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Seven Ways to Nail Down Slash's Greasy, Slithery Style

(Image credit: Martin Philbey/Getty Images)

His playing is like a drink, a drink known as the New Jersey Turnpike, a drink that can be made only at the end of the night—from the spillover from the bartender’s bar mat and the squeezings of a bar rag.

Slash is like a sponge that has soaked up the most intoxicating ingredients of the best music since the dawn of electric-guitar-based rock and roll, and wrung out a grimy, adventurous and uniquely tasty concoction that never ceases to inspire. He is the reason I play guitar, my musical messiah.

As Axl Rose said in 1988 during Guns N’ Roses’ timeless performance captured on Live at the Ritz, “In a world he that he did not create, but he will go though as if it was his own making: half man, half beast … I’m not sure what it is, but whatever it is, it’s weird and it’s pissed off and it calls itself Slash.”

Slash is a guitar player’s guitar player, drawing deeply and effortlessly sharing secrets learned from greats such as Jeff Beck, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Billy Gibbons, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Ron Wood, Michael Schenker, George Lynch, Edward Van Halen, Dave Mustaine, James Hetfield and countless others.

While many of Slash’s signature licks and moves are hard to pin down, one thing that can be easily integrated into any guitarist’s vocabulary is his use of slurs. Slash’s playing is obviously built around his uncanny knack for melody, yet that melodicism is seasoned with a greasy, gritty quality that exudes his individuality and makes his melodies all the more memorable (see "Estranged"). On a purely mechanical level, the means for Slash’s achieving the fluidity to allow his individuality and style to shine through come from his use of slurs in his phrasing: hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides.

As another benefit of these techniques, Slash is able to assert his personality by using these slurs to bend the beat to his will, “bobbing and weaving” as he feels.

EXAMPLE 1 is a Slash-inspired lick based around the 5th position Am pentatonic scale, with the addition of the 2nd/9th from the Am scale (the seventh fret of the high E string). Notice the rhythmic change in feel from triplets to quintuplets in the first bar and the various rhythmic feels in the second bar (“gallop," “reverse gallop," triplet and quintuplet).

A deeper look inside the lick will show Slash’s use of typical blues/rock licks such as those found in beats 1 and 2 of the second bar, which become more effective when surrounded by semi-diatonic slurs. Fingered as Slash would, note also the return to the middle-finger note on the high E (seventh fret) after the ring-finger note on the B (eighth fret) throughout the line.

EXAMPLE 2 (“When I come home late at night, don't ask me where I've been. Just count your stars I'm home again”): Here is a lick similar to something Slash would use that plays within the Am pentatonic scale box and adds the 2nd/9th (high E, 19th fret). Note the rhythmic contour of the lick (which also come across as an accident of its melodic contour). Feel it!

EXAMPLE 3 (“Besides, you ain't got nothin' better to do. And I'm bored."): Inspired by one of Slash’s takes on the Am blues scale (Am pentatonic plus the b5-Eb-D string, 13th fret) this lick kicks off slippery with a slide. Note the rhythmic shifts and the resolution to the b7 of the key (G, G string, 12th fret).

EXAMPLE 4 (“It all fits so right when I fade into the night”): Rife with “Slash-isms," this lick combines the rhythmic shifts of the previous examples with a scale derived from classic blues clichés (Dm pentatonic with the “Dorian” note- the sixth- 12th fret on the B string and the major 3rd- G string, 11th fret). This lick can be used as a substitution in a blues/rock setting when jamming in the D Dorian position of A minor, or used as a bad-ass lick in D minor, depending on the feel you’re looking for. Be sure to nail the (almost Steve Vai-ish) slides in the last bar.

EXAMPLE 5 (“Wake up late, Honey, put on your clothes. Take your credit card to the liquor store. That's one for you and two for me by tonight.”): This mostly diatonic lick in Am (with a brief step into A harmonic minor) channels the spirit of one of Slash’s most epic solos and really works the rhythmic push and pull between the picked notes and the slurred notes.

Pay attention to the percussive, muted notes and let the hammer-ons and pull-offs just flow. Let your pick hand relax and connect with the phrasing. Use a 1-2-4 fingering for the notes on the D and G strings and a 1-2-3 fingering for all of the patterns on the B and E strings and be aware or the melodic contour as it interacts with the dynamics and the rhythmic “give and take” surrounding the beat.

EXAMPLE 6: (“But if you could heal a broken heart, wouldn't time be out to charm you?”): This lick is inspired by some of Slash’s best “bouncing” through a scale in a pseudo-flamenco style (once again occasionally flirting with Harmonic minor, Slash does this often), really feeling the rhythm and skipping through the scale contour accordingly, switching positions when necessary to fit the contour of the lick (beats 1, 2 and 4 of the 2nd bar). Wrap the lick up by getting inside of the melodic feel of its latter half, and get as “personal” as you can with the phrasing.

EXAMPLE 7 (“Everybody needs somebody. You're not the only one.”): Here is a re-imagining of one of Slash’s most famous licks. In Am and referencing A Harmonic minor, this lick ties together many Slash-ims. Get used to the notes used in the line and experiment with your own melodic and rhythmic variations inspired by it. Have fun and jam!

If for some reason you don’t own or haven’t listened to Guns N’ Roses' Appetite for Destruction in its entirety, for whatever reason, check it out now! For everyone else, reconnect with the Use Your Illusion albums, and be sure to check out Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, Slash’s solo work and his innumerable guest appearances. Slash is probably the most recognizable guitarists in the world, not just because of his look (see South Park for a hilarious take on his “myth”) but because his playing transcends his listener’s race, gender and age. Every guitar player should learn from Slash’s example.

Steal a few tricks, absorb the vibe and Slash it up! Happy shredding!

Scott Marano has dedicated his life to the study of the guitar, honing his chops at the Berklee College of Music under the tutelage of Jon Finn and Joe Stump and working as an accomplished guitarist, performer, songwriter and in-demand instructor. In 2007, Scott developed the Guitar Strength program to inspire and provide accelerated education to guitarists of all ages and in all styles through state-of-the-art private guitar lessons in his home state of Rhode Island and globally via Skype. Visit Scott and learn more at