The Legend of Slash’s Appetite for Destruction Les Paul
Thomas Scott McKenzie
Will we ever know who built the Les Paul Slash played on “Sweet Child O’ Mine”?
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The Epic of the Hunterburst
Mythologist, lecturer, and writer Joseph
Campbell focused on the role mythology
plays in the human experience, while
examining myths and legends handed down
through the centuries. There are certain constants
that appear in myths, regardless of the
culture that spawned them. There is a hero
who must leave his comfort zone and embark
on some sort of journey. Along the way, that
hero encounters supernatural help in the form
of “amulets,” quoted in the Campbell passage
above. The form of these implements
changes throughout the myths. It could be
King Arthur’s Excalibur, or Perseus’s gifts from
the gods, or Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.
Or, in a musical context, the mythological
structure could feature an impoverished,
curly-haired hero encountering a transformative
In the early ’80s, during Guns N’ Roses’
formative period, Slash was living hand-tomouth.
Struggling to eat and pay for a drug
habit, he certainly lacked the wherewithal
to accumulate fine vintage instruments.
“Those guys couldn’t put two nickels together
to buy a pack of Marlboros back then,”
says former Guns manager Vicky Hamilton.
At the time, Hamilton even allowed the
nascent rockers to move into her apartment—
which surely diminished the likelihood
of recovering her security deposit.
Due to such constricting finances, Slash
played a variety of guitars during this
period, as documented in Marc Canter’s
photography book Reckless Road: Guns
N’ Roses and the Making of Appetite for
Destruction, and he was certainly not tied
to any particular brand.
Throughout that text are photos of Slash
with a red B.C. Rich Warlock, a B.C. Rich
Mockingbird with visible wood grain,
and—when he was very young—even a
black Fender Stratocaster. In Slash’s own
best-selling memoir, Slash, written with co-author
Anthony Bozza, the guitarist relates
a story of asking Kiss’ Paul Stanley for help
procuring instruments from B.C. Rich.
It was in that wilderness of instrument
experimentation that Slash came across the
first amulet that would help him face the
challenging climb up the ladder of rock ’n’
“I was playing a new guitar,” Slash writes
in his memoir. “It was a Les Paul that had
belonged to ’70s blues guitarist Steve
Hunter. I’d traded my B.C. Rich for it at
Howie Hubberman’s place, Guitars R Us.”
Obtaining this instrument was a major cause
for celebration at the Guns base camp.
“I have one really good memory of Slash
getting his first sunburst Gibson, and he
brought it into our living room when we
were all living together,” says Hamilton.
“He opened the case with pride and everyone
gave him the ‘ooh’ and ‘aah.’”
That guitar is frequently referred to as the
“Hunterburst,” after its former owner who
was famous for performances with Alice
Cooper, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, and even
Aerosmith. Perhaps most notably, Hunter
played on the Cooper tunes “Billion Dollar
Babies” and “Welcome to My Nightmare,”
as well as Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” single
and Lou Reed’s epic Rock n Roll Animal.
The problem is that Hunter doesn’t know if
his guitar ended up in Slash’s hands. Though
the influential guitarist politely declined to
speak on the record for this interview, he
did state he does not know what happened
to his instrument after he sold it.
Guitar gurus Hubberman and Rist both
handled Hunter’s Les Paul and are certain
the guitar went to Slash. The instrument
came into the shop with original ’50s parts,
including PAF pickups that were ultimately
removed to sell on the vintage market
while the guitar was retrofitted with more
modern, reasonably priced hardware.
“I put the Seymour Duncans in,” Rist says.
“I worked on setting it up and getting it
to play good. It stayed there for maybe a
couple of days. So maybe a couple of days
later, Howie calls up Slash saying, ‘I got the
guitar for you.’ Slash comes in and they
work out some kind of deal.”
Hubberman, who was also an early investor in
the band, recalls that he sold the instrument to
the young gunner for $2600, payable over time.
“You know, they didn’t have any money back
then,” Hubberman says. “I would just give
things to them off the cuff and they’d catch
up to me later down the line. Those guys
always took care of me. Izzy [rhythm guitarist
Izzy Stradlin] was probably the brokest of the
bunch, but he would pay it off. Same thing
with Slash. I mean, it took a couple of years for
Slash to pay off that guitar, but he paid it off.”
Humorously, Hubberman adds, “I think
when he paid it off, he no longer owned it.”
Legend and innuendo has it that Slash
pawned the so-called Hunterburst to pay
for his drug habit. While that can’t be proven,
it’s certainly possible. In his memoir, the
guitarist writes of times when “I sold my
equipment for cash to score more smack.”