A New Slide Puts Creativity Within Grasp with the Black Mountain Slide Ring

 

Slide guitar has been with us since the nineteenth century (at least), yet there’s nothing outdated or old fashioned about it. It’s a creative avenue at home in nearly every genre under the sun and this writer will bet that Beethoven’s Ninth sounds amazing and funky played with a slide on an old National resonator.

Anyone who’s ever played 99% of the slides out there knows there is a major downside to slide playing: whatever finger you pop that bad boy on is a finger that’s going to be unavailable for fretted notes and chords. Typical slides are basically lengths of pipe that severely restrict the range of motion of whatever finger they’re placed on, nor do they allow the fingertip to access the string. It also tends to force your fretting hand into weird compromises and Twister-like attempts to put a coherent partial chord or single-note run together.

The Black Mountain Slide Ring has addressed these challenges in a very elegant way, however. I was provided a Black Mountain Slide Ring by the inventor, Cole McBride, and after a little bit of time in the cockpit can attest that once you get the feel for it, the Slide Ring is an excellent option for those who aren’t full-time slide players to add soulful slurs and sweeps to their playing without wondering how they’re going to fret a simple open chord in the next measure.

Several differences between the Slide Ring and more traditional slides are immediately apparent. First, the playing surface of the Slide Ring is reduced so that it fits right between the first and second joints of the middle finger (and the middle finger specifically; more on that later) on your fretting hand. Though it’s narrower than a traditional slide, there’s still plenty of room to easily grab and play on two strings, even three if you lay it just right.

Inside the Slide Ring is a spring-loaded clasp that, if you’re familiar with the Black Mountain Thumb Pick, will look very familiar. Much like it’s purpose on the Thumb Pick, the clasp keeps the Slide Ring snugly in place on the finger. Once I slipped it on, even exaggerated finger-waggling and intentional attempts to flick it off couldn’t dislodge the Slide Ring from it’s perch. The Slide Ring comes in three different sizes. Once you find your basic size the clasp further customizes the fit.

The actual slide on the Slide Ring is hefty, high-quality steel that actually has a very subtle texture to it, possibly from the machining process. It’s egg-shaped rather than circular, which gives the scaled-down slide component more mass so it sounds and performs more like a traditional slide. The surface is not quite smooth as a glass slide might be, but the writer personally likes a little bit of texture on the surface to provide some subtle grippiness and character. I don’t think most players will notice it though, and if you’re a glass or steel slide player you’ll feel right at home.

McBride acknowledges that it will take practice to build a proper Slide Ring technique and, sure enough, my first couple of licks were more “sodden landfill” than Sonny Landreth. Normally I wear a slide on my ring finger, but the Slide Ring is best worn on the middle finger. That placement enables all four fingers to retain their full range of motion so that chords, single notes and double stops can all be fretted with ease. With the help of some videos featuring R.J. Ronquillo and Justin Johnson and building up new muscle memory to account for the re-positioned slide and the way the weight is distributed, I found myself able to cleanly intonate notes and begin to enhance full, open chords with slide guitar fills and accents within a couple of hours. More skilled slide players than your truly (and there’s a lot of you out there that fit that description) will probably pick it up even quicker.

Put head-to-head-to-head against my trusty old brass slide and a big, fat ceramic slide the Slide Ring rates extremely high overall. On both electric and acoustic, the Slide Ring sounds and feels louder and more responsive than the other two slides I had on hand (no pun intended). I didn’t feel as though I was working as hard with the Slide Ring to get a particular volume or note attack. It has a sweet, vocal midrange perfect for classic slide licks and stabs and all of the stuff I like about my full-size brass slide in spades, and yet is far quieter and smoother on the strings. Against the ceramic slide, it wasn’t much of a contest. The Slide Ring was noticeably fatter and more sustaining, with just as much mobility on the strings as the ceramic slide’s glazed surface.

The good weight and clasp made the Slide Ring feel much more stable than the other two slides as well. I noticed I didn’t squeeze my adjacent fingers to the sides of the Ring Slide like I do, somewhat subconsciously, with the other slides. Keeping my fretting hand loose woke up my vibrato and empowered me even further to bounce around between fretted and slide playing. I also noticed I was having a much easier time avoiding hitting the edge of the fretboard on the treble side which, in addition to making an annoying clacking sound when it hits the fret ends, tends to scuff up your binding/fretboard edges.

Given that up to now I’m only a very occasional slide player, I definitely believe the Slide Ring will encourage me to bring more slide slipperiness into my regular playing style. Using a full-sized traditional slide usually feels like an all or nothing proposal to me. If I’m committing an entire finger to a brass tube, then I’m not going to be happy just playing one or two slide riffs and calling it a tune. With the Black Mountain Slide Ring, I’m not forced into that situation any longer and I’m not sacrificing sick slide tones. For slide players and fretted players alike, it’s a total win-win.

You can find out more about the Black Mountain Slide Ring here or by visiting one of the 500 retailers around the world that stock them. Happy sliding!

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