Learn 10 of Slash's key rhythm and lead guitar approaches

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If you’re interested in learning about Slash’s playing, it’s worth taking a minute to think about his early Guns N’ Roses style and which elements still feature in his solo material today. 

Compared to their ’80s contemporaries, there was a rawness to GN’R’s sound, and a punky, blues-tinged swagger courtesy of Slash and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin. Today, Frank Sidoris takes rhythm duties alongside the hatted one in the Conspirators, but that raw swagger remains: a looseness and behind-the-beat attitude – and this is what you should aim for. 

Sure, metronomic timing is a good thing in principle, but really, it’s all about feel when you play like Slash. Here are ten exercises on the techniques he’s employed throughout his career. Let’s rock!

1. Epic melodic soloing 

(Image credit: Future)

We’re taking inspiration from Knocking On Heaven’s Door and November Rain here in our short solo. The shape that opens both bars 1 and 3 is one of Slash’s favourite melodic tricks, allowing him to switch between major pentatonic and pure major scale phrasing. 

2. Dorian diads

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This lick uses doublestops in the Dorian mode – a technique you can hear in Slash’s 2022 track Call Off The Dogs. You can play the entire lick with just your first and third fingers by barring across each pair of strings. For added attitude use downstrokes to strum each note throughout. 

3. Blues-rock riffing

(Image credit: Future)

Here, we’re looking at how Slash uses ’70s-style blues-rock riffs in tracks like Mr. Brownstone and recent single Kennedy/Conspirators single The River Is Rising. Use tight, palm-muted alternate picking for the opening notes, then let the A5 chord sustain, before muting the riff again. In bar 2, use pull-offs to smoothly play the bluesy notes.

4. Four-note sequence

(Image credit: Future)

Slash frequently uses this kind of run, but perhaps most notably in the solo to Sweet Child O’ Mine. Based in the E minor pentatonic scale (E G A B D), it’s essentially a four-note pattern, repeating each time one note farther up the scale. 

5. Constant eighth note licks

(Image credit: Future)

Slash has used constant eighth-note licks most famously in GN’R’s Sweet Child O’ Mine, on No More Heroes from 2012’s Apocalyptic Love album, and, most recently, on Fill My World on latest release, 4. If you can play an open D chord you’ll get the idea – it’s essentially the same shape moved higher up the neck. 

6. Cowboy chords

(Image credit: Future)

Clean-tone cowboy chords like these do figure in Slash’s work, but mainly with Guns N’ Roses. His later work with Myles Kennedy tends to feature more sophisticated harmony, for example in the opening to Anastasia and Shots Fired. The picking is a challenge here, so practise slowly, keeping your pick movements as small as possible. 

7. Pentatonics

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Slash is often described as a predominantly pentatonic player, and, while there’s some truth to that, he usually brings a bit more to the table. Bar 1 outlines some pure pentatonic ideas, with bar 3 extending into the blues scale. See if you can use the shapes in bars 2 and 4 in other fret positions. 

8. Harmonic minor lick

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Another example of how Slash regularly goes beyond pentatonics in his solos, this harmonic minor run up the first string calls up the outro solo in Sweet Child O’ Mine. Take it slowly at first, focusing primarily on making smooth position shifts. 

9. Drop D riffs

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Slash’s most common tuning is Eb standard (i.e., standard tuning down one semitone) but he’ll occasionally use drop D (or its equivalent, drop C#) for some low-string riffs. This one should remind you of Velvet Revolver’s Slither

10. Acoustic style

(Image credit: Future)

This acoustic part combines strumming with arpeggiated chords as you might hear on Patience and Fall To Pieces. The strumming in bars 1 and 3 is a ‘down-down-up-up-up’ pattern, but it’s all about the bigger picture here, and how Slash will mix strumming and arpeggios.

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Charlie Griffiths

Charlie Griffiths plays guitar in acclaimed prog-metal outfit Haken, and has a wealth of experience handling corporate and session gigs for genres as diverse as rock, heavy metal and pop. He has been a regular contributor to Total Guitar, Guitar Techniques, and Guitar World for over a decade, and released his debut solo album Tiktaalika in 2022.