Of Holy Trinities and Eternal Myths
Allegedly, Slash obtained a third replica
shortly after recording Appetite
. According to some, he
obtained a second Derrig model. Others
claim he got another Baranet instrument.
“Through Howie, Max was made aware
that Slash needed a Les Paul and he needed
one in a hurry,” Rist says. “And it was
mainly, from everything I know, for the purpose
of another touring backup.” Although
it cannot be confirmed, Slash is presumed
to still own that third replica.
Ultimately, some of the arguments surrounding
these three replicas may never be
solved. Short of getting Slash, the luthiers,
and the guitars all in the same room and
subjecting them to CSI-level scrutiny, some
definitive answers simply cannot be had. In
the absence of such hard data, the topic will
continue to be passionately debated. One
internet message board features an epic
531-post argument that spans three years—
and people continue to post on the subject
to this day!
While some observers may feel this level
of fanatical discourse is a waste of time,
it’s what true believers do. They staunchly
defend their interpretation of the myth
or legend. At this very moment, some
academic in a college classroom is surely
arguing over the true historical figure that
served as the inspiration for King Arthur.
The Slash Les Paul replica debate simply
features more volume.
Although Slash might see it differently, he
undoubtedly fulfills Campbell’s role of the
hero who reinterprets a tradition and makes
it valid for a current era.
During the early ’80s, pointy guitars with
whammy bars and slick paint jobs were
required equipment for any aspiring rocker.
Slash’s bluesy, more straight-ahead rock
’n’ roll riffs and leads on Appetite for
swung the spotlight back on
Les Pauls, which had been pushed to the
side since the ’70s heyday of Led Zeppelin
and other LP-slinging bands.
“Back in the ’80s, the Burst market was
dead,” says Baranet. “I used to go to the
guitar shows in Texas every six months. I’ve
got pictures from ’88 of rows and rows of
Bursts priced around seven to ten grand,
and nobody was buying. When Guns N’
Roses broke, Slash was playing a Les Paul in
those three videos in constant rotation on
MTV.” That exposure attracted international
collectors who scooped up Les Pauls, making
them scarcer domestically. Accordingly,
“Slash playing Les Pauls was what kickstarted
it,” Baranet continues. “It’s kind of
funny, because he was playing replicas at
the time, yet he kicked off the real Burst
market, as well as the reissue and historic
market that followed later.”
While the truth of Slash’s Les Paul arsenal
may never be known, the fact is that guitarists
and music lovers will always revere these
iconic instruments. And they will always be
fascinated by the fine details of the axes.
“To put it in an almost philosophical sense,
it puts them closer to god,” Rist says.
“Especially if you take a look at Slash: He
was a kid with an undying belief that he
would make it, and now he’s turned into a
huge star. So you have all these people who
wished they could get into that kind of position.
They dream of it, but they’ll never get
there. Sometimes the closest people can get
to that place is just talking about it.”
Yes, Rist’s assertion is a tough one to argue
with. Talk of this hero who found iconic
implements to complete a quest—and create
a legend—truly is bound to continue
from this generation and into subsequent
generations as long as guitarists dream of
ascending from musical mortality and entering
the pantheon of guitar gods.
The Reality of Replicas
Undoubtedly, major guitar manufacturers like Gibson, Fender, and Ibanez view any
instrument produced by an unofficial source to be counterfeit. And legally that’s
certainly true. But the handmade replica culture is not the same thing as some unsuspecting
musician getting ripped off. Instead, all parties involved (except the major companies)
agree that this can be an honorable transaction among consenting adults—one that involves
“Keep in mind that a guitar builder is very similar to an artist,” says Roman Rist. “For an artist
to pull off a convincing Picasso means he has arrived. It is not about passing off a fake. Rather,
it’s a way of saying ‘Hey, this is my business card. If I can do this, I can do just about anything.’”
Some replica builders who did not want to be identified in this story even have relationships
with the companies they’re copying. They might do custom work for those manufacturers
or help out in a pinch. Replicas are frequently of such stellar quality that they command
high prices on the vintage market to this day.
“The last nice Max-made Les Paul that I know of changed hands for $45,000,” says Howie
Hubberman. Baranet himself won’t confirm this, but when offered a range of $35,000 to
$50,000, he says, “They’ve resold much higher than that.”
Ironically, some replica builders are so respected that other people copy their work.
“There are more forgeries of my stuff than my replicas of the corporate stuff,” Baranet laughs.
Other Legendary Guitars Shrouded in Mystery
Slash’s Appetite for Destruction
Les Pauls are not the only instruments
open to speculation, conjecture,
and controversy. The beat-to-hell,
that Eddie Van Halen made famous
is a mutt of various components.
Depending on who you believe,
the body is a Warmoth,
Fender, or Charvel. Kramer
stepped in and made similar
instruments for the guitar
slinger in the early ’80s, the
most famous being the 5150
guitar with a hockey-stick-style
headstock. Many fans confuse
the Frankenstrat with the
Kramer 5150. The high-end
EVH-branded replicas of the
Frankenstrat (right)—which are
made by Fender and sold under the
Frankenstein model name—further
complicate the discussion.
George Lynch’s skull-and-bones guitar is
another oddity. Nicknamed “Mom,” the highly
carved instrument played by the shredder in
such Dokken videos as “Dream Warriors” carried
a misleading nameplate. The guitar was
actually built by J. Frog. However, when he
got the instrument Lynch had recently started
a relationship with ESP Guitars, so he slapped
an ESP sticker on the headstock before using
it in the band’s videos.