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Slash on Guns N’ Roses’ Future and His Lifelong Bond with the Guitar (The Interview)
Slash is probably the last of the guitar heroes of the Golden Age of rock and roll. Following in the footsteps of the rock gods who inspired him — Joe Perry, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton — he almost single-handedly made the Gibson Les Paul cool again, after Guns N’ Roses broke through via MTV in the late-1980s.
After the break-up of his band, and the death of Velvet Revolver frontman Scott Weiland, which Slash co-founded after Guns N’ Roses imploded, Slash set out on a long and fruitful solo career.
“It’s been a little bit crazy, but, you know, it’s all good,” he says, fresh off a flight from Europe, where he’d been on tour with his band the Conspirators, featuring vocalist Myles Kennedy, as we begin our conversation. “I come with absolutely an open mind.”
A bit crazy? You bet it has been. Slash has been on the road non-stop since his 2014 album with Kennedy and the Conspirators, World On Fire, and, of course, the 2015 reunion of Guns N’ Roses and subsequent Not In This Lifetime world tour.
This summer, he’ll be back on the road with the Conspirators, before a string of festival dates with GNR. And there’s even new music from both bands on the horizon, he says.
The legendary guitarist spoke to Rock Cellar about it all — the future of the last great rock and roll band, his Summer tour with his band the Conspirators, and his lifelong love of the guitar — when we met up with him recently.
Rock Cellar: You recently made news. You said in an interview a month or so ago, there’s probably enough songs for a new Guns N’ Roses album, is that true?
Slash: No, you know, by the time it gets to the place where anybody’s read it, it’s morphed into something more than what I directly said. There is material that Axl’s been working on for a while. It could be enough for a record if we put it all together.
The whole thing of Guns N’ Roses getting in the studio and getting this record done — with myself and with Duff (McKagan) and all that — it’s really just getting started. So it’s really hard to say.
Everybody’s got demos, and everybody’s got material, and this that and the other, for whatever it could be. It’s just a matter of us focusing on it.
So it’s really hard to answer questions on the next Guns thing.
Rock Cellar: You’re playing Lollapalooza this year, with the Conspirators and Myles Kennedy. That you can probably talk about with a little bit more confidence.
Slash: Well, I know what that is. (Laughter.) The record’s out, and we’ve been touring on it. We just finished a really epic little run from Asia through New Zealand, Australia and then Europe. We’re going back out in May and doing South America, then we’re doing festivals in Europe. Then we’re coming back to the States, and we’re doing U.S. and Canada, and we’re doing Lollapalooza as one of those dates in there. Then we get done in mid-August. That will basically be the wrap for the Living the Dream tour.
But it’s been really, really fucking well-received thus far. It’s definitely been the best tour that we’ve done to date. And it just shows that we managed to get from one place to the next place to the next place, and it’s just cool to have that forward motion.
Rock Cellar: Do you have a vision for it beyond the August dates, when you wrap?
Slash: Well, once the Conspirators wrap things up, at some point, my focus is going to be on Guns, as soon as that is over. Because then Guns has a late September/October festival run coming up. So the focus will be totally around Guns. But like I always do, I wrote a bunch of new material while out on the road with the Conspirators. So I have a bunch of new material for Conspirators when the time comes that we can get back in the studio and do the next record. That will be during a break from Guns, like last one. So there’s a lot of stuff going on.
Rock Cellar: Any interest in doing another book? Because the book was a while ago, but was really well-received.
Slash: No. I have no desire. I’m still talking about that book! People are still asking me stuff about the last one, and that came out in 2007! So it’s an interesting thing, because you write a book and you put the info out there as you remember it, and there it goes. And then you’re forced to relive it.
Rock Cellar: Over and over.
Slash: Yeah. So I doubt I would be doing another book, unless 20, 30 years down the line I feel the need. At the time, a lot of the motivation for doing that book was to write about some of the stuff that was being said about Guns N’ Roses at that time; performing, and this, that, and the other, because there was a lot of brouhaha. The book was really a way to address that. And then I just filled in the other stuff with anecdotes about whatever.
Rock Cellar: You’ve had a lot of guitars with a lot of interesting stories to them. I read that you’re using a new Slash Gibson Les Paul prototype live. And you’ve had several signature models over the years. But where did your love of the guitar start? And how significant was it for you to see somebody, whoever it was, wearing a guitar, and how did that become something that you had to have?
Slash: It’s a good question, because the first guitar — first electric guitar — that I ever got my hands on was a Les Paul copy. I think it was made by a company called Memphis. So it was some version of a Les Paul copy, and that’s really how I started out.
Prior to that, I didn’t know anything about guitars. But I was raised around a lot of rock and roll all through my childhood. I was 14 or 15 when I started playing guitar. And even before that I was really sort of a sponge for bands that I liked. At that point, I was really paying attention to what the guitarist was playing.
And the guitar that I just was most attracted to was the Les Paul. I equated that to, obviously, its aesthetics, but also particular bands that had a great guitar sound, and good guitar solos. I attributed that to those guitars. So I saw a Les Paul, or a Les Paul copy, and then, after that, I moved through a bunch of different brands, just through trial and error.
Rock Cellar: I have to imagine, at that point, money is a factor, too. As a young guy, Les Pauls are pretty out of reach.
Slash: Oh, yeah. Everything’s out of reach. But by the time I was really interested, I worked in a guitar store. That was really helpful in being able to put my future paychecks away towards something. “Don’t pay me, and I’ll just take this.” So I could get it right away and pay it off over six months. But it was definitely difficult.
It’s funny, you forget how difficult — how hard — it is to be a kid trying to get decent equipment and guitars. And when Guns and Roses started, I didn’t even have a Les Paul, at that time. Then finally I got a hold of, again, a Les Paul copy. But this one was a really nice one.
There’s two guys that made really memorable Gibson copies, Gibson ’59 reissue before Gibson put out reissues. One guy, his name is Kris Derrig, and the other guy was Peter Max Baranet. Peter made this particular Les Paul, and apparently Steve Hunter from Alice Cooper’s band had it before I did. So that became my guitar. That was my thing. And in Guns N’ Roses, not really knowing it at the time, but looking back on it, it became predominantly my image, in a public way, with Guns N’ Roses and the Les Paul.
And then, because of a lot of different things that you hock equipment for (laughter), I was without a Les Paul, which was regrettable. I was using guitars from whoever. I had a Jackson, and whatever else. And when Guns N’ Roses went to the studio to record, those guitars in the studio did not sound like what it was that I wanted to sound like. And that was my first real recording experience.
My then-manager, Alan Niven, gave me yet again another Les Paul handmade guitar, this one made by Kris Derrig, which was what I recorded all of Appetite for Destruction with. And that was really what cemented my sound, and my relationship with the Les Paul. Then I finally did get a real Les Paul made by Gibson in 1988. They sold me two at an artist’s price. And I traveled with those two guitars in the early days of Guns N’ Roses as my main guitars. Still, to this day, both of them go out on the road with me. One’s my main one, and one’s my backup.
Rock Cellar: Were they just stock ’88 models? Or were they reissues?
Slash: They were just 1988 Les Paul Standards. Straight off the line. I think I got them in San Francisco, because basically I needed those guitars because the Kris Derrig guitar that I had on the road, and then also the other one by Max Baranet, I had those two guitars from 1987 to 1988, were getting really beaten up on the road. I was really hard on them.
These were really nice guitars. So I retired them as soon as Gibson gave me two new ones. And that was it. So I was off and running. Those were my two main guitars. Eventually, I got a Goldtop, which is still a very major part of my whole sound. I think the Goldtop was actually a factory second.
There’s a funny story to that Goldtop, and what turned into what would become Slash signature guitars. Guns N’ Roses got really big. In ’91, I think I was at a NAMM Show or something. Before the Use Your Illusions tour. And so Gibson basically gave me a factory second off the wall (display). That was the Goldtop that they gave me. But at that NAMM Show, I saw that they had these Les Pauls with no pick guards, and the pickup covers off the pickups. And I thought, “Those look just like my guitar.”
And at the time, that was a pretty recognizable look. Not everyone else was doing that. And so, I called them up, and I said, “Hey, that’s just how I do my guitars.” They said, “Oh, well, we should do a Slash model.” And so that’s really what started it. I think because of the popularity of Guns N’ Roses, they had decided, “Okay, we’re going to go for that look for that classic Les Paul look.” Because, unbeknownst to me, prior to that Les Pauls weren’t doing very well.
So there was something going on there that was attributed to what was going on with Guns N’ Roses at the time, and because of the popularity of that. And we actually did a couple Les Pauls that had my name on them, in colors that I had picked and finishes that I picked. They were flame-top, no pick guard, and with no pickup covers. So that’s when it really first started.
Rock Cellar: Were these just Les Pauls that had your name on them, or were you really involved in the development?
Slash: At that time, the most input I had was the finish. The funny thing about Les Pauls, there’s really only one design. You can change the thickness of the neck, you can change some of the hardware, but really, when it comes down to it, it’s a mahogany body and a maple top. And that’s the fucking guitar. You can dick around with it all you want, but that’s basically it. Anything else that you do to it is just sort of little nuances.
Changing pickups has a big effect on the way the guitar sounds, of course, but the basics of the guitar sound still comes out of that piece of wood. But when I first got into it, and especially not knowing much about what I was doing, I picked the finish, what it was going to look like, and the pickups. But that was the beginnings of doing a Slash model. Then, fast forward to Velvet Revolver, and that’s when I really got into Slash models with Gibson. And we started to take it a little more seriously.
Rock Cellar: I interviewed Joe Perry a couple of times, and he told me the whole saga of the guitar of his you ended up with. Of his Les Paul. When did you get your first really great vintage Les Paul?
Slash: I didn’t get a good vintage Les Paul until the recordings of Use Your Illusion. Because we were doing — I think it was 36 songs that we did on that record — and I actually had some money at that point. But let me take that back. The first good vintage guitar I ever got was Joe’s. That was in 1988. I totally forgot about that.
That particular guitar, when I was 15, 16, whatever, when I was a big Aerosmith fan, was the coolest guitar I’d ever seen. I’d seen a million fucking cherry sunburst Les Pauls, from Jimmy Page all the way to Keith Richards and Eric Clapton and all these other people that have played them. And they’re beautiful guitars. They’re great.
But when I saw that one that Joe had in various Aerosmith photos, that was the coolest Les Paul. I didn’t know what tobacco sunburst was, but in every picture, it was just a darker-looking Les Paul than what everybody else had. So I knew that guitar very well. And I just thought it was really, really cool. I never imagined in a million years it would suddenly pop up for sale. But Guns was finishing up a tour in Japan — the first-ever trip to Japan — and I got this phone call from the office in L.A., saying somebody’s got a guitar they want to sell and thought I might be interested.
He said, it used to belong to Eric Roberts and Joe Perry and Dwayne Allman. And I was like, “Oh. You know what? Send pictures, because I know that guitar and all the nicks on the front.” Because it’s a real recognizable guitar. And when I got home from the tour, I got to my apartment, I got the mail, and there was this envelope stuffed with paper and photos. Polaroids. And I opened it up and was like, “Fuck. That’s the guitar.”
At some point somewhere, I’d heard the story from Joe. Something having to do with a bad financial situation, and how that guitar got hocked. But whoever had the guitar didn’t really realize the value of it, because they sold it to me for $8,000. So this guitar gets Fedex’ed to my apartment, and I was living at a real cheap fucking apartment. And I opened it up, and there’s my coveted fucking Les Paul, that Joe used to have, and that I remember from all these posters and photographs from when I was a kid. So that was really my first good Les Paul.
And I actually gave it back to Joe finally back in 2002 or something. I offered it back to him when I first got it, for what I paid for it. But at that time, he didn’t have the money. Aerosmith had just gotten back together. So I had it, and I used it for various things.
I used it in the “November Rain” video, I used it on some MTV stuff we did. Here and there. But I never really felt comfortable with it, because I never really felt like it was my guitar. But I loved it anyway. And I held onto it. There were a couple of times that Joe came back to me, wanting it. But then by that point I wasn’t ready to give it back to him. This went on for years, back and forth. But then, when we went in to do Use Your Illusion, I bought a ’59 Les Paul, I bought a ’56 Goldtop, a ’58 Flying V and a ’58 Explorer. And that as basically it. I didn’t really buy any vintage guitars after that for a long time. But I recently did buy another ’59.
Rock Cellar: Talk to me a little about the quality of the guitars now, because a lot has changed at Gibson in the last year.
Slash: The thing about Gibson at this point, especially right now, is that the focus is on the guitars. Which for a minute there, the focus started to get a little bit away from guitars. I think we all sort of know that story. It wasn’t really affecting me personally, because I just do what I do. So it wasn’t affecting me, but it was affecting the company, and affecting the overall image and I think also in an offhand way, the quality of what was coming out of them. So now, the focus is back on the quality, but also just about guitars, and there’s no other outside bullshit. That is really hugely enlightening for me. It just makes me happy to see it being steered in the right direction.
Rock Cellar: Like you, lots of artists seem to feel differently about the company. Because it feels like the new team there really cares. It feels like the focus is where it should be.
Slash: You put it perfectly. There’s an emotional thing to it. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but that’s exactly it. With no disrespect to what was going on prior, there was a vision that was happening that most of us guitar players just weren’t buying. And it didn’t work. It might work for some other company, but I think the idea that people really hold in their hearts about Gibson and what the company represents, it suddenly became apparent that people felt really, really strongly about what had been happening.
The company had been changing in a way nobody related to. There was definite displeasure about it. So all things considered, I think it’s good how things have turned out at this point.
September 1, 2020