"Play what you feel. And forget everything else!"
David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd by misfortune, the descent into madness by his friend Syd Barrett, but the mark he left on the band was big enough to crown him as one of the best guitarists of all time. His style is known for his expressiveness, his love for melody, his incredible ‘bendings’ and the magic that only the chosen can manage. Indeed this collection is purely personal, I could chose another 20 solos (the funky touches on Have a Cigar, the small but intense on Mother, the maturity of High Hopes, the intensity of Not Now John, or the delicate acoustic intro on Wish You Were Here) but I tried to stick to what was essential, besides my favourites. I have just chosen among his studio recordings, omitting the huge amount of live material (like his marvellous solo on Echoes in Live from Pompeii)
Gilmour wrote the chorus to Comfortably Numb during sessions on his solo record, released in 1978, but too late for him to appear in it. The song caught the attention of Rogers Waters who added a part he had written and put the lyrics, making it the best song on The Wall, and one of the best in Pink Floyd’s career. The band is aware of this and the song was chosen to close their fabled appearance at Live 8 in 2005, their last concert together of the original band. As for the solos I can only say that they are an absolute culmination of Gilmour, especially the second one, which was selected the 4th best solo of all time by Guitar World magazine, the 2nd best by Classic Rock, and the best in history in Digital Dream Door.
The first solo is shorter, played over the chorus, and is full of melancholic sadness while the second, the epitome of his style, is a sort of representation of the descent into the madness of the main character, a solo where it is obvious Gilmour really drenched the lyrics by Waters and turned them into music. It was composed using the best bits of another 5 or 6 of his own solos. On this song Gilmour used, how could it be otherwise, his legendary Black Strat, putting the Big Muff pedal to good use. Although truth be told, no-one could simulate the final result better than Gilmour himself and the magic in his fingers. Someone who, as producer Bob Ezrin has said, “You could give him a ukulele and he’ll make it sound like a stratovarius”.
Written by the band’s four members, this song contains one of the most iconic solos of Gilmour’s career. Besides, he is the lead singer on the verses, and makes a remarkable second voice on the bridge sung by Richard Wright. The solo follows the first bridge sung by Wright, and extends to the verses and chorus in 2 different styles, telling a parallel story of their own. He also uses his Black Strat and gives a nod to many of Gilmour’s influences, blues, ‘space rock’, and even Hendrix. The sound is very powerful with his Hiwatt amp (his favourite) plugged into a WEM. The best comment I’ve heard about this solo was, “It’s not only the best solo in Pink Floyd’s history, it’s the 2nd best solo in history, right behind Han Solo…”
The only contribution to composition from another band member other than Roger Waters on Animals. Dogs is mainly written by the guitarist, with lyrics by the bassman, the main voice is Gilmour on the first part, and Waters on the second. The song was composed by the two of them in 1974, under the title You’ve Got to Be Crazy, but Waters changed the words to fit the concept of the record, based on Animal Farm by George Orwell. It is another fine example of Gilmour as ‘guitar hero’ with 4 or 5 absolutely brilliant solos. The funny thing here is that Gilmour didn’t use his Black Strat but a Fender Custom Telecaster from ‘59, a model that wasn’t far from his first guitar in Pink Floyd, a white Telecaster his parents got him for his 21st birthday. On the ‘59 Custom he wrote some of his best moments as a guitarist in this song. At 3:46 there is a brutal change in the piece, led by Gilmour, two harmonised guitars carry the melody, while a third (with a lot of reverb and a Binson Echorec) adds colourful touches, much like a painter would his painting, then outflows another excellent solo until it slows down once again. At 5:32, he squeezes out yet another of the best solos in his life, full of technique and energy, using the Muff. In the middle part, at 6/8 tempo, Gilmour’s guitar is replaced by a synthesiser, then you hear an Ovation acoustic that takes us back to the start, this time Waters is lead vocal, and at 13:25 Gilmour’s back with another solo, this time much more aggressive, matching the way Waters is singing, and again the twin guitars which are like the calm after the storm until Waters voice returns to finish the song.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Another of the band’s mythic efforts, and one of its (multiple) most memorable solos, considered the 10th best of all time by NME. The song is a bleak tribute/homage to the former leader and founder of the band, Syd Barrett. There were four notes in Gilmour’s Black Strat (B Flat, F, G E) that clicked in Waters mind to make him conjure the ghost of the man whose mental deterioration left a deep scar on them all. And to top it off, while they were recording it, after years of not hearing from him, Barrett himself shows up at the studio, like a real ghost of what they were recording about. Fat, bald, and with plucked eyebrows, it took them some time to recognise who he was, and when they did, they broke down and cried. The charismatic ex-leader now looked through what seemed like black holes, where no-one knew for sure what was going on. There’s a lot of that in this song, where Gilmour especially shines through its 20 minutes and 9 distinct parts. On these solos there are many references to various musicians, mainly B.B. King.
In the first part, over a synthesiser, he plays a dreamy solo, to set us up, the second bit opens with those famous 4 notes, leading to another solo, one of the most expressive heights in his career. The 3rd part is built on an instrumental synthesiser passage by Wright as the main element until, yet again, and amazing Gilmour solo. The voice comes in on the 4th part, and Gilmour shines with a double guitar. On the 5th part, the tempo slows a bit, there’s a sax solo, with Gilmour adding some nice touches. It is the end of the song that opens the first side. The 6th part is the beginning of the song that closes Wish You Were Here. It starts with the sound of wind, and then starts to grow slowly, a main solo by Wright, is followed by an incredible slide solo where Gilmour takes good care of his Fuzz Face pedal and a Steel Fender Stringmaster twin neck pedal, then back to the Black Strat as before. The 7th part gets back to the voice, and the 8th is calmer until it becomes a funky jam with Wright’s keyboards in full focus. The songs closes on another great moment, the orchestral sounding bit, with Wright on keyboards up front, where he gives the final touch playing some notes from See Emily Play by Barrett, closing the circle completely.
Possibly the song that put Pink Floyd on a new path, definitely distancing themselves from the long shadow of Barrett, Echoes is over 20 minutes long and makes up the entire 2nd side of Meddle. It’s also the number where Gilmour finds his definitive sound as a guitarist, with a magic use of the slide and brilliant solos all throughout. It’s also proof that Gilmour’s and Wrights’ voices go as well together as Lennon’s and McCartney’s.
Gilmour used the Black Strat for the rhythmic bits, but the solo was recorded with another of his secret weapons, a Bill Lewis guitar with 24 frets that has been with him since November 1970, along with the Fuzz Face. The solo after 5:27 foresees the one in Time and Money. Then a funky solo after 7:24 that will echo on the magnificent Have a Cigar. He manages the seagull-like sounds in the middle part when a roadie plugged his wah pedal the wrong way, creating this special effect.
Fat Old Sun
One of the most underrated songs in the history of this English band. The song has a pastoral sound where the use of the ‘pedal steel’ by Gilmour sticks out and where he also delivers one of his best vocal performances. And to round off, the amazing solo of one of the 10 best guitarists in history. Amazingly, Gilmour also takes over on drums and bass in this song, only accompanied by Wright on his Hammond and Farfisa. It is one of the first compositional samples by Gilmour with the band, and one of his favourites; so much so that he tried to include it on the band’s compilation record, Echoes.
It is also one of the first times he had the Black Strat in the studio, bought in May of 1970, and they cut this in August of the same year. The effect of his solo on the background pastoral slide is incredible. It is one of the most melodic solos, it stays in your mind, and it is easy to sing. The acoustic bit was likely recorded with a Gibson J-45. In 2006 he got it back for his excellent tour that year, but the solo was delivered on a Fender Custom Shop Telecaster from the 50s.
Another Brick On The Wall Part 2
Another of the most famous Pink Floyd’s songs, with the chorus sung by a children’s choir and its strong funky rhythm. Of course what puts the cherry on top is Gilmour’s solo, ripped on a ‘55 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, a guitar not really associated to Gilmour. To top it all off, the song also includes the appearance of, possibly, the world’s most famous collector’s guitar, the Stratocaster with the number one series which Gilmour plugs directly into the console for the rhythmic funky bit.
A cash register gives us a warning, a throbbing bass comes in and Roger Waters starts to lecture on the evils of money over the rare 7/4 tempo. But after 3 minutes, behind an excellent sax solo, the tempo changes back to the habitual 4/4 and Gilmour again shows why he is on the Olympus of Gods of the guitar. After a crushing first part, all the echo and reverb fade creating the feeling of 4 players in a great blues jam in a small room, then the echo and reverb return in full glory, raising the intensity and energy of his touch. In less than 2 minutes Gilmour gives a class on how to arrange a solo to perfection, perfectly ‘bending’ his beloved Bill Lewis made guitar.
One of the best songs on The Wall begins with arpeggios on an acoustic tuned Nashville style, then in come Gilmour’s voice, later the bass, also played by him, and Wright’s Fender Rhodes. Another acoustic guitar, a Martin D-12, and Nick Mason’s drums join in, then, out of nowhere , comes a solo from the Black Strat, played over the melody of Another Brick in The Wall. Waters takes over lead vocal and the acoustic guitars return, finishing with a totally prophetic line when it comes to the band itself, “Together we stand, divided we fall”.
Pigs (Three different ones)
My favourite song on Animals, a delight in every sense of the word, that is crowned by another great Gilmour solo. The work of the four members on the song is sublime, incredible how tight they are, especially seeing that relations among the members wasn’t the best. Gilmour adds many blues flavoured licks throughout the song, besides toying with his Heil Talk Box, but the really brilliant moment comes when he plays the final solo, after 9:39, using his dear Muff, a solo full of strength and emotion that hits the ear like a Mike Tyson right hook, starting with one sole repeated note that skyrockets from that moment.