Help for Sick Slides (and Even Good Ones)

How good is your slide?  How much do you know about how a terrific slide works?  The physics of a great slide are quite simple.  For the slide to function, the tubes need to be uniformly round, straight and exactly the same distance apart from end to end.  To qualify as a terrific slide, you need all of the above and you must eliminate as much of the friction as possible between the inner and outer tubes.

In the past, players have expected the lubrication of the slide to eliminate this friction, but with only moderate success.  There are several products which, when used in conjunction with the lubrication products, can greatly enhance the speed and smoothness of the slide.  Before considering this process, it is wise to examine the current condition of your slide.

Your first activity is a mechanical checklist to determine how the tubes are operating.

  1. Using one inner tube and the corresponding outer tube, hold the slide in a vertical position and introduce the matching inner tube slowly into the outer tube.  If the inner tube goes in quietly and you feel no slowness or restriction, then repeat the process with the other pair of tubes. If either set does not work perfectly, you may have bent tubes, dents or oxidation on the inside of the outer tubes.  These can be easily corrected without unsoldering the slide parts.

  2. If the slide works well in pairs, but not so well when both pairs are used at the same time, then there may be a difference in the distances between the pairs of tubes.  You may notice that the stocking ends of the inner tubes appear to be closer together or farther apart than the width of the outer slide at the open end.  If you carefully examine the location of the inside tubes (in a vertical position, with the outer slide about two inches (5cm) out of first position), you may detect that the inside tubes are not located in the center of the outside tubes.  Both the inside handgrip and the outside handgrip must be exactly the same with as the outer slide crook.  One might expect that every new slide would come from the factory with these dimensions correct.  In reality, it is not at all unusual for new slides to be close, but not correct.  We all know that close only counts in the game of horseshoes and atomic bombs! All adjustments must be made to make the handgrips match the width of the crook.  This correction will require some soldering, which may burn the lacquer and may require spot lacquering.  Some of the newer finishes and the wonderful old “LustreConn” epoxy finishes can be heated enough for solder to run without destroying the finish.

  3. Finally, if the slide was assembled (either when new or after a repair was made) without the use of a level stone, there is a high probability that the slide will be torqued. This condition can be found on both the inner and outer slide.  First, picture the inner slide placed on a flat stone surface. When the slide is torqued, one tube will lay flat on the stone and the other tube will touch the stone at the handgrip end, but the other tube will be raised up above the stone at the end opposite the handgrip.  The outer slide will look much the same, but can be rocked back and forth on the stone.  We call this a slide by Zildgian.  To function properly, both sets of tubes must sit perfectly flat on the stone.

We have examined the mechanical issues you may be facing.  If these all appear to be in working order, you will want to consider the WAR ON FRICTION!

The combination of tarnish, oxidation, residue from previous lubrication and other organic matter (slide cheese) combine to create friction between the tubes.  Here is a phone call I receive quite often:

Caller: I got this new slide and it was great.   I haven’t dented it or stood it up on the slide or anything, but it keeps getting slower and slower. What is wrong with this slide? 

The Slide Dr.:  Let me guess.  You are using product xyz to lubricate the slide.

Caller: How did you know?

Slide Dr.: The explanation is easy.  With product xyz, only a tiny amount of each of the chemicals is required.  You start with product one and place one drop on each tube and rub it all around the stockings.  Then introduce the inside slide into the outside slide and transfer the product to the inside of the outer tubes.  Then wipe all of product one off of the inside tubes.  Then place just one drop of product two on each inside tube.  Rub it all over the inside tubes.  Spray with water and enjoy.


The player was using 10 to 20 times the required amount of the products and not wiping any of the product out of the outer tubes before adding more product.  The inside of the outer tubes, when cleaned with a diluted muriatic acid solution yields large sections of green slime.



Look at your slide tubes:

  1. The inside of a brass outer tube should be a bright shining brass color.  You should see no black streaks or chalky dull surfaces on the inside of the tubes.

  2. Nickel silver outer tubes quite often sound scratchy unless heavily lubricated, which in turn slows the function of the slide.  Nickel oxide is the culprit here.  When properly cleaned and polished, there should be no scratchy sound and no restrictions on the inside of the outer tubes.

  3. Nickel/chrome inside tubes should sparkle and you should see thousands of tiny water droplets as you would observe on a freshly waxed car.

Correcting these friction problems has become a simple and virtually “goof-proof” process.  There are several products, which will remove tarnish from the inside of the outer slide tubes. A water based brass polish, such as Wright’s Brass polish (available at most grocery stores) will work wonders.  Wrap a soft cloth (old bed sheet or muslin, 20 cm by the length of the sheet) around the complete length of the cleaning rod.  Be sure to hold the tube that you are cleaning and be sure that the rag fits snugly but no so tight as to require any force to move it in the tube. Place a tablespoon of polish on the front end of the rag and polish the inside of each outer tube.  It is important that you repeat the process, flushing the residue out of the tube with water between applications, until the water comes out looking the color of milk. Wipe the inside of the tube with a clean rag.

There are several products that will seal the inside of the outer tubes.  We have tried a great variety of products looking for the best combination of results and are currently using a a proprietary formulation of non-Teflon based polymers.  We hope to make this available direct to players soon.  This is the product we use to complete the setup of all slides here in the Dr.’s Office.  

The product is simple to use.  Directions come with the product.  The first step requires the use of a pumice-based cleaner which will remove any residue left from the brass polish.  You may be quite surprise to see how much black residue you’ll remove even after using the brass polish.  The final step is to coat the inside of the outer tubes with a Teflon polymer treatment and buff with a clean rag.  You will need to clean the slide several time a day for the first few days, or until all of the black residue is out, and the rag comes out of the inner tubes with no black showing.

From this point on, there are several products what work very well to lubricate the slide.  The important part is to understand that MOST players use TOO MUCH lubrication, thinking, “If a little is good, more must be better!” 

If you are using Superslick and Plus Oil, place just a tiny smidge on the end of your finger and rub the one smidge on both stockings.  Then introduce the in inner slide into the outer slide and transfer the cream to the inside of the outer tubes.  When you move the slide, it should not feel slow.  If it does, you probably used too much cream.  After the transfer, remove the inner slide and wipe all of the cream off of the inner tubes.  Apply one dime-sized drop of Plus oil to each inner tube and rub all over the tube.  Spray with water, reassemble the slide and enjoy!  It will probably require several applications of lubrication to remove the residue from the Teflon treatment.  When a cleaning rag comes out without any black on it, you have completed the process.

If you are using Slide-O-Mix, only one drop of each product is required on each tube.  Place one drop of the first bottle on each tube and transfer the product to the inside of the outer tubes.  Wipe the inner slide clean.  Apply one drop of the second bottle to each stocking, rub over the entire inside tube and spray with water.  Reassemble and enjoy.

Several players have told me that the cleaning process takes too much time away from their practice.  I sometimes use this analogy:  If you were a race car driver, you might think that the most important thing that you could do would be to practice driving around the track over and over, trying to see how fast you could go without loosing control of the car.  The ingredient that is missing here is top speed.  How fast will the car go in the areas where control is not an issue? Faster cars almost always beat slower cars, if all other things are equal.   If we can improve the speed of your slide, you can improve your ability to play faster, but also to play smoother and more controlled.  If the action feels lighter, you don’t work as hard to play and suffer from less fatigue.

Quite often, I send slides home with drawings showing what was wrong with the slide and always sign the letters with “Happy Trills.”  It is a take-off from a tune by the Sons of the Pioneers, called “Happy trails to you.”  (Anyone old enough to remember the Roy Rogers TV series will remember that this was the sign-off tune.)  The first time you do lip trills that require a slide position change, you’ll see immediately why this process is so important why you cannot afford to be without it.

Remember that technical assistance is always available from the Slide Dr., and opinions are based upon over 30 years of working with thousands of slides.

Disclaimer:  The Slide Dr. will assume no responsibility for accidents caused by players who attempt to do their own repairs. 

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