I’ve messed around with slide guitar tunings since 2005, and I love the way a slide sounds on the guitar.
If you’ve ever played the guitar with a slide, you know it can be tricky to play with in standard tuning.
So what are the best guitar tunings to use when playing the guitar with a slide?
Drop D is a popular tuning for slide guitar that’s easy to tune.
You just drop the low E 6th string one whole step from E to D.
The above video is a good example of a slide guitarist making a great sound come from a standard acoustic guitar (not a resonator guitar).
You’ll also notice that he primarily uses his index finger or thumb to pick the string.
This is common among slide guitarists who often use their other fingers to mute the other strings not being played.
There are many open tunings for slide guitar.
And, as I mentioned in my article about open tunings, there are several ways to make an open tuning.
However, I try to use the most common open tunings for convenience’s sake.
So I tend to use the open A tuning used by Led Zeppelin and The White Stripes: EAEAC♯E
Be careful when tuning your B string up to a C# especially if you’re using heavy strings since the tension will be very high on that string and on the neck.
Just tune up slowly and play the string a bit to help it adjust to the new tension.
The guitarist in the video above wonderfully illustrates how possible it is to both pick and slide at the same time.
You’ll notice he uses the slide on his pinky to give his other three fingers the flexibility to make notes for picking.
A common open B tuning is: BF♯BF♯BD♯
Because you’re tuning some strings down multiple full steps, your strings may fee floppy.
You’ll notice in the video above this slide guitarist illustrating an important concept in slide guitar:
It’s better to slide up to and provide vibrato at the note but not above the note.
If you slide below and above the note, it tends to sound sharp and discordant.
If you slide below and to the note, it sounds great.
One of the most common open C tunings is: CGCGCE
This is another tuning that requires tuning the B string up.
So again, be careful as you tune it up a half step which adds more tension to the string and neck.
A common open D tuning is: DADF♯AD
For this tuning, you will tune all strings down so you don’t have to worry about strings breaking or too much tension on the neck.
In the video above, Andy Aledort gives a tutorial using the open D tuning.
This video will give you more tools to excel playing slide guitar.
A common open E tuning is: EBEG#BE
This is another tuning that requires tuning some strings up.
Marty Schwartz gives a great tutorial in the video above about how exactly to tune up your guitar to this tuning.
Marty’s playing an electric guitar which typically has lighter gauge strings which put less tension on the guitar neck in general.
As such, he doesn’t have much of an issue tuning up the strings required for open E.
However, if you’re playing an acoustic guitar with heavy gauge strings, you might be concerned about putting too much string tension on the neck of the guitar.
If this is a concern to you, many guitarists opt to tune to open D and capo on the 2nd fret to avoid unnecessary tension on the strings and neck.
Keep this in mind as an option for this many of the open tunings mentioned in this article.
A common open F tuning is: CFCFAC
This tuning doesn’t require tuning any strings up.
you will be tuning some strings more than one step down so your strings may feel little bit loose or floppy.
The guitarist in the video above shows how he has attached a magnetic pickup to provide a better sound for his guitar.
The pickup is the small silver rectangle you see just below the neck of the guitar on its body.
It can be a bit of challenge to make sure you get the best sound out of your instrument when using a slide.
Just remember the recommendations.
Ideally you use a resonator guitar to play with your slide.
Use heavy gauge strings like for an acoustic:
Or these for electric:
And if you aren’t going to use a resonator guitar, take your acoustic to a guitar shop and ask them to raise the action (this will reduce the likelihood of an unwanted buzzing sound that can happen when your slide causes the strings to hit the frets).
Or just tell them that you want it set up for playing with a slide!
A common open G tuning is: DGDGBD
This tuning doesn’t require tuning up any strings.
And if you like you can tune to open G and capo on the 2nd fret for open A (since open A requires tuning up).
In the above video, Ted provides some background information on slide guitar and open tunings (like which tunings are best for which genres).
The first half of the video is primarily Ted talking and the last half contains more playing if you’re interested in one or the other.
DADGAD isn’t an open tuning, but it’s a really fun tuning that I think actually provides more versatility than most open tunings.
It can be challenging for novice guitarists to get a variety of sound out of an open tuning.
However, DADGAD seems to make your guitar easier to play with the slide and versatile enough to get a variety of sound out of the guitar.
The above video isn’t instructional but rather an inspiring show of what you can do with the slide, particularly in DADGAD.
Setting Up Your Slide Guitar
You’ll notice in several of the videos below that the slide guitarists are using a funky looking guitar.
Many slide guitarists like using resonator guitars because they amplify the sound of the slide on the strings really well without requiring an external amplifier.
They are built in such a way to amplify sound better than a standard acoustic guitar.
If you get serious about this style, you’ll probably want to purchase one.
(But you don’t need a resonator guitar to play slide guitar.)
If you’re playing with a standard guitar, many slide guitarists recommend:
- Raising the action (increasing the distance between the strings and the neck) on your guitar
- and using heavy strings.
These are the opposite recommendations I give to beginner guitarists.
But in the case of slide guitar, I agree with these recommendations.
Heavy strings and a high action will enable you to get the best sound from your guitar when playing with a slide.
So if you can, have one guitar dedicated to playing with your slide and another dedicated to alternate styles so you don’t have to raise and lower the action and replace strings whenever you want to play.
(This is another reason you might consider getting a resonator guitar if you’re going to have an instrument dedicated to playing with a slide).
Choosing a Slide for Your Guitar
Nearly everything about guitar slides comes down to personal preference.
Slides are usually made of glass, brass, or steel.
Each slide material has subtly different effects.
Slides can also be open on both ends or just one end (again whatever you prefer).
And slide guitar players wear slides on whichever finger feels most comfortable.
However, if you’re planning on picking in addition to sliding, many guitarists recommend using the slide on your pinky finger so that your index, middle, and ring can do the picking.
Slide sets are inexpensive and I recommend purchasing a set like this one so that you can try each type to see which one you like the best.
Slide Guitar Tuning: Conclusion
If you’re curious about the best tuning for slide guitar, know there is no single tuning that is the best or most popular.
However, both Open D and Open G tuning are quite popular.
That said, any of the tunings I have mentioned in this post are great for slide guitar.
And if you want a simple that doesn’t require much change from standard tuning, Drop D is a great place to start.
Regardless of the tuning, most guitarist use a slide to create uniquely expressive and soulful sounds that are challenging to make without as slide.
But know that this technique requires precision and control.
Although you may be able to get a few good sounds out of your slide guitar sessions without much practice, like most contexts, plenty of practice will likely precede anything truly noteworthy from your slide guitar sessions.
By mastering slide guitar techniques and incorporating them into their playing, guitarists can add a distinct flavor and emotional depth to their music.
Whether you’re a beginner looking to delve into slide playing or an experienced guitarist seeking new sonic territories, experimenting with different slide guitar tunings can open up exciting avenues for creativity and self-expression.
Did we leave out your favorite slide guitar tuning?
Let us know in the comments below!