What Is Slide Guitar

Roy Rogers is an excellent blues and slide guitarist! His music and other slide players can be found in iTunes by clicking the link in the banner.

Slide Guitar Basics

When you play slide guitar (or bottleneck, as it is also called) you are using an alternate method of playing acoustic or electric guitar. You use a device called a slide to change the notes or pitch of the strings.

Guitar Slide Types

There are several different types of slides that are used in playing slide guitar. In the early days, players would use what they could find. A piece of bone, a butter knife, a pocket knife or anything hard such as a bar that would slide on the strings and let them resonate. Glass and ceramics make a rich sound but can break. Brass and stainless steel sound good and don’t break if you drop them.
In my old days, I used to cut the neck of a wine bottle and sand the edges smooth. This would make a fine slide. I must admit that I buy them ready made from a guitar shop. I have a stainless steel slide, a glass slide (it looks like a wine bottleneck), a ceramic slide (Joe Perry), and a brass slide that matches my Dean thin body resonator. I find that a slide that is a little shorter than your finger is easier to control.

Methods Of Playing Slide Guitar

While most blues and rock slide players hold their guitars in the conventional manner country players may play Dobro or lap steel style. They would play it on their lap, on a stand or horizontally strapped and use a solid slide cupped in their hand. Guitars made to play this style have thick square necks with raised strings. Guitars played in conventional style need a heavier and slightly raised string to avoid fret noise when the slide hits the frets.

A vintage resonator

Resonator Guitar Cone

Although slide guitar is played on acoustic and electric guitars many players find resonator guitars desirable. A resonator guitar cone is built into a wooden, metal or electric guitar. Resonators were added to guitars back in the 30’s to help blues and jazz bands are heard before electric amplification became popular. The resonator was a metal plate that vibrated and made the sound louder. It also made a grittier thicker sound that went well with playing slide guitar.

. The Best Slide For Guitar

Glass, ceramic, brass and stainless steel are all good materials for slides. They all have different properties and can be placed on a finger. A heavier slide has a richer sound but causes fret noise easily. The slide should fit snug enough on your finger so that it will not slip off when the hand is down. I prefer one that is not too long so that my finger is mobile.
Finger placement is optional but the index finger should not be used because there needs to be a finger dragged on the nut side of the strings to dampen the reverse sound as the slide causes sound on both sides of the slide.
I prefer the slide on my pinky so that I can use my other fingers for chords and notes. Open tuning lesson and charts.

Playing Slide Guitar

Best Slide Guitar Tunings

While slide can be played in any tuning, “open” tuning is the most commonly used. Open tuning is when the guitar is tuned to a whole or minor chord. Then the slide can play a full chord at any fret. Open tunings are best for the guitar when you can tune the strings down causing less tension on the neck. Open D, G, E, C and F are the most commonly used open tunings. Open E can be used when a capo is used on the 2nd fret of a guitar tuned in open D.If you play slide in regular tuning you must slide to notes in the scales for each key you play in.

Slide Guitar For Beginners

I play my slide almost exclusively in open D and will give tips that relate to that tuning. I have been working with regular tuning that is taught by Griff Hamlin and some open G. D and E have basically the same fingering while G, and of course, regular tuning is different.
To start playing slide guitar, you have to get the feel of it and develop muscle memory just as you do with playing in regular tuning. Many blues tunes are in 1 4 5 progressions just as I have previously taught.
Don’t forget to drag a finger behind the slide. If you are in D tuning your D chord will be open and the notes that correspond to a D scale.In other words, you can slide to notes that are in the key of D and use the open strings for the chord.
You can also play at the 12th fret which is the D chord an octave up. Your 4 or G chord is at the 5th fret and your 5 or A chord is at the 71h fret. You can get a real rocking sound by picking open and sliding on the 6th string to the 3rd fret and then on the other lower strings to the 5th fret.

Keep on having fun learning guitar. Jam Play offers more extensive slide lessons.
More to come. Please check history of slide guitar.

Also: Check my “Blues Acoustic Guitar” Page.


I highly recommend Jam Play as an online guitar lesson site. You get plenty of free lessons and can pick and choose what lessons you want to take.


Jam Play is offering free JamTracks and a PDF for the Holidays. Here is a link!

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4 thoughts on “What Is Slide Guitar

  • June 15, 2016 at 1:45 am

    Hi Marty,

    What a nice article, I really enjoyed the reading as we all love music in my family:)
    My husband is a guitarist and to be honest, I knew what is a classic, electronic and acoustic guitars, but I never heard of slide guitar.
    I am happy that I found your website so I can show it to my husband, I am sure he will love it!
    Thank you very much for this excellent post:)

    • June 15, 2016 at 8:57 am

      Hi Daniella, thanks for checking my web page on slide guitar. There are many good slide players with both acoustic and electric guitar. It is also closely related to Hawiian, dobro, and steel guitar. The difference is in the style that is played.
      Early in my guitar playing I was influenced by Leo Kottke, who played slide on a 12 string and Ry Cooder who was a blues/folk guitarist.

  • June 14, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    Wow! What a great post. Before I read your blog I had no idea what slide guitar was and I love that you’re willing to help us to learn how to play slide as well. I’m left wondering if you can tell me some famous songs that I could find on youtube to find out what sliding guitar sounds like?

    • June 15, 2016 at 12:06 am

      Hi Amberlee, thank you for your interest in slide guitar. There are many great slide guitarists, Duane Allman, Derek Trucks. Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters, Son House. Leo Kottke, Ry Cooder. Some of the old acoustic players such as Robert Johnson also played slide. Here is a youtube link to some beautiful slide that I just got in a google search. I am not familiar with this player but I like what he does.
      I have worked with slide since I began to play guitar. I always enjoyed the sound.Here is a you tube link to a slide player https://youtu.be/n5ObF0NhY5Q If you have any further questions I would be glad to help if I can.

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