Improvisation is a key element in performing music. Players often like to jam on sections of songs in order to put their own stamp on the tune.
There are also some situations in which a band member has to improvise for a different reason. Even if you always carry a Survival Kit with you, there are certain circumstances where you will have forgotten or lost an item.
A guitar slide (metal or glass) is commonly used among gigging players to replicate a solo that was on a particular recording – and it’s also used when a guitarist wants to create a unique lead for the song.
But what do you do if your band is playing ZZ Top’s “Tush” (which is one of the 50 songs that you need to know to play in cover bands) and you can’t find your trusty slide?
Believe it or not, there are several items that can be found at a bar, club, or restaurant that can serve the same purpose as a guitar slide. Some you will be familiar with, or may have even used. Others will surprise you, and you might just find yourself scoping the venue at your next gig for these handy items – just in case.
1. Beer Bottle
This is the obvious first choice, and is readily available at most gigs. If you don’t have one right by your side, there’s usually an alcohol consumer nearby that will gladly hand over his brew to hear your tasty licks. Of course, it’s better to use an empty bottle so that your don’t splash the booze all over your guitar neck – or the floor (and spill that delicious beer). Keep in mind that if the bottle has a label, you’ll want to face that out away from the strings, so that just the glass touches your neck.
In addition to beer, there are usually many other types of glasses or bottles at a show that you could use, including, but not limited to:
Shot glasses, liquor bottles, ketchup bottles, oil and vinegar containers, salt and pepper shakers, vases, coffee mugs, or any empty glass beverage container.
2. Mic Stand
This is another fairly commonly used substitute for a slide solo. The advantage here is that you don’t need to look very far to find one, and you can easily grab it and tilt it with your fretting hand while you pick away with the other.
Mic stands with a solid, round base probably work the best, as they can be tilted in any direction and will easily rock back into their previous position. Stands with a tripod base will also work, but you have to be at just the right angle to get the best result.
In most venues across the country (at least in the United States), you can no longer smoke indoors. So what the heck are you going to use that lighter for while you’re inside? Well, for a slide, of course!
Plastic Bic™ lighters are the most common that you’ll find people carrying around. They’ll work fairly well as a slide as they are about the same size and length, and can quickly be tossed aside once you’re done burning up the fret board (pun intended).
If you’re lucky enough to have a Zippo™ on your person, or you can find a serious smoker in the crowd that does, these work best as they are made of metal…just like a slide!
4. Billiard Ball
It’s rude to pick one up off of the pool table while someone is in the middle of playing a game. But then again, it’s also rude of someone to not be paying full attention to you while you’re shredding on your axe!
The curvature of the ball plus the comfort in the palm of your hand make for an excellent slide in a pinch. Just be sure to return it to its rightful spot on the table when you’re done.
Also an essential item in your basic Survival Kit, batteries come in many shapes and sizes, and are an ideal stand-in for your missing slide. You’ll often find a non-working 9-volt somewhere on the floor that another musician has left behind, or you may spot one in any other random location on or near the stage.
Just about any size battery will work – including C, D, the aforementioned 9-volt, AA, and even AAA. They all have a rounded edge that is ideal for tearing up a monstrous solo, and can be easily discarded after you crush the crowd with your innovative techniques.
A musical instrument itself, a harmonica (or harp) is a workable replacement to get the job done. Pro harmonica players carry an array of different harps – each in a different key that is appropriate for the song being played.
But for your guitar slide mastering purposes, key is not an issue. The only thing that matters is that you have one in your clutches to shave some heads in the crowd with your blistering lead-playing prowess.
You might want to ask the harp player first before using his beloved instrument. After all, you wouldn’t want him snatching your guitar and putting it in his mouth without your permission.
7. Stripper Pole
Why should practically naked women have all the fun? You won’t find stripper poles (or “Party Poles”) at most venues where bands play, but on the occasion that you do, sometimes they’re smack dab in the middle of the stage.
This is one of the few items that you can use in lieu of a slide that is fixed in its position, so you’re actually moving your guitar against it instead of moving the slide up and down the guitar neck.
If the available pole is one that is used at other times by ladies of the night, you may want to check for any foreign substances before making contact with your beloved six-string. The vertical fixture is often “greased” in order to make it more slickery for the acrobatic girls, and can leave behind an undesirable residue.
The great thing about a lot of singers is that they often use a portable wireless microphone (not pictured) at a gig. The frustrating thing about singers at times is that they never stop using it, even when you’re ripping out an epic solo.
One way to silence your front man and get some slide action on your neck is to grab the mic off of the stand. If it’s a wireless, you might want to switch it off first though in order to avoid ear-piercing feedback as you tear up your bad-ass slide licks.
Guitar slides have a rounded edge. So do spoons! They come in many different shapes and sizes, but are all good to use as a makeshift slide (except for plastic spoons).
You’ll probably want to avoid snatching one out of a diner’s hand while they’re enjoying a scrumptious meal, and opt for a sparkly clean utensil. If you’re lucky, there might even be someone in the crowd that actually plays the spoons as an instrument itself, and be happy to lend one over to contribute to your already amazing git-fiddle abilities.
10. Tremolo Bar
Not every player uses a guitar with a tremolo (or whammy bar). But if you do and your slide has gone missing, this is a convenient option right at your fingertips. In this case you’ll need a little bit of foresight as it will take a few seconds to unscrew the bar from the bridge. But once that sucker is let loose, there will be some seriously rockin’ slide solos coming from your side of the stage. Just be sure to put it somewhere where you won’t lose it after you’re done. Or better yet, put it back on the guitar where it belongs when the song is over.
11. Leg of a Bar Stool
This one might be difficult to pick up, but there’s nothing stopping you from getting down closer to the earth and rocking the foundation.
It might actually be better if there’s someone sitting atop it, as this renders the chair immovable and will aid in your skilled display of guitar mastery.
Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty on the floor while you showcase your innovative capacity for the live music fans in the house. You might get a few stains on your jeans, but the adulation you receive will make it all worth it.
12. Several Items Found in a Woman’s Purse
Girls carry around a lot of stuff. To men, most of it is pretty useless – except if you’re a guitar player in need of an impromptu item to double as a slide.
Lots of things in a ladies’ handbag will serve your purposes. Lipstick containers are cylindrical. So are mascara tubes, Chap Stick or lip balm items, and pepper spray cans. Compacts are rounded and could work well. And even some hairbrushes have a semi-circle back (with a convenient handle!) that you can utilize for your slide solo needs.
Just be sure to never, ever go into a woman’s handbag yourself. She is the keeper of all that is secret in the depths of her private pouch – and I pity the musician that has to deal with the repercussions of invading any female’s personal space.
Full time bass player and owner of Cover Band Central