Slash

Groupology

  • Guns N' Roses
  • Slash's Snakepit
  • Velvet Revolver
  • Almost as many sessions as Lukather

 

Jurassic

Watch Slash in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous for: Being a true rock icon in the way Sting, Bono, Cher, and Madonna are icons. Slash is one of the charmed few who's celebrity status is so accepted and secure that having a last name is unnecessary. The name Slash instantly conjures up his image of top hats, cowboy boots, and leather chaps. His silhouette is more recognizable than his face — which always seemed to be obscured by his long hair. In addition to the image, he's penned some of the most successful riffs and memorable solos in rock history. He's famous for the session work he's done. Never mind that Slash can really play — his name alone brings instant cache and "rock cred" to any recording he guests on. No one is calling Zakk Wylde for these sessions. They're not calling Van Halen. And they're not even calling Jeff Beck as much as they used to. They call Slash. From a guitar perspective, Slash is also the last true Guitar God. The last major influence on a generation of young players who still cared about playing lead guitar. Slash is also famous for re popularizing Les Pauls during the age of superstrats and Floyd Roses.

Infamous for: Ditching the Saul Hudson moniker, and using a verb for a name. Having more hair in his face than a sheepdog. Slash created an image morphed from equal parts Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, and Joe Perry. And like his idols, Slash also consumed insane levels of drug and drink while partying in the requisite rock star manner. At least Slash hired a bodyguard to make sure he got home in one piece.

Influences

Obvious: The most obvious influences are Jimmy Page and Joe Perry. Slash can be thought of as the last link in the chain of stylistic evolution — if you can call it evolution — from Page, to Perry, to Slash, in the same way that Malmsteen is the stylistic evolution of Hendrix, Blackmore and Uli Roth. In Slash, you can also hear Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, and most of the Stones guitarists. There's also some Brian May.

Not-so-obvious: Michael Schenker, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Wes Montgomery, Nile Rodgers, Django Reinhardt, Johnny Thunders, Steve Jones, Mick Ronson. Slash is a huge Alice Cooper fan. Must be where he got his love of snakes.

Strengths

Attitude, image, and swagger. Slash realized that you didn't need to be the most technically proficient player to make your mark. He made Richards, Page, and Perry his personal templates for his image and guitar style. He used booze and heroin to fuel the wasted bad-boy image. Slash is sex personified, both as a sex symbol and in his guitar style. Shirtless, Les Paul slung low, cigarette hanging from his lip, sweaty curls obscuring his face, Slash churned out dirty, sexy, raunchy, rude, riffy rock. It was blatantly derivative to anyone who had experienced 70s hard rock firsthand, but it sure hit home on a younger audience that was tiring of spandex, Aqua Net, and pretty boy shredders. Guns N' Roses became the Rocks -era Aerosmith of their generation.

Distinctiveness. Image aside, this is really the key to Slash's popularity and success as a guitarist. He doesn't bring anything particularly new to the table as a guitarist, yet you can always recognize Slash when you hear him. Like all great guitarists, Slash has carved out a unique, instantly recognizable style for himself. And he's done it using rock's most fundamental building blocks. There are silly Internet rumors going around suggesting that he didn't actually play on this or that. Anyone buying into that nonsense must not have ears. Slash is one of the easiest players to identify on any recording.

Versatility. Aside from his bands and projects, Slash is the session player to the stars, similar to the way Jeff Beck has been throughout his career. You could argue that it's due to Slash's name cache. Clearly that factors into things. But hire Slash, and you know he'll deliver a wonderful rock guitar sound and performance that's always recognizable. But we'd argue that Slash also gets hired for his surprising versatility in many genres. Slash has played on blues albums, jazz albums, funk albums and punk albums. He has lent his skills to artists as diverse as Lenny Kravitz, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Chic, PFUNK, Fishbone, Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, and more. If Slash weren't the bad ass, authentic rock stylist he is, he wouldn't get these gigs. He'd just be Dave Navarro — rock star for hire.

Weaknesses

Technique. Though he's cleaner and faster than Page and Perry, Slash still comes from the sloppy chops school of guitar. He admits this freely, has called his picking technique his weakest point, and has stated that if he didn't concentrate on his right hand and really watch the angle, he can lose it.

Songwriting. While he's a riff machine, Slash was not a great songwriter in his early career. For example, the majority of Appetite for Destruction was written by Izzy Stradlin and Axl Rose. Slash's Snakepit also proved the point, featuring great playing, but mostly unmemorable songs. His Velvet Revolver partnership with Scott Weiland hasn't produced anything particularly noteworthy either. As good a player as Slash is, Slash hasn't always been able to carry a project on his name alone. To be fair, his songwriting has improved substantially over time.

Originality. Here's the deal. Slash is a good and distinctive player, but he isn't particularly original. If you were a older guitarist and not of the age that made Slash your first guitar hero, you'd already heard Slash's schtick before. Compared to Page and Perry, Slash can seem like a copy of a copy — even though he plays their style with a higher degree of technical proficiency. Malmsteen took a similar approach by turbo-charging Blackmore and Uli Roth, but he did so to a degree that raised the technique bar for everyone. By contrast, Slash really doesn't bring anything new to what his heroes started.

Tone

Everyone knows Slash is a Les Paul - Marshall guy. In our opinion, he has one of the best Les Paul tones in rock history. It's pretty darn recognizable too. Nasty, unrefined, greasy — it growls like a bitch. Appetite For Destruction was so effective, in part, because those alley cat songs were accompanied by some great alley cat guitar sound. Slash's classic Guns N' Roses sound features far more distortion and sustain than the Les Paul tones of Joe Perry and Jimmy Page, but is rawer, thinner, and less processed than the Les Paul tones of Zakk Wylde and John Sykes. You don't hear much of the string or pick attack. It's very buzzy and almost ratty sounding at times but somehow Slash seems to make it work.

Whether by design or by accident, in Guns N' Roses, Slash achieved a sound that was both distinctive and complementary to Izzy's sound. When he started Snakepit, he went for a much tighter, double-tracked Les Paul sound that is far fatter and browner than his sound on Appetite for Destruction.

With Velvet Revolver, Slash's lead tone changed again. It's more nasal and trebly and definitely shows off his Schenker influence. He also seems to be borrowing a page from Dean Deleo, by using a very trebly guitar sound to cut through the very thick de tuned rhythm guitars.

To produce his tones, Slash uses Marshall Slash Signature Model half-stacks exclusively. These amps are based on the Marshall Jubilee Anniversary series, a high gain Marshall that most tone freaks despise.

His favorite guitar is still his handmade 59 yellow flame top non-Gibson replica Les Paul built by Max Guitars in Los Angeles. This is the guitar featured in the opening lick of Sweet Child of Mine. As of 1994 Slash was reported to own 81 guitars. Roughly half of them were Les Pauls, and a large percentage of those are vintage ones. For example, his axe lineup for Use Your Illusion included a Tobacco 59 Les Paul (formerly owned by Joe Perry), a 58 Les Paul Standard sunburst with stock pickups, a 59 Flying V, a 59 Les Paul with original pickups a 65 Strat, the Max Guitars 59 replica, and a 58 Explorer. His main guitar for live work is an 87 Gibson Les Paul standard, however he sometimes uses a B.C. Rich Mockingbird on stage. Most of Slash's guitars are kept stock.

As with Marshall did with their Slash Amp, several guitar companies produced Slash signature guitars to cash in on the guitarist's popularity. The Gibson Custom shop created Slash Model Les Paul Classic model with an inlayed and painted Snakepit insignia. They listed for $8000. 75 were made between 1996 and 1998, and Slash owns two of them. Epiphone produced a less expensive version of the guitar featuring a snake logo sticker. Slash had to approve them, and proclaimed the Epiphone Slash, "a good guitar." Slash's other signature guitar is the Crossroads (6/12) Double Neck manufactured by Guild.

Also of note, Slash is great at using the volume knob and pickup selector in a very musical way. He probably picked this up from Jeff Beck. Slash is also famous for using feedback to increase his sustain, much like Hendrix and Carlos Santana. One of Slash's favorite settings for lead is the neck pickup with tone control rolled back. This setting produces what is known as woman tone, and was made famous Eric Clapton with Cream. Slash also likes to use feedback to sustain notes on solos and intros.

The main effect Slash is really known for, is the wah, which you can hear in the solo on Sweet Child of Mine. Like Michael Schenker, Slash sets the wah to various points to enhance different frequencies of his tone. On occasion, Slash uses a talkbox.

Guitar Style

Slash is an anomaly in that he was a 70s stylist who made his name in the 80s. In a time when music was becoming utterly technique driven, he was a throwback to a time when you had to actually have attitude and sense of what the hell you were playing. Yet growing up in the era of Van Halen, he acquired some of the 80s idioms in his bag of tricks. It doesn't affect his basic style, but it gives him more options. That said, he doesn't have the technique of a Warren DeMartini or a Jake E. Lee, but he's got significantly more modern chops than Page and Perry.

Guns N' Roses was sort of a combination of Aerosmith and punk rock, a la Dead Boys, the New York Dolls, or Sex Pistols. And as a rhythm player, Slash brings punk and funk to the table. There is a good amount of Johnny Thunders in his style, as well as Joe Perry. You can hear Slash's punk influence in his rhythm styles's sloppy choppiness, and in his I don't give a fuck attitude. Slash's funkier rhythm style probably came from Aerosmith and Hendrix. It's evident in his rhythm work on Lenny Kravitz's Always On The Run, or Fishbone's Fix. Still, for the most part, Slash relies primarily on power chord riffs played on the lower strings, or arpeggiated figures.

As a soloist, Slash has recently tried to incorporate his Michael Schenker influence into his lead style, but he is really not a technique driven soloist. He's much more of a feel player who emphasizes tone, feel, and great attitude. Rather than running scale patterns, he likes to play melodies, and often links a series of melodic phrases together to keep the listener enthralled. Slash plays for the song, not to show off. He once said: "I don't practice technique, but I play all the time, but whatever I play has to be a song with a groove, to which I can apply the right kind of riff or solo. I'm kind of single-minded that way."

Slash relies on the Pentatonic scales for many of his solos. As such, it would be very easy to write him off as a one trick pony, but that's not the whole story. Along with the pentatonic minor in blues box positions, he also sometimes uses the Aeolian and Dorian modes, the Mixolydian scale and pentatonic major scale. Slash often plays pedal-steel bends and uses the pentatonic major scale to create leads that have a country sound. You can hear this in Paradise City and Coma. Look no further than Sweet Child Of Mine to hear Slash's use of the Harmonic Minor scale. Slash is great at playing melodies over a song's chord changes, especially during ballads. If you think about it, a good portion of Guns N' Roses' most successful tunes were ballads and Slash's playing was a huge part of their success.

On Velvet Revolver's Contraband, Slash's playing is much different than it was in Guns N' Roses. He's less melodic, less bluesy, and more Metal. He plays more runs based on diatonic scale shapes — apparently because he'd been listening to a lot of UFO during the making of the album. He also does more un-Slashlike things like the cliche, 80s-style pinch harmonics, dive bombs, and whammy abuse on the opening cut Sucker Train Blues. This is the very stuff Slash stayed away from and made fun of when he was in Guns N' Roses. But when Contraband's big power ballad, Fall To Pieces kicks in, there's the old Slash. Playing melodies and hooks that enhance the song, and a solo reminiscent of the Sweet Child solo — played over an identical ascending chord progression.

Of his picking style, Slash says: "I'm heavy handed in my strumming, I hit the guitar really fucking hard." It should come as no surprise to learn that Slash is not a pure alternate picker. Like Angus Young, he mainly uses his left hand for speed, often using pull-offs and hammer-ons to sound notes. He does a good amount of right hand muting on the bridge to make notes sound more percussive in both his rhythm and lead playing. A good example of this technique is the intro to Welcome to the Jungle.

 

Vibrato:

Slash uses a wide, fast vibrato technique. Like the rest of his guitar style, it's a little sloppy.

Slash in Action

Recommended Listening

Guns N' Roses

Slash's Snakepit

Velvet Revolver

Profile by Amy Douglas and Joe Todaro. Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved.