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Slash, Richie Sambora and Billy Gibbons Talk First Guitars, Famous Riffs

When Rock Daily caught up with Slash, Richie Sambora and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s tribute to Les Paul in November, the trio of guitarists chatted about the influence the legendary guitarist had on their work; they also talked about their first Les Pauls and some of their favorite riffs:


On his first Les Paul:
“The first guitar I ever got was a Les Paul copy. Guitar players I liked played it, and I liked the way it looked. And I figured if that guy sounds like that, and that’s the guitar he used, it’s common sense. The Les Paul is really an extension of me.”

On the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” riff:
“There was not a lot of forethought to ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine, that riff. It was just something I was messing around, and stumbled across this interesting pattern. I’ve got to give credit to Axl and the other guys in the band for really turning it into a song.”

On the Les Paul in the “Sweet Child” video:
“I’m pretty sure that’s the ’88 Les Paul, the first Les Paul I ever got from Gibson. They charged me like $500 bucks for it — cost. I had that guitar for years and years. The Gold Top came later.”

How Les Paul influenced Slash:
“The style that Les Paul plays is not something you hear a lot around rock and roll… It’s probably what makes my playing a little jazzier than a lot of rock players. Also, I was really influenced by his use of delay, this really great slap-back echo — I used that a lot. It’s become a mainstay for a lot of rock guitar players. Also, he’s got a great sense of melody. That was a big influence on me, trying to introduce a melody that’s actually saying something.”

Richie Sambora

On his first Les Paul:
“I had a Univox Les Paul because I couldn’t afford a real one. My first Les Paul, I worked as a janitor at a hospital. I worked there for six weeks, and I finally made enough money — like 500 bucks — to buy my first Les Paul. And I went down to a place called Lou Rose Music in Edison, New Jersey, and got him to sell me my first Les Paul. And I had it from the time I was 17 all the way until I was 23. I was in Bon Jovi. And we were rehearsing, and we didn’t have a lot of money. And we were rehearsing in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and it got stolen. It was my first professional guitar.”

Why did he want a Les Paul?
“All my heroes were playing them — God, everybody. I just thought it was the most powerful guitar. It was sexy. It’s got the most output. You plug it into a good amplifier, you’re gong to get more out of it. That’s my staple when I go to a session, my ’59 custom. I’m lucky enough to have two of them.”

As a blues guy, what does he get from a Les Paul?
“When you put that rhythm pickup in and clean it up — there’s so dexterity in the Les Paul. It has so many different sounds. You listen to guys like Jimmy Page, the textures they use, the tapestry that was created with a Les Paul was just singing.”

Billy Gibbons

On his guitar collection:
“How many guitars do I own? That are in tune? I’d be hazarding a guess at this point? [Ballpark?] Oh, it’d fill a ballpark.”

His first Les Paul:
“The first one was the one that we call our cornerstone, ‘Pearl Gates,’ which I acquired, I was about 18. It was discovered lurking under a bed at a ranch house in Downey, Texas. By this time, the original design Les Paul had moved on and taken other forms, but the one that was sought after was one of the 1750 estimated production models from the years ’57, ’58, ’59, and a few spilling into 1960. And it’s still with us today, as a very meaningful part of the way ZZ Top makes music.”

Why did he want it?
“There were sounds coming out of this crazy island called the United Kingdom. And for some reason, some of the favorite guitar players all seemed to be seen at one time or another, early on, with an early Les Paul. Although very few were shipped overseas, there were few enough to reach the hands of Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger’s even been seen playing one, the Sunburst, it’s called, back to the ’60s. You figure, well, if that’s what they’re doing to get that sound, you better get one.”

His favorite solo:
“My personal, all-time favorite guitar solo is found on Bobby Bland’s recording of ‘Stormy Monday Blues,’ recorded by the late, great Wayne Bennett. To this day, there’s a certain passage that I’m still trying to learn to play.”


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