Music legends Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter both preferred a chrome pinky slide while reeling off innovative blues rock riffs. Perhaps the greatest slide player of all, Duane Allman, strictly used glass. The same applies to current slide sensation and former Allman Brother, Derek Trucks. Yet, The Black Crowes’ Rich Robinson and acoustic veteran Leo Kottke each favor brass. Then again, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry likes porcelain. Listen closely because the differences are clearly there.
The thicker walls of glass, ceramic and porcelain finger slides offer a heavier resonant sound transfer while gliding on metal guitar strings. That idea applies for acoustics and electrics. But tone is generally a tradeoff. The thinner walls of a chrome or brass slide deliver a less hefty sound but with more control over dampening, from the player’s fingers being closer to the strings and fretboard. After using several types, personally, the brass promotes better string control with a somewhat gentler tone than chrome for playing the slide part to “My Sweet Lord.” Still, thicker walled glass is nice for the well-known “Seven Nation Army” riff. But there is more that goes into slide tone than just material and thickness.
String tension, by way of tuning, can influence slide tone. Open tunings have become synonymous with blues and rock slide playing. Waters’ innovations typically occurred in open G, D-G-D-G-B-D and Eagles’ guitarist Joe Walsh made history with “Rocky Mountain Way” by means of open E, E-B-E-G#-B-E. Little Feat’s Lowell George enjoyed open A, E-A-C♯-E-A-E and Bukka White played strictly in E minor, E-B-E-G-B-E. The list goes on. Conversely, slide guitar played in the usual standard tuning has an agreeable cleaner quality. The Beatles’ George Harrison’s repertoire of slide work includes standard tuning. Often described as one of the best, slide player Earl Hooker was known for “You Shook Me,” also in standard tuning.
As far as electric enthusiasts go, single coil versus humbucker is another choice influencing tonal character and ultimately which slide to use. For unplugged aficionados, wood and metal bodied resonators can add volume as well as a penetrating complexity, regardless the type of slide. String gage and picking method are other factors to consider. Slide length and tightness of fit around the finger are personal preferences. But generally speaking, the only real way to choose a comfortable finger slide with a great sound is to play.
While a personal view, others opinions and experiences about the topic are gladly welcomed. What do you think about when selecting a slide? What has been your experience?
Photo top Left: Moonshine Slides