Slovak played a ’60s-era sunburst Stratocaster with a white pickguard and rosewood fretboard throughout his career. He kept the tremolo floating so he could raise and lower the pitch. Photo by Debra Trebitz / Frank White Photo Agency.
Hallmarks of Hillel Slovak's Style
Hillel Slovak’s funk comping was sparse and simple, and became even more so later in his career. No-frills rhythm guitar playing allows room for the music to breathe while driving the groove forward. A great example of Slovak’s minimal-yet-effective rhythm guitar parts are the repeated figures he lays down during the verses of the “Special Secret Song Inside” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1987 release, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan.
Slovak sits on just two notes, C and F (technically E-sharp in this context), the top two notes of a D7#9. If felt as eighth-notes, Slovak plays that chord fragment on the downbeat and “and-of-2” in each measure.
And that’s it.
That super-simple rhythmic pattern leaves ample space for colorful guitar overdubs and Flea’s extra-groovy bass line. And because Slovak’s figure is constant and repetitive, it creates a sense of tension that drives the verse forward until its ultimate release at the top of the chorus.
This approach is a common funk device and a tool Slovak applied with precision. Other examples include the funkier sections of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and the verses of “Skinny Sweaty Man” from The Uplift Mofo Party Plan and “Nevermind” off the 1985 release, Freaky Styley.
This is the closest you’ll get to a Hillel Slovak Rig Rundown.
This live clip of “Fight Like a Brave” at the Pinkpop Festival in 1988 features Slovak on a Les Paul about a month before his death.