Great Guitar Solos – Comfortably Numb P*U*L*S*E*


I love guitar solos. A lot. I love picking them apart and figuring out what’s being played and what techniques are being used and if it’s sloppy and if that sloppiness is on purpose and so on and so forth. I’m a bit of a snob about guitar solos, in fact.

It doesn’t help that I can’t play them myself. I want to; I want to be a lead guitarist, able to play mind-blowing solos, from slow, emotional, melodic, deliberate melodies to face-melting, mind0binding psychedelic, shredding goodness.

But I’m just not there, sadly. My playing is not that good.

I do, however, have solos that I hold up as pillars of what good soloing is, and what it should be.

And the first one I’m highlighting is the solo I consider to be the greatest guitar solo ever recorded.

The band is Pink Floyd. The album is the live DVD P*U*L*S*E*.

The song?

Listen to that guitar solo. It starts at 4 minutes and 54 seconds in, and ends at 9 minutes and 24 seconds.

Already listened to it?

Listen to it again…

I can wait…

Amazing, isn’t it? Gives me goosebumps every damn time. I can’t get enough of it.

I should note that David Gilmour is not my all-time favorite guitarist; Jimmy Page is. But Gilmour is in my top 5, and this is the main reason why.

My measure of a good soloist is not their breadth of knowledge on the techniques, or their ability to use them. I really don’t care how fast they can play. I couldn’t care less that they can play a whole solo of nothing but pinch harmonics. I’m appreciative of, but not awed by, a solo of sweeps.

My measure is very simple: how slow can they play?

That’s not to denigrate fast playing. I love fast playing. Randy Rhoads, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Slash, Orianthi, Joe Bonamassa, Chantel McGregor, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan… even David Gilmour; they all have great, fast solos. And those solos are amazing!

But all of them are also quite good at playing slow. They are amazing at crafting solos that breathe, that have room in them. They are amazing at crafting solos that are very deliberate, that rely more on a strong sense of rhythm and timing then on speed.

This is why I largely dislike the shredders of the 80’s. Yngwei Malmsteen is the poster-child for this type of playing. Speed is all there is, even in a slow, emotional song or a pop tune that doesn’t actually lend itself to a solo at all. Yngwei just can’t, or at least won’t, play slow. He’s probably one of the fastest guitarists out there, but he never slowed down. I wonder if he ever even tried to craft solos like the one played by Gilmour in “Comfortably Numb”.

The reason this solo is my favorite is because it soars. It relies not on speed or technique, but on space, rhythm/timing, and ingenious use of chorus, reverb, and delay. Of course, if you don’t have rhythm, or understanding of the scale used (a basic minor pentatonic), or understanding of the playing techniques Gilmour employs, you will fail at this solo. And this betrays yet another amazing thing about it: If you just listen to the solo, it sounds very easy, but that’s actually deceptive. Yes, learning the notes, in that order, is very simple. You can even build the effects and the technique. You could play a perfect copy of this solo, make not a single mistake, hit every note perfectly, and still sound like shit. It’s the deliberateness with which it’s played. If your timing is even slightly off… even by a hair… you will destroy this solo. And getting that timing is not easy; at all.

The best part of it is that, in Gilmour’s hands, that deliberateness is actually improvised. The solo, though rehearsed, includes sections that are not the same throughout. Compare the version on the DVD to the version on the released soundtrack of the show (which, unlike the DVD, includes audio clips from different nights of the tour), and you will hear differences. Another great example, which I’ll actually be highlighting in a future post, is the song “Money” as performed on the P*U*L*S*E* tour. The solo on the DVD is markedly different than the one of the soundtrack, and yet both are brilliant and include that deliberateness that could normally only happen by way of tons of practice and rehearsal in the hands of your average lead guitarist, and yet is improvised quite well by Gilmour.

This solo, IMO, deserves to be considered the greatest guitar solo of all time. I wish magazines like Guitar World and Guitar One would highlight it as such, because it is so. Fucking. Good. I just can’t think of anything better.

Are there any solos that you think are like this one? Any that are crafted so they breathe, and so they soar, as opposed to just being an exercise “look ma! A billion notes in one minute!”?

Let me know in the comments. I’m curious…

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About Nathan Hevenstone

I hate straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men. I also play guitar and sing, and I'm an atheist and anti-theist. What now?
This entry was posted in Great Guitar Solos, Guitar, Music and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Great Guitar Solos – Comfortably Numb P*U*L*S*E*

  1. Brandon says:

    my favorite is another Gilmour gem. A great day for Freedom from live at Gdansk! Makes me almost cry its so beautiful!

  2. justinvavala says:

    Hello. I stumbled on your blog while doing some middle of the night interneting searching the words “best live David Gilmour solo”. I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan and somewhat obsessive collector of live recordings of their shows. Your blog struck a chord with me. I listen to Pink Floyd basically everyday, and have shows in the triple figure range, however, I can’t tell you the last time I listened to any recordings from the 1994 (or 87-89) tours.

    So I pulled out Pulse and “A Passage of Time”, a highly regarded recording of their September 13, 1994 show in Torino, Italy. While I still prefer the “classic lineup” and the interplay between the 4 of them rather than an army of musicians onstage, Gilmour’s playing in 1994 often gets overlooked. I tend to lean towards pre-dark side of the moon gigs due to more flexible set lists and extensive improvisation. For example, the song Fat Old Sun is roughly 5 minutes on Atom Heart Mother, but during the 1971 shows it wasn’t uncommon for it to stretch to the 14-17 minute mark. What happens during that extra 10+ minutes? Mainly David Gilmour playing some killer lead guitar!!!

    Anyway, my point is that when I searched for “David Gilmour best live guitar solos” on yahoo, I wanted to, and expected to read about “Dogs” in Oakland California in 1977 or “Shine On” in Ontario, 1975. The legendary “Money” in Boston on the Animals tour, “Echoes” from Pompeii, or even “Cymbaline” from Montreux Switzerland in Nov 1970 from one of my fellow “Early Floyd” obsessives. While I would still argue that by 1994 rolled around Pink Floyd’s peak as a band had come and been gone for over a decade, Gilmour’s playing is always amazing and these 1994 Comfortably Numb performances featured Gilmour’s best playing on his most famous/trademark solo. The solos on High Hopes and Marooned could make any list of best Gilmour playing, he was certainly playing amazing and inspired guitar during this time. Thank you very much for reminding me, I am enjoying that era Pink Floyd for the first time in a long time.

    I’d like to point out that I actually saw them in 94 and the Comfortably Numb solo blew my mind and is still to this day the most amazing guitar performance I have ever seen in person.

    And one final note: As you pointed out, the C Numb solo is different each night, but definitely has some mainstay parts. However, in 1986, during a one-off charity gig for Columbian Volcano victims he played by far the most unique CN solo ever and it’s absolutely amazing to watch him throw out the script nearly entirely and just go for it! I highly suggest hoping on YouTube and checking it out. It’s amazing.

    Maybe playing with a group of people he wasn’t familiar with gave him some freedom to do something completely different or maybe he was just particularly on fire but it’s a real gem of a guitar performance.

    Anyway, great post. Thanks for letting me ramble.

  3. Limitbreakerz says:

    Hey, what about some of John Frusciante solos. Before The Beginning for example, or Maggot Brain (Funkadelic’s )

    dunno how I got there but I support your point, I LOVE that Comfortably Numb solo on pulse concert. It’s my goal when I play guitar, to be able to play dramatic solos….

    i think i know what u’ll love. check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO9I3IBuek8

  4. Pingback: Anatomy of a Guitar Solo | Atheism, Music, and More…

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