Slash by Anne Erickson

In's ongoing series, we raise a birthday hat to tireless trooper Slash. He's back on the road with Guns N'Roses for the mega tour of 2016, but he's not said his work with Myles Kennedy is over. And he hasn't said “No” to a new Guns N' Roses album either. Knowing Slash, he'll do the lot...

Who is he?

You damn well know who he is. But Slash remains remarkable. In the realm of hard rock, he just may be the most influential guitar player over the last four decades and has proved himself a true survivor. In 2012, Time named him the greatest guitarist ever… (well, after Jimi Hendrix, but you already knew that.)

Slash's personal indulgences over the years would have killed most ordinary people. His band battles would have made most folk's hair fall out. Yet, he keeps going. No more drugs, no more alcohol, he doesn't even smoke anymore. He now likes Adele and building Lego with his sons. And playing guitar like a legend.

Guns N'Roses is a saga of its own, but Slash has also sailed choppy waters in his own band Snakepit, Velvet Revolver in particular, and his self-named “band” of recent years where he's juggled commitments adeptly and made it all work. His guest-recordings are numerous, from Alice Cooper to Michael Jackson to movie scores. You don't call Slash, though, if you want a do-it-all sessioneer adept at any style. You call him if you want your songs “Slashing”. (Though, why the Bee Gees needed that, only they know. Why Slash answered their call… only he knows!)

Slash by Anne Erickson

But he's open and honest enough, despite his fame, to realize this sort of approach made him the player he is. "I don't practice,” he once said. “The way I learned was playing with other musicians that played 10 times better than me.

“The best thing for me is to go out and do a physical full-out rehearsal. That’s when the whole physical thing comes into it and you realize that 10 hours a day of practising doesn’t mean shit because the whole thing is completely different. I learned that a long time ago. No venue is the same, and playing in your bedroom is not the same as playing in front of people.”

So, if you want to be like Slash, his advice is pretty simple. Grab your guitar and get out there and play. A hat is optional.

Even so, to achieve what he has must take incredible patience. How he and Axl Rose can even work together, let alone nail their unique rock'n'roll chemistry, is a mystery. In a Q&A with The Guardian once, Slash was asked what his greatest fear was: He replied; “Not showing up. I never do that, but I fear the idea of doing it.” Asked what trait he most deplored in others? “Being obnoxiously loud.” Tellingly, the trait he most deplores in himself was “Making excuses.” Who could he mean?

Add all these up, and you have the mini-worldview of Slash. Don't “practice”, just do. Don't be rude. Show up. Play. No excuses.

Signature Sounds

Modest man that he is, Slash talks more of the players he took influence from rather than his own playing. One week, he'll say his favorite player is Joe Perry. The next, it's Rory Gallagher. He'll name-check David Gilmour, Brad Whitford, Van Halen, Paul Kossoff, Page, Clapton, Mick Ronson, “the guy” who played the solo on the Manfred Mann's Earth Band's cover of Springsteen's Blinded By The Light (Dave Flett, should you also need to know). Nothing unusual in this, but this melange of influences never shows its hand too obviously in his own playing. He learned the hardest trick: he sounds like Slash.

Above all, he's a highly melodic player for his genre. He claims to know no theory and can't read music, but – even if it's subliminal, or by “accident” – he knows his scales. The blues scale is at the heart of most of his soloing and top-line melodies, but musicologists who have analysed his playing reveal he (even if unwittingly) uses major scales, minor relative scales, minor harmonic scales and more. For all we know, Slash doesn't even think in these terms.

In terms of style, he employs a lot of powerful vibrato and a strong arsenal of speed, from 16th note flurries to drawn-out bends. His tone is thick, but mostly amp-driven... and it's not fuzzy, but warmly distorted. So careful with those pedals.

He says of Myles Kennedy, current singer/fellow guitarist in his band, “Myles teaches me stuff. Technically he's much more proficient than I am. He knows way more about all that stuff. There's been a few times where he's shown me licks, runs, arpeggios or scales and I'm like, 'What was that?”

Simply, Slash's style “happens” when you base your soloing runs on the notes of the underlying chords, even as these progress bar-to-bar. It's all about melody.

Slash and Gibson

Slash reckons it was somehow destined “I would have ended up with a Les Paul. I was raised on David Gilmour just as much as Jimmy Page and as much as Jimi Hendrix. But the Les Paul, something about the combination of looks and sound... I just gravitated to the Les Paul without even thinking about it.” A bit like his soloing, then. He just knows when it's right.

There have been nine signature Gibson models over the years, all with tweaks to specific likes – red guitars, tobacco 'bursts, copies of his Appetite for Destruction guitar, goldtops... A constant is Seymour Duncan Alnico II / Slash Signature humbucking pickups. These have extra turns of wire for a richer, throatier tone in the neck position and plenty of crunch and wail in the bridge.

Slash doesn't modify his Les Pauls. If he wants a slightly different flavor, he's just buy another one. Or get Gibson to make him one!

Current Slash/Gibson Les Pauls in production are:

Slash Signature Vermillion Les Paul

Notable for its stunningly vibrant red finish, headstock decal, and – like all Slash LPs – the 1960 “Slim Taper” neck profile he so loves. Why? Slash has relatively small hands. Full spec of the Slash Signature Vermillion Les Paul.

Slash Vermillion

Slash Signature Rosso Corsa Les Paul

Pretty much the same, but in deeper Rosso Corsa (Racing Red) finish. All Slash guitars come with grade-AAA maple tops that you can appreciate through the finishes. Red the full spec of the Slash Signature Rosso Corsa Les Paul. Slash says it's “identical to the old AFD in most respects but it is red. Also, the red color varies from instrument to instrument so no two are exactly alike.”

Slash Rossa Corsa

A non-signature Gibson Les Paul that's close to the spec Slash prefers is the Standard Historic 1960 Les Paul, although these have Alnico III humbuckers – more true to 1960 vintage tones.

Essential Listening

GN'R's Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion albums, of course. 2014's World on Fire with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators packs a lot of riffage, and the Live at the Roxy DVD (2014) rattles through his whole career's highlights, sung by Kennedy.

Photos: Anne Erickson