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Have you ever talked guitar with people like Joe Perry and Jimmy Page?
I was joking about this recently – whenever I hang out with guitar players, the last thing we want to talk about is guitars. I think guitar players are an interesting breed because we’re all very aware of how many of us there are and we’re also very aware of what the other guys are doing or what their sound is like and blah blah blah. But it’s almost like a magician kind of thing; no one really talks about what they do. I’d actually think it was rude if I was to inquire too much as to what Jimmy has got in his guitar or Billy (Gibbons) has got in his guitar or Joe has got in his guitar. You know it’s funny. Recently I was doing a show with Velvet Revolver in South American and we were playing with Aerosmith. And Brad (Whitford) pulled me aside and he goes (in conspiratorial whisper), “What kind of Les Paul is that?” And I was like, “It’s just a Les Paul, dude.” But even if I had an answer, I probably wouldn’t have said it, you know. No, that’s not true! It’s funny, there is like this silent language that guitar players have and we just sort of don’t really go there unless it’s very specific.
Why do people tend to separate between Gibson guys and Fender guys? Do you think it’s because of who somebody is listening to? Or do you think some players just tend to be more Gibson kinds of guys than Fender guys? Do you have any ideas why that might be?
That’s a really great question. For me personally, I don’t know about everybody else. Guitar players get together and that’s the last thing really we want to talk about; we usually talk about cars. Guitars are very personal and when I first started out, I didn’t know anything about guitar playing. I almost didn’t even start playing; I was initially supposed to play bass because I really didn’t know that much of the difference between the two. But I was leaning towards the Les Paul because particular guitar players that I liked used Les Pauls and also sounded really cool. So, they were cool and they sounded good.
Not to say that I didn’t like Strats back when Jimi Hendrix and David Gilmour and guys like that all used Strats. But there was something about guitar players that used Les Pauls that had a certain kind of thing to it.
The first couple of years, I think the first guitar I got was a Les Paul copy. And then I went through a BC Rich and I had a Fender and I had a Les Paul; those were the main three guitars that I had over the first two years that I started playing. And I always gravitated back toward a Les Paul; it just felt comfortable to me. It immediately reacted the way that I wanted it to compared to other guitars. I just used to fumble around with a Strat for hours trying to get it to the point where I was comfortable with it.
So, it’s just one of those things that the particular instrument that you as a person, as an individual, identify with, you sort of get the thing that you want out of it. And at some point, I think around the time that Guns N’ Roses started, I got a hold of a used Les Paul that used to belong to Steve Hunter from Alice Cooper. And that was like my main live guitar in the clubs for a few years and I think at some point during those crazy days, I hocked it. And then I had a handful of guitars: I had a couple Jacksons and a couple BC Richs, and I went into the studio to do Appetite For Destruction. We were doing the basic tracks, sort of like the throwaway guitar tracks but you all play together to get the bass and drums. And listening to playback in the cans, those guitars sounded horrible (laughs). You know?
And I never really liked ‘em live either; there was a couple of gigs I did live. So I was desperate to find a guitar and my manager gave me a Les Paul and I just fell right into my comfort zone and we made the Appetite record. And I haven’t really messed around with other guitars too much since.
A guitar player then, is really a product of what he listened to when he was first starting to play. You talk about listening to Hendrix and Gilmour and hypothetically you could have been a Fender player. But do you think, when it was all said you done, you would have ultimately made the switch to Gibsons? Can you hypothesize for a moment?
I would have ended up with a Les Paul. I mean I was raised on David Gilmour just as much as Jimmy Page and as much as Jimi Hendrix. All those guys come from the same ilk of screaming rock and roll blues guitar players even though they don’t all play the same guitar. And from Johnny Winter to Jimmy Page to Rory Gallagher to Gary Moore to Joe and Brad, they’re all doing some variation on that same theme.
But the Les Paul, something about the combination of looks and sound that I just gravitated to the Les Paul without even thinking about it. The first electric guitar I ever bought was (that) Les Paul copy and I think I first discovered the beginnings of where my sound was at with that guitar. I mean I like Ted Nugent, too, but I never thought once of ever getting a Byrdland.
And there are guitar players that I don’t even know the names of just because I’ve never really investigated them. There’s a certain sound in the seventies and some of the obvious guys that we don’t talk about as much but have almost as big an influence was Mick Ronson. I always talk about this song, Manfred Mann did this version of the Bruce Springsteen song …
“Blinded by the Light.”
That outro guitar solo, that guitar solo is killer (performed by Dave Flett). There’s a seventies rock guitar sound which still always smacks of a Les Paul to me even though I don’t even know if it is for sure.
Obviously Mick Ronson did all that Bowie stuff on a Les Paul and it’s probably a safe bet to think that the Manfred Mann song was done with a Gibson as well.
There’s a couple other like great one-hit songs that came out in the seventies; I’m thinking about it now and I can’t think of the name but I heard it in the car the other day. It was another song I grew up on and they all had these killer guitar solo breakdowns towards the end or something. I think that had a lot to do where “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and whatever came from. But that all sounded like a Les Paul to me; the weighty single-note kind of screaming thing. A Strat has a very identifiable sound, it sounds great, but there’s something that really touches me about a Les Paul.
For a lot of years, you actually used a custom Les Paul copy.
Well, yeah, there’s three that I actually have. They were just really brilliantly made Les Paul replicas. What happened was, I had those replicas on the road with me for the first Guns N’ Roses tour in ’87 through ’88 and I beat the hell out of these guitars. I didn’t want to put them through the wringer any longer so I went to Gibson and asked them if they would give me a couple Les Paul Standards. They said, “Well, we’re not gonna give ‘em to ya, but we’ll sell ‘em to ya.” And one of them is the one that the new Inspired By Slash Model is modeled after. Once you find a good guitar you stick with it. But that guitar has been on the road with me from ’88 all the way up until the first Velvet Revolver tour and then I got some new Les Pauls. Because those were getting to that point and they were such good guitars, I didn’t want to destroy those completely.
But the new Gibson stuff, like everything I’ve gotten, the new Slash models, are brilliant. They come out of the box and I take them on the road and they work great.
Can you look back at the records you’ve made and point to a track as being the single greatest Les Paul sound you ever created?
Well, you know, like the Appetite record since it was our first record and that was like the initial kickoff sound for the band. And that’s just a basic Les Paul sound with a Marshall and not a lot of bells and whistles. Especially because I hadn’t been playing for that long at that point and its just got that whole raw kind of thing to it. And then over the years, I’ve gotten better as a guitar player, the equipment comes and goes, but there are always certain tracks that you go, “That’s basically what I would like to sound like.”