At BeginnerGuitarHQ, we want to make sure you have the best grasp over the guitar from every possible angle. This includes getting you the right guitar gear and the best playing style to suit your needs. However, sometimes, we just want to imitate our heroes. As such, every now and again, we put together a guide that will lead players towards a sound that they know and love.
In this important guide, I’ll help you to bring your guitar playing style closer to that of the legendary Guns N Roses guitarist Slash.
If want to be able to understand the nuances in Slash’s style and setup, then look no further.
Who Is Slash?
Slash performing live
Even if you’ve never heard him play a note of music, you could probably pick out Slash from a crowd. The trademark top hat and long, shaggy black hair combined with sunglasses and an effortless playing style backed by a Gibson guitar and a Marshall amp. He is probably most well-known for being the life and soul of Guns N Roses, one of the biggest rock bands of all time. He and lead vocalist Axl Rose had a falling out that all but ended the band, but they recently reformed to a huge response.
Over his time in the band, they recorded the albums Appetite For Destruction, G N’ R Lies, Use Your Illusion I, Use Your Illusion II and “The Spaghetti Incident?”. After leaving in 1994, he formed Slash’s Snakepit alongside a few ex-GNR bandmates, before joining Velvet Revolver in the early 2000s. It was his 2010 solo album Slash that really brough his distinctive tone back into the public eye. The album was a masterpiece that featured Slash’s guitar tone alongside an exceptional list of guest vocalists and musicians including: Lemmy, Chris Cornell, Ozzy Osbourne, Dave Grohl, Cypress Hill and Fergie. This album led to his current solo project, Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators and now the Guns N Roses reunion.
If this sounds like a selection of impressively incredible works, then take a look below to figure out how to mimic one of the most important guitar sounds in history.
You could be the greatest guitar player in the universe, but if you don’t have access to a good tone, then your playing is always going to sound worse. Slash is obviously an incredibly rich man, and as such, he has access to some seriously incredibly equipment. We’ll provide you with the genuine article, as well as some lower-budget alternatives.
Most people in the world of guitars are familiar with Slash’s signature instrument: the Gibson Les Paul. Slash has become so synonymous with the Gibson brand that he has his own line of guitars. Not just his own signature; an entire collection named after him. There is a Slash Les Paul Standard which is going to set you back a lot of money, the Slash Les Paul Standard Limited Edition, which is basically the same guitar but in a different colour, and the Slash J-45, which is an acoustic guitar. In total, he has collaborated on seventeen different guitars with Gibson. While Slash still has a distinctive tone while playing an acoustic guitar, we’ll stick to his much more well-known electric capabilities this time around. As such, the first guitar we can look at in detail is his signature.
Slash Les Paul Standard
The fact he has put his name to the instrument suggests that he is pretty happy with its sound and feel. It has a C shaped neck profile, Burstbucker Alnico II pickups and, of course, his distinctive appearance. The guitar also comes with a few designs specific to Slash himself, and a signature on the truss rod.
In terms of tone, it gives off about the most classic of classic rock sounds one can imagine, that allows you to imitate the likes of Jimmy Page just as well as Slash himself. It has that amazing bluesy feel on the lead lines, which can sound incredibly with a little added crunch. That crunch can also maintain into the rhythm playing, give you the ability to chop away at jazzy chords just as easily as you can slam through a heavy power chord section. The actual feel of the guitar is about as accurate as you can get if you want the same feeling Slash gets on stage: heavy strings and a low action combine to a seriously high performing guitar.
Of course, the major setback is its incredible price. If you’re looking for something cheaper we’ve got you covered in the next section. If you’ve got money to burn, then be aware that there is also a Gibson Les Paul 1959 on the market for even more money. This guitar is made in the exact same way that the specific guitar Slash uses for studio recordings is made. You physically couldn’t get closer to his tone.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard 50S
As you probably know, Epiphone is Gibson’s way of providing the public with high quality guitars at a much smaller price point, without having the Gibson name associated to a lesser product. The word ‘lesser’ feels rather misplaced with Epiphone, though, as while the guitars are clearly less impressive than their bigger brother, they can pack a real punch. There are a variety of Epiphone versions of many classic Gibson guitars, and their version of the Les Paul 50S is a really great way to get a Slash-like sound without breaking the bank.
The guitar pairs a mahogany body and a maple cap to tick off two boxes: look and sound. It looks pretty much exactly like a classic Gibson Les Paul, and thanks to these types of wood, the vintage tone is there too. The C Profile is one of the major features that connects this guitar to Slash’s signature.
There are still differences though: we have ProBucker pickups instead of Buckbursters, and many of the more lavish features of Slash’s instrument are missing for budget reasons. While they’re trying to replicate the feel of a classic 50s instrument here, the main problem is that they can’t. It’s a great guitar and you’ll be able to come very close to the Slash sound, but before buying you’ll need to be comfortable with the fact that these mass-produced, much cheaper instruments simply aren’t of the same quality as the real thing.
There are also a few other Epiphone options that can give you a well-rounded, warm and Slash-like tone that simply come down to personal preference: Epiphone Les Paul LP100, Epiphone Les Paul LT, Epiphone Les Paul Special VE.
The type of guitar Slash is most fond of
If everyone knows about Slash’s association to Gibson, then everyone knows about Slash’s association to Marshall. While there is an ever-raging war between Gibson and Fender for the title of best, most famous and most loved guitar brand of all time, it’s basically universally agreed that Marshall are the kings of amplification. They have fingers in just about every pie of amp-type, and offer a range of equipment that satisfies those who have a large budget, and those who have barely a penny. You can use Marshall to your advantage in both areas.
Marshall 1959 Super Lead
This amp is the real deal. The amp that you hear playing throughout Guns N Roses’ Appetite For Destruction is this exact model, and Slash liked it so much that he tried to keep it for himself instead of renting it. This is a head, rather than a full amp, but it has been used by just about every famous guitarist you can think of.
While it does away with the standard overdrive/clean settings you’re used to on many amps, it has its own special way of choosing between clean and overdriven sounds. The more you increase the volume on the amp, the more overdriven your sound. Cranked all the way up and you’ve got an overdriven tone that’ll sound distinctly Slash-like no matter which guitar you’re using. If you need something cleaner, then just bring the volume on your actual guitar back down.
The crispness and sustain of this amp is the reason why it remains one of the most popular of all time, and it’ll be hard to get a better Slash sound than this… It’s expensive though.
Much like with Gibson, Slash has a special and long-lasting partnership with Marshall. The AFD100 is his signature amp, and the amp he has most recently taken to using on tour. The fact that the amp bears his name is a clear suggestion of its quality, and proves that it would be a worthy purchase for anyone looking to craft a similar tone.
Much like the 1959 Super Lead, this amp is just brought down by its price, but you’re getting one of the best Slash-imitations out there.
This is amp that still bears the Marshall name and tone, so you don’t have to worry about being too far away from that classic Slash fuzz. Obviously, one of the biggest differences is size. You’re relying a lot more on the actual tone of the amp here (which does have separate overdriven and clear channels) than the ability to crank the volume up with what seems like rocket fuel, as you seemingly can on the two amps above.
With just a touch of built-in reverb and a little boost on the mids, you can achieve something that isn’t worlds away from the tone the amps above give you. It isn’t going to be anything mind-boggling, but it saves a huge amount of money in comparison to the models above.
While you can reach a certain standard by getting a hold of the right amps and guitars, there are nuances of Slash’s style that come from his expansive pedal board. We’ll approach this section by detailing certain specific pedals, rather than dividing it into affordable and premium brands.
Dunlop Cry Baby Wah
There are certain elements of Slash’s sound that you have to really have the specific equipment to be able to produce. One of the essentials is a cry baby wah pedal. There isn’t really any way to create a wah sound live without having one of this as part of your setup, and if you’re going to make it as prominent as Slash does, you probably don’t want to skimp out on quality.
The Dunlop brand is the brand that invented the Cry Baby version of the Wah pedal, and this is always what Slash favours. In fact, he has his own extra-expensive signature edition called the SW95. You don’t really need to go for this exact version, as they’ll all provide roughly the same glorious, screaming wah. Listen out for it in particularly during the most exciting moments of ‘Sweet Child O Mine’.
Delay isn’t a huge part of Slash’s sound, but it crops up in key moments in a variety of ways. The most prominent is, of course, those well-known opening moments in ‘Welcome To The Jungle’. He also occasionally uses an incredibly short feedback time on his delay setting in order to give a thick, slap back delay sound.
The pedal Slash is often associated with when crafting his delay sound is a Boss DD. We’ve specified the DD-5 here, but there are many options that will all give you similar results of varying qualities. This could be where you allow yourself to go for the lower budget option.
Boss GE-7 Equalizer
One final type of pedal that is not only essential to the Slash sound, but also the pedalboard of any aspiring lead guitarist is a simple EQ pedal. We’ve specified the Boss GE-7 just because it has the simplicity, affordability and style on its side, but really any will do. If you know exactly what you want, cheaper stuff can work well, but if you have something really specific, then a more expensive model will work.
For the distinct Slash approach, simply set your EQ up to give a punchy mid-high boost when you come in for a solo, allowing your guitar to sing out above the other instruments.
The Other Pedals
The three above (combined with the overdrive of your amp and a simple, non-intrusive amp reverb) will be able to craft you a sound that’ll perk up the ears of the biggest Slash fans. However, there are certain other pedals you might want to think about if you’re getting really specific and into certain songs intentionally.
Phaser appears every now and again in Slash’s solo project, while an octave pedal will really help thicken up certain lines. He has been known to use a talkbox every now and again, while an extra distortion pedal won’t hurt. Gate, compressor, volume and tuning pedals are always helpful for any on-stage setup.
No matter how much gear you’re able to get hold of to sound like Slash, it won’t make a whole lot of difference if you’re unable to give off a tone that sounds like the man himself. We’ve taken a look at his approach to playing chords and melodic lines, as well as his stunning solos.
The pentatonic minor scale is a favourite of Slash’s
There are a few tips and tricks you can use to get the feel of Slash’s melodic playing in your own. If you’re playing a Slash track, then just follow what he does; if you’re writing something in his style, then there are a variety of melodic things you can do to get an idea of his style.
The first is the use of short riff patterns. Take tracks like ‘Sweet Child O Mine’, which are built on these short repeating cells. It’s a common trick in bluesy classic rock. A riff (typically four bars) repeats over a relatively simple sequence of chords. Writing a nice simple riff that takes inspiration from blues music would be a good start to figuring out a Slash-esque riff.
Speaking of the idea of repeating motifs, Slash has an approach that links to the classical technique of theme a variations. He’ll often play a short bar of music and the return to it soon after with a slight change. This is something we’ll come back to in his soloing.
Returning to ‘Sweet Child O Mine’, we have Slash’s use of open strings in combination with fretted notes. In order to achieve what seems like a complex, wide-ranging riff, he will often bring in open strings to give a lower tone in the middle of a higher-pitched riff. Obviously, he doesn’t do this in every track, but it’ll certain help you figure out one of his quick, addictive riffs.
In the process of writing melodies, he typically doesn’t stray too far from simplicity. There are some incredibly impressive guitar players who managed to make extremes of chromaticism and crazy modes work well for them, but Slash has made a living from simplicity; why change the formula? To get the most stereotypically Slash-like sound, you’ll want to stick to minor pentatonic and blues scales, and only dip into major scales and modes on the odd occasion.
The simple thing to know about Slash’s use of chords is that, quite a lot of the time, he doesn’t really use any. As a lead guitarist in basically every project he is a part of, his role on stage is mostly melodic. In his solo albums, he does lay down the rhythm guitar as well as his lead parts, however, so we do have some insight into his approach.
Typically, he’ll use power chords. This is an approach which is incredibly easy to play; most beginner guitarists will have a strong grasp of power chords, so playing along to his tracks without melody often won’t be too difficult. The power chord allows you to outline a tonal centre without giving the specifics of the chord, thus meaning you can play a wide range of notes over simple chords. On occasion, he’ll bring these into the chunkier moments of his solos.
In short, Slash is a lead guitarist. To truly emulate his style, you don’t really need to think all that much about chords.
The Slash solos are most likely what you’re here for. The iconic sound of his instrument that we have taught you about above combines with a very distinct playing style to give us some of the best guitar solos ever recorded.
There are similarities to his pre-written melodies in many ways. His solos often stick to simple minor pentatonic and blues scales for actual melodic content. However, something he often brings into his soloing (and much less his melodies) is the harmonic minor scale. This involves raising the seventh in the minor scale to turn it into a raised seventh that’ll lead directly to the tonic.
Hammer ons and pull offs are key to Slash’s soloing. While he doesn’t venture into the world of pure shred very often, he uses hammer ons and pull offs to make his playing sound particularly fast. These will often be combined with the use of semi-classical ornaments, such as trills and turns.
Speaking of speed, the closest Slash gets to shredding is his sudden burst of scalic runs. Like any good guitarist, Slash must practice his scales a lot. During a more melodic section of a track, he’ll often explode out into a run of very quick scales that flutter around the upper reaches of the guitar neck. Its fast, but not too complex, so definitely attainable for a guitarist looking to imitate their idol.
As mentioned above, he likes to use a theme and variations approach in his work. This appears in his solos often, as it is his melodic nature that has helped make him so famous and well-loved. He brings moments of incredibly catchy melody into his improvisation, and will often meander away from them before returning to give his audience something to latch onto. Very clever.
The final thing to mention about Slash’s approach to soloing is his use of bent notes. Of course, like basically any guitarist, he’ll give a bluesy bend to a note or two- this is very standard practice in classic rock. A few techniques he learned from Jimi Hendrix, however, are a little more rare. One of those is the Ghost Bend, in which a string is bent upwards before it is played, and then released when played allowing the pitch to bend back down. He also uses dissonance to his advantage by bending notes that are colliding with static notes, forcing a brutal dissonance that’ll be resolved beautifully.
Across his entire career, Slash has provided guitar for some incredible tracks, whether through his time in Guns N Roses, one of his many side-project bands, or his successful solo career. We’ve listed five tracks that show off the Slash style the best; you might want to give these a try yourself.
- Guns N Roses – Sweet Child O Mine. The definitive Slash riff. ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ kicks off with that world-famous riff, played by combing some high-fret action with open strings. It sounds like a complex feat of achievement, but it isn’t particularly hard to play or imitate. With a slight crunch on a Gibson/Epiphone guitar, you’ll be able to feel like the man himself while playing his most famous set of notes. Slash himself first used it as a warmup exercise before live shows. Later on in the track, we are treated to one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded. The mesmerising opening bend followed by quick, impressive shredding is far harder to master than the riff, but if you can get a hold of it then you’re set forever.
- Slash – Ghost (feat. Ian Astbury). Interestingly, ‘Ghost’ is a bit of a return to the ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ sound. He again manages to make a combination of open strings and higher fret work sound complex, while actually being quite achievable. It’s the first thing we hear on Slash, his masterful solo album.
- Guns N Roses – November Rain. While ‘November Rain’ is one of Guns N Roses’ most loved piano-led ballads, its guitar solo can frequently be found towards the top of lists of the greatest guitar solos of all time. We can look at Slash’s ability to fill his playing with emotion in that first, beautifully melodic solo. His ability to show off an incredible amount of dexterity and talent can be found in that ferocious outro.
- Velvet Revolver – Slither. The most well-known Velvet Revolver track comes from their debut album, with Slash having composed the distinctive guitar that maintains throughout the track. The violent soundscape he forms in those atmospheric opening moments shows off a more experimental side, before exploding into a blues-laden riff of the highest order.
- Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators – Anastasia. The most recent Slash track to appear on this list comes from his 2012 album, Apocalyptic Love. The opening moments are a tender, loving demonstration of his acoustic guitar playing, something we don’t get to see all that often. It doesn’t waste too long messing around, though, and bursts out into a manic riff that, again, utilises his ability for pull offs and hammer ons.