Going Solo (part one)

The Guitar solo.

 More to the point:  The greatest guitar solos. 

Yeah, it’s subjective and this is why I have put “Part One” in the title.  There are some dandies. 

But subjective or not, there are some that simply define the term. 

Here is a list of some of those…


“Stairway to Heaven” (Jimmy Page)


The beautifully constructed guitar solo was, believe it or not, improvised.

Page winged it. He had prepared the overall structure of the guitar parts, but not the actual notes. When it came time to record the solo he warmed up and recorded three solos that were all quite different from each other. All three are still on the master tape, but they feel like they picked the best solo.  Think so? 

Nothing short of iconic.


“Free Bird” (Allen Collins, Gary Rossington)


On the studio version of the song, which appeared on Skynyrd’s debut album, Collins played the entire solo himself on his Gibson Explorer, with Rossington playing rhythm on his Les Paul, “Bernice,” and adding the slide fills on his SG. When they put the solo together, they liked the sound of two guitars.   Rossington could have gone out and played it, but they felt Collins was hot.

Allen Collins basically just did it once and then did it once more and it was done.


“Comfortably Numb” (David Gilmour)


Gilmour’s classic guitar solo was cut using a combination of the guitarist’s Hiwatt amps and Yamaha rotating speaker cabinet. But with Gilmour, equipment is secondary to touch.  You could give him a ukulele and he’d make it sound like a Stradivarius.

Which doesn’t mean Gilmour didn’t fiddle around in the studio when he laid down the song’s unforgettable lead guitar part.

Gilmour just followed his usual procedure which was to bang out 5 or 6 solos then listen back for the best parts of each while taking notes.  From there he created one great composite solo by sliding one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase until it flowed together.  And from that you get “Comfortably Numb”.



“All Along the Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix)


After the basic rhythm tracks were finally completed to Jimi’s satisfaction, he turned his attention to the song’s four distinct solo sections, each of which were recorded separately.

Hendrix was always completely prepared from an extensive amount of homework, so the separate solos were recorded very quickly. 

He used a different tone setting for each part and used a cigarette lighter to play the slide section.


“Hotel California” (Don Felder, Joe Walsh)


Credit for the guitar majesty of “Hotel California” is often given to Joe Walsh, who toughened up the Eagles’ laid-back California sound when he joined the band just prior to the Hotel California album’s recording. Actually, the primary guitar heard throughout the solo belongs to Don Felder, who wrote the music for the track and actually conceived and played the solo’s intricate harmonies on his initial, instrumental demo.


“Layla” (Eric Clapton, Duane Allman)


The song was equal parts Eric and Duane, says legendary producer Tom Dowd, who introduced the two guitar titans.

The two had some sort of telepathy going on. Spontaneity and inspiration were the norm. 

They loved playing with each other and that is obvious with every note.


“Reelin’ in the Years” (Elliot Randall)


While recording Steely Dan’s 1972 debut, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen knew they had a great track for “Reelin’ in the Years”…if they could only come up with the appropriate guitar solo to jumpstart the tune. So they put in a call to Elliott Randall, with whom they had worked in the backing band for Jay and the Americans, and who had played on many of the duo’s early, pre-Steely Dan demos.

They played it for Randall without much dialogue about what he should play. It just wasn’t necessary because they did it in one take and nothing was written. Jeff Baxter played the harmony parts, but the entire lead was one continuous take played through a very simple setup: an old 1965 Strat, plugged directly into an Ampeg SVT amp, and miked with a single AKG 414. The solo just “came to him”.  Wow.


“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (Eric Clapton)


George Harrison introduced this song originally with just an acoustic guitar and his voice.

It was during the tense “White Album” sessions and was met with intense apathy.  Lennon and McCartney were having nothing to do with it, having their own issues at the time.

But George knew it was a good song.

So the next day he was driving into London with Eric Clapton and came up with an idea.  He asked Clapton to come in and play the solo.

Clapton was reluctant, saying the other Beatles wouldn’t like it, but Harrison finally prevailed saying that it was HIS song and he could do what he wanted. 

It also made the band behave in a friendlier manner.  It’s like when you have company, you put on your best face. 

Harrison sang it with the acoustic guitar with McCartney on piano, and Eric and Ringo. Later, Paul overdubbed the bass. When they listened back to it Clapton didn’t feel it was “Beatlesy enough.’ So they put the song through the ADT (automatic double track) to wobble it a bit, and the classic solo is there forever.


Well, there you have it.  A partial list of the greatest of all time. 

Want to go ahead and add a few?

"How's the wife?"


11 responses

  1. joseph hanvey

    Brian May’s 2 solo’s on Bohemian Rhapsody . The perfect (and unique) touch, along with the amazing tone of his home made Red Special guitar and 1 watt DC powered home made “Deacy” amplifier. I dont think if Ive ever heard a more pleasing sound than the solo at the end of that song

    December 1, 2011 at 5:11 pm

  2. jeff bell

    Im glad that in the time frame we have such musical greats. wow long live rock!

    December 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm

  3. Tres

    Larry Carlton’s solo on Kid Charlemagne is a classic example of tasteful guitar soloing.

    December 1, 2011 at 6:09 pm

  4. mark lanter

    wow, great topic….

    I’d put in for Clapton’s solo on “Sunshine of Your Love”….beautifully constructed and includes quote from “Blue Moon”….what a sound! slow hand at his best!

    Leslie West on “Mississippi Queen”…same idea as Clapton’s but with West’s unique touch and sound…spacious, careful phrasing, brilliant!

    John McLaughlin on “Birds of Fire” ripping, searing eastern mode drenched psychedelic fusion, completely original style! ( not a bad backing band ; )

    “Heartbreaker” Page!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! cadenza with spastic hand…epic!!!! Outro ‘Black Dog”….many, many more from Jimmy

    Neil Young on “Everybody I Love You”…come on, you gotta dig it!

    “All Need is Love”…maybe a dozen notes and a clam that was faded quickly…just the perfect idea…the flub is the best part…thanks George for all!

    December 1, 2011 at 7:07 pm

  5. C’mon guys. Yes, everything mentioned so far is great and classic. But to omit Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption?” He didn’t even have the band backing him (save for the short drum fill at the beginning). The solo only practically reinvented electric guitar and spawned countless HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of new rock guitarists, both imitators and anti-guitar slingers, not to mention all the new advances in guitar, effects, and amplifier technology. I don’t think the same can be said for any of the aforementioned solos, even if they are great.

    December 2, 2011 at 12:32 am

  6. A solo I love is Duane Allman on Boz Scaggs “Loan Me A Dime”. Boz wanted Ry Cooder but the swampers convinced him to give this young guy who was playing at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and sharing a house with Eddie Hinton, a try. The rest is history.

    December 2, 2011 at 2:43 am

    • mark lanter

      seriously, there would be countless great solos from Duane Allman!

      December 2, 2011 at 3:42 pm


    Hughie Thomasson of Outlaws deserves a mention for Green Grass and High Tides. Toy Caldwell for Ramblin On My Mind. Blue Öyster Cult’s Buck Dharma for Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll. So many great guitar solos, so little time.

    December 3, 2011 at 2:36 am


    And let’s not forget Clapton’s ‘Crossroads’ and Kirk Hammet for ‘One’. And Randy Roades for ‘Crazy Train’. And Dimebag Darrel of Pantera for ‘Floods’. And speaking of floods, how about ‘Texas Flood’ by SRV (or just about anything else he did. And….

    December 3, 2011 at 7:57 am

  9. Bill

    Maggot Brain

    December 3, 2011 at 1:58 pm

  10. Eric Clapton’s solo on “Crossroads.”

    December 8, 2011 at 6:50 pm

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