Writing a guitar solo is an inherently creative process that does not abide by strict rules. That being said, it still helps to choose a few concepts (‘ground rules’) or basic ideas before you start writing a guitar solo. Here’s an inspiration list of 5 (with examples). Clicking on the image will lead you to the youtube video. Let me know if there’s one that made your guitar solo better!
TIP 1 | 'Wait For It' ... (a.k.a. Don't Start On Beat 1)
I know you can’t wait to play that guitar solo. “The band only gave you eight bars to do your thing.” But try waiting a beat before you engage! This helps to weave your solo into the groove of the song. The effect can be significant! The late J.J. Cale was a master at this.
The example above is bar 3 from my Intense Melodic Solo in A minor. When the solo starts, I skip the first beat. There’s nothing as powerful as a little bit of unexpected silence!
TIP 2 | Repeat In Octaves
A great lick is worth repeating! But instead of repeating it identically, play it an octave higher the second time. This adds energy to your guitar solo and gives the audience the sense that you really know what you’re doing 😉
The example above is bar 12 and 13 from my Emotional Guitar Solo. Part of the pickup lick is repeated an octave higher the second time . This helps to develop this melodic motif. Although you hear this a lot in horn players’ solos, this lick is mostly inspired by Pete Thorn‘s playing.
TIP 3 | Play A Pedal Tone Lick
Everybody loves a pedal tone lick! This concept stems from classical music (e.g., Bach) and translates beautifully to guitar. The basic idea is to develop a lick or motif, while continuing to reference a bass note (=pedal), mostly the tonic.
This blues lick comes from bars 11-12 of my Blues guitar solo in E. It’s an idea you will find in Josh Smith‘s playing for example. There another (heavier) pedal tone lick at the end of my Western Guitar Solo.
TIP 4 | Target The Third
When writing a solo, playing chord tones will embolden your solo and lock it to the underlying harmony. Especially the third of a chord has a strong ‘color’ to the ear of the listener.
In bar 28 of my Blues Rock Solo in D, I drop the melody to the F#, the major third of the D-chord. Strangely, I got this idea from Chris Isaak‘s ‘Wicked Game’. In the last bar of his melody, he lands on the B, the major 3d of the E chord. The feeling of resolve is enormously powerful!
TIP 5 | Start with a 5th interval
I remember exactly where I was when I heard the guitar solo to Dream Theater‘s ‘Breaking All Illusions’ for the first time. I thought what a fantastic interval is John Petrucci playing? It was a fifth! Starting with a 5th interval (perfect fifth) is a great way of capturing the ear of the listener.
At the start of my 80s rock solo (after a pickup), I play a perfect fifth in bar 1. But don’t overdo these big intervals. Big intervals are best followed by smaller ones to stay melodic.