David Gilmour – Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd: The Wall (1979)
A regular candidate for Best Guitar Solo Of All Time, Gilmour’s second solo on Comfortably Numb is also a powerhouse of majestic, soaring guitar tone.
At the peak of his creative powers during the recording of The Wall, on Another Brick In The Wall (Part II) he had explored the opposite end of the electric lead tone spectrum: for that, he’d dispensed with his trusty Strat, and DI’d his 1955 Les Paul Goldtop with P-90s straight into the mixing desk before compressing it to create the taut, rapid-attack sound heard on the record: “That’s just Dave direct,” producer Bob Ezrin explains, “with a little compression – we used a form of double compression.”
“First we put the guitar through a very aggressive limiting amplifier, compressed that output, and overdrove it. The limiting amplifier makes it pop, and the compressor gives it a kind of density, the sound of being right in your face.”
In our faces in a different way is the majestic tone used for the solos in Comfortably Numb. It was played using a heavy pick, his iconic black Fender Strat with maple neck through a Big Muff and delay via a Hiwatt amp and a Yamaha RA-200 rotating speaker cabinet. As ever, the essential ingredient is Gilmour’s technique. “You can give him a ukulele and he’ll make it sound like a Stradivarius,” Ezrin says. “He’s truly got the best set of hands with which I’ve ever worked.”
Gilmour’s guitar tech Phil Taylor concurs: “It really is just his fingers, his vibrato, his choice of notes and how he sets his effects. I find it extraordinary when people think they can copy his sound by duplicating his gear.” Soaring, triumphant, emotional – this above all the other tones in this list is the sound that most people hear when they first fantasise about playing lead guitar… and that’s why it wins.