Pink Floyd's David Gilmour Talks Technique and Gear in 1988
Here's our interview with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour from the July 1988 Guitar World, which featured Eddie Van Halen on the cover. The original story ran with the headline, "David Gilmour: Absolute Sound." To see the Eddie Van Halen cover—and all the GW covers from 1988—head here.
If the world didn’t clamor for his searing guitar lines, the Floyd man would be just another semi-reclusive Englishman with a house in the country and interesting collection of Strats.
It's 2010. A joint Soviet-American space mission has successfully established a sprawling colony of settlers on the moon. The two dozen cosmonauts, astronauts, scientists and assorted astronomers have been living in peace and harmony for nearly a year.
Their general consul, made up of an equal-numbered contingent of Yanks and Ruskies, has set up a series of laws by which all abide. And they have chosen a national anthem for their Lunaville home.
By majority vote, they picked Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, a 20th-century classic that is still, amazingly, surfacing in the Billboard charts back on Earth, nearly 40 years after its initial release.
David Gilmour, guitarist extraordinaire and only surviving member of Pink Floyd, is in his mid-sixties and still an active recording artist. His latest release, Brain Spurs and Otber Cognitille Mishaps, is riding high on the Billboard Next Age charts, and the hologram of his hit single, "I Put a Mind Probe on You," is selling particularly well in the Soviet Union.
Yet, in spite of the widespread popularity and critical acclaim he's enjoyed over the past 15 years as a solo artist, Gilmour still fondly recalls his days with the Floyd.
The ever-selling Dark Side of the Moon holds a particularly special place in his memory banks, though when asked to list his favorite project over the last 40 years of his career, the sexagenarian axman says, "Well, you know ... I really quite liked A Momentary Lapse of Reason. I think my playing was rather good on that one, actually."
I would tend to agree with Ol’ Man Gilmour on that. Sure, he has played some memorable solos since he joined Pink Floyd on February 18, 1968–“Comfortably Numb" from 1979's The Wall, "Money" from 1973 's Dark Side of the Moon, "Pigs" from 1977 's Animals, “All Lovers Are Deranged" from his 1984 solo project, About Face, to name just a few. But on A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the first Floyd album where Gilmour is truly and forcefully in the driver's seat (freed as he is from the domineering influence of his old nemesis Roger Waters, who split the Floyd to pursue a solo career), the guy is absolutely killin' with that Strat.
Make that a Strat and a Steinberger. On the cut "Sorrow," the man who has for so long been associated with Fender Stratocasters plugs in one of Ned's headless wonders, lays on the TransTrem and the results are earth-shaking.
“That very nasty distortion you hear at the beginning of the song is basically the result of the Steinberger going through two little amps in the studio—a Fender Super Champ and a Gallien-Krueger. I use a Boss Heavy Metal distortion pedal and a Boss digital delay pedal, which then goes into the Fender Super Champ. And that in combination with the internal distortion on the Gallien-Krueger was how I got that particular sound.
"Funny enough," he adds, "I wrote the lyrics for that song first. I sat at home one night ... I was kind of hoping the music would come out of the air and the song would magically write itself. But it didn't. But I did write all the lyrics that night and the next day I went into the studio, plugged in the Steinberger and that was what came out.
“I had no particular plan. I had just gotten the Steinberger and hadn't really played it all that much at that point. But I rather liked the sound it makes naturally. And then the combination of bending up with the wang-bar on whole chords while simultaneously fading in with a stereo volume pedal ... that's the sound."
A very nasty sound indeed, guaranteed to please connoisseurs of "sick" guitar. Elsewhere on A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Gilmour plays his familiar red Strat with typical lyricism, cut with a definite blues bite. His clean, economical lines on the instrumental "Signs of Life" (recorded direct to the desk with no effects whatsoever) features some classic Delta blues licks at the tag. And his piercing single-note work during his stinging exchanges with saxman Tom Scott on "Terminal Frost" is right out of the Albert Collins school of toe-curling blues riffs.
Gilmour admits a great love of the blues, but says that the key to his playing is his melodic sense. "Yes, there's a lot of the blues in my playing. When I was young, I actually sat down and learned many of the classic blues solos by Eric [Clapton] and Hendrix as well as studying old Howlin' Wolf records. But I don't consciously delve into that area now. Blues lines as such are fairly specific.
"It's like, you've got a series of things that you can put together in different combinations but there aren't that many moves you can make. Instead, I try to approach things, given my limitations and strengths, from a more melodic standpoint and just work on it until it sounds ... nice. I don't really have any plan in hand that helps me to deal with this. I try not to be too tied down by rules and regulations. So the blues influence may come out at times but I like to think I come at it from a different angle."
"Oh, I'd say my sense of melody. My sense of going for the unusual at times."
"Well, I can't really play fast, per se. Not like so many players today. I don't have a very disciplined approach to practicing or anything, but I do tend to have a guitar around most of the time, which I strum on most of the day. But about once a year I have sort of an attack of a guilty conscience about my abilities, so then I'll sit and run through a couple of scales. But generally, I'm not too ambitious about that sort of thing. I just tend to strap on the guitar in the studio and do something crazy.
“Again, I don't have a very precise method of doing anything. I'm sorry ... I feel like I'm being awfully vague about all this, but that's the way I am. I just play intuitively and work the same way in the studio. I don't have any magical effects or anything that helps me to get my particular sound. It's all very hard to explain. I just keep fiddling with the little knobs on different boxes until it sounds right to me.
"I like to approach every track and every solo I do with an open mind. I don't really have any kind of general philosophy of playing, I don't think. And to be honest with you, I can't really remember how I achieved certain sounds in the studio. I don't really approach anything with any great plan, except that I work on the sound until it sounds right to me ... forgetting instantly afterwards how on earth it was done."
Okay, thanks for the workshop, Dave.
In this day and age of neo-classical metal-whatever, where young (and I mean young, like 18) guitar daredevils are racing up and down the neck at inhuman speeds, skipping across strings like Evel Knievel hurtling a row of school buses on his cycle, blazing through scales and arpeggios like sewing machines on automatic pilot, David Gilmour stands out as an anomaly.
Call him a throwback, a dinosaur, a relic, if you will. But for my money, he could teach these young whippersnappers a thing or two about phrasing, about finesse and taste, about making a personal statement on the instrument, not through any magical gadgets but through one’s own personal touch ... bare fingers on strings.
“One thing about my guitar sounds,” offers the humble Floydman of few words, "I think I could walk into any music shop anywhere and with a guitar off the rack, a couple of basic pedals and an amp I could sound just like me. There’s no devices, customized or otherwise, that give me my sound. It comes off my fingers. It all comes down to personal taste, I guess.
"Like vibrato, for instance. I like a kind of refined version, which I do either with a finger or with a wang bar ... sometimes both at the same time. But I must say that a lot of vibrato that's used today just doesn't appeal to me at all. It doesn’t sound musical."
Being a rich, semi-reclusive Englishman with a country home and family, Gilmour doesn't spend much time making the scene in London, New York or L.A., hanging with the cats, keeping up with the latest trends in music, the newest innovations in technique. He admits, for instance, to never having heard Yngwie Malmsteen or any of the clones who spun off from that school of playing. But he admits, "I do like Eddie Van Halen's playing a lot. Of course, I can't do that at all. I don't have the fingers for it."