Slash grips one of the three highly mythologized Les Paul replicas that he has used over the years (right)—which may or may not have been the inspiration for his new signature Gibson Appetite Les Paul (left). Photo by Neil Zlozower
Mythology is an essential part of human life. We may not spend much time discussing winged-footed Greek gods or tales of dragonslayers while we tune our guitars and haul amps into clubs. But myths and legends are still all around us. From the triumph of the Jedi in the Star Wars films to the latest heroic act on the sports field, myths inform our culture and sense of belonging. And even within a musical context, certain stories take root, grow, expand, mutate, and are shared for generations until they reach legendary proportions.
The story of Slash’s instrument arsenal during the heady days of recording Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction is just such a tale, retold by our era’s version of epic poets and debated as hotly as any controversial archaelogical discovery.
In March 2010, Gibson Guitars released their Slash Appetite Les Paul model. The company’s press materials proclaimed this was “the axe that launched a thousand riffs.” In videos hosted on the Gibson website, Slash holds the new model next to his personal guitar and says, “This is the original right here,” and “It’s basically set up just like my original was.” The camera slowly pans over the instrument and zooms in on some of the details.
“All things considered, with the original one, it just happened to have a certain sort of unique tone unto itself,” Slash says in the video. “With the new one, we basically tried to capture that. The new Appetite for Destruction guitar is about as close as anybody could get to the original.”
According to luthier Roman Rist, the middle Les Paul replica here is Slash's first from luthier Kris Derrig—the one Rist says Slash used on the tail end of Appetite. The guitar on the right was built by Peter "Max" Baranet. The instrument on the left is purportedly Slash's second Derrig model. Photo courtesy of Roman Rist
The guitar was hailed as an impressive instrument. When Premier Guitar reviewed it, we said, “It’s a well-built, high-quality Les Paul with flawless playability and gorgeous looks.” The review carried a 4.5 rating out of a possible 5.
That review also pointed out something that Slash fans and internet forum users had known all along: The Slash Appetite Les Paul is actually a replica of a replica— because the instrument Slash rocked on the iconic album wasn’t actually a Gibson. The “original,” as Slash calls it in the videos, was made by California luthier Kris Derrig.
Slash and Gibson did not respond to interview requests for this article. However, we should note that the general attitude among savvy guitarists is that Gibson’s Appetite Les Paul isn’t some attempt to hoodwink an unsuspecting public. Most observers feel that if a customer is a big enough fan to pay the list price of nearly five grand for the instrument, they’d also know the true story. And Gibson’s new Appetite guitar does include some modern updates that theoretically improve its practicality for a mass audience. And in many ways the Gibson initiative to sell such an instrument addressed a burgeoning demand among consumers—and addressed it well.
“I don’t fault them at all,” says guitar builder Roman Rist, who figures into the earlier days of this tale. “Slash does have a relationship with Gibson. Slash is a bona fide rock star, and, for them, why not make a Slash model? I’m sure Slash had plenty of input in the design to be able to sign off and be happy with the guitar. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
But while Gibson rehashed the iconic instrument for today’s musician, the larger legend is much more complex. Indeed, there are many who allege Slash actually wielded three Les Pauls during the time in question. Those three guitars are shrouded in questions, contrasting memories, and conflicting reports. Examining the legend of these instruments is like trying to unravel the threads of an ancient Norse epic or documenting the numerous trysts and offspring of the Greek god, Zeus. Each answer opens a new question, each thread ends at the beginning of a new one.