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Of Holy Trinities and Eternal Myths
Allegedly, Slash obtained a third replica shortly after recording Appetite for Destruction. 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 Destruction 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, prices escalated.
“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 high-quality instruments.
“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, red-and-white-striped “Frankenstrat” 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.