Great Guitar Solos – Comfortably Numb P*U*L*S*E*


Welcome to post 1 of Great Guitar Solos. It’s a series in which I highlight guitar solos I consider to be incredible. This first one, and the next two, are being moved from my old blog space. Then I’ll be writing new ones to go up every Monday.

I love guitar solos. A lot. I love picking them apart and figuring out what’s being played and what techniques are being used and if it’s sloppy and if that sloppiness is on purpose and so on and so forth. I’m a bit of a snob about guitar solos, in fact.

It doesn’t help that I can’t play them myself. I want to; I want to be a lead guitarist, able to play mind-blowing solos, from slow, emotional, melodic, deliberate melodies to face-melting, mind-bending psychedelic, shredding goodness.

But I’m just not there, sadly. My playing is not that good.

I do, however, have solos that I hold up as pillars of what good soloing is, and what it should be.

And the first one I’m highlighting is the solo I consider to be the greatest guitar solo ever recorded.

The band is Pink Floyd. The album is the live DVD P*U*L*S*E*.

The song?

Listen to that guitar solo. It starts at 4 minutes and 54 seconds in, and ends at 9 minutes and 24 seconds.

Already listened to it?

Listen to it again…

I can wait…

Amazing, isn’t it? Gives me goosebumps every damn time. I can’t get enough of it.

I should note that David Gilmour is not my all-time favorite guitarist; Jimmy Page is. But Gilmour is my second all-time favorite guitarist, and this is the main reason why.

My measure of a good soloist is not their breadth of knowledge on the techniques, or their ability to use them. I really don’t care how fast they can play. I couldn’t care less that they can play a whole solo of nothing but pinch harmonics. I’m appreciative of, but not awed by, a solo of sweeps.

My measure is very simple: how slow can they play?

That’s not to denigrate fast playing. I love fast playing. Randy Rhoads, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Slash, Orianthi, Joe Bonamassa, Chantel McGregor, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan… even David Gilmour; they all have great, fast solos. And those solos are amazing!

But all of them are also quite good at playing slow. They are amazing at crafting solos that breathe, that have room in them. They are amazing at crafting solos that are very deliberate, that rely more on a strong sense of rhythm and timing then on speed.

This is why I largely dislike the shredders of the 80’s. Yngwei Malmsteen is the poster-child for this type of playing. Speed is all there is, even in a slow, emotional song or a pop tune that doesn’t actually lend itself to a solo at all. Yngwei just can’t, or at least won’t, play slow. He’s probably one of the fastest guitarists out there, but he never slowed down. I wonder if he ever even tried to craft solos like the one played by Gilmour in “Comfortably Numb”.

The reason this solo is my favorite is because it soars. It relies not on speed or technique, but on space, rhythm/timing, and ingenious use of chorus, reverb, and delay. Of course, if you don’t have rhythm, or understanding of the scale used (a basic minor pentatonic), or understanding of the playing techniques Gilmour employs, you will fail at this solo. And this betrays yet another amazing thing about it: If you just listen to the solo, it sounds very easy, but that’s actually deceptive. Yes, learning the notes, in that order, is very simple. You can even build the effects and the technique. You could play a perfect copy of this solo, make not a single mistake, hit every note perfectly, and still sound like shit. It’s the deliberateness with which it’s played. If your timing is even slightly off… even by a hair… you will destroy this solo. And getting that timing is not easy; at all.

The best part of it is that, in Gilmour’s hands, that deliberateness is actually improvised. The solo, though rehearsed, includes sections that are not the same throughout. Compare the version on the DVD to the version on the released soundtrack of the show (which, unlike the DVD, includes audio clips from different nights of the tour), and you will hear differences. Another great example, which I’ll actually be highlighting in a future post, is the song “Money” as performed on the P*U*L*S*E* tour. The solo on the DVD is markedly different than the one of the soundtrack, and yet both are brilliant and include that deliberateness that could normally only happen by way of tons of practice and rehearsal in the hands of your average lead guitarist, and yet is improvised quite well by Gilmour.

This solo, IMO, deserves to be considered the greatest guitar solo of all time. I wish magazines like Guitar World and Guitar One would highlight it as such, because it is so. Fucking. Good. I just can’t think of anything better.

Are there any solos that you think are like this one? Any that are crafted so they breathe, and so they soar, as opposed to just being an exercise “look ma! A billion notes in one minute!”?

Let me know in the comments. I’m curious…

Comments

  1. Johnny Vector says

    I saw The Wall on its first tour, in New York, guess it must have been 1979. Paid 28 bucks for that ticket, and people were offering me $100 while I was waiting to get in. That was the cheap seats, in the end zone of Nassau Stadium, as far from the stage as you could get.

    Gilmour played this solo from atop the fully-built wall, with the rest of the stage in darkness and about 20 kW of light behind him, aimed directly at that same end zone. Between his solo and the resulting view, it was the very definition of a guitar god, and we cheapskates had the best view in the house.

    As for other great solos, I put Watermelon in Easter Hay by Zappa in that same category. A much more laid-back feel, but the same soaring eloquence. Did I already mention that on another thread? Might have done.

    I’m also particularly fond of Fripp’s solo in King Crimson’s The Night Watch. It’s an entirely different beast, but fits the song like a glove, musically and emotionally.

    And, since I’m going on, whatever Carter Gravatt wants to do in Let Your Troubles Roll By on any given night when Carbon Leaf is playing. Different every time, and interacting with whoever joins them on stage from the opening band, is what I like about that. Here’s an example.

  2. says

    That’s an amazing solo -- he makes it sound kinda easy.

    I love Page too, but I’d have to give the Floydoids credit for more creativity than Zep. Page’s playing is definitely his own unique sound but it’s very much leaning on his blues roots, whereas Barrett sounded like he came from somewhere else, and Gilmour along with him.

    Probably my favorite guitar performance is SRV and Johnny Copeland’s version of “Tin Pan Alley” from the Montreaux jazz festival. I give Johnny Copeland extra props because I believe he had recently had open heart surgery.

  3. says

    God I miss Stevie Ray Vaughan… and I’m officially putting that performance on my list for future inclusion. Thank you!

    And I don’t mind that it embedded at all. The more music shared, the better, IMO!

    As for Page and Gilmour… the reason Page is my number one will actually come up in a future GGS post… I think the last Monday of this month? It’s the whole playing guitar with a violin bow thing… really blew my mind and made me see the guitar in a whole different light. Page’s real creativity was in both riffs and sound… after all, his work with the drums in “When the Levee Breaks” was groundbreaking and brand new. And he invented the backwards echo.

    But yeah, LZ was definitely more straightforward blues, unlike Floyd, who really took music to a place it had never been before them creatively. Both Barrett and Gilmour were masters in a way nobody else was at the time.

  4. says

    When the readership of Guitar World voted for Greatest Guitar Solo of All Time many years ago and this one came up at fourth place, I couldn’t believe it, because I was young and foolish and fully devoted to the flashier shredders 🙂 (Stairway to Heaven won first place, and I could relate to *that*).

    As great as this solo is (I can now see that!), I much prefer another one by Gilmour: Shine On You Crazy Diamond, from the live Delicate Sound of Thunder (0:00-7:19 including the trumpet). Best way to begin an album ever. It gives me the chills every single time… The timing and the bending on this solo are just exquisite, the first crystal clear notes building up the tension for the band to join in. And then it keeps on going, screaming its sadness. The two trumpet parts frame it beautifully too, and should be considered integral parts of the solo (or is this cheating? :-P).

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