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David Gilmour - Unpicking The Legend

Issue #47

I'm sure that everyone has their own opinions and views about Gilmour, and I have probably overlooked some areas, but for me these were the things that set him apart from other guitarists; I guess also the sheer size of a Floyd show, it was an overwhelming experience. To wind things up I have a couple of things that really make my connection with Floyd special.
Jamie Humphries

David Gilmour – Unpicking the legend

Of all the guitarists featured in Guitar Interactive, no one has generated more reader interest than David Gilmour. Research carried out by our sister company, Lick Library, shows that Gilmour remains one of the world's two or three most influential guitarists – the player everyone wants to find out about. No one is more qualified than Jamie Humphries to delve into the mysteries of what makes David Gilmour the guitarist other guitarists want to sound like. Jamie's pro career really got going when he toured extensively in the world famous Australian Pink Floyd tribute, before he went on to work with a host of top bands and players including Brian May, so we asked Jamie to explain the phenomenon...before he set out to show you how you can play like DG, too.

I've been playing guitar for approximately 40 years now, and have had a career in music for the past 24 years. Many guitarists have inspired me, but several really stand out as an inspiration in so many more ways than just their playing. One of these guitarists is David Gilmour, master lead guitarist and composer with the progressive rock legends Pink Floyd, and also a highly successful solo artist.

David Gilmour for me was the force who, when he joined Pink Floyd as the replacement for original singer/guitarist Syd Barrett, really pushed the band into a different musical direction. The coming together of Gilmour and bassist/singer Roger Waters was one of those cosmic alignment of the stars moments, and although the two musicians clashed, with a somewhat volatile relationship (full marks for understatement there, Jamie! - Ed), the writing partnership of Gilmour and Waters resulted some of the greatest and best loved songs and albums in the history of modern music. Even today, years after the original line-up recorded together, their fan base continues to grow, with legions of fans flocking to see the solo outings of Gilmour and Waters. And then there’s the catalogue of work that keeps selling and selling.

So what is it about Gilmour’s guitar style that is so appealing? What is it that Gilmour has that still sees his classic solos topping polls in Rock publications? How is it that in a world full of hyper speed shredders Gilmour is still at the top of his game, and seems to be getting better with age? Like many of the rock “elite” Brian May, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, Gilmour comes from a time where the development of an artist meant something, and also a time when there was money in the music industry to record over long periods of time in expensive studios - nothing like a bit of inspiration and seclusion to get the creative juices flowing! 

Look at how albums are recorded now, on a laptop in a bedroom! Look at how the music industry has so dramatically changed in the last 10-15 years, with the growth of the Internet. Back in the '60s, '70s, '80s and ‘90s bands were given an opportunity to grow and evolve, which is very apparent in Floyd’s catalogue. You can hear the progression from the psychedelic pop of “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, to the experimental progressive sounding “Meddle”, and “Atom Heart Mother”. The blend of these two different sounding Floyd periods seems to collide with the explosion of “Dark Side Of the Moon”. This album not only had the psychedelic experimental edge, but also oozed perfectly crafted songs such as Money, and Us and Them. Let's look at the time of its release during the '70s; a volatile time, and a time of historic change; songs such as Breath and Great Gig in the Sky touched people on many levels.

I can't remember a time in my life not listening to Pink Floyd, as I was bought up on a healthy dose of Floyd courtesy of my Dad’s record collection. My best friend's sister was a huge Floyd fan, resulting in me and my friend gravitating towards her record collection. I have very vivid memories of myself and my friend armed with a bass, a guitar and a home keyboard for drums, experimenting with multi track recording on a twin cassette home hi-fi! At the age of 12 we were already trying to compose and record concept albums replicating our heroes Gilmour and Water. My love of Floyd and Gilmour continued, and I was lucky enough to see them in the late '80s on the “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”, and “Delicate Sound of Thunder” tours.

For me David Gilmour had the sound; his lead tone was smooth and full, enhanced with ethereal delays, his rhythm tone was thick and rich. But also he had experimental tones using the rotary speakers, or Univibe, as well as the vintage fuzz tones. I was drawn towards his rhythmic delay parts heard on Another Brick in the Wall Part 1, and Run Like Hell. Gilmour had such a wide variety of sounds, and for the most part he was using a Strat!

Gilmour’s rig was also the first “proper” rig I had seen, and I was fascinated by the fact he had pedals in a rack; 'pedals in his rack?! How the hell does he turn them on and off?!’ It was from seeing Gilmour’s rig I learnt about switching systems, and how you could mix rack gear and pedals, yet switch them using a designated board. This was something that I always wanted, and eventually got to have and still use!

There was also his playing style; what set Gilmour head and shoulders above other guitarists for me were his melodies. His solos were extensions of the songs; melody lines in their own right. He would fuse Blues lines, slow, melodic extended arpeggios, with his signature strings bends. Gilmour is a master at string bending. Inspired by Albert King, who not only strung his guitar upside down so he pulled his strings when he bent them, he also tuned the entire guitar down by a tone and a half, resulting in less tension so he could achieve much larger string bending intervals. Gilmour applied this approach to a regular strung and tuned guitar, and developed a technique whereby he would not only bend regular half and full tone bends, but also as much as two full tones!  Gilmour also had a wonderful touch, use of dynamics and phrasing. His vibrato, often generated by the whammy bar, was subtle and vocal like. He often embellished his melodies with rakes and pinched harmonics. Gilmour was also a master at lap steel and pedal steel, inspiring me to learn to play lap steel.

I'm sure that everyone has their own opinions and views about Gilmour, and I have probably overlooked some areas, but for me these were the things that set him apart from other guitarists; I guess also the sheer size of a Floyd show, it was an overwhelming experience. To wind things up I have a couple of things that really make my connection with Floyd special. The first was when one of my best friends and fellow guitarist David Kilminster became the new guitarist for Roger Waters, a position he still holds. I was honoured to have been asked by Dave to mix and produce two of his solo albums, sold at Roger’s shows. Through Dave and Roger’s management I ended up filling the position as guitarist in the world renowned Australian Pink Floyd show, and completed two long American and South American tours! Through this position I got to really delve into his style and learn the parts to such detail. I had a replica rig built, with a switching system, with a rack containing vintage pedals and rack effects. I also started playing lap steel for these tours, and it's thanks to my connection to Dave and my love of Floyd that I got to really learn my craft on the road, and okay some of the biggest and most famous venues in the world.

Now join Jamie as he takes us on a journey through the impeccable Gilmour style in our exclusive David Gilmour Tech Session, Tone on a Budget and a short history of the legendary Black Strat.

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