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Slide Guitar Lesson: What kind of strings should I use?

Almost every week, someone asks me what kind of strings I use on my SG. In this post I want to let you know what I believe are the best strings for playing slide. Is this answer set in stone?

No. If you find something you like better, then by all means use them. This is the strings I have found to stay in tune, get the tone I like and also last a good while before having to change them.

Size Matters

To play slide guitar, the strings should be a little bigger than what you would use to play standard guitar.  If you only want to play slide guitar on the guitar you’re using, then put some .011′s on.  They are fairly big strings but stay in tune well.  You can still play other guitar styles, but it will be significantly harder.

If you’ve played slide guitar some and want to be able to switch back and forth, then I think .010′s is the way to go. Although it will be harder to get the strings from buzzing. With that said I don’t recommend any strings smaller than .010′s. It will simply be too hard. If you’re just starting out, I highly recommend .011′s. It will make your life a lot easier.

What about the action?

Now that you’ve got some bigger strings, you’ll need to raise the action of the guitar so you don’t get fret buzz.  Once again, if you’re only using this as a slide guitar, then you can have them pretty high.  If not, just raise them a little and try to find a balance between the height of your strings, and the playability of both styles of guitar. This is no exact height that the strings must be. You just have to mess around until you find something you are comfortable with. Gibson SG

A Rule of Thumb

If you can slide into the 3rd fret on the high E string without buzz, then you have it high enough. If you’re getting buzz, then raise it a little higher. Also the touch you use will get better with time, so you might can lower the action as your touch of the string to the slide become more natural.

Truss Rod

If you’re playing in open e tuning, you will also need to adjust your truss rod a bit to get the intonation right. Depending on the size of the strings, and how high you have raised the action, it probably won’t take but a small turn. You should be careful when doing this if you don’t know what you’re doing though. If you’re not sure, take it to a pro and have them set it up. It won’t cost that much, and you will be able to actually play slide with it now.

If you don’t have your guitar properly setup for slide, you will fail before you even begin. If you’re serious about slide guitar, you MUST set up your guitar for slide or you will probably end up quitting before you even get started.

What Brand?

This question always comes up, so I’ll let you know what I have used.

  • GHS Boomers – These are great strings that last, are not overly bright, and have a big .050 for the low E for some serious bass. I have been using these strings fro about 15 years and I really like them for slide. Kinda dark, meaty, but with a lot of bite.
  • DR Pure Blues- I have just started using these strings over the past couple of years and I must say that they are excellent! They’re a little thinner sounding to me than the GHS but nothing major. Maybe a little brighter. These strings have become what I use on my strat and 335 for regular guitar all the time. I put .010′s on these guitars though.

Ir you’re interested in trying out slide guitar I’ve recorded 5 DVDs on how to play slide guitar in open e tuning, and 3 DVDs on how to play in standard tuning. Check out Learning Guitar Now to find out more.

Well that is a little bit about the strings I use and why. Disagree? What kind of strings do you like?

Let me know right below what has been your experience with strings when playing slide guitar.

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10 Responses to Slide Guitar Lesson: What kind of strings should I use?

  1. oliver February 11, 2010 at 6:25 AM #

    for over a year I played ernie ball powerslinky 011 strings;
    with higher action on my sg 61 reissue; the sounded pretty cool;
    but now I put the ghs boomers on my sg; the sound is much brighter, more powerful and full of brillance – my new favourites strings for slide playing – thanx john

    • John Tuggle February 11, 2010 at 10:40 AM #

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah I’ve never liked the ernie balls very much.

  2. Andy May 9, 2010 at 6:51 PM #

    I find the thumb rake technique doesnt really work with ultra heavy strings because the bass strings arent rubbery enough. I tried for months to get the same sound you and Derek get with 12s on my guitar but I wasn’t able to get even close to it until I changed to lighter gauge strings (10s.)

    Thanks for all your videos btw, youre becoming one of my biggest influences!

    • John Tuggle May 10, 2010 at 10:24 AM #

      Thanks! .012s will tear your thumb off as well. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Des October 5, 2010 at 6:13 PM #

    G’day, I been running Maxima gold in .13 .16 .18 .30 .42 .54 tryede this after reading sonny landreth. Maxima gold last for ages and sound great just dear, but being mechanic stop string corrosion. Great lessons

  4. Chris Carlson February 18, 2013 at 9:58 PM #

    I’m setting up my cigar box guitar for 3 string slide work. My guitar is homemade and need advice on proper setup. Do you have any idea’s on string to fret clearances for fret’s 1 through 12 and so … on? Also will be doing some finger work in conjunction with slide – what strings should you recommend for Low open G if any or open D? I’ll go open E if I need to?

    Thanks for any help!
    Chris Carlson

  5. RODNEY DAVEY May 2, 2013 at 4:34 PM #

    HAVE ALWAYS LIKED TUGGLE`S ABILITY AND TONE.I HAVE BOUGHT ONE SLIDE LESSON AND FOUND IT JUST WHAT I NEEDED.RODNEY DAVEY.

  6. Todd August 21, 2013 at 10:50 AM #

    I’ve been using Rotosound strings for years. 10s and 11s depending on what style/guitar I’m playing.

    Suggest you give them a try. They last really well and maintain they’re tone. Also, I find them to be a well balanced. Not to trebly or bass heavy.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 7 Reasons Why You Quit Playing Slide Guitar | Learning Guitar Now: Slide, Blues, and Beginner Guitar Lessons. - November 4, 2010

    [...] You didn’t put bigger strings on your guitar – If you’re playing .009s and are serious about playing slide guitar, then you must put .010s or preferably .011s if you’re a beginner.  If you’re using .009s, then you will never be able to get a grasp on slide.  You’ve  got to use bigger strings.  Read this post on what kind of strings I recommend. [...]

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