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Sammy Hagar: “The Les Paul’s like a Muscle Car”

Daniel Eriksson
|
08.30.2013
Sammy Hagar

Aside from being a successful solo artist, Sammy Hagar, aka the Red Rocker, has surrounded himself with some of the world's best guitar players as a member of Montrose, Van Halen, and Chickenfoot. But Hagar himself is no slouch when it comes to playing killer riffs and soloing. Sammy says that he is self-taught, and that he's picked up quite a few tips and tricks along the way from guys like Ronnie Montrose, and Eddie Van Halen. Gibson guitars have always been a part of Hagar’s guitar collection, and he is often seen playing Les Pauls and Explorers on stage. Hagar even has his own signature Explorer, and a signature Les Paul - the Sammy Hagar Red Rocker Les Paul . Here’s a few quotes from Sammy on what he likes about Gibson guitars, his influences, his guitar playing style, and some advice for wannabe guitar players.

In a video interview with Gibson, Sammy talked about what he likes about the Les Paul:

“I’ve always been a Les Paul, Gibson player. For some reason, the necks, the way they sound, the weight of a Les Paul is important when you’re throwing that big rock pose, and the guitar is hanging down hard. You got a light guitar and you throw the pose you feel the guitar bouncing around, Les Paul’s like - bam! So it’s got a really macho thing. It makes you just feel rough and tough playing. It’s like driving a muscle car for me. The Les Paul’s like a muscle car.”

In that same interview, Sammy spoke about using a Gibson Explorer on his early albums:

“I love an Explorer because on my 1979 Danger Zone front album cover, I had this Explorer on the cover. I played an Explorer half my pre-Van Halen years - I was an Explorer player. I had this wonderful Explorer. It was one of the first remakes I think - it was the first remake of the Explorer. I still have that guitar, and I used it on all those albums, on Danger Zone, ‘Love or Money’ - the song ‘Trans Am’ [which is actually from the album Street Machine.] That album was done with that Explorer.”

Hagar also imparted some advice to up-and-coming guitarists:

“Because I sing and play guitar, I never, except in the early days, did what you’re suppose to do to become the hottest guitar slinger. Like with Joe Satriani, Eddie Van Halen - those guys sat in a room and practiced scales all day. [...] If you wanna be a slinger, you got to go in and put in the time. There’s no other gateway to get around it, you cannot cheat.”

In another video interview, Hagar talked to Gibson about all the songs he’s written on Gibson guitars:

“I’ve written, like I said, probably 90 percent of the songs, other than acoustic songs [on Gibson guitars]. My electric [songs], you know “One Way To Rock,” “I Can’t Drive 55,” “Heavy Metal” - they were all written on Les Pauls, or an Explorer. I have a few Explorers. It’s the idea when you strap on a big, heavy, fat neck Gibson, and you crank in to a big loud cranked-up amp. It inspires you to write a certain way.”

Hagar also discussed his Gibson collection:

“Now I’ve got about 25 Les Pauls probably. I got three Explorers, I think. I have a couple Gibson acoustics, old Hummingbirds, things like that. [...] I have my gorgeous, 1953 I think it is, lap slide. It’s not a steel guitar with the pedals, it’s a lap slide. This baby is made one-dimensional - to make a racket, and I love that. I like my Gibson collection.”

In a video interview with Guitar.com that came out around the time of his Ten 13 album in 2000, Sammy Hagar talked about the first guitar player to influence him:

“I’m a self-taught kind of guy. I never took any lessons, except you know, other guitar players would teach me a lick here, a lick there. My first real influence on guitar was Eric Clapton. There’s no question about it, he was the guy that made me wanna play guitar. In John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and Cream, Eric Clapton was the king to me. He still is one of the greatest players of all time. I play from that style of a root. I didn’t come from an Eddie Van Halen school, I’m a little older than that.”

In that same interview, Hagar also talked about his self-developed, pull-off guitar playing style:

“I use to play off the Albert King position. Everything’s kind of based on that. Billy Gibbons use this position. I was always so frustrated that those old blues guys, that slow style which I love, but I’d get in front of 10,000 people, and I’d say ‘man I can’t be up here that relaxed.’ So I started playing by always using pull-offs. I really developed a pull-off style playing guitar. I always do a little pull-off thing, and it sounds like I’m playing faster sometimes than I really am.”

Earlier this year Vegas Rocks! Magazine asked Sammy what he’d say to Eddie Van Halen if he bumped in to him:

“Here’s my phone number, call me up if you wanna hang and just have some fun and goof off. Whatever that led to. I wouldn’t say ‘Hey, let’s get together and do it again!’ Because you would have to do that slow because I would never do it again under the last circumstances. But I would do it again under different circumstances. So it’d be like that. Then I would also say ‘and also, here’s Mikey’s [Michael Anthony, original Van Halen bassist] phone number with mine.”

Sammy told Gibson.com what he likes about the Gibson Les Paul Studio:

“I think the Les Paul Studio guitar is the most versatile, all-round, out-of-sight guitar there is. First of all, I don’t use any effects – no pedals, nothing. I plug that guitar directly into the amp. When you hit a big power chord on that guitar -- through, say, a Marshall that’s really cranked up -- the Les Paul has a grunt and a growl that’s unbeatable. And when you turn the volume back, on the amp, and play with a clean sound, it’s got a nice rock and roll punch. If I were allowed to have just one guitar, it would be the Les Paul.”

It’s not all about Les Pauls and Explorers with Hagar. He once told Gibson.com about one of his favorite rhythm sounds:

“I also had an ES-335. I played the 335 with the toggle switch in the middle position, using both pickups, with a semi-clean – but not totally clean – amp sound. That’s one of the best rhythm sounds you’ll find anywhere on the planet.”

We’ll end with one of Sammy’s quotes from the first video interview, that sums it all up pretty well:

“I love Gibson guitars. I do not do this for money folks! I have a job that pays well. I do it cause I love it.”

Check out the Red Rocker jamming on his Sammy Hagar Red Rocker Les Paul :

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