FLY­ING HIGH

Australian Guitar - - Feature -

MATT DO­RIA RIFFS WITH SLASH ON HIS NEW SIG­NA­TURE GIB­SON AND EPIPHONE FIRE­BIRD GUI­TARS.

It’s no se­cret that Slash is a big fan of the Gib­son Les Paul. He’s tracked with them on vir­tu­ally all of his 13 stu­dio al­bums, and you’d be hard pressed to find ev­i­dence of a live show where he didn’t noo­dle around on at least a cou­ple of ‘em.

They’re also the axe of choice for his posed shots (see: ev­ery time we’ve had him adorn the cover of Aus­tralian Gui­tar), and it’s not hard to see why: the soul-warm­ing mid tones, the ru­inous amounts of gain its ca­pa­ble of and that sweet, but­tery hum when you rip into a solo on one – it’s a sound as per­spic­u­ous to Slash’s play­ing as his but­ton-rimmed tophat is to his image.

It was 1989 when Slash’s first cus­tom Les Paul docked – a ma­hogany beauty dolled up in all-black hard­ware with a thin­ner neck than the ’59 repli­cas it was mod­elled on, the J.T. Ri­boloff-built piece would re­main one-of-a-kind un­til 1996, when the slick (if some­what kitschy) Snakepit Les Paul hit the mar­ket with a blood red ze­bra print face­plate and re­flec­tive snake in­lay on the fret­board.

Its specs were mostly stock stan­dard for the pack, but what makes this gui­tar par­tic­u­larly spe­cial is that it’s con­sid­ered the rarest of Slash’s sig­na­ture mod­els. The mae­stro him­self only has one left, af­ter thieves broke into his per­sonal stash and nipped the other three.

There have been 31 vari­a­tions of Slash’s sig­na­ture Les Paul re­leased since – 22 bear­ing Gib­son brand­ing and the other nine with Epiphone’s – the most iconic of which be­ing the one plas­tered on the cover of this very mag­a­zine: the un­mis­tak­ably unique, class-defin­ing Ap­petite For De­struc­tion model.

Pro­claimed by Gib­son as “the axe that launched a thou­sand riffs”, the AFD Les Paul de­buted in 2010 with a spec sheet that made the wider gui­tar com­mu­nity drool en mass. Based on the gui­tars used to track the 1987 Guns N’ Roses de­but of the same name, it fea­tures Floyd Rose tremo­los, a ’60s-style neck pro­file and Sey­mour Dun­can Al­nico II Pro Slash hum­buck­ers (which were brand new at the time).

Colour­ways vary, but the ob­vi­ous choice for most is the sta­ple Ap­petite Am­ber fin­ish. The AFD Les Paul has long since re­mained a sta­ple in Slash’s stash – and Gib­son’s reper­toire al­to­gether – and there are no signs of that chang­ing any­where on the hori­zon.

So with Slash’s un­bri­dled ado­ra­tion for the Les Paul clear, it came as a bit of a shock when, in 2017, he de­buted two Gib­son Cus­tom Shop Fire­bird gui­tars. Each one of the lim­ited 50 mod­els pro­duced (half in a signed Trans White fin­ish and half in Trans Black) was hand-aged, per Slash’s re­quest, with vin­tage-ac­cu­rate check­ing and wear to the thin ni­tro­cel­lu­lose lac­quer fin­ish.

“I’ve just al­ways liked the way they looked, re­ally. I’ll be hon­est – it was all van­ity,” Slash laughs. “I’ve been try­ing to make a Fire­bird work in the sort of con­text of the gui­tar sound that I usu­ally go for, and I’ve never re­ally found it in any of the stock Fire­bird set­ups with the hum­buck­ers, the mini hum­buck­ers, the soap­bar pick­ups or any of those sin­gle coil kind of pick­ups. No mat­ter how hard I try, I can never re­ally get it to sound the way I want it to sound.

“So I’ve been do­ing this with Fire­birds be­hind the scenes for years, and I fi­nally went to Gib­son and said, ‘Well, let’s try this: let’s take a ma­hogany body and put a maple cap on it like you would a Les Paul, and then put my hum­buck­ers in it.’ And so we did that, and it sounded great. I was us­ing one for pretty much the whole Guns N’ Roses tour.”

The gui­tar’s specs share some ex­pected sim­i­lar­i­ties to the Les Pauls we know Slash for – hum­buck­ers, Les Paul wiring and pickup spac­ing, plus a solid fig­ured maple cap – but de­liv­ers a tone com­pletely unique to the fam­ily of Slash orig­i­nals. It cer­tainly wasn’t de­signed for the av­er­age player in mind, run­ning up­wards of $10,000 on the re­sale mar­ket, but the Slash Fire­bird truly is a work of art. And if you can’t get your hands on one, you can at least ap­pre­ci­ate its charm.

Thank­fully for us with more re­al­is­tic bud­gets, un­der the more eco­nom­i­cal Epiphone ban­ner, Slash has in­tro­duced a ren­o­vated (and less rare) Fire­bird for 2018.

“The Fire­bird de­sign has al­ways been at­trac­tive to me,” he mused in a re­cent pro­mo­tional video. “From a sonic point of view, they’re set up to be very dif­fer­ent than the kind of thing that I do with a Les Paul. So I’ve had a lot of trial and er­ror and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with lots of dif­fer­ent Fire­birds over the years, [and] I fi­nally had a chance to work with Epiphone to do one that was more to my specs.”

First and fore­most, those specs in­clude a AAA flame maple top, a Pau Ferro fin­ger­board with pearl “Trape­zoid” in­lays (the Gib­son ver­sion uses solid rose­wood), Sey­mour Dun­can “Slash” open coil hum­buck­ers and Sprague “Or­ange Drop” ca­pac­i­tors, plus an ABR Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop­bar tailpiece.

The translu­cent black fin­ish is a lit­tle more sim­ple than its Cus­tom Shop coun­ter­part – and lacks its metic­u­lous hand-aged weath­er­ing – but it’s still un­de­ni­ably beau­ti­ful. And the in­clu­sion of Slash’s quin­tes­sen­tial Snakepit em­blem is a nice lit­tle touch.

“The balance is dif­fer­ent [and] the neck is longer [than a tra­di­tional Fire­bird],” Slash con­tin­ued in his run­through of the gui­tar, “Rel­a­tive to the en­tirely dif­fer­ent body shape and a dif­fer­ent scale and so on. It has a great hum­bucker sound, but it has a very unique tone unto it­self, just based on the thick­ness of the wood. It sounds great and it sounds unique, which is re­ally what I’m look­ing for. I fig­ure if it stands up to me, it’ll stand up to al­most any­body.”

It’s not un­com­mon for Slash’s sig­na­ture gui­tars to have both up­scale Gib­son and more ob­tain­able Epiphone mod­els. “Be­cause they’re so closely tied to Gib­son, Epiphone wanted to do a ver­sion that would be a lit­tle bit less ex­pen­sive than the Cus­tom Shop ver­sion,” he ex­plains of the Fire­bird up­date. “But they’re still good gui­tars, y’know. Epiphone makes a great gui­tar!”

So aside from the aes­thetic de­tails, what’s the dif­fer­ence? “The hard­ware on the Cus­tom Shop ver­sion is a lit­tle bit more spe­cific,” Slash ex­plains. “The tailpiece and some of the lit­tle bits and pieces are more dis­tinct on the Gib­son, but the Epiphone ver­sion is pretty much iden­ti­cal out­side of that – the pick­ups are the same, the wood is the same…

“I think there’s some me­chan­i­cal tool­ing that’s used to make the Epiphone gui­tars, whereas in the Cus­tom Shop, ev­ery­thing is to­tally hand­made. So there’s just a lot of sub­tle dif­fer­ences that show up in the price more than any­thing else.”

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