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How To Play Like... Slash

by Chris Elmore

The man behind the music.

When we think of innovation and talent in the guitar world, Slash is usually at the top of the list. With many years in the spotlight as the lead guitarist for Guns N' Roses, Slash left the band in 1996 to pursue a solo career after the band had musical disagreements.

Since then, Slash and two other members that left Guns N' Roses with him (Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum) have formed the very successful band, Velvet Revolver.

Born in London, England, in 1965, Slash had exposure to music from a very young age. Both of his parents worked in the music industry. His mother designed clothes for the likes of David Bowie while his father designed album covers for world famous musicians.

When Slash was eleven, he went with his Mother to Los Angeles. It's hard to believe that the rock star we know and love today had a hard time fitting in as a child. With his unique style, long hair, and laid back attitude, fitting in with the other kids wasn't an easy task.

In later years, Slash's parents broke up and he went to live with his Grandmother. His life, while we may see it as glamorous now, started like many other households around the world.

With the frustration of not fitting in and his parents broken marriage, Slash found himself riding BMX. Biking proved to be a near perfect match for Slash, that is, until he received his first guitar from his Grandmother.

The guitar she gave him wasn't exactly glamorous. It had one string remaining (low E) but he used that guitar as the foundation to his future success. After a new set of strings, Slash's priorities started to change.

His promising career as a talented BMX rider started to take a backseat to his guitar. Soon, Slash was practicing from dawn until dusk. The more he practiced, the more his school work suffered. Eventually, Slash dropped out of High School in grade eleven to pursue his dreams of stardom.

Like many guitarists, Slash came across his fair share of obstacles in the music world. After teaming up with his friend Steven Adler, he created the Road Crew. The band was made of the right material, but needed a lead singer to seal their success. That's when Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin came into the picture. They merged members and created Guns N' Roses.

The new band made airplay with the infamous song "Sweet Child O Mine." While the band was on the top of their game, Slash fell deeper into drugs and alcohol. While the entire band was using, Slash seemed to be trapped by drugs and unable to escape. It would take almost dying beside an elevator before he began to smarten up.

After years of massive success on the world stage, the band took a little break from touring. Meanwhile, Slash wanted to get back to his roots and created Snake Pit. The new band was well received and hit the road. Instead of the usual stadiums which Slash was accustomed to playing in, he preferred to stick to the local club scene where he could be more interactive with his audiences.

When Axl and the rest of the band returned to the recording studio, tension rose between Axl and the other members of the band. Axl wasn't involved with creating the record, so Slash filled the gap and produced the album himself.

Eventually, Slash left Guns N' Roses to pursue his own solo career. He did work with Alice Cooper and performed on tour with him. This wasn't enough for Slash. While he enjoyed playing with these world famous guitarists, he had the itch for another band.

The wounds were still fresh from Guns N' Roses, so Slash had the idea of creating a compilation album consisting of musicians from around the world. When he began to play with some old buddies from Guns N' Roses who also left the band, Velvet Revolver was created.

Ironically, they went through more problems with their lead singer but ended up with Scott Weiland from The Stone Temple Pilots. The band has topped the charts with hits like "Slither." You can't keep Slash down, and the creation of Velvit Revolver was living proof of that.

The Technique

If you want to play like Slash, you need to know some of his techniques. Slash was completely self taught and practiced along to his favorite bands to become a better musician. The first step you can take to become a better player is listen to a variety of music and try to play along with it.

Slash hated to replicate any guitarist, rather, he let their style influence his. That's why he wrote so many fresh licks, because he wasn't trying to be anybody but himself.

As far as scales are concerned, he relied many on the minor/major pentatonic scales in addition to some mixolydian and Dorian scales for his solos. This may come as a surprise to some, considering how overused these scales have become. The trick to keeping your sound and solos original is to use a variety of techniques coupled with your own ideas.

Slash favored vibrato and using hammer on/ pull off's to create speed. His right picking hand isn't used for speed. Instead, he uses his picking hand to add a percussive feel to his solos.

The more you change the rhythms in your solo, the more unique and intricate it will become. The solo will take on a life of its own. The bottom line is this: put your heart into the solo, add in some ordinary techniques and cool effects and you have yourself a world class solo.

The key ingredient here is practice. Regardless of what techniques you use, you have to know how to apply them in such a way as to move your audience.

The Gear

It's no secret that Slash has had a love affair with the Gibson Les Paul for quite a while. He was playing on a Jackson for a while until his manager found him a '59 Les Paul. However, it was actually a handmade copy made by luthier Chris Derrig. Slash used it for most of his gigs but retired it after too much tour abuse.

To honor Slash for playing their guitars, Gibson has released two limited-edition custom Slash Les Pauls. This is in addition to the approximate 100 guitars already in his collection!

In the studio, Slash likes to experiment with the B.C Rich Mockingbird. His live sound is always with a Les Paul.

As far as Slash's effects pedals are concerned, he takes a different approach. He uses a Dunlop Crybaby, Boss graphic EQ GE-7 and a Boss DD5 digital delay ...a very modest rig.

Now here's the surprise: He uses up to eight wah-wah pedals! Why so many? On stage, Slash likes to move around. By using so many wah-wah pedals, he can easily move around and be near one when he needs it for a solo. That way he didn't have to stand in front of a pedal waiting for the solo to come around. He only used one at a time.

As far as amps are concerned, he prefers the tone of a Marshall. Like Gibson, Marshall also has limited-edition amps in Slash's honor.

The Songs

The song that launched Slash into stardom was "Sweet Child O' Mine." This riff has become a right of passage for many guitarists. Unlike most standard guitar riffs, Sweet Child O' Mine uses some melodic arpeggiated chords found higher up on the neck.

This rhythm is the backbone to the song and has been the signature riff of the song since its creation. Without it, Guns N' Roses may have never been successful. It was the first single from the band to hit the airwaves. This rock ballad has earned the reputation as one of rock's best riffs.

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