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Guitar solos are a melodic passage, section, or entire piece of music written for an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar. Guitar solos, which often contain varying degrees of improvisation, are used in many styles of popular music such as blues, rock, metal and jazz styles such as swing and jazz fusion. Guitar solos are also used in classical music forms such as chamber music and concertos.

Guitar solos range from unaccompanied works for a single guitar to compositions with accompaniment from other instruments. The accompaniment musicians for a guitar solo can range from a small ensemble such as a jazz quartet or a rock band, to a large ensemble such as an orchestra or big band. Unaccompanied acoustic guitar music is found in folk and classical music dating as far back as the instrument has existed, and the use of an acoustic guitar as a solo voice within an ensemble dates back at least to the Baroque concerto.

Contents

Rock music

Sweep picking on an electric guitar.

Even though guitar solos are used in a wide range of different genres, the term guitar solo is often taken to refer specifically to the rock music genre. The dramatic, amplified electric guitar solo has become a characteristic part of rock music. Guitar solos are often performed with electric guitar with a timbral effect known as distortion which makes the sound fuller and adds harmonic overtones. Since the 1960s and 1970s, electric guitarists often alter the sound of their guitar adding electronic guitar effects such as reverb or chorus. Guitar Solos reached their height of popularity in the late 1960s to the 1970s, with acts like Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton,The Eagles,The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Queen, The Who, Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones, Cream and other acts. In the 70s, groups such as AC/DC, Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, and KISS among many other groups carried on the popularity of solos.

Rock bands often have two guitarists, designated 'lead' and 'rhythm', the 'lead' player taking the solos while the 'rhythm' player accompanies them with chords or riffs. Most examples of rock music are based around songs in very traditional forms. The main formal features are therefore verses, choruses, and bridges. The guitar solo is usually the most significant instrumental (that is, non-vocal) section of a mainstream rock song. In other rock-related genres such as pop and dance music, the keyboard synthesizer usually plays this melodic role.

This use of a guitar instrumental interlude in rock music has its roots in blues musicians such as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker. Ernest Tubb's 1940 honky tonk classic, "Walking the Floor over You" was the first "hit" recording to feature and highlight a solo by a standard electric guitar--though earlier hits featured electric lap steel guitars. Blues master Lonnie Johnson had also recorded at least once on electric guitar, but his innovation was neither much noted nor influential. These pioneers in turn influenced solos in rhythm and blues (e.g., Bo Diddley), rock and roll (e.g. Chuck Berry) and more recent forms of music.

In most cases, the rock guitar solo is a short instrumental section of the song. In the classic verse-chorus form it quite often falls between the second chorus and third verse. As well, extended guitar solos are sometimes used at the end of songs, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird", Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb", AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock", Outlaws' "Green Grass and High Tides", and The Eagles's "Hotel California". Solos can also take place in the introduction of a song, such as in "Since I've Been Loving You", by Led Zeppelin.

The use of the guitar solo in heavy metal was especially notable during the 1980s, when rapid-fire "shredding" guitar solos were common; a virtuostic lead guitarist of a band might be as well-known as the singer. During this time the use of techniques such as harmonics became more widely used. Later, guitarists who had developed considerable technical facility began to release albums which consisted only of guitar compositions. Guitar solos in popular music went out of fashion in the mid 1990s, coinciding with the rise in popularity nu metal, which does not feature guitar solos prominently. During this period, guitar solos became less prominent in many pop and popular rock music styles; either being trimmed down to a short four-bar transition, or omitted entirely, in a vast departure from the heavy-usage of solos in classic rock music from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and early 90s. Classic rock revival music also heavily features soloing, along with classic rock bands that are still active, as of 2009.

Bass guitar solos

While bass guitar solos are not common in popular music, some bands also include bass solos in some songs, particularly heavy metal, funk, and progressive rock bands. Some genres use bass guitar solos in most songs, such as jazz bands or jazz fusion groups. Bass solos are also common in certain styles of punk music. In a rock context, bass guitar solos are structured and performed in a similar fashion as a rock guitar solo, often with the musical accompaniment from the verse or chorus sections. While bass guitar solos appear on few studio albums from rock or pop bands, genres such as progressive rock, fusion-influenced rock, and some types of heavy metal are more likely to include bass solos, both in studio albums and in live performances.

Bass solos are performed using a range of different techniques, such as plucking or fingerpicking. In the 1960s, The Who's bassist, John Entwistle, performed a bass break on the song "My Generation" using a pick although he originally intended to use his fingers. This solo is considered by many as the first bass solo ever in Rock music, and it is without any doubt one of the most recognizable ones. Queen's bassist, John Deacon, would occassionally play bass solos, notably in Under Pressure. In the 1970s Aerosmith's bassist, Tom Hamilton played a bass intro on the song "Sweet Emotion" from their groundbreaking album "Toys in the Attic". On thrash metal group Metallica's 1983 debut Kill Em All, bassist Cliff Burton's well known solo (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth is featured, and is considered his greatest work by many. Heavy metal bass players such as Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath), Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), Cliff Burton (Metallica), Jazz fusion bassist Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report), and Les Claypool (Primus, Blind Illusion) used chime-like harmonics and rapid plucking techniques in their bass solos. Geddy Lee of Rush performed a number of solos, most notably in songs such as "YYZ". Also, in both published Van Halen concert videos, Michael Anthony performs unique maneuvers and actions while performing his solos.

Funk bassists, such as Larry Graham, began using slapping and popping techniques for their bass solos, which coupled a percussive thumb-slapping technique of the lower strings with an aggressive finger-snap of the higher strings, often in rhythmic alternation. The slap and pop technique incorporates a large number of muted (or 'ghost' tones) to normal notes to add to the rhythmic effect. Slapping and popping solos were prominent in 1980s pop and R&B, and they are still used by some 2000s-era funk and Latin bands.

When playing bass solos, hard rock and heavy metal bassists sometimes use bass effects such as distortion or wah-wah pedals to produce a more pronounced sound. Due to the lower range of the bass, bass guitar solos usually have a much lighter accompaniment than solos for other instruments. In some cases, the bass guitar solo is unaccompanied, or it is accompanied only by the drums.

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