Guitar Wow

There are, firstly, the unique sort of jaw-droppers I usually have in mind for Wednesday Wow. Secondly, there are the little, almost hidden, daily wonders with so much behind them. But it occurred to me there is yet another category, one that is both daily and also jaw-dropping.

It has to do with the human mind and the kind of art it can create. It also has to do with how we respond to that art. What is it that an artist puts into their best work, and what is it that we take from it? Whatever it is, profound or mundane, it can touch us deeply.

As with the greatest guitar solo, ever:

The video is 9:41 minutes long. The solo starts at 4:30 and runs for the rest of the video. (There’s a shorter solo at 2:03 between the verses.)

I’m not alone (by a long stretch) in thinking this is the greatest guitar solo, ever. It’s widely acknowledged that David Gilmour is one of the world’s premier guitar players, and this solo, in particular, is extremely beloved.

For good reason. Gilmour, among almost all guitar players, has an ability to make the guitar sing. Listen closely to the melody line — it’s like an opera singer.

(It gave me pause trying to decide which of the nine different YouTube clips of Comfortably Numb I have on my Music playlist to show you. I finally went with the Pompeii concert, but I almost used this one for obvious reasons.)

There is also something amazing watching musicians who’ve been playing for decades. It’s that 10,000 hour thing. At that point, playing has become as natural as walking or speaking — there is no conscious thought behind the mechanics anymore.

It’s also impressive to consider how many times he’s played this, and yet the commitment to the performance can’t help but grab you. He certainly isn’t just “going through the motions” — there is a joy and exuberance to performing.

[So I think we’re a very long way from understanding our minds, is my point. Any “Theory of Consciousness” is going to have to account for all this, both on the performing side and on the experiencing side. It’s a lot to explain, I think.]

To set Gilmour’s artistry in contrast, here’s another favorite piece by another premier guitar player — an absolute technical master, probably unparalleled — but (to my ears) lacking the soul of Gilmour.

Still, it’s hard to find a better way to start the day then by listening to Eric Johnson play Cliffs of Dover (give it a chance, he starts off slow, almost seems to be messing around, but he really kicks it into high gear at 2:30):

Whew! Downright amazing! Again, the joy and exuberance is just breath-taking.

One of the greatest gifts life ever gave me was having a music teacher for a mom. I don’t know what it is about music, but just about everyone seems to attach to it, be affected by it, somehow.

It just may be that music is one key to understanding our own minds.

Stay musical, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

7 responses to “Guitar Wow

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Carlos Santana is another mega-experienced guitar player with serious soul in his fingers. Listening to Santana or Gilmour can be a profoundly transcendent experience.

    And, of course, Eric Clapton. (Goes without saying. 🙂 )

  • Wyrd Smythe

    This recent SciShow video is interesting and relevant:

  • rung2diotimasladder

    I gotta add my favorite Led Zeppelin to the mix (sans Robert Plant, whose vocals get on my nerves at times):

    I prefer this version of White Summer/Black Mountainside to the live versions because in this, Page doesn’t add too much distortion. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent trying to learn this in middle school. A lot of it isn’t actually that hard, but there are some weird little nuances that just can’t be replicated.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Heh, yeah, that’s the thing about Gilmour, too — those little nuances. (The way he bends notes… yow!)

      I’d definitely, no questions asked, for sure, mos def put Jimmy Page on the list!

      There are others… it’s so hard to name a “best” — there probably isn’t one. The Edge (U2) blows me away. Mark Knopfler, too. Steve Miller is another some don’t realize is a guitar ace (and a Space Cowboy 😀 ). I’ve seen local guys, too, who clearly had put in their 10,000 hours and then some.

      In fact, a guy I used to hang out with (Mark) was pretty amazing. He died a year ago of pancreatic cancer. Major bummer. But he had that knack. One time, over at another musical friend’s house (Jim), Mark tried a guitar synth Jim had just bought. Jim would throw on a new patch, giving the guitar a completely different sound. Mark would noodle for a bit getting the feel of the sound, and then get into a jam that was perfect for that sound.

      Every time, for patch after patch. My mental jaw was on the floor. That’s a musician. Someone who can make a tune with a paper box and wad of tin foil. Talents I can only dimly grasp.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Yes, Mark Knopfler is so distinctive. I love his style. And I used to have a Steve Miller guitar pick, but I have no idea what happened to it.

        Another one I like is Lindsey Buckingham. Nothing flashy, just tasteful.

        Sorry to hear about your friend. I also have a friend named Mark with that kind of talent on guitar. Back in high school he used to beat on the steering wheel or on his knee and even something as simple as that was worth listening to, coming from him.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Buckingham, good lord, yes, I knew I was forgetting someone crucial. Not flashy, but wow, can that guy play. The way he flicks his fingers at the strings… I don’t see how he even does that.

        Lindsey Buckingham led me to Little Big Town, a Fleetwood Mac inspired country-rock band that is one of my favorites now. I was flipping channels one night and, on PBS (Austin Nights, maybe?) saw a group I’d never heard of, but hey, wait a minute, isn’t that Lindsey Buckingham in front? So I stopped and fell in love. (Meanwhile the group was in heaven — they were doing a concert for PBS with their hero.) LBT’s sound has evolved since then, they aren’t so reminiscent of Fleetwood these days, but you could really hear the influence in their early stuff.

        Here’s one of their tunes:

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