Electric Etudes: David Gilmour
We dissect some of the legendary Pink Floyd guitarist's most identifiable rhythm and lead techniques.
• Learn how to incorporate open strings into non-open position chords.
• Develop a more accurate bending technique.
• Understand how to improvise with the blues scale.
Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
Pink Floyd is without a doubt one of the last remaining supergroups of the classic rock era. Likes Queen, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd have sold millions of albums and filled arenas all around the world. The band started out as a psychedelic rock band, playing the underground clubs of London during the ’60s, but later became one of the leaders of the progressive rock movement, composing complex songs with conceptual themes. These were performed against a backdrop of elaborate lighting, video projections, and inflatable stage props.
This month’s piece was a joy for me, having been a fan of Floyd since I was a child. I also spent several years touring with the Australian Pink Floyd Show, and produced and mixed two albums for Roger Waters’ current guitarist, David Kilminster. For this track, I drew inspiration from several famous Floyd songs including “Breathe,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” and “Dog.” The solo is a pastiche of many famous Gilmour licks.
Click here for Ex. 1
The example kicks off with a verse that wanders through some C Lydian sounds (with the D/C chord) before resolving to C and modulating to G minor in the third measure. In Floyd’s music, it isn’t uncommon to subtly move through a few different key centers within a single section. The next section moves to the IIm chord in the key of F (Gm). The famous Gm6/Bb chord from the intro to “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” pops up next. I simply couldn’t resist playing this chord in a Floyd-style track. It makes for some cool harmonic coloring over the G minor tonality, and it’s actually a lot easier than it sounds. (I’ve even seen it taught using all fretted notes and no open strings!)
In the next section of the verse, we pick up some rhythmic and harmonic moves from “Dogs.” Here, I’m using a simple Fmaj7 chord shape in the 1st position, but the D from the bass gives it a Dm9 sound. I then move that shape up a few frets and play an Abmaj7, but again, the F in the bass gives it a Fm9 sound. This technique is a great way of reapplying basic chords against a new root to get different sounds.
A “Breathe”-inspired chorus is up next and begins with a strummed Em(add9) chord and some higher-positioned open chords over the A7. The next measure contains some simple C and D chords before repeating the Em-A7 section again.
A descending chord progression that’s borrowed from “Shine On” leads into the solo. I particularly like the relationship between the Dm, Dm/C, and the Bm7b5, as you’ll notice they all include the Dm triad played on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings with just the root note shifting. Again, this is a great writing tool to experiment with and explore.
An A minor blues progression forms the harmonic foundation for the solo. For a twist, the turnaround is F, E7#9, Dm7, C, and G/B. Most of the melodic elements are based around the A minor pentatonic (A–C–D–E–G) scale. The key to Gilmour’s style is his laid-back feel—make sure not to rush!
Gilmour’s signature pull-off figure from “Shine On” appears in the fourth measure of the solo. This section also includes some tricky bends, including some pre-bends. One of Gilmour’s favorite bends happens in the fifth measure with a two-step stretch. The solo then moves down into the very familiar 5th position for some licks based off the A blues scale (A–C–D–Eb–E–G). The solo concludes with a nod to “Comfortably Numb” when the 9 (B) gets added to the pentatonic scale.
David Gilmour is known for having one of the best tones in rock. He uses various Hiwatt amps with an elaborate effects system that includes a variety of stompboxes and rack equipment. (At one time he even used modified Alembic bass amps that were combined with a crossover system that allowed the Hiwatts to handle the upper frequencies while the Alembics covered lower frequencies.) Gilmour mainly plays his famous black Fender Strat, although he’s used a Tele and a P-90-equipped Les Paul. I’d suggest checking out gilmourish.com, which I found to be an invaluable resource when building my rig for the Aussie Floyd tours.
Recording details. Once again, I used Steinberg’s Cubasis for iPad to record this track. For the drums, I either program them in Cubasis (which has really great samples) or, as in the case here, I use an app called Drum Loops HD. This is a great app for drums, with a variety of styles recorded with modern and vintage mics. The bass is recorded live with a Music Man StingRay 5 plugged into Positive Grid’s JamUp Pro app via an Apogee interface. For the bass amp, I used a model based on an old ’60s Ampeg. On the guitar side, I grabbed my trusty Ernie Ball Music Man Axis Super Sport. I used a single-coil configuration for the clean tones and the neck humbucker for the solo. I rolled off the volume a bit to emulate a P-90-style tone. Again, I used JamUp Pro for the guitar sounds and dialed up a Hiwatt-style amp with some spring reverb and an Echoplex-style effect.
For the “Shine On” chords I used a different single-coil setting on the guitar through emulated MXR Dyna Comp and Uni-Vibe effects. For the solo, I added a touch of front-end bite with a fuzz pedal and a flanger modeled after a vintage Electro-Harmonix pedal. I also increased the amount of delay and reverb during the solo for a more ethereal tone. The “acoustic guitar” in the background was the piezo pickup on the Axis through an acoustic DI and acoustic amp in JamUp.