Instruction 1


Get more out of your slide playing


Instruction 2

Instruction 3

Tab Guide

Example tune 1

My ideal slide


Useful hints

Just to get used to positions on the fretboard, youl find the following (major) chords at the following frets:-

G    Open or 12th

A    2nd

B    4th

C    5th

D    7th

E    9th

F#   11th

Introduction to slide 

Steel slide, or bottleneck, guitar describes a technique for defining the guitar string pitch using a metal or glass tube or "slide" instead of the fingertips.  It produces a very characteristic "whiny" sound, and is usually associated with the early American bluesmen of the Mississippi delta. It's also an essential component of the Chicago blues of the fifties and sixties, and one which crops up in rock 'n roll and other forms right up to the present day.

What sort of guitar? 

You can generally use a slide on any steel-strung guitar (it just doesn't seem to work on nylon strung guitars), but if you want to get the best out of it, you need to set your guitar up slightly differently than for normal playing. Because the bar is flat, the strings need to be in line, rather than following the camber of the neck; more like a Spanish guitar set-up in fact. It also helps if the action is a little higher than normal. The very low action of a well set-up electric guitar can be a real problem for slide playing, because the slide is likely to hit the frets. A common set-up problem for slide is if one or two strings are out of line (high or low) relative to the others, usually because of a poorly grooved or worn nut. You might not even be aware of this in normal playing. Most of the problems with set-up are evident in the lower fret range. Higher up the neck, you can usually compensate because the strings will be higher off the frets.

What tuning should I use?

Generally, slide players tune to give a major chord with the  strings unfretted, referred to as an "open" tuning. My own preferred tuning is open G. You get to it from standard tuning by lowering strings 6, 5 and 1 by two frets worth, giving:-

D(6) G(5) D(4) G(3) B(2) D(1),

so it's quick and easy to flip between the two. It's also a bit kinder on the guitar if you're using standard gauge string sets, as it reduces string tension. In passing, you might notice that strings 1 to 4 in this tuning is the same as 1 to 4 on the 5 string banjo. 

A variation on this tuning is:-

GBDGBD (favoured by dobro players)

I wouldn't recommend going to this from standard tuning, because it over-tensions the two bass strings. And why do it anyway? I'll explain later.

If you want to sound like Keef (Richards that is, of Rolling Stones fame), tune to open G, then take the 6th string off and throw it away.  You'll need to change your chord shapes to account for the G on the 5th and the D on the 1st string (not too difficult, you'll find) then you'll be able to do all those early Stones numbers with the right sound to them. 

Another popular tuning is open E. Raise 5 and 4 two frets, and 3 by one fret, to give:-


For some reason, this seems to be the open tuning that most people find first (well, I did anyway). It figures in a lot of rock numbers, and it works well for some specific tunes. Again, this tuning tends to strain the neck, all changes being raises.

Open D is a regularly used slide tuning. This has, from bass upwards,  


It's just the same as the E, but involves lowers instead of raises, which is kinder to the guitar. One thing to note is how close this is (a semi-tone on the third string) to DADGAD, or modal, tuning.  This must be useful to somebody out there!

When you think about it, any combination of strings forming an open major chord would be a possible slide tuning, so why pick one instead of another? Well, there's habit, ease of shifting back and forth to regular tuning, string tension and so on, but with G tuning, you also get close note spacing on the top 4 strings. For melody playing, this is important , because control is easier if you don't have to make big jumps around the fret board. This close spacing could be retained right across the strings with the "dobro" variant I mentioned earlier. The 6th string becomes a G and the 5th string becomes a B.  You lose the deep D bass note, but on acoustic slide it's hardly used anyway, so it seems like a fair trade. However, you'll need to buy your strings individually gauged, unless your music shop can get you "dobro" sets (they are readily available).

So there are the choices. Pick the one you like best. Me, I'm an open G man. Oh, and before we leave the subject of tunings; you can play in standard tuning if you want to hear the characteristic "Western Swing" sound (the top four strings open give a G6th), and then there are numerous minor tunings!