If you check the videos I post from time to time on the Muzicosphere Youtube channel you might have noticed that lately I’ve been more into slide guitar rather than regular guitar playing. That had an impact on my websites surfing too! Since my early guitar days I owned a standard Dunlop bottleneck for standard slide playing, and when I started playing lap steel I sticked to a Shubb Pearse SP2 tone bar. This is my very basic, and metallic slide gear. As most guitarist who have the bad habit of always wanting something different (indeed it is not really wanting something new so this is an excusable behaviour, right?) I’ve started looking for everything that exists in the bottlenecks, and tone bars world. I particularly gave a big deal to the materials used. Here is an overview of the most appealing stuff I found just to share these with whoever is looking for nice slide related items. I count on the sliders who will read the blog to speak their minds out, and share their best tips with us in the comment section… Now that I have a clear view of what can be found out there, I just have to put my hands on these stuff… Ouch!
The following message is a disclaimer for parents in case the kids are around while you are surfing the web! Disclaimer: Despite the vaguely phallic look of most items displayed in this overview, these are very respectable objects and not sextoys as it may seems! Yet I admit that both type of items are supposed to slide… But this is another story.
I have to say that I am not surprised at all by the fact that you can find slides & tone bars in almost every possible material as long as it is dense, and hard enough to allow strings to freely vibrate without muting them. Who would try to slide with a banana though it is a classic prank to slide on it when it is neglectedly left on the floor! As a matter of fact the first slide guitar players probably used various objects such as pocketknives for instance.
What is following is not an exhaustive overview but a selection of the items that captured my attention… Chosing a slide is a very subjective matter because there are many “parameters” involved going from the shape, the ergonomics to the density of the slide. The choice out there is huge, and every slider will have a different opinion about the slides under test.
Raise Your Glass
Glass is probably the first material used by slide guitarists, and its bottleneck name isn’t misleading as the neck of abottle is the artificial object with the most natural shape to put your finger in … in order to make it slide on the guitar strings, obviously (Am I borderline?). You won’t have much efforts to do to stumble upon one of the numerous tutorials available on the net in order to build your own bottleneck straight from an actual glass bottle. If you’re willing to do so, take care anyway because glass is fragile , and you might hurt yourself if you are as clumsy as I am.
On the market you will find many brands that make glass bottlenecks, and beside Jim Dunlop slides (Dunlop is definitely the giant actor in the guitarist’s accessories field) there are many alternatives that you might want to check, and try. I selected two of them that I will check for sure.
At Diamond Bottlenecks you can find a wide variety of glass bottlenecks, and tone bars. There are many sorts of shapes, sizes, and even finishes that are sometimes kinda “arty”, and colourful. At Boyett Glass Bars the one that caught my attention is a glass tone bar filled with lead. I think it should allow for more sustain as the mass of the slide should be a lot increased compared to a standard glass tone bar. At least it should be true if heaviness is more important than the density of the material in the sustain phenomenon.
Une video demo of Diamond Bottlenecks tone bars by Fred Kinbom
The shape of both brands tone bars is the bullet shape which is not my favorite one because I find it harder to handle (but I only tried one bullet steel bar a couple of years ago so maybe I could be surprised now). During my search I couldn’t find any brand that went for the other shape, the Shubb Pearse SP-like shape, but maybe I just missed them. At first I thought maybe it is too complex to do but I’ve found a guy on a French slide forum who achieved this kind of shape. The result is very nice… And I think I’m gonna contact him to see if it is possible to try them!
Heavy Metal Slides Well
It seems like metal is the most used family of materials to build bottlenecks, and tone bars. You can find various metals like steel, brass , bronze,… Anything that is dense, and malleable enough can be used to build a bottleneck. Metallic bottlenecks come in various shapes, and sizes. A quick search on google with the word bottleneck will allow you to find many models. As a matter of fact you can even do it yourself with a plain brass pipe that you can cut to provide you kilometers of metallic bottlenecks. Ok you will have to work a little especially sanding the pipe otherwise your hands will suffer a little. But this is the cheapest, and easiest way to build your DIYbottleneck. To be honest I never did mine because I am very lazy! If you plan to make a DIY metallic tone bar this is another story. Indeed, you will need proper tools, and skills to manufacture a piece of metal!
Besides the Shubb Pearse SP, which is the model that I’ve been using for a couple of years now, I think now I would also have a look on the basic yet popular bullet shaped Broz-O-Phonic. I also would fancy try a Shubb GS because of its handle made of wood. I guess it should have an effect on the tone because of the density of the wood that makes this tone bar lighter than its steel equivalent. One thing is sure… If you are looking for a metallic slide you will have plenty of choice out there no matter which parameter you are looking for.
Slide & The Family Stone
I admit I don’t often think of Joe Perry from Aerosmith as a slide player yet he is one of the most famous users of ceramic bottlenecks. As a matter of fact there even is a Joe Perry signature model by Jim Dunlop. There are many brands that build slides from mineral materials (native or transformed), and 2 of them caught my attention mostly because of the general look of there items.
Paloma Stone Slides is a brand I’ve found about just a couple of days ago (incidentally it made me write this overview) , and I liked the pure, and elegant lines of these ceramic bottlenecks & tone bars. The second brand is Rocky Mountain Slides which make slides with a kind of raw general look. However, if you check the website you’ll find the Poncha Bullet model that looks like a hybrid between the shape of a bullet bar, and an SP type bar. I would be curious to try one of these as the handling should be great, I assume.
One important difference though is pointed out by the Rocky Mountain Slides manufacturer. The manufecturing process of most ceramic slides involves a liquid clay that is poured into molds to get the definitive shape of the slide. The Rocky Mountain slides are made from solid blocks of clay to be shaped as tone bars, and bottlenecks. According to him this has a direct impact on the tone as the density of the material he uses is higher. I promise… One day or another I will check this out, and I will compare!
This is the end of the first part of this overview… In the second upcoming part, I will focus on non conventional materials used to make slides.