconventional when it came to his choice of guitar slide. Instead of using a manufactured slide – or even the top of a bottle – George used a 11/16 spark plug socket with the drive end cut off. In a 1976 interview George stated that he had previously used glass guitar slides, but kept breaking them.
Even if George’s decision to opt for a more durable material was for practical, rather than for tonal purposes, his unconventional choice in slide did affect his tone.
This was partly because of the material of his slide. However it was also because of its weight, as spark plug sockets are much thicker and heavier than most guitar slides.
If you want to sound like George and adopt a similar set-up, you of course have the option to go to a hardware store and buy a spark plug socket. If you want a more conventional option however, then I would recommend either the Dunlop 224 Brass Slide or the Dunlop 228 Chromed Brass Slide.
Warren Haynes was initially inspired to play slide guitar by musicians like Duane Allman, Lowell George and Ry Cooder. Like Allman, Haynes initially played slide using a Coricidin bottle.
However he later swapped this for an open-topped glass guitar slide. Apparently the specific slide he uses is the Dunlop 215 Glass Guitar Slide. This is a long slide with quite a heavy wall. So if you want to sound like Haynes, then opting for that specific slide, or for one similar to it would be a great choice.
Haynes wears his slide on his ring finger. Unlike the majority of guitarists listed here, Haynes also predominantly plays in standard tuning. This allows him to quickly switch between ‘regular’ playing and slide, without having to change guitars.
Capturing the blues rock sound
When it comes to creating a slightly heavier blues rock tone, things become a little more complicated. Unlike the early Delta and Chicago bluesmen, players during this period used (and continue to use) a wide range of materials for their guitar slides.
Additionally, during this time guitar and amp technology stepped on significantly. And it is this which makes it more difficult to decide which guitar slide is right for you.
Players during this period were no longer creating tones with just their acoustic or resonator guitars and a slide. They had an array of different guitars, amps and pedals. Not only did these elements allow them to create different tones; they also somewhat diminished the impact that their guitar slides had on their tone.
For example, both Duane Allman and Johnny Winter have fiery and piercing slide tones. Yet the former used a glass slide, and the latter a metal one.
Similarly, Ry Cooder and Joe Walsh both use glass guitar slides. And yet they have quite different slide guitar tones.
As a result, knowing which guitar slide to choose can become a bit confusing. After all, if two guitarists can create very different tones using the same type of slide, then how do you know which type of slide to choose?
My first piece of advice here would be to consider the tones you want to use most frequently.
For example, if you generally favour a warmer sound and tone – or if you want to dial in a range of blues rock tones, then a glass guitar slide might be the best choice. Conversely, if you are generally looking for a sharper and more overdriven tone, then a metal guitar slide might work better.
The second point to consider is whether you want to spend a significant amount of time at the extremes of the tonal spectrum. For example, if you want to recreate Johnny Winter’s most piercing and fiery slide tones, you will struggle with a slide made from anything other than metal. Likewise, if you want to create a very warm and mellow tone, you will struggle using a slide not made from glass.
Modern blues slide players
In the modern blues scene there are a number of brilliant guitarists carrying on the tradition of the bottleneck style.
Some of these players have continued to innovate and craft playing styles unlike any players before them. Others have chosen to recreate the style and feel of earlier bluesmen, fusing this with their modern sound.
As is true of the blues rock players listed above, the different amps, pedals and guitars that these players use, all have an effect on their tone. That is not to say however, that their choice of guitar slide is not important. It still affects the tone and playing approach of these players. And that is signifcant.
Here are the guitar slides used by some of the most notable modern slide guitarists:
Derek Trucks uses his own signature guitar slide. This is based on the Coricidin bottles that Allman used. It is the same weight and size as the original Coricidin bottles. And it even has an indent on the bottom of the slide where the lid for the medicine bottle would have originally been.
So if you want to recreate the soaring slide tones of players like Trucks and Allman, the Derek Trucks Signature Slide would make a great choice.
Gary Clark Jr.
Like Trucks, Gary Clark Jr. also has his own signature guitar slide. His is also made of glass but differs in two ways. Firstly, it is not a ‘Blues Bottle’ slide, and so is not closed at the top. Nor does it have an indent at the bottom, like those that recreate the shape of the original Coricidin bottles. Secondly, Clark Jr’s slide has a very heavy wall.
If you want to recreate the sound of Clark Jr’s slide playing, his Signature Slide would be a great place to start. Beyond that, a thick glass guitar slide would also work well.
Gary Clark Jr. wears his guitar slide on his fourth finger.
Joey Landreth & Ariel Posen
Formerly of the band Bros. Landreth, Joey Landreth and Ariel Posen are two very skilled guitarists who have adopted slide as their main style.
Both guitarists use similar slides, and have adopted similar styles. They wear their guitar slides on their fourth fingers, and favour slides made from brass. This – in addition to their skilful and interesting approaches to slide playing – has resulted in them both being associated with boutique slide company ‘The Rock Slide‘.
Joey Landreth has a short Signature Guitar Slide made from aged brass.
Ariel Posen also has Signature Guitar Slide. His is also made from brass, but is polished, rather than aged. Additionally, it is a balltip slide, and so is closed at the top.
If you are looking for a high quality, short metal guitar slide to wear on your fourth finger, either of these guitar slides could make a great choice.
Although he plays slide more sparingly compared with many of the players listed here, Joe Bonamassa is in fact a brilliant slide guitarist (as you can see in this clip here). When he does play slide, Bonamassa uses a chrome guitar slide, which he wears on his third finger. He did have his own Signature Guitar Slide, although this no longer appears to be in production.
As such, if you want to recreate the searing slide tones you hear on songs like ‘The Ballad Of John Henry‘, I would recommend opting for a chrome guitar slide. The Johnny Winter Texas Slider would work well, as would the Dunlop 220 Chromed Steel Slide or the Dunlop 228 Chromed Brass Slide.
Eric Sardinas was heavily influenced by many of the early Delta and Chicago bluesmen listed above. And his choice in guitar slide reflects these influences.
Sardinas used the same brass guitar slide for around 5000 performances. This wore it down to a weight and shape that he thought was perfect. And so Dunlop made an exact replica of this slide – the Eric Sardinas Preachin’ Pipe.
This is a tapered brass slide of medium thickness. So if you want a metal guitar slide and prefer a tapered shape, this could be a great option.
Like his slide guitar hero Johnny Winter – Tyler Bryant uses a chrome slide, which he wears on his fourth finger. The guitar slide that he uses is quite short with a very heavy wall.
When paired up with one of his resonator guitars, this produces a biting and raw tone that is perfect for the blues.
If you want to sound like Bryant and reproduce these tones, then the Johnny Winter Texas Slider would be a great place to start. The Dunlop 228 Chromed Brass Slide and Dunlop 220 Chromed Steel Slide would also work well.
To create his beautiful and varied slide guitar tones, Keb’ Mo’ uses his own Signature Guitar Slide. And he wears this on his fourth finger. His slide is made from porcelain. And as I noted in more detail in this article here – porcelain guitar slides have tonal properties and a feel somewhere between those made from glass and metal.
So if like Keb’ Mo’ you are playing slide on both acoustic and electric guitars; or if you are looking for a well balanced tone, a porcelain guitar slide could make a great choice. Mo’s own slide would be the obvious starting place. But the Dunlop Mudslide or Star Slinger Desert Slide would also work well.
Like ‘Keb’ Mo’, Justin Johnson also uses a guitar slide made from porcelain/ceramic. This is his own Signature Guitar Slide, which he wears on his third finger.
Samantha Fish uses a variety of different guitar slides. The first of these is her own signature slide from Rocky Mountain Guitar Slides. This is quite a heavy slide, made of ceramic.
If then you are looking for a slide that will produce a well balanced tone and you don’t mind the weight, that slide – or a similar ceramic slide would work well.
Having said that, more recently Fish has started to use a brass slide. This is smaller and lighter than her signature slide. Fish chooses to use this for two reasons.
The first of these is that it gives her more control. The lighter weight makes it easier to manoeuvre and slide across the fretboard.
It also allows her to play slide and ‘regular’ guitar on the same instrument. The smaller brass slide exerts less pressure on the strings, and so Fish can use it on the same guitars that she plays without her slide. So if you are switching between regular and slide playing, or if you are looking for more control, adopting a similar approach will work well.
Regardless of which slide she is playing, Fish wears it on her third finger.
Over the course of his career, Luke Winslow-King has used a variety of different guitar slides. This includes slides made from brass, glass and even ceramic (from what I can tell looking at various video clips).
However the slide I have seen him use most frequently is a heavy walled glass slide. And he wears this on his fourth finger.
Of all the guitarists listed here, AJ Ghent has one of the most unconventional techniques. Instead of wearing his guitar slide on his finger, he holds it between his index finger and the thumb of his fretting hand. He then places it down onto the strings, controlling its movement from above.
This technique, whilst unconventional, helps Ghent to create his ‘singing’ guitar sound. Ghent uses an Ernie Ball Glass Guitar Slide.
Putting it all together
From an academic point of view, I think it is interesting to have a greater understanding of the different guitar slides that all of these players use(d). But the real aim here is to help you choose a guitar slide that will work well for your playing style and set-up.
I know there is a lot of information here. So to help make things a little easier for you, here I have condensed all of that information into some practical recommendations:
- If you want to recreate the tone of the early Delta Blues guitarists, I would recommend using a metal guitar slide. This will help you to recreate the raw tone that characterises the Delta blues sound.
- I would recommend following the same advice if you want to recreate the Chicago blues sound. Although it differs in many ways from the Delta blues, it too has the same raw and biting sound. And again I think a metal guitar slide will work best here.
- When it comes to replicating sound of blues rock and modern players, things become a little more complicated. This is because of the impact that amps, pedals and different guitars had (and continue to have) on the tone of these players. As such, I would recommend choosing a slide that will help you to dial in the tones you want to use most frequently.
- The shape and size of the guitar slide you use will have an impact on its tone and playability. However whilst this is the case, I would actually recommend focusing on comfort and playability here.
- Similarly, wear your guitar slide on the finger you find most comfortable. Just be mindful that this will have an impact on what you are able to do when wearing your slide. If for example you want to play single note lines, you can choose the finger that feels most natural. Conversely, if you want to play a more complex mix of chords and single lines (like Ry Cooder or Sonny Landreth) then you may have to more closely consider on which finger you should wear your slide.
At this point, I think it is worth noting that you don’t need to limit yourself to just one slide.
Guitar slides are relatively inexpensive. And so there is absolutely no reason that you can’t buy a number of different slides. This will allow you to create tones from a range of different guitarists. And if you have different guitars on which you can play slide – like Rory Gallagher – then this also gives you the option to use different guitar slides with different instruments.
Compared to guitars, amps and pedals, guitar slides are relatively inexpensive. Even if you were to go wild and buy 10 guitar slides for your collection, you could do so for less than $300/£220. I appreciate this is still a decent chunk of money. But it is cheaper than buying just one boutique guitar pedal.
If you want to recreate the tones of a number of the different slide guitarists listed above, this could be a great option. And whilst you can of course create different tones with a single guitar slide, you might have more success (and fun) playing with a range of different slides.
As a final and significant closing point, don’t feel compelled to follow the particular set-up of any of the guitar players listed here, just because you love that player. Buying guitar gear is all about finding the sweet spot between tone and playability. And most importantly, it is about figuring out what works best for you.
For example, you might be looking to recreate Duane Allman’s slide set-up. In which case a blues bottle style slide would be the obvious choice. But if after repeatedly playing one, you find it to be difficult and challenging, try something else.
Your guitar slide is what connects you to your instrument. So if in doubt, err on the side of comfort and playability. Don’t get so wrapped up in the tonal properties of the different materials or in what you think you should be playing. If you are playing at your best, then you will be producing a great tone, and enjoying yourself. And that’s what this is all about.
Good luck with your search! And if you have any questions at all I can help with, just pop them in the comments below or send them over to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help.
Feature Image of Bonnie Raitt – Lindsey Turner, Flickr (The license for the image is here)
Image of Muddy Waters – Wikimedia Commons (The license for the image is here)
Image of Mississippi Fred McDowell – Wikimedia Commons (The image is in the Public Domain)
Gary Clark Jr. Image – Alize Tran Photo Flickr (The license for the image is here)
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