Guitarists - How do you Approach Your Solos?

Just wondering is all. Do you randomly scoot through variations of scales, do you adapt licks from other songs, do you change starting points according to the chord progression, or do you lovingly craft each and every solo then play them back note perfect every time?

Hmmm - never that hard and fast, but there are a few points:

  • I call the beginning of a solo “the mount” and the end “the dismount” - like in gymnastics. You have to have a conscious start and a clean end that you need to stick the landing on, you know? :slight_smile:

  • In the middle, I try to play something that utilizes melodic phrases from the song, scales and licks I am comfortable with, etc. - but to really be conscious of what my purpose is. If I am playing a slow song - like Turn Me On by Norah Jones, I try to capture that languid bluesy feel. If I am playing Brown Sugar and subbing for the sax solo, there are some key “landmarks” where I have licks I try to hit hard to sell the saxy feel. If I am playing over a verse that transitions into chorus while I am still soloing, I really try to have a “kick it up a notch” lick or sound that builds on the crescendo of the transition.

Bottom line is that the song comes first and you have to serve the song. I listen to Lindsey Buckingham’s solo in Don’t Stop by Fleetwood Mac where he nails the same damn note for, I dunno 8 or 12 measures - just stinging the crap out of it - and it fits perfectly. That’s one of many examples of a gold standard for fitting the song - more people remember that solo than any shredder solo. Same with Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s band - listen to the tastiness of his licks at the end of American Girl…

I don’t even think about it, really. There is no real approach, I just go where the song insists. I will apologize for the “non-answer” but, in my case, it is truthful.

I uh, have a bit of talent for kicking out a solo generally speaking, but I suspect a lot of the time I don’t/didn’t* really make full use of whatever talent I have. When I read Wordman’s post, it all makes a lot of sense and I think it’s the right way to approach a solo. In reality I do one of a few things depending on what I’m playing.

If I’m playing a cover song and that song has a signature guitar solo (Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb for instance), I’ll play it note for note from the record (or at least start from the recording up to the point that the audience probably doesn’t care and then improvise.

If I’m playing a song that doesn’t have a signature solo I’ll often just noodle around the place. Generally as I play the song more often I’ll pick out little bits of each solo that I like and start to put them together. By the time I’m playing it for the 10th time or whatever I may have a solo down that doesn’t vary much, but I haven’t really put much thought into the overall sound.

If I’m playing my own song, I will often have started writing the song as a chord progression and a guitar solo, simply because that is what I enjoy doing. By the time the song has words and more structure, the solo is well and truly fleshed out and doesn’t get changed much at all for a public outing, in fact I am probably less flexible with my own guitar solos than when doing a cover with a signature solo.

In my own time, I often get a solo together in much the same way I play an Xbox game with a crap save sytem, by trial and error. I’ll start and get some of the way through then bugger it up and start again. Then I’ll get a little bit further through but bugger up again and start again. by the time I’ve got a complete solo together, the start, having been played through many times, is generally well polished, crisp, and has good direction and form but the end of the solo is often still in some embryonic stage and is more likely to carry mistakes or lead off into something different. This shows up strongly in stuff I’ve recorded as I go through several takes without having a clear idea of what I’ll be doing.

Like I say, Wordman’s structured approach is much more likely to give you positive results quickly. A bit like flying I guess, give the passengers a nice take-off and a smooth landing and they’ll forgive anything in the middle.

Going back to your OP, I definitely don’t do any variations of scales, I think if they’re boring to play they’re probably boring to listen to. I have a repertoir of licks and tricks that I’ve picked up from bands I like and I will utilise them. I think what I do is open with a practised lick, then continue with something melodic that is basically a mirror of what I might sing if I was doing scat (which I dont do, because I can’t sing,) then if I run out of ideas at any stage, I’ll go back to practised licks until my mojo comes back ;). It can be fun to put little bits and pieces from other songs in occassionally and see if anyone else picks up on it.

The solos for my original songs are pretty much lovingly crafted from start to finish and subsequently have lots of neat bits in them but probably lack a bit of soul.

  • I haven’t played publicly for over seven years.

With CateAyo, I don’t plan at all. I do, however, try not to play the same thing twice in a row. I’m not that good a player, so it’s probably not that musical, but I’ll mostly start on a different note (if I remember what I did last time, like especially at rehearsal) each time I solo.

There are exceptions: I always start the solo in Winning (semi-Santana-ish) on the B (song is in D) like Carlos did. I always play the first measure of the second time around the changes in Smooth (Santana again) much like Carlos recorded it (on most stations they cut out the first time around, by the way).

One should not assume from this that I revere Mr. Santana’s playing.*

I don’t always use the same sound, either. Sometimes I’ll pick a screamin’ overdrive for a ballad, sometimes a very clean Bandmaster-on-2 setting for a metal tune. You can never tell with me. Our lead singer is easily bored and appreciates being surprised on occasion, so that’s one of the reasons we’ve been playing together for more than (whips out the 1st CD to check copyright date) 17 years.

  • If you’ve seen my posts in other threads, however, you would assume that, probably. :slight_smile:

It depends on the song. A lot of times, I like to use the chorus or the verse melody as a starting point and then play variations on that, usually with increasing divergence from the starting theme.

Sometimes I just try to go for pure speed and do the whole ascending triplets thing or try for some speedy tapping. In those cases, I’ll usually try to follow the basic chord progression, but not always.

Whe I used to play speed/death metal types stuff, I would often just go for straight up dissonance and crazy sounds – a lot of big interval jumps, pick squeals, dive harmonics and gneral whammy bar excess.

Sometimes I experiment by playing in a dynamic or a temp which sharply contrasts with what is being played behind it. For example, I might step on the distortion pedal during a slow, clean ballad and plays a high speed, fuzzed out metal solo, or, in the case of a fast, heavy metal song, go underneath it with something slow and melodic and Hendrixy.

I almost always find that if you rehearse a song with the band enough, eventually a solo will emerge sort of organically which you can hone and adjust until you have it “finished.” For whatever reason, the process always worked better for me during rehearsals than to sit down and compose a whole solo by myself. Things just never seem to sound the same way with the band as you think they will when you work them out. Towards the end of my band days, I would only pre-compose a solo if we needed something really melodic – i.e. something which was really part of the song and not just an allotted solo.

I generally use the minor pentatonic scale for soloing. If I’m playing along with a recording (which is usually the case), I base my solo on the general sound and feel of what the original solo is like.
I always try to end a solo with a series of notes, or an attack that has a definite, unequivocal sound of finality to it.

Start low, end high.

I’ll post something more sensible later if this thread hasn’t died. I’m a bit busy right now.

It really does depend on the type of music. Slow blues leads start low and soulful with some “yelling at your loved one” phrases in the middle. Punk solos (if there is such a thing) are generally just little interludes. Sometimes I like to just flail around the fretboard on some rock stuff. Honestly, I think the blues stuff is the most fun and easiest to craft. Most of the time it’s improv stuff though. For original stuff, it will be close to the same for each song, but not quite because I never write anything down.

For covers: If the original guitar solo is what I consider to be a great solo, or it’s one that most listeners would recognize or be able to hum, I carefully learn it exactly as it was played on the original, to the extent that my ear and physical abilities will allow. Examples of this would be the Hendrix version of All Along The Watchtower and Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits. Learning to play those solos correctly was an important part of my development as a player, and I think that they are well-crafted enough for it to be beyond my ability to improve them. If the original solo sounds generic or otherwise unmemorable, I don’t even bother to play along with the CD while coming up with something to play. I listen a few times to get a feel for the style, memorize by ear any signature licks, if any, and then just play it in the style of the original, making it up each time while quoting the memorable licks in appropriate places. As WordMan says, the mounts and dismounts are really important. For solos I don’t learn note for note, I usually try to start them approximately like the original, and I always work out the ending with the band, so that everyone has some reference point by which to know it’s coming to an end.

For original songs, or covers that the band is planning to revamp considerably, I tend to compose solos. I use the melody as my blueprint, and embellish and expand on that using the various things in my guitar vocabulary.

I’m a really stupid guitarist. If I don’t make a conscious effort not to, I will play with my hands instead of my ears, playing patterns from sheer muscle memory. I’m also a nervous guitarist - I play way too many notes. So if I’m just jamming, on cruise control, it comes out meedlymeedlymeedlymeedlyWHEE WHEE WHEE WHEE, repeat ad nauseum.

To avoid that, I sometimes try to quote the vocal line, or play it transposed up a third or something, just to keep it rooted in the song. And I just constantly remind myself that notes are very expensive and I have to spend them wisely. :slight_smile:

Brilliant post! I will watch my playing for “meedlymeedlymeedlymeedlyWHEE WHEE WHEE WHEE” carefully from now on and exorcise it ASAP.

Yngwie? Yngwie Malmsteen?? Is that you??


Here, allow me to clarify. Coming from me, it’s more like meedly…meedly…meedly…meedly…WHEE…WHEEE…WHEEEEEE. Come on man, you’ve heard my solos. :stuck_out_tongue:

I actually met Yngwie at a mall here in Houston back in 2006, spoke to him briefly and then went to see him in concert the next night. It was…quite the experience.

You didn’t unleash the fury, did you?

Hilariously, when I did meet him he was touring in support of this Unleash The Fury album, obviously named in reference to that infamous incident.

How did this become an Yngwie thread? Did I do this? :smack:

Didn’t you realize?? ALL guitar solos lead back to Yngwie in one way or another! At least, he’d have you think that…

(sorry, I really don’t have much of an axe ( :wink: ) to grind with my boy Yngwie - he’s just an easy target when it comes to too-talented-for-their-own-good guitarists. When you can type, like, 1,000 words per minute and basically use that skill to bang out Harlequin Romances, it seems a bit of waste…


How apropos. :smiley:

So anyway, this guitar player dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets the fellow at the Pearly Gates and says, “Let me show you around. Here in heaven you can jam with pretty much any guitarist who ever lived who has passed on.”

They walk down a long hallway full of doors. Coming through one door, the man hears the muted strains of what can only be Stevie Ray Vaughan, wailing away. “Wow,” he says. “Is that Stevie Ray?” Saint Peter smiles and nods.

From behind another door, the man hears neoclassical shredding that sounds very much like Yngwie Malmsteen. A bit confused, the guy says, “Do I hear Yngwie in there?” Saint Peter says, “No, don’t be silly. Yngwie is still alive,” and ushers him quickly down the hallway.

Soon they come to a door, from behind which is issuing the sweet, swampy sound of electric slide guitar. “Is that…?”

“Yep, Duane Allman,” replies Saint Peter. “He’d probably love to give you a lesson or two.”

The man pauses, then runs back to the door the shredding was coming from. “Are you sure that isn’t Yngwie? I mean, the arpeggios…the vibrato…it’s uncanny.”

Saint Peter lets out a sigh and rubs his temples. “Well, that’s actually God. He just thinks he’s Yngwie.”

:smiley: too funny.

Anything but that, actually.

**WordMan ** has my favorite post on this.

I’ll also add that I practice scales and harmonic structure but when performing I try not to overthink it and just focus on what it sounds like.