Frank Zappa's best studio solos

By Sergio Ariza

Frank Vincent Zappa's career is an ode to excess and huge talent. Zappa always did what he wanted, without regard for either the industry or the public, by only listening to his own creative drive. This led him to release 62 albums during his lifetime but also left enough material for another 54 posthumous albums, making his work one of the largest in rock (although that term is too restrictive for an artist who entered the realm of many other genres). That's why choosing the most outstanding solos from his studio work is as improbable a task as finding a needle in a haystack. But from Guitars Exchange we have wanted to highlight these 10 wonders from a guy who was much more than a guitarist but who is also, in his own right, among the greats of the six strings, something that is too often forgotten. 

Trouble Every Day (1966)

The song that earned him a record contract is a small anomaly within Zappa's early catalogue, as it is one of his most blues-rock songs, in which it can be noted that the head of the Mothers of Invention liked as much
Johnny 'Guitar' Watson as Edgard Varèse. From his idyllic location in Laurel Canyon, Zappa shows that he is ‘the counterculture of the counterculture’, talking about the Watts race riots instead of the love and peace that the hippies sang about. Phrases like "Hey, you know something people? I'm not black but there's a whole lots a times I wish I could say I'm not white" are punctuated by the fire of his Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster.


Hungry Freaks (1966)

The opening song on Zappa's first album, Freak Out!, under the name Mothers Of Invention, is a frontal attack on American society disguised as a contagious pop song with one of the best guitar solos on record (before
Hendrix's explosion). A guitarist as original as Jeff Beck appears on it, and he had no problem in nodding at his sources, as in this case at Richard Berry's Have Love Will Travel.


Stuff Up The Cracks (1968)

Doo wop was always one of Frank Zappa's weaknesses, so much so that in 1968 he decided to record an entire album dedicated to the genre, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets. This was another concept album, in this case based on a fictional Chicano band called Ruben & The Jets. The album closed with Stuff Up The Cracks, a song that sounded like a lost classic by Dion & The Belmonts until, in the end, Zappa decided to break all patterns by adding a wonderful solo in which he makes perfect use of a Cry Baby wah. There is a reason why we refer to him as the great iconoclast of rock...


Willie The Pimp (1969)

Hot Rats
, released in October 1969, was the second album under his own name and the first to appear after the dissolution of the original Mothers Of Invention formation. It's also the first album in which Zappa unleashes himself completely on guitar, as can be heard to perfection on this dirty blues rock in which his colleague Captain Beefheart does the vocals and Zappa responds perfectly with a completely modified Les Paul Goldtop from '52 or '53 (Zappa added a Bigsby or a single coil among many other things). An orgy of flange, tremolo and wah in which Zappa reasserts himself as one of the great guitarists of his time.


My Guitar wants To Kill Your Mama (1969)

More proof of Zappa's magnificent (and black) humor, with one of the most expressive titles of his career. The song is one of the most direct of his extensive work and has a great melody. It all seems to lead to an explosive solo in which Zappa's guitar shatters the protagonist's ‘stupid mother’, but when the time comes, Zappa once again breaks expectations with a strange instrumental bridge in which he surprises everyone with a delicate, totally 'folky' acoustic solo. This fits perfectly with a character who did a live cover of Stairway To Heaven and when it was his turn to perform the solo, he took off his guitar and let the horns play
Jimmy Page's solo note by note. By the way, at the end of My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama Zappa finally delivers the solo to end all the meddling mothers in the world...


Montana (1973)

Another of those songs that showed that humor did have a place in music, especially in Frank Zappa's. A structure prodigy with the special collaboration of Tina Turner and the Ikettes and a truly spectacular solo with the guitar most identified with Zappa, a Gibson SG. It is a sinuous and funky solo in which the influence of one of his favorite guitarists, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, is once again evident.


Dirty Love (1973)

If Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe were the biggest commercial hits of his career, it was thanks to songs as strong as this Dirty Love, one of his most covered songs, which includes a dirty and torn solo, thanks to a Pignose amp, which perfectly complements his lyrics.


Cosmik Debris (1974)

Cosmik Debris
, one of Apostrophe's best songs, again with the collaboration of Tina Turner and the Ikettes, is a frontal attack on the gurus so fashionable at the time. Musically, it allows Zappa to stand out with a spectacular solo that he often played in an extended version in his concerts, where the song used to be a fixture in his repertoire.


Black Napkins (1976)

Zoot Allures
, released 10 years after his debut, marked the 22nd work of Zappa's career, which provides an idea of his creative compulsion. In this work he reduces the size of his backup band and turns the guitar into the great protagonist of the album, something that can be verified with this excellent Black Napkins, possibly recorded with his Baby Snakes; a copy of an SG that had one fret too many. His enormous mark as a guitarist on this spectacular instrumental can be heard on one of his most outstanding students, Steve Vai.


Watermelon In Easter Hay (1979)

And closing this list is possibly Zappa’s best studio solo, something his son Dweezil agrees with entirely, Watermelon In Easter Hay, included on Joe's Garage. Rarely is the iconoclastic and humorous Zappa associated with sentiment and passion, but this marvel confirms that Zappa could also make a guitar cry. It's an exciting and beautiful solo, with a unique tone that he was able to achieve with a Stratocaster through various compressors (there's a fabulous live version in Barcelona in 1988 in which he uses his famous yellow Strat). Zappa himself, not given to self-praise, was also very proud of this song, which he considered the best on the album and to which he gave special preference, because while the rest of Joe's Garage's solos were made using the xenochronic technique, in which different pieces of live recordings were used, Zappa did record this solo specifically for this song. For once, the great iconoclast undressed emotionally and delivered one of the great moments of his career, one that Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón would know how to use very well for the credits of his remarkable Y Tú Mamá También.