The image of a lead electric guitarist rocking out on a solo is probably one of the most ubiquitous images associated with the rock and roll industry. Whether you associate rock guitar solos with the afros, fringe and political turmoil of Jimi Hendrix's age or the spandex, makeup and general debauchery of the 1980s, these musical masterpieces are undeniably part of the American rock and roll heritage. Of course, guitar solos can be and are used in any kind of music, and genres like jazz, swing and blues regularly make use of them. But there's nothing quite like the piercing notes from an electric guitar as it makes its presence known on the stage of a rock and roll concert.
Perhaps the reason that guitar solos are so often associated with rock music is the singularly dramatic effect of the performance. The electric guitar is amplified, sometimes to the point of threatening the audience's ear drums, and often played with a technique known as distortion. This technique makes the instrument's sounds fuller and adds harmonic overtones, making for an even more spectacular overall impression. And of course, the other essential component to a good rock and roll guitar solo is an enthusiastic performance. It's all very well for a guitarist to be insanely talented and able to induce incredible music from his instrument, but if he can also manage to thrash around on stage as though having an epileptic fit, so much the better.
As a general rule, the rock guitar solo is a relatively short and purely instrumental portion of a song. In the classic song form that alternates verses with the chorus, the solo often falls between the second chorus and third verse. The other common approach is to place the solo at the end of the song. These solos are usually extended and create a memorable finale to the melody. Songs like Guns N’ Roses's “November Rain" and The Eagles's “Hotel California" are examples of the effectiveness of such wrap-up solos. Of course, “Hotel California" is also begun with a guitar solo, albeit a shorter one, so one might say that that particular song is bracketed by guitar solos.
Other famous guitar solos from the rock genre include those in Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven, " Pink Floyd's “Comfortably Numb" and Jimi Hendrix's “All Along the Watchtower. " And let us not forget the song that Michael J. Fox memorably revamped in “Back to the Future, " Chuck Berry's immortal “Johnny B. Goode. "
It is worth mentioning that in many rock bands, two guitarists actually are actually responsible for the guitar solo(s). The lead guitarist is the one you notice, the one making the incredible music, but the rhythm guitarist is just as important, as he accompanies the lead with chords and riffs. Also occasionally heard are solos by bass guitarists, although these are less popular in rock music than in genres such as heavy metal, jazz, and punk. When they are used in rock music, bass solos are structured and performed in a similar fashion to that of a typical guitar solo, sometimes with the musical accompaniment from the verse or chorus section.
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