Harmony Guitar Solos of the '50s, '60s, and '70s

February 12, 2014

What was the first harmonized guitar solo you ever heard? Depending on the decade, it may have been the work of an American icon such as Les Paul or Eddie Cochran. Ten years later, it could easily have been something by the Beatles, Cream, Led Zeppelin, or some other group of rockers that crossed the pond during the great British Invasion. Or maybe it was during the first half of the ’70s, when hard rock, power pop, jazz-rock fusion, proto-metal, and neo-classical sounds were infiltrating both shores via the music of the Allman Brothers Band, Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, Deep Purple, Queen, and Thin Lizzy. Whatever it was, I’m betting the experience made an indelible mark on your musical psyche and left you wanting more.

Whether born from composed lines or pre-recorded improvisations, most harmonized solos start out with an established melody. After all, you’ve gotta have something to harmonize! Once a melody is established, you can get to work stacking diatonic or non-diatonic second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and/or seventh intervals above or below it to achieve the desired effect. (Tip: Stay tuned to Fretboard Recipes for an in-depth investigation of harmony.)

Many of the following examples have been arranged for a single guitar, but you are encouraged to multi-track them by yourself, or play them with another guitarist (or two). It makes a huge difference in the sound. Of course, there are many more recent and monumental examples out there, but this month we’re focusing on a brief (and extremely abridged) history of the universe of harmonized guitar solos circa 1951 through 1976. Dig it.

THE ’50S

When it comes to guitar harmonies, all roads lead back to the multi-tracked, pixie-land soundscapes created by Les Paul. Ex. 1a presents a snippet of Paul’s 1951 hit recording of “How High the Moon,” in which Les’ three-part harmonies have been arranged for a single guitar. Play the twobar figure as written, and then repeat it two frets lower to cover the song’s F6-to-Fm6 changes. (Tip: Try moving these voicings to the second, third, and fourth strings.)

Seminal rock-and-roller Eddie Cochran followed Paul’s lead, recording several one-man- band tracks during his all-too-brief career. Ex. 1b (also arranged for one guitar) documents his infectious three-part melody from 1958’s “Meet Mr. Tweedy.” Note how both Paul and Cochran made use of triadic harmonies laced with neighboring chromatic passing chords, setting the stage for things to come.


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