I grew up in a classical musical environment, with my parents encouraging me as much as possible to practice and eventually master the cello. I was always very enthusiastic about doing exactly this, so imagine my parents’ surprise when I expressed an interest in learning to play the electric guitar!
There’s just something about the improvisatory manner of playing the guitar in a rock band, the incredible modal solos, and most importantly, the crisp and satisfying amp tones. Tons of guitarists are famous for their iconic tones, but one of my particular favorites is Slash.
The Guns’ n’ Roses guitarist has one heck of a signature guitar tone, and it’s all thanks to his guitar amp settings. Whether you want to directly mimic the classic Slash tone or you’d prefer to build on it, read on to find out about the optimal Slash Amp settings!
What Contributes to Tone?
Before we get started, I thought it would be wise to go over the concept of guitar tone. Tone refers to the sonic qualities of a guitar, whether this is the rich and hollow tone of an acoustic guitar or the overdriven fuzz of an electric guitar.
Whilst I will primarily be discussing how Slash programs his guitar amp to optimize his tone, there are several other contributing factors. This includes the guitar’s hardware and settings, any effects pedals used, and other accessories.
When attempting to optimize their tone, a guitarist will usually begin by choosing a guitar that has an excellent natural tone. This may be due to the type of wood that it is made of, the pickups used, or other parameters. Then they will choose an amp setup that will amplify this sound to its highest potential, and only then will effects pedals be used for fine-tuning.
We’ll be exploring all of these elements, but let’s first take a look at the amps that Slash uses and how he uses them.
Slash’s Amp Collection
I will always remember my first guitar amp – it was a
When they performed, every guitarist I saw used a stack amp combo, using both an amplifier cabinet and head to reach higher volumes and clearer tones. If you already know about stack amps, it will come as no surprise to you that Slash too uses this combo. So, let’s have a look at the exact amplification equipment he uses.
The Marshall JCM 25/50 Silver Jubilee Stack
Considering the length of Slash’s career, I would imagine that he has used a ton of guitar amps and probably has a large collection of favorites. However, from online videos to personal observations at Guns’ N’ Roses concerts, the evidence is clear. Slash loves the Marshall JCM 250/50 Silver Jubilee amplifier series.
Slash is regularly seen using both two identically programmed 2555X heads and the 2551AV cabinet of this stack during his performances. It’s an amplifier that outputs a whopping 280 watts across four speakers, a setup that provides the signature warm and rounded tone found in classic Marshall Amps.
The most important feature of any amp is the tone, it’s also really a gorgeous amp, including a unique white finish and an intuitive user interface. Slash’s use of this amp setup became so iconic both visually and functionally that the guitarist eventually collaborated with JCM amplifiers to produce the Signature JCM Slash 2555, essentially a reissue of the stack amp setup.
I’ve used the Marshall Jubillee stack before, and it didn’t immediately make my guitar tone sound like Slash. Some adjustments were required, and this mostly lied in the amp settings. Let’s take a look at exactly how Slash achieves his signature sound.
Slash’s Amp Settings
If you take a look at any stack amp, you will generally find that the parameters remain consistent. This means that whether you choose a Marshall, Orange, or Fender stack amp, the user interface of the amp head will generally look the same. You should expect to see the following dials:
- Bass, Mid and Treble
- Input Gain
- Output and Lead Master
I remember seeing these dials for the first time and having no idea what I was doing. I figured it out eventually just by using my ears, but it’s better to have a more thorough understanding of what each dial does and how Slash uses it.
Slash’s EQ Settings
You’ve probably heard of the words “bass and treble” used to describe music. These are words used to describe the frequencies heard within music, with bass representing low frequencies (lower and heavier tones), with treble representing high and bright frequencies. As the name suggests, the “mid” dial will add or remove mid-range frequencies, often associated with rounding off sharp highs and low bass.
Programming the EQ settings on your amp is essential – it can make the difference between having a rhythm guitar that sits nicely in the background or a lead guitar that cuts through the mix with a gritty tone.
To reach an optimal Slash tone, you will want to use the EQ settings that he chooses, which generally consist of:
- Bass: 7
- Mid: 5.5
- Treble: 5
As you can see, Slash’s tone is pretty bass-heavy, giving it a gritty and heavy tone that can’t be achieved by treble-heavy amp settings. The treble sits at the halfway mark, which may seem surprisingly low, but this compliments the bass nicely and is also being boosted slightly by the presence control (more on this in a moment).
Slash generally uses a mid-setting of 5.5, which always seems rather high to me. However, it does make sense in terms of rounding the high levels of low frequencies resulting from the bass configuration, especially considering the neutral treble profile.
Finally, Slash configures the presence control to 5. The concepts of bass, mid and treble usually make sense when you first investigate their qualities, but the presence dial can often seem a bit abstract. It’s quite simple though, presence is another EQ setting used to boost frequencies within the mid to treble range.
Low levels of presence (sub 5) can reduce the sharpness of mid-range frequencies, whilst higher levels (above 5) can help bring out these frequencies. It generally makes guitar tones sound brighter and more articulated, but be careful not to go too far as it can result in pickups sounding oversensitive and clumsy. Slash uses a presence of 5, leaving his bass, mid and treble settings left unaffected.
Configuring the EQ settings of a guitar amp is essential in achieving an optimal tone, but this only affects the frequencies. It has nothing to do with the loudness or grittiness of a guitar tone, and this is what the dynamic settings are used for.
Generally, these come in three forms – Gain, Lead Master, and Output Master. Out of all of these, the gain is probably the most important – it provides a signal boost to the overall output, causing frequencies to distort and ultimately providing the dirty and chaotic distortion that is a staple of rock music.
Heavy metal bands will often max out their gain level, and soft bands may not use any at all, but Slash settled at a relatively low gain level of 3. This provides a subtle element of fuzz and distortion to contribute to his classic dirty tone, without it becoming overpowering. Beginners often think that higher levels of gain equal better tones, but this is simply not the case, with subtlety being the real winner.
The final two major settings on an amp are Lead Master and Output Master. Both of these settings do essentially the same thing – they determine the overall volume of the sound. The Output Master dial represents the overall volume output of the amp, with Slash generally leaving his at 6. The Jubilee is a seriously loud amp, after all!
However, the Lead Master of Slash’s amp setup is higher, at the maximum of 10. Essentially, this helps to provide a volume boost for when the amp cab is in ‘lead mode.’ Most cabs will have a rhythm/lead toggle, allowing guitarists to quickly give their guitar a boost in volume for those stand-out solos.
Slash truly is the king of solos, so it’s no wonder why he has his lead master set to 10. However, you won’t catch him switching the rhythm/lead toggle on his amp manually, as he instead chooses to use a wireless footswitch to make this change.
Dirty Vs. Clean
Guns’ N’ Roses are a rock band, and this means that Slash regularly gets an opportunity to crank the gain up a bit for some gritty and dirty riffs. The setup I previously described is generally used to produce what is known as Slash’s ‘dirty tone,’ but like all great guitarists, Slash also has an amp setup for cleaner tones in softer songs.
To quickly switch between soft clean tones and overdriven tones, guitarists often rely on effect pedals. This is an excellent solution, but an even better setup would be to have a dedicated amp rig for each sound. This isn’t particularly affordable or practical for the average guitarist. Still, when you’re a rock star like Slash, it’s something you have to consider.
In addition to his standard Marshall Jubilee amp setup, the guitarist performs with an additional amp stack consisting of two separate Jubilee heads and a cab. The clean stack has no gain, less bass, and a little extra treble and presence, a softer and cleaner alternative to his classic dirty tone. I have always wondered why guitarists have so many amps on stage, but this would explain why!
Slash’s Effect Pedals
Choosing an excellent guitar amp and customizing its settings will do wonders for your guitar tone. Still, if you want to emulate the optimal Slash tone, you’re going to need an arsenal of guitar pedals to enhance the final product.
Let’s take a look at the pedals that Slash uses in his guitar rig. There are tons that he uses for different songs and different styles. Still, I’ve broken down the three most essential to emulate his signature style.
Overdrive and Boost
When I first started using effects pedals, I thought they existed solely to make explicit and crazy sound effects such as feedback delays, flangers, and wah-wah. However, as I started experimenting with pedals more, I realized that many pedals are to be used sparingly for subtle tone enhancements.
For example, Slash uses two gain-based effects in combination with the in-built amp gain to reach his gritty signature tone. One of these effects is a general overdrive to add additional gritty peaks to the tone. A separate boost effect is used to boost the signal output without clipping it any further.
All of this is achieved through the all-in-one MXR MC-402 Custom Audio Electronics Boost / Overdrive pedal, allowing him to compensate for the low amp gain through a more noticeable external drive.
The MXR 10-Band EQ
Much like how he uses the Boost / Overdrive pedal to complement the gain of his Marshall Jubilee amps Slash also uses an external EQ pedal in combination with the EQ settings of the amp. His pedal of choice here is the MXR 10-Band EQ. This pedal provides a slider for each frequency band to facilitate fine-tuned equalization.
I’ve used this pedal before, and I like the way I can maintain my guitar EQ whilst making small adjustments with the MXR. Still, Slash uses it for a completely different purpose. The guitarist uses a wireless tone switching system to allow him to switch amps, cabinets, and pedalboards with a single hit of a switch, but this will often result in tonal inconsistencies.
So, Slash uses the MXR EQ pedal to correct the tone across wireless switches, ensuring that transitions are seamless and unnoticeable. This isn’t exactly what the pedal was designed for, but are you going to tell Slash what to do!?
The BOSS NS-2 Noise Suppressor
The last effects pedal that I wanted to mention was the BOSS NS-2 Noise Suppressor. Noise Suppressors are essentially processors that reduce the level of noise being produced by a guitar rig. This could be anything from a cable buzzing to the sounds of the scraping strings near the pickups. A threshold is set, and the Noise Suppressor will remove anything lower than that particular volume.
Whilst this might not provide any timbral enhancements, it’s still essential to Slash’s tone. By using this pedal, he’s ensuring that his tone is clean as possible, without any form of interruption. It would also prevent him from having to dynamically change the guitar’s volume dial, providing him with additional time to prepare for his next killer solo.
That just about covers everything you will need to know regarding emulating the optimum Slash amp settings. There are a few final questions that we may have left unanswered – let’s run through them quickly.
Question: What Amp Does Slash Usually Use?
Answer: Slash uses the Marshall JCM 250/50 Stack Amp, consisting of the 2555X head and the 2551AV cabinet.
Question: How does Slash Adjust his EQ Settings?
Answer: Slash will usually play with a slightly bass-heavy EQ (set to around 7.5), with the mid and treble being set to around 5.
Question: Which Guitar Does Slash Use?
Answer: Slash has a huge guitar collection, but he has stated in many interviews that his favorite guitar choice for an optimal tone is a Gibson Les Paul.
Question: How Does Slash Switch between Tones?
Answer: Slash uses a wireless foot pedal system to quickly switch between tone settings across amps and pedalboards.
There we have it – considering how successful Slash is, I feel like his amp settings, and guitar rig is pretty modest. Apart from the wireless tone changes and the fact that he simultaneously uses several Marshall Jubilee stacks to have tone options available, it’s a pretty minimal and inexpensive setup.
It’s worth bearing in mind that this setup is always changing – Slash has had a long and eventful career, so it’s only natural that he enjoys changing his tone here and there. However, if you follow these settings and use the same effects and amps as him, you’ll be well on your way to playing the guitar, just like Slash. It’s going to take a ton of progress, but I believe that you can get there!
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