Ten great psychedelic solos to melt your brain

By Sergio Ariza

Light a little incense and prepare to melt your brain, at Guitars Exchange we have prepared a special in which you will enjoy some of the best examples of psychedelia, with ingredients like fuzz, wah, indian music, John Coltrane and LSD. We will focus on its classic period of splendor, from 1966-1969, here are ten technicolour trips in the 6-string.

The Yardbirds – Shapes Of Things
(Recorded in January of 1966 and released on February 25th of the same year)

Jeff Beck
spent just 16 months in the Yardbirds, but during that stint he had time to revolutionise the history of the electric guitar several times. One of the most important was when his guitar anticipated the psychedelic sounds that were about to sprout with Shapes of Things, the song that, together with Eight Miles High by the Byrds, can be considered the first great psychedelic song. Again, it’s the sound of Beck's guitar that is most important, with his innovative way of using feedback, and his oriental influences. The band members went nuts when they heard Beck’s solo in the studio, and most (including the guitarist) considered Shapes of Things the best he ever did in the band.

The Byrds – Eight Miles High
(recorded on the 24th and 25th of January 1966 - and released on March 14th)

After a second album similar in sounds to their debut, and with the USA flooded with groups imitating the folk/rock sound of the Byrds, and Roger McGuinn's jingle jangle Rickenbacker, the moment had come for the California band to renew themselves. Once again they would do it on the back of McGuinn’s guitar. This time it would come through less conventional ways. During one tour
David Crosby kept putting on this tape of John Coltrane on one side and Ravi Shankar on the other. McGuinn would take his Rick and try to reproduce those sounds in one of the best songs Gene Clark had ever composed to date, Eight Miles High, where Coltrane’s influence is evident and in Why, side B, where he imitates the sound of a sitar. In January 1966 they recorded it and opened the doors to a psychedelic revolution, leading again a movement. By that time he already had the guitar most linked to him, a 12-string Rickenbacker 370, with which he would play one of the most influential solos of all times.  

Paul Butterfield Blues Band - East West
(recorded in July 1966 - released in August)

If Mike Bloomfield had only played on this song, which he also helped write, from the second release of the
Paul Butterfield Band, his name would still be one of the most important guitarists in rock history. Recorded in July of ‘66 it is not just one of the first forays of rock into the modal music of John Coltrane, but you can also trace the sound of the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead. In short, East West is the first great ‘jam’ in rock history and Bloomfield’s sound is absolutely incredible. In those days he didn’t play the Telecaster anymore, he used a Les Paul Goldtop from 1956, and a Gibson Falcon amp. His style was evolving, perfecting his own voice with the instrument. In the first part he gets into Indian music territory, getting ahead of the flourishing psychedelia, creating the ‘definite trip’ (back in the day they would say you’d get high just listening to the song without the need for drugs). In the second bit, around minute 7, Bloomfield creates his own world, his tone is sweet and smooth, he’s building something new over a solid blues base he was coming from, but it is also obvious that like McGuinn, he’d been listening to Ravi Shankar. At the end, Elvin Bishop begins to harmonise with him, way ahead of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. To make it even more intense, onstage Bloomfield used to accompany his long improvisation (sometimes longer than a half hour) with fire breathing (literally) creating the perfect trance among the blooming hippies.   

Jimi Hendrix Experience - Purple Haze
(recorded in Jan-Feb 1967 - released 17 March)

Jimi Hendrix
was a total revolutionary, not just for his way of playing but for all the possibilities and improvements he made to his instrument. His collaboration with the electronics enthusiast Roger Mayer resulted in many advances for the electric guitar. One of the most important was the creation of the Octavia, a pedal that reproduced the guitar signal one octave higher, as well as an added ‘fuzz’ distortion. Hendrix put it to good use on Purple Haze in a solo in which he adds a Fuzz Face, managing to sound as if Ravi Shankar was playing the blues on Mars. When this song appeared, in March of ‘67, the rest of guitarists on the planet Earth thought about retiring.

The Doors – Light My Fire
(recorded in August, 1966 - released on 24  April 1967)

During the recording of the Doors debut album,
Jim Morrison complained about being the only one in charge of writing and encouraged the rest to bring their own songs. Young Robby Krieger, just 20 years old, came over to the singer and asked, “What do I write about?. The answer was “about something universal, something that lasts. So Robby went home and began to play with some chords that weren’t normally heard in rock music, mainly sustained flats, for the chorus he took the chords from My Favourite Things by John Coltrane, one of his biggest influences, when he had to write the lyrics he thought about what Morrison had told him and decided to write a song about “Earth, air, fire and water, choosing fire because of his love for the Rolling Stones song Play With Fire. That’s how the song that gave them fortune and fame came to be, and to which Morrison would add the moment about “the funeral pyreand Ray Manzarek’s amazing organ intro that sounds like a deranged Bach, showing off his classic training. But the author would also shine by his own right with his SG plugged directly into a Fender Twin Reverb without any accessories other than the magic of his fingers. It’s a solo that serves as a bridge and an expression of his personal style, in which one can speak of it just as the gypsies call “duende” (a mix of emotion, ecstasy and savoir faire in flamenco art).

The Amboy Dukes – Journey To The Center Of The Mind
(recorded in April 1967 - released  in May 1967)

Before becoming a caricature of himself, Ted Nugent
was one of the pioneers of hard rock and heavy rock fronting the Amboy Dukes. The funny thing about the case is that the song they’re most remembered for is Journey to the Center of the Mind, one of the psychedelic anthems about drug use through Steve Farmer’s lyrics and Nugent’s music, despite the latter being one of the most fervent representatives of the hard line against drug and alcohol abuse. It’s not known if Ted had any idea what Farmer was talking about, or if he was simply a bit of a hypocrite, what is clear is that he is capable of bring fire from his Gibson Byrdland plugged into a Fender Bassman and some Silvertone speakers.  

Cream – White Room
(recorded between July 1967 and April of 1968 - released in August of ‘68)

Eric Clapton was one of the first to use a wah pedal in rock music with Tales of Brave Ulysses. But the best example of its use was on one of the biggest songs of his career White Room, where through a wah-wah Vox pedal he unleashes one of his best solos in the final part of the song, not in the middle as was normally the case. As good wisemen Cream left the best for last and Clapton didn’t disappoint, delivering the most psychedelic and flourishing of solos.   

Spirit – Aren’t You Glad
(recorded between March-September, 1968 - released in December 1968)

A small rarity from a guitarist, sadly, long forgotten. Randy California had been discovered by Hendrix at just 15 years of age, shortly before leaving for England to make history. The young prodigy formed Spirit with his stepfather in 1968, delivering several remarkable records like The Family That Plays Together, where you find this gem that puts the perfect highlight on an excellent piece of ‘psych-rock’, in which California is back as master of the ‘fuzz’, on the most brilliant solo on the album (amazing to think he was just 17). California is squeezing notes from his Danelectro U56, bought at Sears, through a Silvertone amp, bargain gear that gets the highest possible performance, pouring his heart out in the incredible final solo. It's easy to see what Hendrix saw in the kid, and never tired in his praise.

Grateful Dead – Dark Star
(recorded 27 February 1969 - released 10 November 1969)

If the Grateful Dead reached legendary status, becoming the cult band par excellence, with their own group of followers, the ‘deadheads’, it was thanks to their live shows, special events where the band delivered the longest ‘jams’ in which Jerry Garcias guitar always stood out, and he saw Dark Star as the perfect vehicle to show his peculiar style. Despite being released in ‘68 as a B side single, in a version barely 2 minutes long, the iconic version appears on Live/Dead the band’s first live album, with over 20 minutes, many of which are occupied by the orgasmic solo by Garcia. And as Carlos Santana said, Garcia’s guitar was the Sun of the band, the astral king over which the rest of the components/planets revolved. At that time, the guitar was a Gibson SG with a Vox Crybaby wah wah pedal plugged into some Fender Twins.

Jefferson Airplane – Good Shepherd
(recorded between March-June of 1969 - released in November the same year)

Jorma Kaukonen
had learned to play Good Shepherd, an old folk song, in the early 60s with his Gibson J-50 from ‘58. But when he recorded this, in ‘69, his band Jefferson Airplane was one of the references, along with the Grateful Dead, of the reigning psychedelia from the West coast. So it was normal that his Gibson ES-345 Stereo also made an appearance to give it that psychedelic tinge. It’s a song that mixes their acoustic/folk origins with the old electric acid trips of the legendary band.