From the Archive: Guitarist Jeff Hanneman Discusses Gear and Slayer's Beginnings

This story is from the Guitar World archives. Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure on May 2, 2013, at age 49.
Slayer's Jeff Hanneman talks to Guitar World about the early days of the band.

What inspired you to start playing guitar?

I was really into metal when I was growing up. It was just something I thought I could do and wanted to try.

What was your first guitar?

A Les Paul. I can’t remember how old I was. I got a job and saved my money until I had $500. Two months after that, I met Kerry [King], and that’s how Slayer got started. I worked in an office building at the time, and this other band practiced in one of the rooms. After work, I’d go hang out with those guys and play, just to learn the instrument. Kerry was actually trying out for that band, but we were more in tune with one another, musically speaking, so we decided to start a group. He also played with Tom [Araya] in another band, and he knew a drummer that lived on his block. So it all just fell together.

Was Kerry more advanced than you as a guitarist?

Oh, big-time. He’d been playing for five years or something. I’d been playing for two months. But I wrote our first song.

What was the first cover song you learned?

I’m not sure. During our first year, we were playing Priest and Maiden cover tunes all the time while we figured out what we wanted to do as a band. At the time I was getting out of metal and into punk. That’s how Slayer’s sound came together—it’s the speed of punk combined with the big riffs of metal.

What do you recall about your first gig?

I was nervous as fuck before we went on, but as soon as we started playing, I loved it, because I loved showing off. Once I got up there, I was like, Yeah! This is great!

Have you ever had a nightmare gig?

Equipment failures really piss me off. I literally start throwing guitars. That gets me upset. You’re jamming along, checking out the crowd and having a good time, and then your equipment goes down. You can’t just stop the show and say, “Oh, Jeff’s got a guitar problem.”

Do you have a favorite piece of gear?

I have two guitars I no longer play because they’re so beatup. That first Les Paul that I bought is special to me. I also have a Jackson guitar that I played to death.

Do you have any advice for young players?

Play as much as you can. That’s what I had to do because of my inexperience. And don’t get frustrated.

Photo: Joey Foley

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