Gibson CEO Weighs in on Slash and James Hetfield Making It Big Playing Gibson Copies

Recently promoted to the company’s CEO, Gibson’s Cesar Gueikian reflected on some of the biggest names in rock and metal music playing their classic instruments. And, what’s more, during his chat with Dean Delray in an interview, he looked back on Guns N’ Roses legend Slash and Metallica frontman James Hetfield making their big breaks while playing Gibson replicas.

Dean Delray mentioned how Slash pretty much “saved” Gibson in the 1980s despite playing a Gibson Les Paul copy made by Californian luthier Kris Derrig. Additionally, Dean also reflected on how this was a decade of newly emerging brands, those that were mostly popular among “shredders” at the time. Cesar shared the same opinion, also recalling famous guitar collector Albert Molinaro, mentioning him as another important figure in Gibson’s history.

#719 / Cesar Gueikian, President and CEO of Gibson Guitars

“That era was incredible,” said Gueikian (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs). “And I think I couldn’t agree more with you. When Slash came out, and the image at the time without social media that we had to go find, you know, ‘Who’s this Guns N’ Roses band? Who’s the guitarist? They sound epic.'”

“And then you see the image of Slash with his Derrig [Les Paul] — ‘Appetite for Destruction’, we call it — Les Paul, I think that changed everything for us.”

Despite not being a Gibson, this “Appetite” Les Paul is an incredible replica of historical importance. And Slash using it with Guns N’ Roses and achieving massive success only helped Gibson grow. After all, it would be tough for an up-and-coming artist to get an actual 1959 Gibson Les Paul.

Slash's Iconic Guns N' Roses Guitar

But Slash wasn’t the only one. Up next, Dean reminded Cesar about Metallica frontman James Hetfield using his Flying V that was a cheap copy by a Japanese brand Electra.

“It’s what they could get at the time,” Cesar replied. “If you think about it — go back to maybe the early days for you and for me, growing up and what we could afford and what we couldn’t afford, and for James was that white V that he’s had forever. That feels like home to him. It’s his most played. It definitely gets the most stage time.”

James Hetfield about his First Guitar | Electra Flying V OGV | Kill Em All Flying V | Metallica

Going back to Slash and his Kris Derrig LP replica, Cesar said:

“Slash doesn’t use his Derrig replica anymore — that guitar stays in the studio, and when he goes out, obviously, he takes all of the things that we make for him. Slash doesn’t even normally take any vintage instruments with him on the road because he really beats them up. He uses them down to the core. He’s always using his rig.”

But on the other hand, we have artists who are okay with bringing these historically important instruments on tour. One of them is Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, who’s happy to take his ’59 Les Paul, previously owned by Peter Green and Gary Moore. Cesar continued:

“Maybe on a related but different note — Kirk… It’s so interesting [that he’s] playing Greeny every single night on stage with Metallica.”

How Kirk Hammett Bought the Legendary “Greeny” Guitar

He continued:

“We made several Greeny replicas that we reissued, and now we’ve got them on the price list in the Custom Shop made as a made-to-order. So he’s got a couple, but he always defaults back to playing Greeny on stage. He’s got the backups that we made for him, but he’s always playing Greeny.”

Of course, Gibson also stepped in and made a Greeny replica for Kirk. And then the company also started making different versions inspired by this legendary instrument and selling them to regular buyers. You could get a Les Paul Standard version, which is a few thousand USD. And then there’s the Gibson Custom Shop, which can go up to some astronomical prices.

Gibson Custom Shop Kirk Hammett "Greeny" 1959 Les Paul Standard

During the same interview, Cesar also reflected on how the Flying V and the Explorer models were ahead of their time. Initially conceived back in the 1950s, these models weren’t exactly the biggest success for Gibson. However, they started getting more attention in the 1970s and onward when we saw some big names in rock music using these instruments.

“Vs and Explorers that we designed between 1956 and 1957 and got released in 1958 — Kirk has two,” said Cesar. “Kirk has the ’57 prototype of the Flying V. There are two ’57 prototypes — Kirk has one, and then he’s got a ’58 Explorer, and James has a ’58 Explorer.”

“Those guitars were way ahead of the time,” he added, “to the point where they really didn’t work, and then they become really popular later, but I think these shapes have become culturally important pieces of art that are instantly recognizable.”

The Gibson Explorer: A Short History

Over the years, James Hetfield began switching over to other bands. Although he popularized Gibson guitars in the sphere of metal, he now uses ESP guitars that are Gibson’s direct copies.

Photos: Kreepin Deth (Slash live in London 2022), Kreepin Deth (James Hetfield live in Amesterdam 29 April 2023)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.