Pink Floyd’s 20 greatest guitar moments, ranked
Rightly hailed as one of the greatest bands of all time, the incomparable wizardry of David Gilmour’s guitar work characterises the enduring sound of Pink Floyd.
Pink Floyd. Image: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
From their psychedelic beginnings under the leadership of the mercurial Syd Barrett, the immense scope of their venerated 70s’ conceptual juggernauts, to their stadium filling 80’s pomp, the heady sonic stew of Pink Floyd has always been marked by exceptionally inventive guitar work. David Gilmour’s soaring leads, peerless riffs and electrifying chord choices continue to inspire young guitarists to this day.
- READ MORE: Guitar Legends: David Gilmour, master of sonic sorcery, effects and the skyscraping guitar solo
Across the band’s fifteen studio albums, some of the most remarkable sounds in the history of recorded music have been captured. In their 1970-85 peak, Gilmour’s expressive guitar existed in tight interplay with Roger Waters’ rigorous, melodic bass playing, Richard Wright’s lush synthetic textures and Nick Mason’s solid drums. A matchless dynamic.
To compile this run down of the most astonishing guitar moments, we’ve taken that rich back catalogue for another spin, choosing not just solos, but some of the many examples of chords, textures and overall moods that still make the hair stand on-end, whittling them down to bring you this ultimate shortlist of Floyd moments that shine like the sun.
20. Run Like Hell (The Wall, 1979)
As we pace towards The Wall’s climax, the dark funk of Run Like Hell primes us to close the book on 1979’s dystopian double-album. Originating as a piece of music Gilmour had earmarked for his first solo album, Run Like Hell is a masterclass in tension and release, its tight arrangement allowing for minimal musical flourishes (the only solo here, being Richard Wright’s dazzling synth centrepiece). With its springy, palm-muted single notes rooted in D, flashes of light illuminate this foundation via some stirring, descending chord shapes which take us on a colourful drive back to the tonic. The verse lurches us dramatically between Em, F, C and B, before we’re once again back with the feel-good jog of that central riff. It’s an irresistible listen, and a notable mood-enhancer.
Did you know?
Shades of Run Like Hell can still be found on Gilmour’s eponymous debut, as elements of it pepper the track Short and Sweet – just compare the intros.
19. Mother (The Wall, 1979)
Gradually building outwards from a fragile acoustic arrangement, Mother develops into a beautiful standout, ejecting much of The Wall’s pervasive themes of oppression and representing a tender (but cynical) nod to conventionality. It’s an ideal musical footing from which to showcase a similarly restrained, yet undeniably gorgeous, Gilmour solo, which launches out of the mix at the 2:50 mark. The solo manoeuvres around the G, C, D chord structure with awe-inspiring grace – emphasising the root notes of each chord and guiding our ears to further chordal transitions. It’s a prime example of Gilmour’s genius for making the sophisticated sound completely effortless, and is among the most wondrous guitar moments on The Wall.
Did you know?
Though it sounds softer on the ear than many other Floyd arrangements, Mother skips between a variety of odd time signatures, including 5/8 and 9/8. Consequently, Nick Mason found it a tricky one to record, and a session player had to come in to lock down the final drum track.
18. Fat Old Sun (Atom Heart Mother, 1970)
An early example of Gilmour’s guitar dexterity, Fat Old Sun’s hypnotic acoustic arrangement works to lull the listener into a state of placid serenity, with a few delicate licks atmospherically fluttering at the edges of the mix. As we sail past the three-minute mark, Gilmour unchains his inner beast and stomps on his Arbiter Fuzz Face pedal. The lead part morphs from hefty low E-string riffing to vibrant scale runs. While the studio version is an underrated gem, the live version pushed the musical ideas even further, extending the song’s run time and developing that beastly solo into an evolving electric blues jam.
Did you know?
Fat Old Sun was a David Gilmour track through and through, with Richard Wright being the only other Floyd member to appear on the studio recording.
17. The Final Cut (The Final Cut, 1983)
The grandiose title track from Roger Waters’ final contribution to the Floyd canon, and a treatise on the horrors of the military, The Final Cut still allows Gilmour the space to shine, gatecrashing the largely guitar-free arrangement near its conclusion. Wrenching out every square millimetre of heartbreak from the song, Gilmour’s solo routes his Stratocaster tone through an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, occasionally doubled up to provide emphasis. Though the record was beset with conflict behind the scenes, this emotive track underlined the supreme musical alchemy of Waters and Gilmour – even if they couldn’t bear to be in the same room as each other.
Did you know?
Though they put their bad blood to one side for that legendary Live 8 performance back in 2005, Waters and Gilmour remain at loggerheads to this day. Waters last year posted a video to his YouTube channel, criticising the official Pink Floyd website’s lack of coverage for his work and claiming that a recent ‘Camp David’ for surviving Floyd members, hoping to resolve the tension, bore no fruit.
16. One of These Days (Meddle, 1971)
Kickstarting their decisive sixth record with a springy bass-dominated intro, One of These Days initially finds Gilmour’s low-mixed guitar whirling mechanically in the background. As the track tunnels forward, some high leads begin to dance around the periphery, before David fully invades the spotlight as we pass the five minute mark, unleashing a flowing firestorm of tension-releasing brilliance. With double-tracked guitars hard-panned to the left and right speakers, the aural effect is akin to a duel – albeit one with himself.
The dominant double-tracked bass guitars are actually played by both Waters and Gilmour, on either side of the stereo image. When asked about the dull-sounding bass tone by Guitar World, Gilmour said, “We didn’t have a spare set of strings for the spare bass guitar. We sent a roadie out to buy some new strings, but he wandered off to see his girlfriend instead.”
Did you know?
Pink Floyd didn’t have an overall vision for Meddle, and its eventual shape was honed from recording 24 new pieces of music
15. Hey You (The Wall, 1979)
At the center of this fan favourite lay one of The Wall’s most compelling guitar moments, sandwiched amid some insistent riffing howls a remarkable solo that quotes the familiar 1-2-3-4 riff pattern that also appears throughout the album, as a recurring musical theme. It then speeds away and finds its own melodic path. This key moment aside, the track is awash with interesting guitar work, with acoustic arpeggios cascading through E and D minor added ninth chords in an ominous fashion throughout the track’s running time. Its detuned tone a nod to Nashville tuning.
Did you know?
Waters felt that Hey You was largely removed from The Wall’s overriding narrative, and ditched it from inclusion in the Alan Parker-directed movie version. He would later admit that the song was really about the break-up of his first marriage.
14. Wish You Were Here (Wish You Were Here, 1975)
With its country-ish Em7, G to A7sus4 chord sequence filtered through a tinny AM radio sound, soon contrasted by a closely mic’d lead part, the opening of the title track to Pink Floyd’s celebrated mid-70s masterpiece is designed to replicate the effect of a novice guitarist, practicing along to what they’re hearing on the radio. This effective approach fed into the record’s larger theme of remembrance for both their former bandmate Syd Barrett, and a nostalgic reflection on their own collective journey. Wish You Were Here may be a relatively straightforward, acoustic piece, yet the song’s simple licks and the gentle five-note central riff are considerably evocative.
Did you know?
Wish You Were Here is among the few rare examples of a true Waters and Gilmour collaboration, with the two, side-by-side, working out the song’s structure together in the studio.
13. Interstellar Overdrive (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967)
While David Gilmour naturally dominates any discussion of Pink Floyd’s greatest guitar moments, it’s important to remember the quixotic individualism of erstwhile frontman Syd Barrett, and his own painterly approach to the instrument. There’s no better example than Interstellar Overdrive.
At the core the early Floyd’s debut album, Barrett boldly leads his young bandmates on a fractured and intense sonic journey. Equipped with his 1962 Fender Esquire (customised with several small circular mirrors), Barrett rendered vicious atonal sounds from the instrument, utterly bewitching many astounded listeners, who found him a compelling figurehead for the psychedelic age. Though Syd’s mental health decline led to his departure the following year, this type of pioneering abstract soundscape would establish the template for prog rock.
Did you know?
As the band’s originator, Barrett re-christened his young band (formerly The Tea Set) by merging the names of two of his favourite artists, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council
12. The Fletcher Memorial Home (The Final Cut, 1983)
Lifting Waters’ venomous diatribe against the failure of global leadership to jubilant heights, Gilmour’s solo here is perhaps the single finest musical moment on The Final Cut. With impressive levels of sustain, David’s triple-tracked Strat is flavoured by both his go-to Big Muff and a touch of the Electric Mistress flanger. The result is suitably epic-sounding, ascending skyward as it steals all the thunder from Waters’ impassioned vocal performance, before effectively resolving itself to a simple three-note motif, which repeats with a towering might near the song’s conclusion. Though the track’s overwrought theatricality may not be to everyone’s taste, that sublime Gilmour moment makes it a journey worth taking.
Did you know?
The Fletcher Memorial Home is among the small number of tracks on The Final Cut that Gilmour enjoys. Speaking to Record Collector, he said “There are a couple of reasonable tracks, at best. I did vote for The Fletcher Memorial Home to be on the Echoes compilation. I like that. Fletcher, The Gunner’s Dream and the title track are the three reasonable tracks on that. The rest is dross.”
11. Us and Them (The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973)
In the hierarchy of the very greatest guitar solo-ists, Gilmour is undeniably near the very top. But, though he’s a king of in-the-spotlight flair, what’s equally as important is his proficiency with stunning chordal movements, deft arpeggios and considered texture-building.
One of The Dark Side of the Moon’s pivotal tracks, Us and Them originated as a Richard Wright piano piece, but the final version’s atmosphere of floaty serenity was largely conjured by Gilmour’s delicate picking pattern, calmly sprinkling across the notes of Dsus2, Esus2, Dm major 7 and G, while maintaining the stable pulse of an open D string. This hypnotic piece of music is technically uncomplicated, but through its dreamy colouration via a Shin-ei UniVibe pedal (which replicates a rotary speaker effect) working in tandem with Wright’s placid organ sound, one of Floyd’s most transcendent serene landscapes is built.
Did you know?
Us and Them started life as a proposed soundtrack piece for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, then dubbed ‘The Violent Sequence’. It was rejected however, and the band brought the idea into the sessions for their next album.
10. Have a Cigar (Wish You Were Here, 1975)
One of the wackiest sounding things in the whole Floyd canon, Have A Cigar’s manic, unsteady arrangement supports a lyric that cynically stabs at the hollow nature of the recording industry. Its circular opening riff musically illustrates this precariousness, while the occasional short squalls of guitar noise hint at the fast-paced, constantly shifting nature of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. It’s an infectious piece, with its shouty lead vocal famously delivered by Roy Harper, after Gilmour and Waters were both unhappy with their respective versions.
It’s not until the 3:20 mark that Gilmour delivers on the promise of his short stabs. Striding forward, he assuredly wrestles the bamboozling arrangement to the ground, via one of his most lively solos. Sticking to the key of E minor, Gilmour showcases several of his trademark half-step bends, before expressing the song’s overt aggression with a few relentless multi-string strikes. After more than a minute of pure, unfettered Gilmour, we’re abruptly wooshed away and suddenly we’re listening to an AM radio… a dramatic lead in to the album’s title track.
Did you know?
Have a Cigar’s key lyric, ‘By the way, which one’s Pink?’ was a question the band were routinely asked. “There were an awful lot of people who thought Pink Floyd was the name of the lead singer and that it was Pink himself, and the band.”, An annoyed Gilmour recalled in In The Studio With Redbeard.
9. Pigs (Three Different Ones) (Animals, 1977)
Eleven minutes of unbridled anger, directed towards those who wield the true wealth in society. The first of Animals’s trilogy of major statements, Pigs multi-sectioned arrangement is hued by a spectrum of marvellous guitar work, from the gradual volume rises of pained single notes, to the mid-section’s riveting deployment of a Heil Talkbox that generates some astonishing animalistic sounds. The Heil allowed Gilmour to manipulate the guitar notes with a tube in his mouth, similar to how a vocoder is used on a synthesiser. At the song’s conclusion, a second, fiery solo rages out of the mix, revealing the guitarist at his most unhinged, with enraged hammer-ons and pull-offs, as well as double-note bends, this hysterical intensity is gradually faded away from, but even after eleven minutes, we just don’t want it to end.
Did you know?
Eagle-eyed viewers of Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 dystopian masterpiece Children of Men can spot a familiar pig balloon flying outside Battersea Power Station. A visual homage to the cover of Animals.
8. Echoes (Meddle, 1971)
Effectively a 24-minute series of shifting structures in which Gilmour runs rampant, Echoes is the grand finale of 1971’s Meddle, and serves as an early indication of the complex musical heights that the band were aiming for. The floaty serenity of the song’s opening is punctuated by some sedate and thoughtful leads as Gilmour, together with his bandmates, conjure an opiated, dream-like state. Clocking in at over 23 minutes, there’s plenty of ebb and flow across the arrangement, with various conflicting sections that allow for some trailblazing soloing, wherein David demonstrates his wild whammy bar attack, and panicked riffery.
Echoes is one of the first cogent statements of the young Gilmour’s prowess, and Pink Floyd’s developing creative potency. A scant two years after the departure of Syd Barrett, Echoes illustrates that the band are still intent on furthering his ethos – probing the limits of composition and, on their way, veering into truly magical realms.
Did you know?
Waters would later claim that Andrew Lloyd Webber plagiarised a central melody of Echoes, for the title song of The Phantom of the Opera, though he never pursued his claim legally
7. Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) (The Wall, 1979)
One of Floyd’s most widely-known songs. Another Brick in the Wall is a damning summation of the British educational system, set to a – then-in vogue – disco funk groove. Famously featuring the students of Islington Green School reciting that on-the-nose central message of ‘We don’t need no education…” the song’s hip arrangement, overseen by versatile producer Bob Ezrin, was a change of musical direction for Pink Floyd, and commercially viable enough to be issued as a single (staggeringly, the band’s first in the UK since 1968).
Gilmour’s funkadelic rhythm guitar is considerably cool, but it’s that solo, coming in at the 2:10 mark, that kicks hardest here, skating above the tightly-squeezed quagmire of the oppressive themes and the arrangement’s rigidity. Using his 1955 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop with P-90 pickups, direct into the mixing desk, Gilmour shoots over a warm organ tone, courtesy of Rick Wright, adding ascending bends, staccato runs and occasional lapses back into that rhythmic territory. It’s a masterclass of considered, genre-flipping, guitar brilliance.
Did you know?
The single smashed its way to the top of the UK charts in November 1979, becoming the band’s only number 1, and actually the final number one British single of the decade.
6. High Hopes (The Division Bell, 1994)
Evocative church bells mark the end of the road, as The Division Bell’s final cut presents a reflective Gilmour, wandering through the fields of his memory, recalling youthful days and longing aspirations. High Hopes is one of the strongest songs of that latter-era Floyd period, with its piano-oriented arrangement continually orbiting a central three-note motif.
While the song’s intrinsic sentimentality is pored over, via some quite beautiful lyrics, it’s not until the closing solo that we truly zone in to Gilmour’s pain at the passage of time, expressed with some screaming slide guitar. It’s a solo that crystallises the agony of nostalgia, with Gilmour revelling in the dramatic potential of his Jedson lap steel guitar, reaching hitherto unscaled tonal heights. Gilmour’s guitar work here somehow sounds both technically masterful, and yet profoundly human. It’s a finale that cements his symbiosis with the instrument.
Did you know?
The title of the song was actually suggested by Gilmour’s close friend, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author, Douglas Adams.
5. Money (The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973)
We’re sizing up the big boys now, as the laddering bass of this Dark Side of the Moon classic swirls down a sinkhole into one of Pink Floyd’s most captivating sonic maelstroms. Money’s stilted 7/8 time signature, and rigid 12-bar blues influence serve as perfect container for the band’s musings on capitalism, but this Waters-constructed structure is obliterated by a galvanised Gilmour, as his double-tracked solo takes flight, propelled by a more conventional 4/4 rhythm.
In the studio, Gilmour impressively provided a note-for-note replication of the solo’s first section when building up the mix, while in the second section he deactivated all echo effects, presenting a dry, close tone, purposefully intending to present an illusion of a small blues band playing in a tiny room.
The dynamics shift further for the third section as Gilmour’s frenzied attack intensifies, fuzz is reactivated and additional overdubs are thrown into the mix. The interplay between Waters and Gilmour is wonderful, as Gilmour’s lively lead goads Waters’ imperious bassline, snapping into rhythm with it, before frantically mugging it and running away with its proverbial wallet. It’s a gas.
Did you know?
The cash register tape loop heard throughout the song was recorded, hand-spliced and manually looped in the studio by Roger Waters and producer Alan Parsons.
4. Dogs (Animals, 1977)
Like Echoes before it, this pivotal Animals track provides ample breathing room for Gilmour to pace his soloing out, while also revealing the scope of his abilities. Rolling, syncopated acoustics tread us softly into a dynamic aural landscape, with various dimensions of synth sounds forging a route around the perilous environment. This feeling of uncertainty is further emphasised by the odd chord structure of D minor ninth, E♭maj7sus2/B♭, Asus2sus4, and A♭sus2(♯11).
A pulsing solo materialises at the 1:45 mark, clearing our path towards a tranquil oasis, represented by the soaring, double-tracked central riff, which seizes and defines the arrangement at the 3:45 mark. A second solo pushes us into an eerie mid-section, before Gilmour charges away with a more reverb-saturated solo at the 13 minute mark.
As we near the end, we fall back, once again, on that divine central riff. Gilmour had started using his new 1959 Fender Telecaster for the Animals sessions, detuned a full step to D G C F A D. Played with a far harder edge than ever before, this prog rock powerhouse, focused on the ruthless competitiveness of business, has long been a fan favourite.
Did you know?
Dogs originated near the end of the Dark Side of the Moon tour in 1974, and was originally titled You’ve Got to Be Crazy.
3. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Wish You Were Here, 1975)
A piece of music that isn’t a glorious example of guitar mastery wholly due to its searing solos, soul-tickling central riff or moving chord choices – the sorcery of this band-defining piece is how all these elements work together, in conjunction with a rich, aural under-bed of keys and synths. Widely considered Floyd’s masterpiece, Diamond’s unsettling, multi-sectioned movements serve as a fitting memoriam to their former figurehead Syd Barrett.
Divided into two tracks, its nine-part structure bookends the listening journey of Wish You Were Here. For those chilling four-notes, B♭, F, G and E, which make up the central riff, sound engineer Brian Humphries recalled, in The Story of Wish You Were Here that, “Dave wanted a big sound, so the guitar was recorded in a different studio. He put his amps and speakers down in Studio One – the classical music studio – and mic’d it from a distance.” Its echoey resonance defines the tone of the piece, which exponentially develops into a soulful hymn to what could have been. Smokey riffing permeates the opening of the piece, while the second solo wails with a desperate, impetuous anger. It’s a timeless listen, and arguably serves as the finest listening experience in the entire Floyd canon.
Did you know?
Gilmour developed the ‘Sound on Sound’ effect when performing this song live, allowing him to split his guitar signal two ways. He would send the signal of a strummed chord to a Roland Delay, while then switching his attention to soloing on top of the sustained chord via the other signal path. Outputting these different signals to two Hiwatt amps.
2. Time (The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973)
There are few who wouldn’t consider Time to be among the god-tier of Pink Floyd tracks. With a profoundly affecting lyric which laments the passage of time, Gilmour’s fizzy solo confidently slides and dances around the central melody, weaving something similar to a web of fiery sound over the repetitive plod of the F♯minor, A, E, F♯minor verse chords. The gnarly tone of his Stratocaster (according to Gilmour-tech resource gilmourish.com) was a combination of the Coloursound Power Boost set for full overdrive, a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and the Binson Echorec, all pumped through his ever-reliable Hi-Watt 100W heads and WEM Super Starfinder cabinets.
But the beauty of the Time solo isn’t just down to its finely-honed sonic quality, it’s how Gilmour plays it, conveying the track’s torment in pure sound. “I think a guitar solo is how my emotion is most freely released, because verbal articulation isn’t my strongest communication strength,” Gilmour told the New Zealand Herald in 2015. Time’s winding solo is a prime example of this, manifesting the anguish of a life fading too quickly via six strings.
Did you know?
The song’s chorus is co-sang by Richard Wright, and would be his last vocal contribution to the band until Wearing the Inside Out on 1994’s The Division Bell.
1. Comfortably Numb (The Wall, 1979)
Could it be any other? Universally regarded as the most exemplary examples of guitar solo-ing ever, Comfortably Numb‘s transcendent second solo was actually pieced together from a number of lead parts that Gilmour had trialled. But the final, assembled result would serve as the ultimate demonstration of Gilmour’s virtuosity. Flourishing on his black Stratocaster, channelled through his EHX Big Muff, with an emphasis-adding touch of delay, David’s euphoric phrasing and intense performance hoists our mood following the constrictive menace of the verse.
“I just went out into the studio and banged out five or six solos.” Gilmour told Guitar World in 1993, “From there I just followed my usual procedure, which is to listen back to each solo and mark out bar lines, saying which bits are good. Then I just follow the chart, whipping one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase and trying to make a really nice solo all the way through.”
This technique bore life-affirming fruit. Gilmour’s ultimate tour-de-force, Comfortably Numb has now grown into an ever-evolving live-staple. Live versions from the P.U.L.S.E tour and his solo Gdańsk show are notable executions of how Gilmour continued to develop this spectacular piece.
Did you know?
As with Run Like Hell, the basic chord sequence and rough topline of Comfortably Numb were first sketched out as a prospective solo track for Gilmour’s first album, before being re-shaped into The Wall’s most memorable song.