Few guitarists have more signature gear in the world than Saul Hudson, but while the route to nailing Slash’s tone might seem simple (signature Gibson Les Paul into signature Marshall amp with a few of his signature pedals thrown in) but the reality is a lot more complex.
From rented amps to dubiously authentic instruments, there’s a huge amount of debate, conjecture and straight-up myth surrounding Slash’s hugely influential tone and the gear he used to create it. Let’s set the record straight…
Slash is playing a Gibson Les Paul on Appetite For Destruction
By the time Guns N’ Roses recorded their epoch-defining debut record, Appetite For Destruction, in 1987, Slash had pawned many of his guitars, and so entered the studio with the only ones he had left, which he recounted, all sounded terrible. So the band’s manager went out to a local guitar shop and purchased a beautiful single-cut instrument that featured a gorgeous flamed maple top. This is the guitar that was used on Appetite For Destruction and would come to define Slash’s iconic look and tone to this day.
But even though the guitar said Gibson Les Paul on the headstock, it was not a Gibson Les Paul. In fact, the guitar was a custom-built replica of a ’59 Sunburst Les Paul with a couple alternative specifications including Seymour Duncan Alnico II Zebra pickups.
Quite who actually built this guitar is also something that has been subject to a great deal of speculation. In his autobiography, Slash claims that, “It was made by the late Jim Foot[e], who owned MusicWorks in Redondo Beach.” Now, Foote shared a shop space with another luthier named Kris Derrig – Foote did own the shop, but Kris built most of the guitars. Foote has since confirmed that it was Kris Derrig who built the guitar.
Unfortunately, Kris Derrig passed away before he could get the credit due to him for building the iconic guitar, in fact he sadly passed away of throat cancer just a few months prior to the release of Appetite For Destruction in 1987. Kris’ son, Dale, estimates that his dad made “about 20, maybe more” of these Les Paul replicas. Slash now owns three of them.
These Derrig ‘Les Pauls’ have become highly sought after in the years since, but obviously they are very hard to track down. It’s ironic though that one of the most iconic Les Paul tones in the history of recorded music (not to mention one that has spawned endless Gibson signature models) wasn’t even a real Les Paul.
The rented Appetite amp
When GN’R signed to Geffen records they were given $370,000 to record their debut LP. Now, according to Slash they spent most of it on heroin instead, which would explain why a lot of the gear on Appetite For Destruction was rented rather than bought. As a result it’s been tough to pin down what exactly was used on the sessions. Some have claimed Slash used a Marshall Silver Jubilee for AFD, and while he did use it on subsequent tours, it wasn’t released until 1987 so can’t have been in the studio.
Instead, in the spring of 1986, Slash went into S.I.R. (Studio Instrument Rentals) in LA to test out amplifiers to use on the album and finally found one he loved – a Marshall Model 1959T Super Lead Tremolo – pre-master volume, and post-Plexi (it had a metal faceplate). The amp had stenciled lettering that read: “Stock #39”. When the band went in to record the album (between August and December of 1986) Slash specifically requested Stock #39 from S.I.R. But there was a problem, George Lynch had rented the amp to use on Dokken’s 1986 tour, which ended 13 September in Irvine, California.
So, that amp not available to be delivered to Slash in time to use during the recording session, but the company still had an obligation to deliver a comparable amp for the sessions.
Now, Stock #39 was not, ironically, a stock Super Lead Tremolo – it had been modified by a tech who worked for the company named Tim Caswell. Tim modded the amp by taking the amp’s unused tremolo circuit which had an additional preamp tube and turning it into an extra preamp stage. The amp sported EL34 power tubes (they were typically shipped to the US with 6550s in those days). He also added a master volume. In short, Tim was a great tech with an affinity for gain stacking. Tim left the company in 1985 and was replaced by a guy named Frank Levi. Tim’s modded “Stock #39” had become a favorite among those looking to rent gear, so Frank was tasked with making more amps like the “Stock #39”.
Frank’s first test subject was an amp dubbed Stock #36 which was a Model 1959 Super Lead but was not a Tremolo, therefore, it didn’t have the existing tube and circuit to convert, so the extra gain stage (tube and circuit) was added right next to the existing three preamp tubes. Frank ended up swapping out some capacitors from “donor amps” some of which were allegedly, old Fenders until he got it to sound like #39. There were only a couple main differences – on #39, you could switch the fourth pre-amp tube on and off via a toggle switch mounted in place of one of the input jacks (#36 was just “on” all the time). #36 also had a master volume knob mounted in a different spot.
According to a supervisor at S.I.R. at the time, Glenn Buckley, S.I.R. sent Slash #36, although they never told Slash that, perhaps hoping he wouldn’t notice, leading to many false tales of the legendary Stock #39 being used on Appetite…. Slash never seemed to notice and was very happy with #36. He actually tried to duck S.I.R. in order to keep the amp, but they eventually came down to the band’s rehearsal space and took it back.
Furthermore, there was another amp, known as #34 that was also modded by Frank Levi that Slash bought and used for Use Your Illusion and many subsequent albums. Some claim it was #34 on Appetite For Destruction, but rest assured, it was #36.
Slash’s AFD Marshall is an exact replica of his AFD amp
Slash and Marshall go way back – in fact the 2555SL was the first ever signature Marshall head ever. That amp was based on the 1987 2555 Silver Jubilee amps he used on the Appetite… tours, but with Dagnall Transformers wound in Malta instead of Bedford.
Back in 2010, Slash got a new signature amp, the AFD100, which was the result of over a year of collaboration between Mr Hudson and the boffins in Bletchley to create an amplifier that faithfully recreated the tones of that iconic debut album.
Now, some people take that to mean that the AFD is an exact replica of the ‘Stock #36’ amp modded by Frank Levi and rented from S.I.R. as detailed above, but while it certainly delivers Slash-centric tones, this is not the case. In fact, it features two modes, #34 and AFD. #34 is modelled on Slash’s favorite JCM800 2203, which was also modded by Frank Levi and used on Use Your Illusion and most albums since then.
AFD mode is, of course designed to replicate the tone of Appetite… and brings in additional gain that’s modelled on that fabled Stock #36 amp rented from S.I.R. – but there’s one very good reason that it’s not an exact replica. Nobody know where it is. Somehow one of the most important amplifiers in the history of rock guitar has fallen off the face of the earth.
Without it, Slash and Santiago Alvarez worked together listening to Slash’s tracks from the original master tapes to create the tone circuit based on their listening sessions. Sonically it might be pretty damn close (and it definitely is!) but it’s not a schematical copy of the original amp – if it ever turns up, maybe that will chance.
The AFD100 also has a feature called Electronic Power Attenuation, which is a further refinement of the technology used in Yngwie Malmsteen’s signature head. The attenuator knob works as a power soak. We spoke with Slash’s tech, Ace Bergman for a lesson on what a power soak is and how Slash uses it:
“A power soak goes between the power amp and the cabinet and basically “soaks up” some of the amp’s power by turning it into heat,” he explains. “It lets you run your amp with the master volume high and still cuts some volume out. The only time we ever used that feature was with the talk box, so it doesn’t rattle your teeth so bad.”
The feedback circuit on UYI
When recording Use Your Illusion, Slash wanted to emulate the musical feedback he’d become adept at using on stage, but it proved tricky to consistently reproduce in a studio environment. To make life easier for everyone, Slash’s tech at the time, Adam Day, created a ‘feedback circuit’ that he could switch in as needed, but there’s a lot of debate about what this actually entailed.
Thankfully, in 1991 Adam spoke to Guitar Player at the time and revealed that the circuit consisted of a splitter box that ran into a mic’d Marshall half-stack in the studio on one side, with a volume-pedal controlled Mesa/Boogie Mk III on the other side.
There has been a lot of debate over Slash’s setup, specifically the feedback circuit, that was used in the studio during the recording of Use Your Illusion. A diagram appeared in the December 1991 issue of Guitar Player Magazine should clear things up.
“I picked the Mesa/Boogie Mark Ill because it had the most gain and distortion,” Adam explained. “It developed feedback the quickest and at the right frequency; this goes right back to the pickups and out to the Marshall. The Boogie wasn’t on all the time: when Slash wanted to have it in, I’d press the volume pedal down and he’d start getting feedback, The rest or the track was so loud in the monitors that the feedback wasn’t too distracting.”
You can hear the Feedback Generator in action at the beginning of You Could Be Mine and throughout Use Your Illusion.
You can ‘get’ Slash’s tone with the right gear
Slash’s rig has evolved over the years but no matter what he’s playing, it always sounds like him. It’s easy to get into the weeds with this stuff and to obsess over minutiae but ultimately Slash has that rare talent that so many of the greats have – of playing in a way that is instantly identifiable, regardless of the gear used. The common denominator is always him
“Slash has worked with several techs and many producers over the years. The way we did stuff evolved while I was his main guy, and Slash’s rig evolves to this day,” says Slash’s tech Ace Bergman. “Plus, in the studio he is willing to try all sorts of different stuff, so he may well use a piece of gear once for a recording and never again. Or we use something at two live shows and decide not to keep using it.
“Or maybe something shows up in a photo behind him and people think he is using it. The guy plays guitar seven days a week in all sorts of settings, no one, not even him, will have a complete picture of all the gear he has and/or does use.”
Maybe the trick is not to obsess over the gear your icon used, or the techniques for that matter, and just focus on sounding like you first of all.
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