A few years ago, the editors of Guitar World 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” (100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (01).
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."
On June 10, we kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We pitted Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. Every day, we asked you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket. Now Rounds 1 and 2 have come and gone, leaving us with 16 guitar solos and eight matchups.
WELCOME TO THE SWEET 16 ROUND, where all 16 still-standing solos will go head to head before your eyes! As always, you can vote once per matchup, and the voting ends as soon as the next matchup is posted.
In some cases, genre will clash against genre; a thrash solo might compete against a Southern rock solo. But please get real, people! 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 important? or Which one kicks a larger, more impressive assemblage of asses?"
Winner: "Stairway to Heaven" (75.66 percent)
Loser: "Heartbreaker" (24.34 percent)
Today's Sweetwater Sweet 16 Matchup (4 of 8)
"Comfortably Numb" Vs. "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Today, two Top 20 guitar solos square off! We have a heavy favorite, Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" (04), featuring a truly classic solo by David Gilmour, against Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (20), which features some lovely playing by Brian May. While this is Gilmour's only solo in the Sweet 16, May is also represented by "Brighton Rock," which will face the Eagles' "Hotel California" (08) in the days ahead.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
• "Comfortably Numb" defeated Metallica's "Master of Puppets" (61) in Round 1 and Steve Vai's "For the Love of God" (29) in Round 2.
• "Bohemian Rhapsody" defeated the Doors' "Light My Fire" (45) in Round 1 and Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Texas Flood" (13) in Round 2.
Get busy! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
04. “Comfortably Numb”
Soloist: David Gilmour
Album: Pink Floyd—The Wall (Columbia, 1979)
How do you reason with two guys who once went to court over the artistic ownership of a big rubber pig? That was Bob Ezrin’s mission when he agreed to co-produce Pink Floyd’s The Wall with guitarist David Gilmour and bassist/vocalist Roger Waters. The legendary tensions between the two feuding Floyds came to a head during sessions for The Wall in 1979—which was why Ezrin was called in.
“My job was to mediate between two dominant personalities,” recalls Ezrin. However, the producer turned out to be no mere referee, but contributed plenty ideas of his own. “I fought for the introduction of the orchestra on that record,” says Ezrin. “This became a big issue on ‘Comfortably Numb,’ which Dave saw as a more bare-bones track. Roger sided with me. So the song became a true collaboration—it’s David’s music, Roger’s lyric and my orchestral chart.”
Gilmour’s classic guitar solo was cut using a combination of the guitarist’s Hiwatt amps and Yamaha rotating speaker cabinets, Ezrin recalls. But with Gilmour, he adds, equipment is secondary to touch: “You can give him a ukulele and he’ll 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. “I banged out five or six solos,” says Gilmour. “From there I just followed my usual procedure, which is to listen back to each solo and make a chart, noting which bits are good. Then, by following the chart, I create one great composite solo by whipping one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase until everything flows together. That’s the way we did it on ‘Comfortably Numb.’ ”
20. “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Soloist: Brian May
Album: Queen—A Night at the Opera (Hollywood, 1975)
“Freddie [Mercury] had the whole piece pretty well mapped out, as I remember, but he didn’t have a guitar solo planned. So I guess I steamed in and said, ‘This is the point where you need your solo, and these are the chords I’d like to use.’
The chord progression for the solo is based on the verse, but with a slight foray into some different chords at the end, to make a transition into the next part of the song. I’d heard the track so many times while we were working on it that I knew in my head what I wanted to play for a solo. I wanted the guitar melody to be something extra, not just an echo of the vocal melody. I had a little tune in my head to play. It didn’t take very long to record.
“The next section of the song, the heavy bit, was really part of Freddie’s plan. I didn’t change what he had very much. Those guitar riffs that everybody bangs their heads to are really more Freddie’s than mine. And at the end of that section, I sort of took over. I wanted to do some guitar orchestrations—little violin lines—coming out of that. And it blended in very well with what Freddie was doing with the outro.
“We were stretching the limits of technology in those days. Since ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was entirely done on 16-track, we had to do a lot of bouncing as we went along; the tape got very thin. This ‘legendary’ story, which people think we made up, is true: we held the tape up to the light one day—we’d been wondering where all the top end was going—and what we discovered was virtually a transparent piece of tape. All the oxide had been rubbed off. It was time to hurriedly make a copy and get on with it.”
[[ When you're done voting, start learning most of the guitar solos in this poll — and and a whole lot more! Check out a new TAB book from Guitar World and Hal Leonard: 'The 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time: A Treasure Trove of Guitar Leads Transcribed Note-for-Note, Plus Song Notes for More Than 40 of the Best Solos.' It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store for $29.99. NOTE: Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" guitar solo (solo number 39 on our list) is NOT included in this book. ]]