As lead guitarist for the progressive-rock juggernaut Pink Floyd, David Gilmour developed a musical legacy that transcends classification. His heartfelt, atmospheric six-string excursions—on “Comfortably Numb,” “Time,” “Money” and many other Floyd classics—should be at the top of the required listening list for any guitarist who aspires to solo with great feeling.
In this lesson, we’ll take a look at the rhythmic devices, melodic approaches and guitar techniques of this brilliant emotive soloist.
FIGURE 1 represents just a few of the stellar moments from Gilmour’s solo in “Money,” from The Dark Side of the Moon. Drawn exclusively from the B minor pentatonic scale (B D E F# A), it features an assortment of whole-step bends, vibrato-drenched sustained notes, backward grace-note slides and cool rhythmic combinations. Beware of the wicked 22nd-fret bend on the high E string—bend with your 3rd finger, and place your 2nd finger behind it to help push the string to pitch. For proper tone, use a Strat-style guitar set to the bridge/middle pickup position through an overdriven amp or overdrive pedal, with plenty of reverb and a long delay setting (approximately 450ms).
FIGURES 2A–B demonstrate the melodic soloing tactics used in such ballads as “Comfortably Numb” (The Wall), “Time” (The Dark Side of the Moon), “Echoes” (Meddle) and “Learning to Fly” (A Momentary Lapse of Reason). FIGURE 2A is made from an Aadd4 arpeggio (A–C#–D#–E). Use your 4th finger for the bend, pull off to your 3rd, and roll your 2nd finger over to hit both the G and D strings at the 14th fret. Slide with your 1st finger and end the phrase with your 2nd.
Heart-tugging half-step bends and an extended slide are highlights of FIGURE 2B, in which the G major scale (G A B C D E F#) is dispatched over a IV-I (C-G) progression in the key of G. Take care not to overbend causing the target note (G) to go sharp.
Another Gilmour trademark is his multiple-bend technique. As heard in “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” (The Wall) and “Time,” he bends a note to pitch, sustains it, then bends the note to a higher pitch before releasing it. The multiple bend shown in FIGURE 3 requires considerable strength. Use your 3rd finger (often the strongest bending finger) to bend the B string to pitch.
Gilmour often uses a bottleneck slide for atmospheric soundscapes and lead breaks—check out “Breathe” and “Brain Damage” (both from The Dark Side of the Moon), “If” (Atom Heart Mother), “A Pillow of Winds” (Meddle) and “Comfortably Numb.” Sometimes enhanced with long echoes and volume swells, his slide playing incorporates both single-note and double-stop phrases. Although Gilmour tended to play these parts on a lap steel or pedal-steel guitar, they transfer well to the electric guitar, as seen in FIGURE 4. When playing this and all other slide parts, make sure that the slide is place directly above the fretwire.
The solo (FIGURE 5) is in a rock-ballad style similar to Pink Floyd anthems such as “Comfortably Numb,” “Echoes” and “Us and Them” (The Dark Side of the Moon). The first half of the progression (measures 1–16) shifts between two key centers, B minor and D major, while the outro (measures 17–22) is based on a succession of chords drawn from the parallel keys of D major (Dsus2, Bm11, Asus4 and A) and D minor (Dsus2/C and Bb6#11). The progression ends (measures 23–24) with a return to the opening Bm tonality.
The solo opens with a series of long glissandi played with a bottleneck slide (measures 1–4). Cast from the B minor pentatonic (add 2) scale (B C# D E F# A), the lines float along the chord tones of the changes. To achieve the vibrato, drag the slide quickly and evenly (use wrist motion) back and forth over the fretwire.
Discard the slide (you can slip it in your pocket or, if it’s a metal slide, simply drop it to the floor) for bar 5, where an aggressive whole-step bend and a fiery bend/release/double-pull-off disturb the dreaminess of the first four measures. This is followed by an extended melodic passage played entirely on the G string. Constructed primarily from the D major scale (D E F# G A B C#), the graceful phrasing features several classic Gilmour legato moves: arpeggio-based slide licks (bar 6), a half-step bend/gradual release (end of bar 6 and top of bar 7), a bend/release/pull/hammer (end of bar 7 and top of bar 8), and a hammer/pull/slide/bend/release (bar 8). To get the proper finesse, practice each of these phrases separately and every slowly.
Measure 9 features a set of half-step bends and pre-bends on the high E string, Notice how staccato rhythms (short notes) intensify this biting phrase. In measure 10, an Aadd4 arpeggio (enhanced with half-step bends) descends across the strings and down the fretboard to greet the root (B) of the Bm chord in measure 11. Work this phrase out very slowly, as it requires several position shifts.
Double-stop slides fuel the economic phrasing that crosses the barline between measures 11 and 12. Use your first finger to barre each double-stop. A trio of whole-step bends ensues, followed by one of Gilmour’s patented multiple bends at the top of measure 13. Next comes another legato-fueled string climb (measures 13–14), this time following the G major pentatonic scale (G A B D E). At the top of measure 15, another multiple bend (use your 3rd finger, reinforced by your 2nd and 1st fingers) heralds the first section’s closing phrase—a descending A Mixolydian (A B C# D E F# G) melody driven by eighth-note triplets.
Measure 17 marks the beginning of the modal outro, where a fanfare-like D-A-D melody segues to a D minor pentatonic (D F G A C) bending phrase in measure 18. A slick half-step bend at the top of measure 19 slips the ensuing melody into B minor pentatonic (B D E F# A) to outline the Bm11 chord (B-D-F#-A-C#-E).
Measure 20 boasts the fastest passage in the entire solo. (Gilmour characteristically eschews speed for lyricism.) Based on a 10th-position D minor pentatonic-scale pattern, the sextuplet-fueled lick hints at the Bb Lydian mode (Bb C D E F G A). Put the lick together slowly, using smart picking directions. Start with a down/up/down/down/up attack on the first sextuplet group and use all downstrokes from there on. Measure 21 hosts a majestic Dadd9 arpeggio (D E F# A) run that climbs the neck to greet a pair of formidable 1st-string bends. If you have trouble reaching the higher frets, try bringing your fret hand’s thumb down from behind the beck, letting it rest along the bottom of the fretboard. The closing phrase (measures 23–24) eases down the B minor pentatonic scale via backward grace-note slides.