50 Greatest Guitar Solos
30) "Surfing with the Alien" (Joe Satriani) - Joe Satriani Surfing with the Alien, 1987
“We didn’t know where that song was going until one afternoon when we went to record the melody and I plugged a wah-wah pedal and a Tubedriver into my 100-watt Marshall,” says Joe Satriani. “Then, just on a whim, I said, ‘Let’s try this harmonizer.’ It was one of those Eventide 949s. The sound that came out of the speakers blew us away so much that we recorded the melody and the solo in about a half-hour and sat back and went, ‘Whoa! This is a song, man!’
“And then, of course, the Eventide broke down and we couldn’t fix it. We couldn’t do anything. We lost our tone. When we finally got it working again, we weren’t able to recreate the original effect. It just sounded different. So rather than screw up a wonderful-sounding performance that may have had a couple of glitches, we decided to just leave it, because it was just swinging.
That wasn’t the title track of the album for quite a while. It was going to be called The Lord of Karma. It wasn’t until we finished that track and added the jet noises that we realized that ‘Surfing’ was the song that summed up the feeling of the whole album.
“The whole thing with the Silver Surfer was purely by accident. It came about because the product manager at the record label, Jim Kozlowski, used to be called the Silver Surfer when he was a DJ in Boston. When I delivered the album, he said, “This is a great title. We should put the Silver Surfer on the cover.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I literally did not know anything about the comic book character.”
29) "For the Love of God" (Steve Vai) - Steve Vai Passion and Warfare, 1991
“The song is about how far people will go for the love of their god,” says Steve Vai. “When you discipline yourself to quit smoking, to run faster or to play better, you have to reach deep down into a part of you. That is a profoundly spiritual event. That’s when you come into contact with that little piece of God within you. That’s what I was trying to achieve with ‘For the Love of God’—I was trying to find that spot.”
28) "Mr. Crowley" (Randy Rhoads) - Ozzy Osbourne Blizzard of Ozz, 1981
“I’d have to say that ‘Mr. Crowley’ is my most memorable solo,” said Randy Rhoads. “I had spent hours trying to figure out a solo for the song, but wasn’t getting anywhere. I finally put something down. Then Ozzy came in and said, ‘It’s crap—everything you’re playing is crap.’ He told me to get in there and just play how I felt. He made me really nervous, so I just played anything. When I came back to listen to it, he said it was great, and I had to agree.”
27) "Pride and Joy" (Stevie Ray Vaughan) - Stevie Ray Vaughan Texas Flood, 1983
“Pride and Joy” was recorded during the same 48-hour period as “Texas Flood”; both had been Vaughan live standbys for many years. “Stevie wrote ‘Pride and Joy’ for this new girlfriend he had when he was inspired by their relationship,” says drummer Chris Layton. “Then they had a fight and he turned around and wrote ‘I’m Cryin’,’ which is really the same song, just the flip side, lyrically.”
When “Pride and Joy” was released as Texas Flood’s first single, it quickly put the then unknown Texas guitar slinger on the national blues-rock map. More cosmically, it also signaled that from-the-gut guitar music was not dead as a commercial and artistic force, no matter how many hits Culture Club and Flock of Seagulls had on Solid Gold. “When I heard that on the radio, I just said ‘Hallelujah,’ “ recalls Dickey Betts, whose Allman Brothers Band were prominent casualties of the age’s anti-guitar disease. “He was just so good and strong and he would not be denied. He single handedly brought guitar and blues-oriented music back to the marketplace.”
26) "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Kurt Cobain) - Nirvana Nevermind, 1991
“I was trying to write the ultimate pop song,” explained the late Kurt Cobain. “It’s such a clichéd riff—it’s so close to Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’ riff or ‘Louie Louie.’ When I came up with the guitar part, Krist [Novoselic, bass] looked at me and said, ‘That’s so ridiculous.’ So I made the band play it for an hour and a half.”
25) "Aqualung" (Martin Barre) - Jethro Tull Aqualung, 1979
“Aqualung was a difficult and very tense album to record, but at the end of the day it was important,” says Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre. “Ian wrote the riff and verses to the song ‘Aqualung,’ but he felt it needed a new section for the guitar break. I said, ‘Why don’t we just play the verse chords in half-time for the first part of the solo, then pick it back up for the rest of the solo?’ It was a simple solution that really worked.”
“While I was playing the solo, which was really going well, Jimmy Page walked into the control room and started waving. I thought, ‘Should I wave back and mess up the solo or should I just grin and carry on?’ Being a professional to the end, I just grinned.”
24) "Fade to Black" (Kirk Hammett) - Metallica Ride the Lightning, 1984
“I was still using my black Flying V on Ride the Lightning, but ‘Fade to Black’ sounds different—it has a warmer sound—because I used the neck pickup and played through a wah-wah pedal all the way in the ‘up’ position,” says Kirk Hammett. “We wanted to double the first two solos and I did the first one no problem. But I had a much harder time doubling the second solo because it was slow and had a lot of space in it. Later, I realized that I actually harmonized it in a weird way—in minor thirds, major thirds and fifths. After cutting those two, I really wasn’t sure what to play for the extended solo at the end. I was really bummed out because we had been in Denmark for five or six months, and I was very homesick; we were also having problems with our management. Because of that, and since it was a somber song anyway, I thought of very depressing things while I did the solo—and it really helped. We didn’t double-track that solo, although I did play some arpeggios over the G-A-B progression. After that, I went back and did the clean guitar parts behind the verse, and James [Hetfield] played an arpeggiated figure while I arpeggiated three-note chords. The result was what I always have considered a very Dire Straits-type sound.”
23) "Bulls on Parade" (Tom Morello) - Rage Against the Machine Evil Empire, 1996
"That's me playing a solo by flicking the toggle switch band and forth," says Rage Against the Machine's innovative guitarist, Tom Morello. "The story behind that sound starts with me going over to Ibanez one day. They were making a guitar for a guy in another band, and it had a special feature on it that they wanted me to try out. So I tried it, and it didn't really seem to do much that was anything different from a normal guitar. But I noticed that when you set the toggle between the two pickup settings, there was a really peculiar, high-pitched noise, and you could manipulate the tone of it dramatically when you turned the tone knob. I asked them what the noise was, and they said it was just incidental, that the guitar had an internal pickup and it was picking up this weird noise that they were trying to get rid of. I said, 'Oh no, no-come here with that one.' [laughs] I gave them an idea of what I thought was possible with that noise, and they were kind enough to custom build a guitar for me with that feature in it."
22) "Sultans of Swing" (Mark Knopfler) - Dire Straits Dire Straits, 1978
“ ‘Sultans of Swing’ was originally written on a National Steel guitar in an open tuning, though I never performed it that way,” recalls Mark Knopfler. “I thought it was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat—which remained my main guitar for many years and was basically the only thing I played on the first album—and the new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place. It’s really a good example of how the music you make is shaped by what you play it on, and is a lesson for young players. If you feel that you’re not getting enough out of a song, change the instrument—go from an acoustic to an electric or vice versa, or try an open tuning. Do something to shake it up. As for the actual solo, it was just more or less what I played every night. It’s just a Fender Twin and the Strat, with its three-way selector switch jammed into a middle position. That gives the song its sound, and I think there were quite a few five-way switches installed as a result of that song.”
21) "Time" (David Gilmour) - Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon, 1973
“Working with Pink Floyd is an engineer’s dream, so I tried to take advantage of the situation,” says studio wizard Alan Parsons. “Dark Side of the Moon came at a crucial stage in my career, so I was highly motivated.”
Parsons’ attention to detail obviously paid off: He won a Grammy award for the best engineered album of 1973, and DSOTM went on to ride the charts for a record-breaking 14 years.
But while Parsons takes credit for many of Moon’s sonic innovations, he says the massive guitar sound on the album can be attributed to only one man: David Gilmour. “David was very much in control of his sound system,” says Parsons. “We rarely added effects to his guitar in the control room. Generally speaking, the sound on the album is pretty much what came out of his amp. As I recall, he used a Hiwatt stack, a Fuzz Face and an Italian-made delay unit called a Binson Echorec.”
Gilmour confirms: “For most of my solos, I usually use a fuzz box, a delay and a bright eq setting. But to get that kind of singing sustain, you really need to play loud—at or near the feedback threshold.”
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