GN'R's Duff McKagan: I Started Taking Bass Lessons Again, Learning Theory, Playing With Fingers

"Before we play a show, I play for like two hours, which is something I didn't do back then."

Ultimate Guitar
GN'R's Duff McKagan: I Started Taking Bass Lessons Again, Learning Theory, Playing With Fingers

Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan talked about rediscovering his passion for bass in the past decade, saying on Talk Is Jericho (transcribed by UG):

"I play with my fingers a little bit now. I really got into bass.

"Eight to 10 years ago I started taking lessons, and I got re-inspired on the bass. I went to learn some theory and stuff - I learned some theory and I kinda threw it away.

"But I started playing with my fingers, expanding my knowledge. Before we play a show, I play for like two hours, which is something I didn't do back then.

"But we played so much, we rehearsed so much that I didn't have to go home and play. Home was actually the place we rehearsed. [Laughs]"

Focusing on the gear he's using these days, Duff noted:

"The basses I play every night, they're Fender Jazz specials, they all made them for one year. They were made in Japan, and I got one.

"It's the Rotosound strings I used with it. The GK head I used with that. Seymour Duncan pickups. The pick... it's the whole thing that creates this tone. And I use the same stuff."

Asked if he found it difficult to get back into the groove with the reunited GN'R, McKagan replied:

"It wasn't hard. Those songs are part of your makeup. So your body kind of adheres to... I remember, I listened to 'Appetite [for Destruction],' I played along to it. I have this little setup where I can play along to music.

"First time I played cover songs was just recently, Kings of Chaos thing. Like Deep Purple, ZZ Top, like paying those songs, 'Woah, this is cool!' Aerosmith songs, playing them like real, like a cover band but you're playing with Steven Tyler.

"So it was the first time I played cover songs - I got this little setup where I got these blasters that plays the music, and I have this little bass amp. And I learned the songs, I played them over and over and over, and learn them.

"I don't read music, I don't really need to. You just get into tuning, whatever it is.

"Some of those old '70s songs, they weren't really in tune with anything, so you gotta tune to the record. So I had my little setup. I put the 'Appetite' up and played through the record. Then 'Illusion' songs, and then got into 'Chinese Democracy' songs.

"Axl put a lot into that record. I think Slash and I were challenged with like 'How do we make these kind of ours now?' So we gotta take ownership of these. And we went in, and we learned them first and then went in and started playing with Frank [Ferrer].

"And then Richard [Fortus] came in, like 'Let's tear these songs down first to really know them.' So it was just Slash and I and Frank playing some of these songs. But with all the 'Illusion' stuff and 'Appetite' it didn't take long at all. It took a day."



25 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I always say that if you can't play bass with your fingers, then you aren't a bass player.
    If the bass guitar is your main instrument then you are by definition a bass player, doesn't matter if you play with a pick, finger-style, slap, or tap.
    Different tones bro. I play fingers, slap, and pick. You cannot get the same tones on some songs without using a pick. Period.
    Well not exactly. I know what you mean by that pick tone. But I just use the tips of my fingers, touching my nail, and it sounds the same as a pick. Obviously not something for everyone but that's what I do and that's just my opinion. Different strokes for different folks.
    There are three ways to play bass. Fingers, pick (punk), and slap. Not every player uses all three ways but some do, just depends on your style. I personal have gotten so used to fingers I find using a pick hard. The metal gallop is almost it's own style on it's own because of how distinct it is, but it is still the finger technique.
    Well I consider slap as fingers too because you are using your fingers(and thumb). Im not knocking using a pick, but if that's all you can do, then you are a failed guitarist that can't handle small strings. The downvotes are most likely coming from metalheads who generally ONLY use a pick, and that's ok but to me, you need to know how to use your fingers to truly be a bass player. Plus, fingers sound better and require more skill than playing bass with a pick.
    IMO what sounds and feels better, fingers or pick, depends on the song and sound you are going for. Having played both ways for some time now, I can't definitively say one is better/harder.
    I think it's whatever you are used to. I played bass for years before playing playing any guitar, so I am way better with fingers than pick, and it feels more natural. Lindsay Buckingham plays guitar with fingers instead of pick because it's just what he was more used to doing, so I don't think it is a bass vs. guitar situation. If you want speed and a 0-0-0-0-5-7 thrash type riff all on the E string maybe pick is easier, but otherwise I genuinely think for anything moving up and down different strings finger is way easier.
    Bullshit. That is like saying you are not a vocalist or you cannot do opera.
    Actual bass player here as per your definition. Shut up already, you are embarrassing yourself. 
    Trust me, im not embarrassed by an online community getting panties wadded over a comment that starts with " i always say" as in its my opinion and I stand by it.
    I always say that if you're a frustrated and sad musician, you go on forums to troll on successful ones. But hey, I started with "I always say"
    Strumming with your fingers and slapping is a completely different skill set for completely different sounds. Most metal heads want to go fast and the best way is to either use three fingers as apposed to the usual two or a pick. Some of those sounds you can only get with pick, or destroy your fingers. Good musicians serve the sound and don't try to force something it's not. If the genre they play gets the sound from a pick then they should use one. I've seen some really great bassists play with a pick, most of them were brought up on punk. Duff being one of them.
    I play bass, exclusively with my fingers. I think its much better and I dont see how/why people would wanna play bass with a pick...But your comment is ridiculous. I know you wanna feel like what you're doing is valid, but you dont need to shit on others. To each their own.
    I don't see how anybody could give a thumbs down to somebody and going out and learning more about their trade and passion. Good for him.
    Are you sure this guy is tee-total? Just kidding - love DUff, really good guy and GnR were brilliant when I saw them in London last year. But he sounds a little wasted in this interview!