Slayer is undoubtedly one of the most influential bands in metal. Their work has laid the groundwork for countless death metal bands that followed.
But how did guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman create the crushing guitar tones of Slayer? Let us explore the guitars, amps, and pedals they used, and how we can emulate their sound.
King and Hanneman played fairly similar guitars. They both played ESP and B.C. Rich guitars, but they also seemed to prefer one over the other.
King was more a B.C. Rich player and Hanneman, an ESP player. This is also evident in the amount of signature guitars each had with the respective brands.
King had a number of different shapes like the Warlock and King V. Hanneman, on the other hand, seemed to stick with a Super Strat shape for his ESP signatures, but having various finishes.
While B.C. Rich signatures of King’s guitars are hard to come by these days, he does still have a signature Dean King V. And Hanneman still has the JH-600 with ESP.
But any well-made guitar with high-output humbuckers will do the job, like the ESP MH-1000 and MH-1001NT. Hanneman also played Jackson guitars, making the Pro Series King V and Pro Series Soloist, and even the X Series great options as well.
While they might have differed slightly when it came to guitars, King and Hanneman had only one choice for amps: Marshall.
To get the type of volume and aggressive distortion needed for Slayer, there really is just one amp, and that is the JCM800.
Both King and Hanneman used JCM800s as their amp heads. These were then paired with Marshall 1960B cabinets.
Of course, a JCM800 and 300-watt cab isn’t the only way of sounding like Slayer. The Marshall DSL100HR is a great alternative. Even the ORI50H can reach Slayer levels with some tweaking and a good distortion pedal.
As far as pedalboards went, King and Hanneman both kept it fairly simple. Both only used a handful of pedals.
Both King and Hanneman used a Dunlop Zakk Wylde Wah, which King described as sounding “nastier” than other wah pedals. Both have also used the Dunlop Dimebag Wah.
To give the amp distortion some extra boost, King also used an MXR ZW44. This pedal is no longer available, but the Ibanez TS9 is also great for pushing your distortion a bit further. Hanneman supposedly had a TS9 mounted in his rack unit as well.
King and Hanneman had several rack-mounted units as well. These were mostly wireless systems, signal splitters for their many amps, and additional compression, EQ, etc. That means that these units aren’t crucial to recreating their guitar tones.
You might think that a band as loud and aggressive as Slayer just turns everything up to 11 and calls it a day. But in fact, the tones of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman were a bit more complex than that.
For starters, not everything was turned up very high. The settings were actually a bit lower than you might expect.
The bass, for example, hovered at a very conservative 4 – 6. While the treble was also only set to around 7.
The most interesting part is the mids. Where metal bands usually scoop the mids slightly to boost the lows and highs, Slayer went in the opposite direction.
Their mids were actually set higher to boost it. They then used ten-band EQ pedals to further boost the mids. The sliders were arranged in an “upside-down v”, as Kerry King put it.
Gain was set very high as you could expect, usually around 8 or 9. The presence of the amp was then set to 7, and volume was adjusted according to the size of the venue.
That would lead to amp settings that looked something like this:
- Bass – 4-6
- Mids – 8
- Treble – 6/7
- Gain – 8/9
- Presence – 7
- Volume – 5-7
These settings should be correct for most Slayer songs and should require little adjusting.
Slayer may have retired, but their legacy lives on. Through the many guitarists that they have inspired, and surely will inspire.
I hope this guide will help with that inspiration, now that you also know how to recreate the heavy, gut-punching sound of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman.