Top 5 Acoustic Guitar Solos
by Daniel Brooks
The electric guitar solo has been a part of rock and roll since its very beginning. Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” one of the first hit singles to establish rock and roll as a new genre in 1954, features a blistering lead that offered a formidable challenge to any would-be guitar hero, and inspired many to pick up the guitar and get creative. As the 1950s unfolded and rock and roll grew into an important cultural presence, the seminal work of such musicians as Scotty Moore, Hank Marvin, Eddy Cochran, Chuck Berry and others helped establish the guitar solo as a powerful feature of many great rock and roll songs. Ever-increasing numbers of young, very enthused musicians began creating their own rock and roll, the music evolved, and inventors, designers and engineers made innovative leaps forward in the development of electric guitars, amps and effects to expand the sonic palette available to the creative guitarist, and transforming the guitar solo far beyond the wildest imaginings of the earliest rock and roll musicians.
Amidst all of this, the acoustic guitar remained an essential voice in every genre of rock music. It was traditionally seen as a simple but well-balanced accompaniment for singers, but not nearly loud enough to be heard among the large ensemble of brass, wind, string and percussion instruments used for jazz and classical music. Ironically, many of the innovations that allowed the guitar to be amplified and heard in such live settings also lent themselves to advanced recording technologies that could capture the sound of an acoustic guitar, as it is, and give it enough volume to have a recorded voice. Just as the guitar was finally loud enough to play live, it didn’t need to be loud to be heard on a record. As a result, many guitarists were free to revel in the evocative grace of the acoustic guitar’s natural timbre itself and use it as a lead instrument to create some of their most inspired music. The history of recorded music is full of great acoustic guitar solos. Here are just a few.
The Beatles used acoustic instruments early and often. Their second album featured George Harrison’s tasteful acoustic guitar solo on “Till There Was You,” and his work on “And I Love Her” elevates a Lennon/McCartney composition that might have otherwise been overshadowed by the rest of the soundtrack for A Hard Day’s Night.
Throughout the 1960s, there were some who thought of the Rolling Stones as a dark counterpart to the Beatles, but they often achieved a singular form of rock and roll greatness beyond comparison with anyone before or since. “Sympathy for the Devil” is one of the Rolling Stones’ many masterpieces and it is full of surprises, not the least of which is the knowledge that the incendiary guitar solo was performed on an acoustic guitar plugged directly into the mixing board for a visceral, overdriven effect.
As a follow up to “Dark Side of the Moon,” one of the biggest albums in rock history, Pink Floyd turned to themes of loss and absence. “Wish You Were Here,” the album and the song, proved to be a chilling, poignant, beautiful masterpiece and a fitting homage to their founder, Syd Barrett, who had fallen to mental illness.
The day after his first son was born, Yes guitarist Steve Howe sat down and composed “Clap.” While this may not be a typical Steve Howe acoustic lead guitar solo, if such a thing could be said to exist, its sheer exuberance in celebration of a new life make it one of the great rock and roll moments on the acoustic guitar. And it certainly points the way to so much of Howe’s other work with Yes.
Layla was Eric Clapton’s shining achievement with Derek and the Dominoes, and it remained brilliant when transformed into an all-acoustic ballad. Originally inspired by Clapton’s unrequited love for Pattie Boyd Harrison, Layla has stood as one of rock and roll’s definitive love songs. If anyone could completely rewrite rock and roll history with an acoustic guitar, it would have to be Eric Clapton.
Of course, the list of great acoustic guitar solos is far more extensive than this. Works by Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Tony Rice, Leo Kottke and many more could each inspire an awe-filled listening session. As always, we would love to hear who and what you would put on the list.