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The Epic of the Hunterburst
Mythologist, lecturer, and writer Joseph Campbell focused on the role mythology plays in the human experience, while examining myths and legends handed down through the centuries. There are certain constants that appear in myths, regardless of the culture that spawned them. There is a hero who must leave his comfort zone and embark on some sort of journey. Along the way, that hero encounters supernatural help in the form of “amulets,” quoted in the Campbell passage above. The form of these implements changes throughout the myths. It could be King Arthur’s Excalibur, or Perseus’s gifts from the gods, or Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.
Or, in a musical context, the mythological structure could feature an impoverished, curly-haired hero encountering a transformative instrument.
In the early ’80s, during Guns N’ Roses’ formative period, Slash was living hand-tomouth. Struggling to eat and pay for a drug habit, he certainly lacked the wherewithal to accumulate fine vintage instruments.
“Those guys couldn’t put two nickels together to buy a pack of Marlboros back then,” says former Guns manager Vicky Hamilton. At the time, Hamilton even allowed the nascent rockers to move into her apartment— which surely diminished the likelihood of recovering her security deposit.
Due to such constricting finances, Slash played a variety of guitars during this period, as documented in Marc Canter’s photography bookReckless Road: Guns N’ Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction, and he was certainly not tied to any particular brand.
Throughout that text are photos of Slash with a red B.C. Rich Warlock, a B.C. Rich Mockingbird with visible wood grain, and—when he was very young—even a black Fender Stratocaster. In Slash’s own best-selling memoir,Slash, written with co-author Anthony Bozza, the guitarist relates a story of asking Kiss’ Paul Stanley for help procuring instruments from B.C. Rich.
It was in that wilderness of instrument experimentation that Slash came across the first amulet that would help him face the challenging climb up the ladder of rock ’n’ roll stardom.
“I was playing a new guitar,” Slash writes in his memoir. “It was a Les Paul that had belonged to ’70s blues guitarist Steve Hunter. I’d traded my B.C. Rich for it at Howie Hubberman’s place, Guitars R Us.”
Obtaining this instrument was a major cause for celebration at the Guns base camp.
“I have one really good memory of Slash getting his first sunburst Gibson, and he brought it into our living room when we were all living together,” says Hamilton. “He opened the case with pride and everyone gave him the ‘ooh’ and ‘aah.’”
That guitar is frequently referred to as the “Hunterburst,” after its former owner who was famous for performances with Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, and even Aerosmith. Perhaps most notably, Hunter played on the Cooper tunes “Billion Dollar Babies” and “Welcome to My Nightmare,” as well as Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” single and Lou Reed’s epic Rock n Roll Animal.
The problem is that Hunter doesn’t know if his guitar ended up in Slash’s hands. Though the influential guitarist politely declined to speak on the record for this interview, he did state he does not know what happened to his instrument after he sold it.
Guitar gurus Hubberman and Rist both handled Hunter’s Les Paul and are certain the guitar went to Slash. The instrument came into the shop with original ’50s parts, including PAF pickups that were ultimately removed to sell on the vintage market while the guitar was retrofitted with more modern, reasonably priced hardware.
“I put the Seymour Duncans in,” Rist says. “I worked on setting it up and getting it to play good. It stayed there for maybe a couple of days. So maybe a couple of days later, Howie calls up Slash saying, ‘I got the guitar for you.’ Slash comes in and they work out some kind of deal.”
Hubberman, who was also an early investor in the band, recalls that he sold the instrument to the young gunner for $2600, payable over time. “You know, they didn’t have any money back then,” Hubberman says. “I would just give things to them off the cuff and they’d catch up to me later down the line. Those guys always took care of me. Izzy [rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin] was probably the brokest of the bunch, but he would pay it off. Same thing with Slash. I mean, it took a couple of years for Slash to pay off that guitar, but he paid it off.”
Humorously, Hubberman adds, “I think when he paid it off, he no longer owned it.”
Legend and innuendo has it that Slash pawned the so-called Hunterburst to pay for his drug habit. While that can’t be proven, it’s certainly possible. In his memoir, the guitarist writes of times when “I sold my equipment for cash to score more smack.”