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Guitar Solos: How to Record a Great One

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Sometimes an awesome guitar solo can add a new level of energy and fun to a song. In some cases, particularly in songs from guitar-focused bands like The Black Crowes and Van Halen, the guitar solo can be the defining moment of a song. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a bad solo can really bring a song down with it. Imagine that just when you are really getting into a song, suddenly a lame solo completely takes you out of it–and once you’re gone, the song may never recover.

It’s important, then, to be sure you’re laying down a sweet solo whenever you record your song–a solo that will enhance it and not hinder it. Here are some tips for recording the ultimate guitar solo!

To improvise or not to improvise?

Even before you go to record your guitar solo, you have some decisions to make. Do you want to sit down and write a solo beforehand or are you planning on improvising one on the spot? Unless you’re a seasoned improviser and you’re playing music that typically involves heavy ad-libbing (like jam band music or jazz), I would recommend at least outlining a sketch of your solo beforehand. You don’t have to plan it lick-for-lick, but it’s a good idea to come up with some basic guidelines: how long you’ll play in one position before shifting up an octave, what bar you want to play a cool arpeggio over, where you’re going to fit in that really catchy lick you came up with, etc.

When I was recording the solo to a song that had a particularly complicated chord progression, I knew I needed to work out what I would play ahead of time, because I probably wouldn’t improvise anything memorable on the spot. I was really glad that I did–the solo that I ended up writing was much more thoughtful and interesting than what I would have made up, and it became a signature musical moment for my band.

Playing with feel

What makes one solo good and another one great? Usually it’s the feel that the guitarist plays with. Have you ever heard a friend play a famous guitar solo that just didn’t sound right, even if he seemed to have all the notes right? That’s an issue of feel. All you have to do is look up guitarists playing well-known solos on YouTube–while some of them really nail it, a lot of them have most of the right notes but just fall short because the feel isn’t there.

This is why feel is so important. Playing in time is part of the feel, too. It’s easy to rush a guitar solo, but it really takes away from the overall feel of it, so practice to a metronome first. Make sure when you’re recording that you’re feeling comfortable in the studio, your fingers are nice and warmed up, and you feel “in the zone.” Naturally, you’ll get a good result if you can really “feel” the solo as you play it.

Looping and editing

No guitarist is perfect, and while some might be able to nail a solo their first time around, most of us will probably have to take a few stabs at it before we get a result we’re really proud of. When you record your solo, have the engineer loop the section that you’re soloing over (or set your DAW software to loop it if you’re recording yourself). This way, you can get several takes in a row without interrupting your flow and getting out of the zone.

If you don’t have one single take that you love all the way through, there is no shame in editing between takes–not only is it a common practice now, the technique has been around for decades. Did you know that David Gilmour’s solo on “Comfortably Numb,” one of the most famous guitar solos of all time, was pieced together from several takes?

Hiring a session player

Sometimes you just can’t lay down a solo that you love. That’s OK, but it doesn’t mean you have to settle for anything less than perfection. Instead of being frustrated, your best option is to simply hire someone else to play a solo for you. Studio Pros provides world-class session guitarists that can lay down an amazing solo for your song at a fraction of the price you’d normally pay to hire a studio player. Call today to record something great!


  • Redford G. Westwood

    I am a guitarist of 50 yrs & need an outlet for my music


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