How to the play the guitar: part two, Slash offers readers some tips

Concentrate on your sound and your performance skills will develop in tandem, says Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver guitar legend Slash

There's no formula for giving a great guitar performance. When I first had an electric guitar and an amp, aged 15 or 16, I started a band, so my playing and performing developed in tandem. But I do remember, the split second before the band started was all about getting the sound right. Once I'd played a rock lick that sounded how I wanted it to, that was me. That was the most important thing.

When you start a band, all that other stuff, discovering yourself, comes with it. Your stage presence is an inherent part of you - you shouldn't have to work too hard on it. You just sort of do your thing and it depends on what kind of person you are. In my case, I definitely had an idea of what I thought was cool. I had a whole bunch of different role models I watched and identified with. When you get out there in front of people, you're very aware of yourself, but at the same time I don't know exactly what it is that I'm doing. I guess it's something that just comes naturally. No matter what kind of ideas you have about, say, what you should wear, when you're playing you're not really thinking about that. You're thinking about the next note and you just sort of become that person.

I have a lot of old guitars I use in the studio, but when it comes to touring I've learned that you need a good solid one that you're not too attached to, because the rigours of playing on the road, the way that I play live, takes a huge toll on guitars. The longer you have it the more attached you get to it - and then you put it away because you're scared something might happen to it (this is the first time I've told people this). Then you get a new one and beat the shit out of that for 10 years.

Stored away I have something like 90 to 100 guitars. They're not like cars, you don't have to start the engine every month - although you can't keep them in some freezing cold or, worse, really hot room because that has an effect on the wood. But if you store them in a temperature-controlled environment, you can take one out any time, put some new strings on it, tweak it up and it's good to go.

The pick-ups (Seymour Duncan Alnico II humbuckers) on my new signature Gibson Les Paul are the same ones that were on the 1959 Les Paul replica I bought in 1988, which I used to record Guns N' Roses' first album Appetite for Destruction. I put them in pretty much every guitar I have. They're just perfect.

My guitar's neck is shaped a certain way - I think you can find this neck shape in a 1960 Les Paul. They change over the years and I'm very particular about it. Looking at the guitar from the front, you couldn't tell, but from the side, it's thinner. That's more comfortable for me as I don't have the longest fingers in the world.

Other than that, much of the appeal is aesthetic. I like the old-fashioned volume knobs and tulip-shaped tuning pegs, and the tobacco sunburst finish - the darker sunburst rather than the bright, orangey colour of regular sunburst guitars. It has to look cool.

I try not to be as superficial as all that though (you usually find the worst-looking guitars sound the best). When I first got a guitar, it was a Les Paul copy that cost around $60. I always gravitated to that shape and, after all the guitars I ever tried while trying to grow into my own personality as a musician, when I didn't know the difference between what one guitar sounded like and another, I always ended up back with a Les Paul. It looked cool on so many great guitar players, and sounded good. Jimmy Page was a major Les Paul user, and so was Keith Richards for a while there. Eric Clapton and a couple of the guys from Aerosmith had Les Pauls too.

I wear mine low, on pretty much the last notch on the strap. It's really hard to put into words why but, put it this way, when my guitar is too high it doesn't look cool. It is harder to play so low down and I've developed a whole slew of physical positions that I get myself into so I can play certain things. For high notes, I pick up the guitar and play it against my leg. I didn't even know I did that until someone pointed it out. You just subconsciously adapt to different ways of moving so that the neck is at the appropriate angle for each particular part. Playing my way is probably a lot more work than is really necessary.

But the most important thing about learning guitar - and I know because I'm still going through it - is having an infinite amount of patience, imagination and an extremely do-or-die attitude to getting to wherever it is that you want to go. It's a life unto itself.

Interview by Amy Fleming


Amy Fleming

The GuardianTramp

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