The reformed Guns N’ Roses have just swept through the country on their Not In This Lifetime tour, reviving an interest in the classic rock band not seen since the original lineup were last in Australia on 1993’s Use Your Illusion tour. Being on our minds, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to examine the equipment used by lead guitarist Slash throughout the years.
When you think of Slash there are a few images that spring to mind – the big top hat and frizzy hair, him emerging from the church for his solo in the ‘November Rain’ video, and Gibson Les Paul guitars.
Slash has used these guitars throughout his career, first settling on a Memphis Les Paul copy when Guns N’ Roses formed in 1985. Prior to this the young guitarist tried out several other models, such as a Jackson Superstrat, B.C. Rich Mockingbird and a Gibson Explorer copy while playing in other bands, such as Hollywood Rose, which besides Slash also featured future bandmates Izzy Stradlin, Steven Adler and Axl Rose.
Once he had struck upon a sound, Slash stuck with it, and to this day he still favours his Gibson Les Paul Standard 1959 replica as his main studio guitar. This instrument has been played throughout Guns N’ Roses recordings, as well as his subsequent studio work on Slash’s Snake Pit, Velvet Revolver, and his solo albums.
Guitar luthier Kris Derrig
The instrument was made by famed American luthier Kris Derigg, and is in fact not a Gibson at all, but an exact copy of one. It was bought by the band’s manager Alan Niven and given to the guitarist during the sessions for their debut album, 1987’s Appetite For Destruction.
“When I was in the studio doing the basic tracks for Appetite, Alan Niven brought this Les Paul for me to use because I was having a really hard time getting a good sound,” said Slash in a 1996 interview with Guitar Shop Magazine. “I was getting a little frantic at that point, because we weren’t on the kind of budget – nor did I have the attention span – where we could wait around forever.”
According to Niven, the guitarist was having such a hard time with his sound during the album’s initial sessions that he felt compelled to find him a new instrument. "There was a fucking [Gibson] SG though the windscreen, neck-first," remembered Niven of parking next to the band’s tour van in the studio car park one day. "And that's a message that even I can understand."
“We knew instantly that was the tone for the record,” said Appetite producer Mike Clink of the first time the guitar was tried out in the studio. “It wasn't, 'oh, let me think about it.' It was, we finally had found the sound for Slash.”
The Les Paul replica cam with Seymour Duncan Alnico II pickups, and Slash was so enamoured with the tone that he has since used the same pickups in the majority of his solid-body humbucker-loaded guitars. For a while the guitar went everywhere with him, helping to explain the image of the Les Paul as being so interwoven with that of its player.
“It became my main guitar for a really long time, because I couldn’t afford a whole handful, I took it out on the road for all of Guns’ early touring. It was stolen from me once in the crowd - I was being an idiot, leaning over the audience and getting pulled in, and some guy just grabbed it,” said Slash. “I freaked once I realised that it was off my person – that I’d completely lost control over it. But our security guys went out and caught the guy before he left the building. That’s happened to me a couple of times. I don’t take that guitar on the road anymore. It’s beat to shit, but it still sounds great.”
At the height of Guns' popularity in the late 80s and early 90s similar models began to be used by certain types of rock bands who were undoubtedly influenced by Slash’s sound and look. “I didn’t fuckin’ reintroduce the Les Paul,” said Slash to Guitar Shop Magazine. “It’s been around. I just don’t think that anybody who was really popular and touring worldwide was using Les Pauls around the time Guns came out.”
Such was his visibility as a Les Paul player that by 1990 Gibson gave Slash his first signature model. The guitarist actually ordered four unique guitars to be made to his specifications after attending a NAMM show and seeing a slim-necked 1959 replica made by J.T. Riboloff of the Gibson Custom Shop, who was commissioned to make Slash’s model.
To date Gibson have collaborated with Slash on twelve signature models, which are mostly all variations on his beloved Les Paul. However he has also had two signature guitars produced from B.C. Rich USA and the B.C. Rich Custom Shop, both variations on the brand’s Mockingbird design.
Although the Les Paul can be heard on all of the band’s major hits, when he wanted a specific sound Slash also experimented with other guitars during sessions. These have included not only other Gibson models, such as his 1956 Les Paul Goldtop or the 1959 Gibson Flying V that was used for the lead parts on ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, but also a Guild AJF30 and a 1965 Fender Stratocaster, which has been used for lead playing on several tracks.
Slash uses Marshall amplifier heads and cabinets, including a 1959T Super Tremolo head used on Appetite For Destruction, a Silver Jubilee 25/55 100w head used during live Guns shows, and the JCM 2555 Slash Signature head. The latter was the first Marshall amp to have an artist signature series and has been used by Slash on tours since it was released in 1996.
Slash has been known to use Marshall 1960 AX and 1960BX or BV 100watt 4x12 guitar cabinets.