Interview: Exodus Guitarist Gary Holt Talks Gear and Touring with Slayer

Exodus guitarist and principal songwriter Gary Holt has been an influential figure in thrash metal for the past three decades.

For the past three years, however, he’s found himself in not one, but two of the most important bands of the genre, doing live-guitarist duty for Slayer while being the man behind Exodus.

He’ll be pulling double duty on stage in the spring when both bands hit the road with Suicidal Tendencies for a short run of U.S. dates.

Holt recently spoke to Guitar World and Metal Assault for a two-part interview. In this part, he discusses his transition into Slayer and its impact on his guitar playing, plus the differences between his two gear setups. You can check it out below; be sure to read the other part here.

GUITAR WORLD: As a musician, since you've joined Slayer as a live guitarist, what positive changes have you noticed in your guitar playing?

It's not a matter of being a good or a bad thing, but I guess my endurance is super-killer now because I've been playing with two bands, and I tend to not get much of a break. The muscles are certainly in top form and my hand strength is killer. But as far as chops go, I do come up with some occasional new shit here and there, because with Slayer, I play a portion of the solos exactly like they're supposed to be played, but in some parts I improvise my ass off.

At times I come up with some really cool stuff that I otherwise might not have thought of, but the chances of me remembering it a day later are slim to none [laughs]. It's like, "Oh, that was really great, the thing I just did. But too bad I won't remember it tomorrow!"

So they've been totally cool with you and let you put your own touch on solos?

Oh yeah, for me it's a totally different style of guitar playing. Jeff [Hanneman] was not a schooled lead player. He wasn't technically taught, and that's what made his style unique and awesome, but that's not how I play. For me to try to play like that, I would just be trying to imitate stuff that's one of a kind. It's really hard to recreate that.

In terms of your gear setup, have you had to change anything for Slayer, or is it the same as Exodus?

I use Marshall in Slayer. I use the new Marshall DSLs right now. I started with Jeff's JVM800s from the old setup, and I got them completely dialed and completely crushing, but then some things changed when Pat O'Brien filled in for me for seven shows and they thought Jeff might come back for the Indio Big Four show, and I never got it dialed back to the way I had it, because I never had the rig sitting there like my own rig where I could go into the rehearsal room and play around with it.

But I'm totally happy with the new Marshalls and some of my own components in there. For Exodus I still use the Engl Savage 120, which is probably the best-sounding amp in the world right now.

Is there a particular reason for continuing to use two different setups?

Slayer is a Marshall band, and the Marshall sound fits the Slayer sound better. My Engl sound is super-crunchy and just super-aggressive and right in your face. Slayer's sound is what they've had since day one, and the Marshall fits that better.

The DSL is a great amp. I was using the JVM, which is my favorite amp in the world, but there's a lot of hiss, especially when you're running six cabs. So I had to pick a lower-gain head. But I have a JVM sitting in my living room right now that I love. It's as good as anything I have, but just a little too much distortion going on when I'm not playing, you know.

How do you compare playing Exodus and Slayer songs, and which one is easier for you at this point?

You know, it depends on the song. Some songs in the Slayer song are super-easy, and some are super-hard. It's not because of how complex they are, it's because of the amount of sheer grinding, 30-second notes just non-stop for six minutes [laughs]. Same with Exodus material, some of it is very easy to play and some is really challenging. So it's hard to pick which one is harder to play because neither of them is hard and overall, neither is easy.

Slayer/Exodus/Suicidal Tendencies dates:

  • May 9 The Great Salt Air, Salt Lake City, UT
  • May 10 Fillmore, Denver, CO
  • May 11 Shrine, Billings, MT
  • May 13 Uptown Theatre, Kansas City, MO
  • May 15 The Pageant, St Louis, MO
  • May 16 Eagles Ballroom, Milwaukee, WI
  • May 17 Rock on the Range, Columbus, OH

Andrew Bansal is a writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, news, reviews and pictures on his website — with the help of a small group of people. He briefly moved away from the Los Angeles scene and explored metal in India, but he is now back in LA continuing from where he left off.

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