Interview with David Gilmour—Welcome to His Machine

This interview was originally published in 2015.

David Gilmour will release his fourth solo album, Rattle That Lock, on September 18, 2015. In honor of his first new release in some time, dug into the archives for this classic Gilmour interview.

David Gilmour’s playing with Pink Floyd over the last 30 years has made him one of the most respected, influential, and enduring musicians ever to strap on an electric guitar. Stepping into Floyd in 1968 as a replacement for the increasingly reality-starved Syd Barrett, Gilmour immediately established himself as an electric guitarist who was experimental, yet melodically fluid. Today, both his playing and his vocals are recognizable as the underpinnings of Pink Floyd — from his haunting vocals on the lunarscape “Dark Side Of The Moon” to the crushingly beautiful solo on “Comfortably Numb.” You’re one of only a few guitarists recording today who can be identified just by the tone of his solos. What do you attribute that to?

Gilmour: My sound is what it is because of the way my hands and fingers are made, and due to my musical taste as well. I can’t sound like anything else. I’ve never tried to make it like that, it’s just the way I am. The fact that it is distinctive to other people is something that at first — in the early years — I was kind of unhappy about. I wanted to sound like other people. I had my moments of wanting to sound like Hendrix, or Eric Clapton, or Jeff Beck. Eventually, I got to like the way I sounded, and I think things got better from that moment, really; not just accepting it, but really liking what I sounded like, because there was a time when I just didn’t like what I sounded like. After more than 30 years with Floyd, are you more comfortable with your playing?


Gilmour: Sometimes I feel comfortable with the way I play; it just depends on the moment. There are moments on tour — especially after the 200 gigs on the late-1980s tour and the 100 gigs on this last tour — when I feel like I’ve played every lick and every note there is to be played, and I get bored with myself. Then the next night, I think, “No, it’s great,” and I find something new to explore, someplace where I haven’t been. Your sound and playing have remained virtually unchanged for two decades.

Gilmour: I have a certain style because I was given these particular fingers. They are the ones I got, and they are not terribly quick. There are some things they can’t do, and there are some things they do better than anyone else, thank God [laughs]. I can rehearse and I can practice for months, but I don’t get any quicker. I’ve given that up years ago. And I can’t be bothered with too much practicing, I’m afraid. I should, but I’m terribly lazy about it.

The limits of what I can think of, or what I can write or think about for a guitar, are greater than my own personal playing limits. So if it comes up, which it does once in awhile, that I can’t play the part that I want to play — not having the technical proficiency in some areas — then I’ll get someone else in to do it for me. To me, it’s simple: Since there are some things I don’t do, then there’s no reason why I wouldn’t get someone else to do something I thought of but couldn’t do. Who are some of the other guitarists you’ve brought in?

Gilmour: We’ve had a lot of people doing guitar parts for us. Tim Renwick played a bit on Pulse. I’ve known him since he was a kid, since he was thirteen. On A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, we had Michael Landau play on the opening parts of “One Slip.” Lee Ritenour was on “One Of My Turns,” from The Wall. He played the rhythm guitar part on the second half of that.

There was another guy, whose name escapes me, who played the Spanish classical guitar part on “Is There Anybody Out There?” because I felt I couldn’t do it quite cleanly enough or well enough for the record. I can’t quite remember how we came across Snowy White. He was a great guitar player, but I honestly can’t remember who recommended him, or why, or when. Have any of the younger generation of speed-oriented players interested you?

Gilmour: Ah yes, and where are they now? [laughs] There aren’t many of the speed merchants that I have any great curiosity about. Eddie Van Halen is great, a brilliant guitar player. Some of his solos on his own stuff and on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” are short, concise, brilliantly crafted solos. They’re not just about speed. He can do a bit of something that’s quite gentle and then throw in something that just blows you away because of the sheer pace of it for a second. And then he goes back to something else.

There are moments when I would like to be able to do that, but, as I said, you get what you’re given. I mean, Jeff Beck is still my guitar hero, really. He’s the one that pushes the boundaries. He’s consistently exciting. Jeff can play damn fast — he can do speed, but he chooses not to most of the time, and that’s what impresses me. It’s what he chooses to leave out rather than what he chooses to stick in. I played with him once doing a Jan Hammer song, I’m not sure where now, but I played the bass and Jeff played the guitar. That was a bit of fun. Do you ever use the original Strat? [Gilmour owns a Fender Stratocaster with serial number 0001 –Ed.]

Gilmour: I’ll use the old Number 1 once in awhile. It’s a beautiful, beautiful guitar, but, you know, it’s been about, and it feels quite delicate. You wouldn’t want to thrash that around, especially not on the road. I actually don’t like taking any of the older ones out on the road because there’s always the possibility that things like that get stolen. The Strats that I do use, which are sort of early 1980s and ’57 vintage Strats made in California, with one or two minor modifications to them, are so good that I’m comfortable with them and they’re all I use most of the time, even in the studio. What kind of setup do you use in the studio?

Gilmour: I just play my guitar through a couple of these repro Fender tweed Bassman amps. For most of the effects that I use, I like the old horrible grungey pedals. The Big Muff was my standard thing right through Dark Side Of The Moon and all through the 1960s. But I’ve always insisted on having a sort of pedalboard thing which takes them right out of the circuit [the effects loop] when they’re not being used, because they can really screw the sound about if they’re in the circuit and switched off. What do you want to do going forward?

Gilmour: When I joined this band, I was 21. I don’t think I had any inkling of what I’d be doing at 49 when I was 21. I didn’t give it a thought. I didn’t think anyone ever got to this stage. But there are a lot of black blues players in their eighties and nineties who are still going strong, and, well, luckily there’s no rules, and no one to tell us what we can and cannot do — except the public, who support us and buy our records. We don’t have any plans at the moment, but it might be something completely different next time. Who knows?