Slash is more than just a musician, he's a legend. Best known for his work with Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, Slash has also served as a first-call studio gun-for-hire who has played on records by Alice Cooper, Daughtry, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, and Iggy Pop. But for the first time since he shot onto the scene more than two decades ago, Slash is going the "lone gunman" route and releasing his first bona fide solo album. Unlike Slash's Snakepit, which released two albums, and Slash's Blues Ball, the group he toured with in the late Nineties, this new project, called Slash and Friends, is not a band but rather a true solo effort that features a variety of different singers, musicians and songwriting collaborators. As a result it exposes more of Slash's breadth as a musician than his band efforts.
It's hard to imagine a time when a Les Paul wasn't cool, but for a short time it fell out of favor, overtaken by fast, slim, bolton necks and hot bridge pickup Strat types whose popularity soared from the late-‘70s onward. Then along came Slash. He didn't just have a Les Paul, or play a Les Paul. He owned the stage with it. The savior of rock had arrived. Lording over a transfixed audience with – what seems to be the obvious setup today – a Les Paul blasting through a Marshall stack. Yes, rock was dangerous again.
One look at the list of singers who recorded with Slash on the album reveals the guitar slinger's very diverse tastes. In addition to legends like Alice Cooper, Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, Meat Loaf, Ozzy Osbourne and Iggy Pop, the album features vocals by rockers like Chris Cornell, Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, Kid Rock, M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold and Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother, pop stars like Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas and Adam Levine of Maroon 5, and even hip-hop icons Cypress Hill. All members of the original lineup of Guns N' Roses sans Axl Rose – Steven Adler, Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin accompany Slash on several songs, and heavy-hitters like Flea, Dave Grohl, Travis Barker and Ronnie Wood added their instrumental prowess as well.
What Slash started with the revolutionary hard rock band Guns N' Roses has continued on with Slash's Snakepit, Velvet Revolver and now just Slash with his second solo album due out shortly. Slash and his life as a musician started out humbly in Hollywood, Calif., when his grandmother gave him a guitar at around 14 years old. "She went into the closet and dug out a guitar. We lived in a small apartment. I don't know how this escaped my knowledge, that there was a guitar in this closet, but she pulled out this flamenco guitar. It had one string and I didn't know anything about guitars, so I just learned stuff on that one string for a while." He explains, "After that I graduated to a Memphis Les Paul copy.
"I think I was really serious about being a musician the day I asked for a guitar." Slash says, speaking about his start in music. By chance or by destiny, Slash and the Les Paul were linked almost from the start – even Gibson has credited him with the revival of the model. "The guitar players that I liked had them and I always just thought it looked cool. To this day I still look at a Les Paul every so often and just think it's really incredibly sexy." Slash goes on to say, "I think it was just from an aesthetic point of view more than anything, because I didn't know tonally what the difference between a Les Paul and a Strat was, but I did have guitar players that I admired and that I was influenced by that played Les Pauls." Slash lists players such as Mike Bloomfield, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton as a few guitarists he saw rock a Les Paul.
Slash now has a number of Gibson and Epiphone signature models. All have elements of different model years of Gibson, and all to Slash's specifications, but are also influenced by luthier Kris Derrig. "From 1986 until about 1988, that was my main guitar, that Kris built." He goes on to say, "The latest Slash model is identical to that guitar." For the rest of his signature models, he says, "I base the signature models off particular Les Paul models that I really like and then I change the pickups. I like to use Seymour Duncans. Sometimes I mess with the bridge and I mess with the pots – pots that are really smooth and stuff like that, and the frets. You know, just little tiny things that I change on my own guitars – I just sort of use the Slash model as an excuse to make Gibson put it together that
Slash's current collection features over 100 guitars, a lot of them Les Pauls. To amass such a large collection, it helps to have the opportunity to try out quite a few guitars over the years. "I did go through an experimental phase where I went through a number of different models of guitars, Strats included. And I love Strats. I mean, I think a good sounding Strat is one of the best rock-and-roll guitars made. But I just never felt totally at home. Some of the other guitars, say, double humbucker guitars, sounded okay, but I really, for some reason, found a home in the Les Paul. It just seems to be able to do everything that I want it to do." He speaks further about his collection, "I have some vintage Strats. I have some vintage Teles. I have some 335s. I have a real sitar from India, which is great; the occasional mandolin, electric sitars, '58 V and a '58 Explorer I picked up over the years. Just interesting stuff that I will potentially use or have used."
"To this day I still look at a Les Paul every so often and just think it's really incredibly sexy." —Slash
In addition to guitars, there have been two Slash signature Marshall heads with matching cabinets, each of which were limited runs. The first was based on Slash's Silver Jubilee. Slash tells the story of how it came to be: "When Guns N' Roses was touring in, I guess the late '80s, I ended up with some Jubilee heads and that was just all I had. The catalyst for the Slash model head was we had a riot in St. Louis in like 1991 or something, and most of my equipment was destroyed. So I went to Marshall, desperate for new heads … they came up with the idea of doing a Slash model and they based it off of the Jubilee."
The second, and latest, Slash model was based on the SIR Hollywood's rental unit #39 used for recording Appetite for Destruction, which has been missing for years. As Slash explains, "We decided to do this amp and the best way to recreate that sound was to be able to listen to the guitar tracks from the Appetite record as basically as possible. So I went and I got the masters, the actual guitar tracks off the master record, solo'd them and sent them to Santiago over at Marshall – he's our designer – and basically focused on recreating that tonality. It went on for a little while. I think it took probably seven or eight months of experimentation before we got it right."
In addition to amps and guitars, the sound of Slash includes a few select effects such as his signature Dunlop wah. It's based on one of his own pedals, as he says, "It was something I had, an old – I can't remember the model – but I had an old wah pedal that had some sort of distortion kind of thing that I used on the first Velvet Revolver record. It was really interesting, but it wasn't very refined. And so I thought it was a great concept. I took that idea to Dunlop. It's basically a distortion pedal inside a wah-wah pedal. It just sounds insane." One other pedal, used all over the new album, is an octave distortion. "There's octave pedals and there's fuzz pedals and I wanted to put the two together." As Slash says about the pedal he also worked with Dunlop on, "I love to mix fuzz effects with different things." The Slash model octave distortion is in production now for a scheduled release later this year.
From the guitars, amps and effects Slash uses, it's easy to see why he favors the albums he does, "Jeff Beck, Blow by Blow is a big one for me; Hendrix Axis: Bold as Love, Disraeli Gears from Cream – I know these are all ancient records, but they're just what I was sort of weaned on – Led Zeppelin II; and Aerosmith Rocks." He goes on to recommend one more that is possibly missed, "The first Cars record. Elliot Easton, great guitar player. Nobody would ever expect that, but if you were going to listen to a really cool sort of Les Paul guy, that first record would probably surprise a lot of people." For an album for guitar tone alone, he suggests Degüello by ZZ Top.
Each part of Slash's signal chain is given attention and the cable itself is no exception. Preferring Monster Cables to complete his rig, Slash says, "Actually, I learned that different types of cable have a very direct effect on your sound. They have different types of cables and you can darken or brighten your sound depending on the type of cable that you use. That's been an interesting discovery lately. In the studio I actually use about three or four different types of cables for any given song."
Not one to stay trapped in his own genre, Slash is very generous when it comes to loaning himself out to other artists, lending his talent to Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, Rihanna and many more. "It's really sort of a selfish thing. I just like jamming a lot and I get a lot out of playing with different people, especially the caliber of people that I can really learn something from. I adapt to different situations and react instantaneously. In other words, work at their schedule so I can't sit around and fumble around with things. I have to produce in the moment. I learn a lot from the different personalities and people with all those kinds of experiences and stuff like that. I enjoy it as well, but I do get a lot of sort of personal things out of it that I turn in my favor, so to speak. It's very humbling. Keeps me grounded. Educational, all around. Plus, you meet some interesting people."
The world will get to hear Slash on his second solo album shortly. His second release with noted hard rock hitmaker Eric Valentine at the helm producing was recorded mostly live to 2" analog tape. The recording process allowed him to get back to basics in a way. As he says, "We've always recorded the band playing live together and kept the bass and drums. I would go into the control room and overdub my guitars, replay them, only because I never felt like my performance was any good if I was wearing headphones. And so I've been doing it that way since the beginning, but on this particular record we built a room inside of the studio where the bass and the drums are. I can stand and play with the guys instead of using headphones. I get the playback as coming in through big monitors, so I can just have those turned all the way up and still play along with the guys, but it's in a room so it doesn't bleed in the bass and the drums. We can all play live at the same time and actually keep the tracks." Enlisting his last touring band, this album features Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge) singing, with Brent Fitz (Vince Neil, Alice Cooper) on drums and Todd Kerns (Sin City Sinners, Age of Electric) on bass.
Slash will release the album on his own label May 22, 2012. Then, Les Paul in hand and Marshall cranked up, Slash and company will embark on a U.S. tour, continuing the mission to save rock for us all – and, thankfully, making the world sound a little more dangerous again.