So many great guitar techniques, so many scales on the guitar, so much focus on picking and arpeggio shapes – but how do you put a great guitar solo together?
Seriously, how ever fast you can pick notes, however many times you go up and down scales and how many different scales you know, you are unlikely to create a great solo without listening to the way some of the greats of the guitar have done it and have constructed their solos and the effect it has on you – the listener.
Whether it’s sheer technicality or speed of playing, whether it’s the emotions it generates, whether it’s the fact that the solo is so memorable that you can hum it – there is generally structure and “a story” in a great solo.
What better way to do this than to highlight some great guitar solos and talk about why I think they work so well – maybe you disagree, maybe you have other examples – please do comment below with your own thoughts.
Actual techniques and scales/arpeggios is a topic I will cover separately, but this article might give you some ideas, just to get you started!
So, let’s look at some solos from:
- Steve Lukather;
- Don Felder and Joe Walsh;
- Steve Rothery;
- John Petrrucci;
- B.B. King.
The Pop/Rock Short Solo
These days, it’s unusual to hear a guitar solo at all, but over the last few decades, the charts have had many songs that contain guitar solos – some notable, some not!
The vast majority are quite short and are mainly melodic and aimed at the average listener (by which I mean, everyone, which includes a lot of people that don’t play the guitar or even have a particular interest in it).
Never-the-less, such guitar solos can be really pleasing to the ear.
Let’s take an example:
About 16 seconds of pure magic from Steve Lukather.
Whether you like the song or not (Rosanna by Toto), there is something special going on here with this solo.
- It starts with a melodic line that matches the underlying chords beautifully;
- It climbs in pitch followed by a faster run up that builds tension into the chord change;
- It finishes with a further climb in pitch that sort of echoes the previous line with some great
- soulful string bending that leaves you hanging and re-introduces the vocals.
Of course at the end of this song, Steve lets loose with some really great playing over a funky backdrop with some tasteful morsels including more string bending, faster picking, multiple pull-offs and some more jazz/funk-oriented lines!
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of Mr Lukather!
The Memorable One
One of the classics performed here by Don Felder and Joe Walsh:
…Hotel California by The Eagles – of course!
I bet you were able to hum/whistle along to that one right?
Why? Well, the song is famous and memorable in its own right. But…
- The solo starts with a bold statement;
- It has signature short phrases;
- It has a question and answer section that culminates in some harmonised playing.
You will often find with these memorable solos that there is some very distinctive phrasing and that they really capture the mood of the song – that’s certainly true here.
A little known guitarist, but if ever there was a master of making the guitar sing with tears of sadness and joy, it’s Steve Rothery.
Get the tissues ready, and have a listen to “Sugar mice” by Marillion:
…just drenched in the emotions of the song.
To my mind, It’s the note choice, the vibrato, the really really tasteful string bending and the way it builds that just pulls at the heart-strings.
And, just when you thought it had reached a climax, the big chords come along and the guitar seems to wail with utter despair.
Just a stunning example of a guy in tune with his instrument and able to make it cry…and all without playing 100’s of notes every second!
Steve Rothery – a hugely under-estimated guitarist.
The Master At Work
I am a massive fan of John Petrucci and this is one of his best solos, in my opinion, from “The best of times” by Dream Theater.
Now this is more of an album track from a progressive rock band, but this particular solo is beautifully constructed and showcases John’s amazing versatility on the guitar, but there is one important point to my mind.
In recent years, there have been many guitarists who can play fast, really fast, with incredible dexterity all over the neck, sweep arpeggios, pinched harmonics, string bending, hybrid picking…but, the musicality is often lost amongst the orgy of guitar shredding.
Here John (that will be Mr Petrucci to you!) not only demonstrates his total mastery of the guitar, but it’s as musical as hell, everything he does is melodic and works with the music and enhances the mood of that music.
There is emotion, there are long, perfectly intonated notes and emotive string bends, there is phenomenally fast and accurate note picking, there is sweep picking, there is time slurring – everything is on display here.
Just how he plays 6 notes in half a second spanning fret 1 to fret 24 I’ll just never know – and all done with such fluidity.
Have a listen and make your own mind up – 3 minutes of class and genius:
Phrasing, Taste and the Blues
It had to be him didn’t it?
B.B. King, RIP.
The blues, the feeling, the history, the pain and the joy…
Just listen and learn – see how he messes with the rhythm, how he phrases little questions and answers on Lucille (his name for his guitar), the way he changes the tone and volume just by the way he plays.
Jimi Hendrix once said, “You don’t play the blues, you feel it” – and I think BB feels it, don’t you?
B.B. King – we miss you…
The art of guitar solo-ing, is just that, an art – but there is always a story, something recognisable, something to catch the ear.
It is unlikely to be a random improvisation from a bunch of scales, so listen and learn and “construct” your own solos once in a while, it’s really satisfying!
What do you think? Any thoughts or comments on great guitar solo techniques or other examples I should add to this?
All the best and keep on rockin’