A few years ago, the editors of Guitar World magazine compiled what we feel is the ultimate guide to the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.
The list, which has been quoted by countless artists, websites and publications around the world, starts with Richie Sambora's work on Bon Jovi's “Wanted Dead or Alive” (Number 100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (Number 1).
To quote our "Stairway to Heaven" story that ran with the list, "If Jimmy Page is the Steven Spielberg of guitarists, then 'Stairway' is his Close Encounters."
We've kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We're pitting Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. Every day, we will ask you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket.
You can vote only once per matchup. The voting for each matchup ends as soon as the next matchup is posted (Basically, that's one poll per day during the first round of elimination, including weekends and holidays).
In some cases, genre will clash against genre; a thrash solo might compete against a Southern rock solo, for instance. But let's get real: They're all guitar solos, played on guitars, by guitarists, most of them in some subset of the umbrella genre of rock. When choosing, it might have to come down to, "Which solo is more original and creative? Which is more iconic? or Which one kicks a larger, more impressive assemblage of asses?"
Today, it's a shoot-out between Kirk Hammett's guitar solo on Metallica's "Fade to Black" (24) and Brian May's solo on Queen's "Brighton Rock" (41). Get busy! You'll find the poll at the bottom of the story.
Yesterday's Down-to-the-Wire Results
Winner: "Satch Boogie" (52.3 percent)
Loser: "Crossroads" (47.7 percent)
Round 1, Day 12: "Fade to Black" Vs. "Brighton Rock"
24. “Fade to Black”
Soloist: Kirk Hammett
Album: Metallica—Ride the Lightning (Elektra, 1984)
“I was still using my black Flying V on Ride the Lightning, but ‘Fade to Black’ sounds different—it has a warmer sound—because I used the neck pickup and played through a wah-wah pedal all the way in the ‘up’ position,” says Kirk Hammett.
“We wanted to double the first two solos and I did the first one no problem. But I had a much harder time doubling the second solo because it was slow and had a lot of space in it. Later, I realized that I actually harmonized it in a weird way—in minor thirds, major thirds and fifths. After cutting those two, I really wasn’t sure what to play for the extended solo at the end. I was really bummed out because we had been in Denmark for five or six months, and I was very homesick; we were also having problems with our management.
"Because of that, and since it was a somber song anyway, I thought of very depressing things while I did the solo—and it really helped. We didn’t double-track that solo, although I did play some arpeggios over the G-A-B progression. After that, I went back and did the clean guitar parts behind the verse, and James [Hetfield] played an arpeggiated figure while I arpeggiated three-note chords. The result was what I always have considered a very Dire Straits-type sound.”
41. "Brighton Rock”
Soloist: Brian May
Album: Queen—Sheer Heart Attack (Elektra, 1974)
Universally venerated for his lavish guitar orchestrations and tasteful British restraint, Brian May kicked over the traces on this high energy rocker that leads off Queen’s third album, Sheer Heart Attack. One of May’s most blues-based excursions ever, the song’s extended solo section grew out of the guitarist’s experiments with an Echoplex tape delay unit. His original goal was to reproduce his multi-part guitar harmonies live onstage with Queen, back in the days before harmonizers were invented.
“I started messing around with the Echoplex, the delay that was available at the time,” May recalls. “I turned up the regeneration until it was giving me multiple repeats. I discovered you could do a lot with this—you could set up rhythms and play against them, or you could play a line and then play a harmony to it.
"But I decided that the delay [times] I wanted weren’t available on the Echoplex. So I modified it and made a new rail, which meant I could slide the head along and make the delay any length I wanted, because the physical distance between the two heads is what gave you the delay. Eventually, I had two home-adapted Echoplexes. And I discovered that if you put each echo through its own amp, you wouldn’t have any nasty interference between the two signals. Each amp would be like a full-blown, sustaining, overdriven guitar which didn’t have anything to do with the other one.
“So, ‘Brighton Rock’ was the first time that got onto a record. I’d already been trying it live onstage in the middle of ‘Son and Daughter’ [from Queen’s self-titled ’73 debut album], when Queen first toured with Mott the Hoople. It was rather crude at first. But I certainly had a lot of fun with it.”