Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Slash Guitar Analysis

Slash has a very unique lead playing style. His style is bluesy and soulful, and sometimes ventures off to include notes that are not part of the standard blues scale. Slash can play very emotional, wailing melodies, but also rough and fast pieces when the song calls for it. There is something unashamed and primal about his playing — it’s almost sexy.

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.”

In this post I want to highlight some of the things that strike me as being typical of Slash’s style. I don’t want to talk about specific licks as I think ultimately this is a bit limiting. While knowing how to play specific licks can be very useful, what I want to convey in this post are ideas — several ways to approach particular notes to create a certain feel. You can then incorporate these ideas into your own lead playing.
First, let’s start off with the scale that Slash tends to build most of his solos around. It’s the standard blues scale, and in standard position it is given by:
Blues Scale in Standard Position

Most of the solos on Guns n’ Roses’ albums Appetite for Destruction, Use Your Illusion 1 and Use Your Illusion 2 are built around this scale. Slash occasionally extends this scale to include more notes if the song calls for it.

Idea #1: Mixing minor and major scales


Take the standard blues scale in standard position. Now shift the whole pattern down by three semitones. What you are left with is the major pentatonic scale with the addition of the minor third.

Slash uses this scale a lot in ballads where the standard blues scale would sound a bit too rebellious. The major pentatonic scale sounds more harmonious than the standard blues scale when played against major scale chord progressions. This is perfect for ballads where the melody should add to the mood of the song rather than rebel against it, which is what tends to happen when you play the blues scale.

Listen to ballads like “November Rain” or “Estranged” to hear this scale in action.
The power comes from being able to mix this scale with the blues scale. Each scale adds their own different feel to a solo. Go to the Examples section to see a video that illustrates this idea.
The following chart shows the scale in all its glory with the standard blues scale as reference (semi-transparant). Slash usually adds the perfect fourth, as highlighted in yellow.

Slash's Major Scale Pattern

Idea #2: Overbending the perfect fifth


Let’s go back to the standard blues scale. In particular, have a look at the perfect fifth.
Slash bends this note by three semitones. This is something that I think is one of those things that really defines Slash’s lead style. That note, when bent by three semitones, followed by picking the fifth, augmented fourth, perfect fourth and minor third sounds absolutely great. It’s like turbo-charged blues.

Have a listen to Slash’s solo on Lenny Kravitz’s “Mama Said” to hear this in action. It’s that one note that really stands out to me. See if you can spot it.

The Perfect Fifth

Idea #3: Adding the major sixth


When a song calls for it, Slash is no stranger to playing fast phrases. And when he does he adds the major sixth to the blues scale. This is a note that stands out when added to the standard blues scale and gives the melody a different feel.

Listen to songs such as Guns n’ Roses’ “You Could be Mine” or “Garden of Eden” for an example.

Major 6th Added

to be continued