A few years ago, the editors of Guitar World compiled what we feel is the ultimate guide to the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.
The list, which has been quoted by countless artists, websites and publications around the world, starts with Richie Sambora's work on Bon Jovi's “Wanted Dead or Alive” (100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (01).
To quote our "Stairway to Heaven" story that ran with the list, "If Jimmy Page is the Steven Spielberg of guitarists, then 'Stairway' is his Close Encounters."
On June 10, we kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We pitted Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. We asked you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket. Now Rounds 1, 2, 3 (Sweet 16), 4 (Elite Eight) and 5 (Final Four) have come and gone, leaving us with two incredible guitar solos!
WELCOME TO THE ULTIMATE CHAMPIONSHIP, where the last two solos — "Eruption" (Eddie Van Halen) and "Comfortably Numb" (David Gilmour) — will go head to head before your eyes! As always, you can vote only once (per device).
As has happened often since June 10, we have something of a genre clash going on here, but remember — they're both guitar solos, played on guitars, by guitarists. It might have to come down to, "Which solo is more original and creative for its time? Which is more iconic or important? or Which one kicks a larger, more impressive assemblage of asses?"
Winner: "Comfortably Numb" (54.24 percent)
Loser: "Stairway to Heaven" (45.76 percent)
Today's Sweetwater Ultimate Championship
"Eruption" Vs. "Comfortably Numb"
Welcome to the final matchup in Guitar World's Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time Readers Poll! In many ways, it's the perfect showdown — speed and groundbreaking pyrotechnics against a handful of powerful, perfectly placed notes that simply make your hair stand on end. But only one guitar solo can win the poll! Note that the final matchup pits the No. 2 song ("Eruption") against the No. 4 song ("Numb"). The top-seeded solo, "Stairway to Heaven" (01), fell by the wayside last week during the Final Four. The No. 3 solo, "Free Bird," didn't survive the Elite Eight. For more history, read on ...
HOW THEY GOT HERE
• "Eruption" defeated Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Scar Tissue" (63) in Round 1, Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" (31) in Round 2, Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" (18) in the Sweet 16, Eric Clapton's solo on the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (42) in the Elite Eight and Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" (11) in the Final Four.
• "Comfortably Numb" defeated Metallica's "Master of Puppets" (61) in Round 1, Steve Vai's "For the Love of God" (29) in Round 2, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (20) in the Sweet 16, Ozzy Osbourne's "Mr. Crowley" (28) in the Elite Eight and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" (01) in the Final Four.
Vote now! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
Soloist: Eddie Van Halen
Album: Van Halen—Van Halen (Warner Bros., 1978)
It is hard to imagine a more appropriately titled piece of music than Edward Van Halen’s solo guitar showcase, “Eruption.” When the wildly innovative instrumental was released in 1978, it hit the rock guitar community like a hydrogen bomb. Two-handed tapping, gonzo whammy bar dips, artificial harmonics—with Van Halen’s masterly application of these and other techniques, “Eruption” made every other six-stringer look like a third-stringer.
But the most remarkable thing, perhaps, about the unaccompanied solo is that it almost didn’t make it on to Van Halen’s debut album.
“The story behind ‘Eruption’ is strange,” says Van Halen. “While we were recording the album, I showed up at the studio early one day and started to warm up because I had a gig on the weekend and I wanted to practice my solo-guitar spot. Our producer, Ted Templeman, happened to walk by and he asked, ‘What’s that? Let’s put it on tape!’
“I played it two times for the record, and we kept the one that seemed to flow. Ted liked it, and everyone else agreed that we should throw it on the album. I didn’t even play it right—there’s a mistake at the top end of it. Whenever I hear it, I always think, Man, I could’ve played it better.”
As for the distinctive echo effect on the track, Eddie recalls that he used a relatively obscure unit—a Univox echo chamber. “It had a miniature 8-track cassette in it, and the way it would adjust the rate of repeat was by the speed of the motor, not by tape heads. So, if you recorded something on tape, the faster you played the motor back, the faster it would repeat and vice versa. I liked some of the noises I got out of it, but its motor would always burn out.
“I like the way ‘Eruption’ sounds. I’d never heard a guitar sound like that before.”
04. “Comfortably Numb”
Soloist: David Gilmour
Album: Pink Floyd—The Wall (Columbia, 1979)
How do you reason with two guys who once went to court over the artistic ownership of a big rubber pig? That was Bob Ezrin’s mission when he agreed to co-produce Pink Floyd’s The Wall with guitarist David Gilmour and bassist/vocalist Roger Waters. The legendary tensions between the two feuding Floyds came to a head during sessions for The Wall in 1979—which was why Ezrin was called in.
“My job was to mediate between two dominant personalities,” recalls Ezrin. However, the producer turned out to be no mere referee, but contributed plenty ideas of his own. “I fought for the introduction of the orchestra on that record,” says Ezrin. “This became a big issue on ‘Comfortably Numb,’ which Dave saw as a more bare-bones track. Roger sided with me. So the song became a true collaboration—it’s David’s music, Roger’s lyric and my orchestral chart.”
Gilmour’s classic guitar solo was cut using a combination of the guitarist’s Hiwatt amps and Yamaha rotating speaker cabinets, Ezrin recalls. But with Gilmour, he adds, equipment is secondary to touch: “You can give him a ukulele and he’ll make it sound like a Stradivarius.”
Which doesn’t mean Gilmour didn’t fiddle around in the studio when he laid down the song’s unforgettable lead guitar part. “I banged out five or six solos,” says Gilmour. “From there I just followed my usual procedure, which is to listen back to each solo and make a chart, noting which bits are good. Then, by following the chart, I create one great composite solo by whipping one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase until everything flows together. That’s the way we did it on ‘Comfortably Numb.’ ”
[[ When you're done voting, start learning most of the guitar solos in this poll — and and a whole lot more! Check out a new TAB book from Guitar World and Hal Leonard: 'The 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time: A Treasure Trove of Guitar Leads Transcribed Note-for-Note, Plus Song Notes for More Than 40 of the Best Solos.' It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store for $29.99. NOTE: Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" guitar solo (solo number 39 on our list) is NOT included in this book. ]]
Winner: "Eruption" (57.06 percent)
Loser: "Comfortably Numb" (42.94 percent)
Thank you to everyone who voted and commented! Expect a wrap-up story this week!