The "Sweet Child O' Mine" riff mangles my fingers every time I try to learn it. Do you use some kind of secret technique?
There's no secret technique. That's just my pick-up-a-guitar and fuck-around-with-it style of playing. That whole riff was just a mistake-a joke, really. To this day, I find it incredibly ironic and hilarious that it turned into a song, especially such a successful one. The riff started out as a stupid exercise that I noodled around with nearly every time I picked up a guitar. I don't really know how to practice properly, so I like to make up things that are difficult to play, so that I can become better at what I do.
Anyway, I must have played that riff a million times without ever thinking it would be a song. Then one day, while I was playing the riff, Izzy [Stradlin, former Guns N' Roses guitarist] started playing some chords, and the thing just took off! I think that just goes to show the value of doing things on the guitar that get you out of the box.
What was the hardest song you ever recorded, one that was just an absolute bitch to nail?
There are a few of them, including "Sweet Child O' Mine." That solo intro seemed impossible, even though I'd played the riff alone, without the band, for years. I almost never do more than two or three takes, but that one took at least eight. It was pretty frustrating.
I also had a really hard time nailing the intro solo on "Paradise City." It just wasn't "jamming" enough, as far as I was concerned. I finally had to quit for the day and go home, but I came back the next day and nailed it in one take. It was devastating to leave the studio with that song unfinished. I have a very short attention span.
The last song that comes to mind is a ballad on the Velvet Revolver record, "You Got No Right." We recorded it right after we wrote it. When I went to do the solo, it just didn't feel right, but I couldn't figure out why. We ended up rerecording the song a month or two later, and I nailed the solo right away. Before that, I'd never gotten into a rut where I couldn't play a solo because the whole feel was just off.
Guns N' Roses gave rock a much-needed kick in the ass back in the late Eighties. We need it even worse today, in this world where the guitar solo has become an endangered species. Do you think you can you do it again with Velvet Revolver?
When the five of us-me, [former Guns bassist] Duff McKagan, [singer] Scott Weiland, [guitarist] Dave Kushner and [former Guns drummer] Matt Sorum-formed Velvet Revolver, it was because we'd each begun to feel a desperate need to put together a kick-ass hard rock band. I think we've managed to merge our influences and create a sound that's unique and reflects our desire to shake things up again. So if this music kicks people's ass half as hard as it's kicking our ass-then, yeah, I think we can make an impact on rock music again.
Who are some of your more obscure guitar inspirations?
I like the Pretenders' James Honeyman-Scott; the Cars' Elliot Easton, who is one of the best lead players of the last 25 years; Joe Walsh, who's one of the best rock and roll guitar players of all time; and the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones. I'm also a fan of Elvis Presley's guitarist Scotty Moore and [surf-rock guitarist] Dick Dale-to this day I haven't had the balls to sit down and learn one of his songs. And I shouldn't forget David Lindley, who played with Jackson Browne for years. It might surprise some people to hear me say it, but the dude is incredible.
I can never seem to get that heavily accented wah sound that I closely associate with you and Kirk Hammett. Is your wah pedal tweaked?
When I did Appetite for Destruction I had a stock Cry Baby. Now I own Dunlop wahs that are fully adjustable: you can decide where the wah starts and ends and make the high end sing longer or the low end more guttural. But to be honest, I don't use those features very much. Besides, you can definitely get a good wah sound without them. I think you should just keep experimenting. I'm sure whatever problem you're having has nothing to do with your pedal.
Is it true that you don't know scales?
Although I was never properly schooled in scales, over the years I've learned what a scale is and how to put together a series of notes that sound harmonically correct. But there are a lot of players whose technical knowledge is far superior to mine-guys that have a good grasp of music theory and apply it to their playing all the time. I can't do that, but I do know how to take a basic scale and change the notes around to suit my needs. I also know how to play major, minor and pentatonic scales all the way up the neck, but that's about as complicated as I get.
If you could record an album with one other guitarist, alive or dead, who would it be?
I've played with Keith Richards and would love to take that further. And I would love to jam with Joe Walsh. But when I think of people I would love to jam with, I usually think of great rhythm sections rather than guitar players. Great lead guitar players usually don't need another lead player around. The multiple lead guitar sound of bands like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd is cool, but it's a different, very structured kind of lead playing, and that's something I don't really strive for.
I have always admired your sound. Please list your setup.
Thanks. People ask me this question all the time, and it's sort of funny. Because, to be honest, all you need is a decent-sounding Les Paul and a decent-sounding Marshall 100-watt or 50-watt head. That's it. The only other things I use are the occasional Boss EQ and wah pedal. I'd love to make it sound more interesting, but I'd be lying.