Standing out as a guitarist is tough, but a kickass solo can set you apart from the crowd.
Posted: 21 May 2019
What do Slash, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page all have in common? Not only are they known for playing Marshall amps, but they can also bust out monstrous guitar solos.
Shredding a full on, face-melting solo is extremely satisfying, but every player reaches a point where their solos start to sound tired, repetitive and bland. However, it doesn’t have to be this way, and with a few simple tweaks you can bring back the wow factor and revitalise your performances. So how do turn your solos from average to amazing?
Guitarists are often guilty of trying to overcomplicate a solo, usually by playing faster than they’re capability or trying to squeeze too many notes into too small spaces. The end result is bad sounding solos.
Playing within your comfort zone means you won’t hit a brick wall and be left lacking in the talent department in front of a crowd. Go nuts when rehearsing, but if you can’t nail it live 99.9% of the time then it’s probably not worth doing during a gig.
Also, a difficult solo isn’t necessarily a good solo, and simple solos are more likely to stick in a person’s memory.
The most important element of any guitar solo is the phrasing. Make sure to stick to what the song needs and don’t just play because there’s a blank space. Sometimes the notes you don’t play are just as important as the ones you do, and can help to make sure that each phrase has plenty of room to breathe.
Often the most creative solos rely more on inventive phrasing than perfect technique, so slow down and savour the solo. Take your time and avoid overthinking it.
The more you solo the more you will notice familiar patterns that you end up falling into. Usually unintentional, these patterns are based on your muscle memory and can dominate your solos.
The best way to fight this is to try movements and patterns that that don’t come naturally to you. Repeat them over and over until they eventually become second nature and you will automatically start to integrate them into your solos. The more movements you can manage, the more diverse your solos will begin to sound.
The singer and lead guitarist are usually responsible for carrying the melody of a song, however a common mistake guitarists make is that when it becomes time for a solo the melody goes out the window.
Many of music’s most memorable melodies are not incredibly technical. Instead a good melody is something that engages and connects emotionally, and therefore should be the basis for your solo.
Sure, some melodies do require fast, technical playing, but for the majority that’s not the case. Instead if you concentrate on improving the emotional aspect of your solos this can elevate them from dry and bland to soaring and emotive.
It’s easy to over-use effects, under-use effects, or simply use them in the wrong place. There’s no definitive answer to what will work at what time, so a lot of this comes down to your own testing and tweaking.
It’s also not always the obvious answers that work the best, take Tom Morellos solo on ‘Killing in the name of’ as an example of this. Initially a fiery, in your face riff, the song then evolves into a solo that’s heavily reliant on pitch shift effects and a reverb-less dry tone which typically you wouldn’t expect in this genre.
Keeping each solo fresh can be a challenge, but with a mixture of well-chosen effects, challenging techniques and simple phrasing you can inject a lot of variety into your licks.
Think less ‘how can I make this more difficult?’ and think more ‘how can I make this connect with my audience?’. Usually the two answers are complete opposites.