Ariel Posen’s Five Tips For Slide Tone & Feel
One of the world’s hottest electric slide guitar players shares his top five tips for getting better tone and feel for electrified slide guitar.
Choose the right slide
“The kind of slide we decide to use is much more of a personal preference than something mandatory. Whether it’s brass, nickel, ceramic or glass, your choice will result in a different sound and feel. I love the warmth that glass gives, but there’s something special and aggressive I get from brass, and that’s why I use it. It’s good to try as many as you can, so you can find the one that suits your sound and your playing the best.
“It’s also vitally important to choose a finger that feels most comfortable for you. Lots of players use their pinky, ring finger or even middle finger. I’ve always played on my pinky because that felt more natural to me, and I really like having my three other fingers available to use behind the slide. The same approach (minus one spare finger) can be achieved with the slide on your ring finger, but not as much when you’re sliding with your middle finger.
“The next important thing to consider is to make sure you find a slide that fits your finger properly. Too many people pick up a slide that ends up being way too big or too tight; they struggle playing with it, obviously, then toss it away never to be played again. You need to spend time finding a slide that fits well, as everyone’s finger sizes differ. I always say a slide should feel like a glove, or an extension of the finger. Most importantly, it shouldn’t feel like you’re changing anything too much when you put it on.”
Raise your action
“This one should be a no-brainer. The higher you set the action of your strings, the more sustain and resonance you’re going to get from the slide. It’s all-too-easy to ‘fret out’ when your action is low, because the strings can’t handle the weight of the slide pushing down on them.
“Raising your action might feel strange at first, especially if you’re still doing some playing without the slide. There’ll be an inevitable period of adjustment, but you won’t look back once you get used to it. If you’re able to, I suggest devoting one guitar to being your dedicated instrument for slide, which you can keep in whichever tuning you like and have higher action.”
Use heavier strings
“Continuing on from higher action and having a devoted slide guitar, I suggest throwing some heavier gauge strings on it. Lots of people, myself included, use various different tunings such as DADGAD, open D, open C, and so on. When you start tuning down so low, the strings get loose and don’t handle those low tunings as well. If you’re primarily playing in standard tuning or open E, then you shouldn’t have to go higher than 0.011s.
“Assuming your action is raised, you should still be able to get a lot of sustain from those tunings. If you’re moving lower to D or C, I highly recommend heavier-gauge strings. Don’t be shy to go as heavy as 0.014s or 0.016s. You’ll be surprised how, even though they’re gigantic relative to your normal string-gauge choice, they’re still fairly comfortable to play, because you’re matching the tension with the tuning. Slide really likes heavier strings – your sound instantly becomes bigger and warmer, if that’s what you’re going for.
“Heavier strings with higher action will immediately make your slide journey easier. Remember that slide is supposed to be an emotive experience, and these steps just make it easier to fully engage that.”
Work on your right hand
“There’s a common misconception that slide players mute with the left hand. The truth is that all of your muting comes from your right hand. Whether you want to play with a pick or your fingers, that’s up to you, but it’s the fingers close to the string that you strike that prove to be very important in muting the strings you don’t want to hear. I usually play with my fingers when I play slide, because I like the warmer tone I get with the slide as opposed to a pick. Whenever I’m striking a note, whether it’s with my index or middle finger, I’m essentially ‘sandwiching’ the strings around it.
For example, if I’m striking the second (B) string with my index finger, then my thumb and middle finger are muting the third (G) and first (E) string. This ensures there aren’t any extra notes that I don’t want being heard.
“This technique is the same for any note or string you’re playing. It’s something that has to become second nature – a thing that you just ‘do’. Another common tendency people have is to press down hard on the fretboard for a more aggressive sound. I always encourage people to have all the attack and power from the right hand, but keep the slide hand soft and only dig in if they really feel like the part calls for it. I find the overall tone from consciously adopting this approach gives you much more control over your dynamics.”
Get the right gear
“For any playing style, gear is what makes us inspired and helps us get the exact sound in our head out into the world. For slide, it’s really up to you what you want to use. There is no ‘right’ guitar or amp combination that will transport you to that magical place in your mind. It’s actually all about what gets you fired up when you throw your guitar on and flick the standby switch off.
“My personal preference is an amp with headroom. I like loud amps, 50 watts or higher. Not that I don’t have love for the low-wattage selections, but in a band or live setting, I need that clean room to make sure my sound doesn’t top out too early. Headroom helps with sustain and resonance, especially if you start hitting it with overdrive or boost. Lots of slide players tend to use compressors, as they help add sustain on top of what you might already have going.
“With regard to the sound of the guitar, there are no rules about whether you should be playing slide with single-coil pickups or humbuckers. Just like the slides themselves, pickups are just different flavours. Again, I can’t stress enough that it’s so important for you to mess around with different combinations, to find what works for you. Keep an open mind, and have fun while finding your sound. Remember that it’s easy to sound like other people, but it’s hard to find your own voice. Make it your own – find the sound that makes you play better, stick with it, and dive deeper in!”
Ariel Posen’s solo single, Fade, is out now. Visit arielposen.com to find out more.