Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick's top 10 guitar solos

Close-up of Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick on stage, holding his guitar aloft
(Image: © Getty)

Randy Rhoads – Mr Crowley (Ozzy Osbourne)

“That solo was my introduction to Randy Rhoads. I think I was thirteen years old when my friend said: ‘You have to hear this guitar player.’ It was the first time I ever heard anybody play a solo that sounded both metal and classical. It had a very baroque feel, as well as those hard-core blues licks. Randy Rhoads was the one that made classical cool for a lot of us. And then the second part of the solo was almost like Hotel California… but on fire!”

David Gilmour – Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)

“Many guitar solos are somewhat interchangeable. But Comfortably Numb is one that’s definitely not. It really fits that song. It’s very emotive and more about feel than speed. In the case of Van Halen and Randy Rhoads it made more sense to play lightning-speed solos, because it’s this very youth-driven, extreme music, whereas Pink Floyd is very introspective. Obviously a lot of young people like it, but it’s for everyone. You can be a mature adult and still put on The Wall.”

Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix Experience)

“It’s just a great protest song, and the way he plays that solo, with that emotion, really captures the angst being expressed. That’s another one where you can just play it a capella and it’s still recognisable. Sometimes I’ll mention that solo if I’m giving a guitar workshop, because it’s a great example of position-changing. Just listening to it you can’t tell, but he’s actually jumping to higher and lower positions – and making it sound effortless. That solo has aged very well.”

Brian May – Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)

“By that point I was already learning Van Halen and harder stuff. The Bohemian Rhapsody solo wasn’t as hard as learning [Van Halen’s] Eruption, but it’s incredibly melodic, really recognisable. Nobody sounds like Brian May. It’s interesting, because there’s a solo by Michael Schenker – Only You Can Rock Me – which has this big, anthemic solo that I think was definitely influenced by Bohemian Rhapsody. Which sorta makes sense, because it was a few years later. They’re both great compositions in their own right. And you can sing them!”

Pat Metheny – Nothing Personal (Michael Brecker)

“This one is radically different. Pat Metheny is the guitarist and he probably doesn’t solo as long as he might on an album where he’s the leader, but it says everything it needs to say. It starts out and he hints at familiar rock patterns, but he sneaks in other notes, and by the end of the solo it completely deconstructs and goes into Ornette Coleman territory, completely outside the key, yet perfect. It was a glimpse of the world beyond the standard rock vocabulary.”

Jeff Beck – Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers (Jeff Beck)

“I count the whole song as a solo, because it’s all screaming guitar licks. But if you look up ‘taste’ in the dictionary you’ll find that solo. I kept missing Jeff Beck live over the years. He didn’t come around that often when I was growing up. He was more into racing hot-rods, that was the story. But lately he’s been touring a lot more, so I finally caught him in 2009. Of course, he played Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers. And it was just fantastic. It’s just got what a lot of other solos are missing, which is dynamics, control, expression…”

Eric Clapton – Born Under A Bad Sign (Cream)

“When I was ten, Clapton had some huge pop hits, and I didn’t see what the big deal was. But when I heard the Cream stuff it all made sense. I know Eddie Van Halen talks about the Crossroads solo, but my favourite is Born Under A Bad Sign. I loved what Albert King did with it, but I came to the Clapton version first, being a rock fan. I’d read interviews with other players, especially Van Halen, who would just talk about how influenced they were by that period of Clapton. It’s not a particularly fast solo, but has a lot of sass and sizzle and expression. It’s a great example of how to bend a note. I’d never heard anybody do that before.”

George Benson – The Cooker (George Benson)

“Most people think of him as a singer, but he’s also a burning guitar player. His late-sixties music is something I discovered in the nineties. I’d already done a lot of rock playing, but I went through this very intensive jazz period, mostly played jazz for ten years. There were a few recordings that just really kicked my butt. The Cooker is a great blues, done in a jazz style, and just unbelievably fluid and tasteful and soulful. I think some people who are new to jazz – or just never got it – might get overwhelmed when it’s hard to follow, but that solo is really fun.”

BB King – Don’t Answer The Door (BB King)

“It’s from an album called Live And Well. Half of it is live and then half is in the studio. This track is live, and the solo just shows that you don’t need to overthink things. It’s not easy to take a few notes and make it sound so good. This is very slow and expressive and dynamic. The feel is so strong. He actually makes a mistake in there too, but it works just fine because the feeling is so good.”

Eddie Van Halen – Eruption (Van Halen)

“It changed my life. That’s possibly why I’m talking to you now. Before that I was more interested in learning songs, singing, y’know. I was going pretty slow. But hearing Eruption, it rapidly accelerated my learning process. It not only made me realise I wanted to be a lead guitarist, but suddenly I said, okay, I need to really focus on musicianship. When I heard that solo, that’s when I realised what being a great musician was. I’ve often thought there’s too much focus on the three-fingered tapping section at the end. It’s wonderful, but you could take that away and you’d still have an amazing solo. Eddie just shot for the moon in terms of tone, technique. It’s an air-guitarist’s wet dream. Just pure attitude…”

The first solo I fell in love with

“Johnny B Goode. That was the first one that really stood out for screaming lead guitar. There was a movie called American Hot Wax – you can find it on YouTube – in which a lot of the great fifties artists played themselves. So Jerry Lee Lewis is in there, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, a bunch of others. But the one that really got my attention was Chuck Berry.”

The solo (of mine) I like to play the most

“I guess a solo of mine that I hear a lot about, that people seem to like, is [Testament’s] Practice What You Preach. I feel like I’ve been able to develop it over the years. So when you hear me play it now it’s still recognisable, but I’m such a more experienced musician now so I’m just able to take it places that I never could before. I think there’s a sense of control now. That solo was actually recorded live in the studio. It was one I got lucky on. There were some radically different takes but, luckily, that solo was on the same take that the band liked. It’s definitely me playing at the peak of my abilities. It felt like I was pushing as hard as I could, without falling off the cliff, whereas now I can play that solo with the same intensity but I can relax; I can make choices while I’m playing. I might treat a certain lick a different way. Maybe I’ll end with a harmonic, or play around with the vibrato, or I’ll enter into another lick. You find different ways of expressing yourself.”

The solo (of mine) I always fuck up

“There’s a recent one, actually, which is [Testament’s] Dark Roots Of Earth. That solo has these arpeggios where I was really going for some crazy stuff. I always like to push myself. I don’t ever want to record things that sound exactly like something else I did. Sometimes, with Testament, they don’t want a big solo like in Practice What You Preach. But sometimes, they let me. On Dark Roots it was like, okay, I get to do one of these longer solos. So I really pushed myself, especially on these diminished arpeggios towards the end. It’s hard to pull off live. In the studio you can be very precise, and record things again and again. Live you have to lock in with the drums, so as excited as you are to do this burning solo you can’t get too caught up in it. It took a few times of performing it in concert to really get it. I’ll probably jinx it now, and then people will be looking for me to mess it up.”

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