I would rather hear an electric guitar solo than any other kind of solo. I think this is because of the combination of technology and humanity. Because of the vast array of guitar effects a guitar has almost limitless sonic possibilities. However, because a person has to bend and attack metal strings in some way, which is somewhat primitive, each person really does have their own unique feel and touch. On a lot of modern records the guitar solo has become not as prominent as in the past, and this is a shame. It’s a part of a song where true transcendence can be reached, as things become nonverbal and reach towards that place of pure emotion in the right hands.
What are some of my favorite solos? I tend to like solos that are at either end of the spectrum. As always the middle of the road is the worst place to be. I like solos that are very melodic and beautiful, or I like solos that sound like wild animals. I also like solos that are Zen like, the perfect amount of notes at just the right time, and solos that are the sonic madness of virtuosos. This doesn’t really narrow it down does it?
My favorite lead player of all time is Neil Young when he is with Crazy Horse. Listen to the live album Weld and you will hear things that are pure sonic insanity. During Hey Hey, My My his guitar sounds like it is puking. That may not sound very appealing. But it’s the absence of any discernable technique, and the presence of pure sonic emotion. It sounds like the paint is being taken off a barn. In his book Waging Heavy Peace he talks about how when he solos he feels like a condor flying over a heard of buffalo. Nowhere may this be more apparent than his solo on this album’s version of Like a Hurricane. This song is like 13 minutes of beauty and fury, but you feel like it could go on forever. It’s just pure magic. Neil also has the best guitar tone ever. He could play a loud chord and it sounds like King Kong.
Jimi Hendrix, on Live at Monterey, does the same thing. No one would question Jimi’s ability to play, but the guitar stops being a series of notes and becomes a living breathing thing. His version of Along the Watchtower from Electric Ladyland is an easy choice for one of the best solos of all time. He does several different kinds of solos on this song and all of them are unbelievable! Machine Gun is also a place that you can get lost in forever. It’s the Vietnam War through sound. That’s pretty ambitious and he nails it.
I was listening to Eddie Hazel this morning on Maggot Brain. That is some serious psychedelic power. Again the guitar is turned into a living breathing thing. It’s wondrous when it happens.
Eddie Van Halen, Mark Knopfler, and Lindsey Buckingham are just a few of the many, many geniuses that know how to make you feel through their playing. Then you have someone like Bruce Springsteen. He isn’t very technical, although he can definitely play. But he just chokes the shit out of his guitar and you know that he means it.
I’m not interested in someone just because they have mastered some kind of technical ability. That may be interesting, but only for a few minutes. I want something that makes me feel. I want to hear something that is beautiful like nature or that sounds like a fucking jet plane taking off.
Solos don’t have to be technical at all. I always think of Steve Jones solo in EMI. It’s only a couple notes and if I wanted to I could probably go to my stereo right now and figure it out in a minute. But I don’t want to ever know how he played that, because it remains in the realm of mystery. It’s those notes against those chords and every time I hear I feel like lifting off. Paul Westerberg’s solo on AAA is like that too. It’s one note with a double stop. It is something a first year guitar player could learn how to play, but it’s just right. Again, I hear it and it feels like a rocket ship is lifting off. It’s simple, but perfect.
How does someone like Angus Young from AC/DC do it? He has the same notes as everyone else, but when he plays you feel like you just want to go out of your mind, in a good way!
I also love people like Johnny Marr and the Edge, who can sculpt with sound. They arrange notes and sound in a way that is just beautiful. It’s like looking at the painting of a master.
There are so many great guitar players of different types. There are so many variations. The electric guitar is still the best instrument in my opinion. Again it is that mix of technology and humanity colliding to form something that is truly unique. I can think of many great solos by other instruments, but except for on occasion they just don’t touch the power of the electric guitar. I not biased, I’m a bass player. I can listen to a great guitar player play forever. When done right it is such a beautiful thing! Get in the woodshed kids. We need more of those kinds of experiences in life.