Perhaps more than any other musician, David Gilmour is the quintessential lead guitarist who plays melodically and “to the song”.
Although primarily a player with a blues sensibility, Pink Floyd’s progressive nature would make the younger Gilmour an experimenter both sonically and melodically. Listen to Floyd’s recordings, especially from the 1973s The dark side of the moonhardly a note is misplaced, every note counts and every phrase has a purpose.
And while none of us have Gilmour’s musical ear, we can all learn from his approach to guitar playing and songwriting. From his signature bending technique to his raised note choices and phrasing, there’s plenty to try in our lesson. And once you’ve tried our lesson, why not try writing some Gilmour-style licks of your own?
Here we look at a handful of scales. Familiarize yourself with the forms and you’ll better understand his choice of notes and phrasing. First up is the minor pentatonic scale (shown here in D) which David uses to create these blues-influenced leadlines.
To add sophisticated color to the pentatonic sound, he often adds E and B notes – creating the cooler, sweeter-sounding Dorian mode. Our acoustic example is in the key of G major, so the G major pentatonic scale works here.
Example 1. Spacey Arpeggios
We’ll start with some spacey arpeggios like those heard on classic Floyd songs us and them and Shine with your crazy diamond. Using alternate plucking may feel a bit unnatural at first, but it helps maintain a consistent feel, especially at the slow tempo of our example.
Example 2. Clean tone solo
The key to clean solos such as Another brick in the wall, Pt. 2 is to select the neck pickup and dial in appropriate compression for added smoothness and sustain. Strike the end of the fretboard lightly for a fat, punchy tone.
Example 3. Pentatonic scales with notes added
David uses the good old minor pentatonic scale as the backbone of many of his solos, adding the odd extra note of color. Here we use the D minor pentatonic scale with added intervals Pthamgaejo1r 2ondf (1E) and major sixth (Bb). These notes can also be tasteful points to bend the string.
Example 4. Funky double stops
Using double stops (two notes at a time) is a great way to introduce some funky punctuation into the flow, and it’s an approach Gilmour uses frequently. Cash Another brick in the wall, Pt. 2 at about 2:21 for a typical example of his phrasing. Our lick shows some of David’s signature forms.
Example 5. Using a fuzz tone
A fuzz pedal can be used to add insane amounts of sustain. David used this effect to create the ascending solos in songs like time and Comfortably Numb.
Example 6. Unison bends
With their signature, long, sluggish sound, unison bends play an important role in David’s lead style. Our example should give you an overview. In any case, bend the third string until it reaches the pitch of the non-bent note fretted on the second string. Vibrato is the icing on the cake.
Example 7. Using Dotted Delays
run like hell out The wall is one of David’s signature dotted eighth note delay moments. For our simpler example, we set a tempo of 120 bpm, so a delay time of 375 ms. For the whole run like hell Effect, keep the number of repeats (aka feedback) fairly high for a cascading, layered sound.
Example 8. String bends with large intervals
We’ve already shown you how David performs those huge turns with big intervals in stretches like Another brick in the wall, Pt. 2 and Shine with your crazy diamond, but now it’s your turn to try it out on our playback. We’ve stuck to three semitone bends here, but you could try a four semitone bend in bar 2 if you’re feeling brave.
Example 9. Whammy bar use
One of David’s signature sounds is the addition of vowel-like whammy bar vibrato on string bends and sustained notes. He also uses the bar for “scoops,” as in the repeating phrase idea we’ve included in our tab example here.
Example 10. Acoustic lead
David is no stranger to acoustic guitar and has used it to great effect on songs like I wish you were here and lost for words. As with many of Gilmour’s melodic ideas, simplicity is key here.