David Gilmour’s debut solo album – the history and the tones

David Gilmour 1978 solo album

David Gilmour’s highly anticipated new album will be out in a few weeks. His solo career however, started way back in the late 70s, when Pink Floyd was in the middle of their hay days. Often overlooked, David’s first solo album feature some great moments and beautiful tones. In this feature we’ll dig deep into the history of the album, the gear and the tones.

I’ve always loved David’s first solo effort. There are no Echoes or Dogs on it but it’s just a solid, no frills album, with great guitar playing. What I especially like, is that you can hear that the band had great fun playing together. This feeling is certainly lacking on Wish You Were Here and Animals, despite being the great albums that they are.

About Face sounds somewhat out of character. On an Island sounds a bit forced and uninspired. The first album sounds very much like a musician who wants to play and stretch out beyond what the boundaries of the band can offer in terms of creativity.

Why a solo album?

In a recent interview with Uncut Magazine, David explains his motive for doing a solo album in 1978 “I don’t think it was a counteract to some sort of frustration I was feeling within Floyd. If anything, I thought it would be nice to have a bunch a guys in a room, play some tunes, knock ‘em down and put out record”.

David Gilmour solo albumThis might very well be one of the reasons for doing the album, but there definitely was a lot of tension within Pink Floyd at that point – both during and after the Animals tour, which ended in July 1977. They were sick and tired of each other and from touring.

Roger, especially, went through a though time and didn’t feel comfortable with the exposure and the rabid fans. His pissy mood was a stark contrast to David, who, according to himself in later interviews, enjoyed the tour.

There might also have been a financial motive for doing a solo album. By 1978 it was evident that although Pink Floyd was one of the biggest selling bands of all time, their investments had failed and they were now also subject to massive taxation. In short – they were broke.

Both Rick and David recorded solo albums in early1978 and they did it in France to avoid taxes. Roger started writing what eventually ended up as The Wall (and Pros of Cons of Hitch Hiking) and although having a great idea for the band’s next album album, he also knew that he needed to create a success that could save the them financially.

The recording sessions

David Gilmour was largely written between November 1977 and January 1978 and recorded and mixed at Super Bear Studios in Nice, France, during a few weeks in february 1978. The album was released in May to fairly good reviews and it charted decent in both US and UK.

There are very few sources from the sessions. David has stated in several interviews that everything went really fast, which was, and still is, quite unusual for him. Sadly, there was also a fire that burned Super Bear Studio to the ground in 1986, and with it all the documents, reels and pictures from the sessions.

Interestingly, the guys David chose for his project, was his old band mates Rick Wills (bass) and Willie Wilson (drums). Both from Joker’s Wild and Bullitt – the bands David played in before joining Pink Floyd. The power trio rehearsed and recorded all of the songs together and additional session musicians were hired for piano, backing vocals and other overdubs.

Using close friends and old band mates seems to be a pattern in David’s musical career. Willie Wilson continued to work with Pink Floyd as the drummer in the Surrogate Band during the The Wall tour. Snowy White, who played rhythm guitar during both the Animals and Wall tours, is an old friend of David’s. So is Dick Parry, who played saxophone on Dark Side, WYWH, Division Bell and On an Island.

On an Island was a joint collaboration between David, his wife Polly Samson and Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music), who not only produced the album, but is an old friend and neighbour. This creative trio are also the minds behind David’s upcoming album, Rattle That Lock.

Leftover songs

Comfortably Numb was originally written by David in early 1978 and intended for the solo album. A demo that surfaced in the early 90s, reveal that although the key was different, most of the structure of the song is very similar to the finished version that ended up on The Wall.

Run Like Hell also dates from the sessions. In an interview with Musician (1992), David hints that Short and Sweet and Run Like Hell was based on the same ideas, which makes sense when you listen to the main riffs.

Influences

By 1978, David Gilmour had established himself as a guitarist with a unique tone and style. His playing was firmly rooted in the blues but he also had lots of contemporary influences. His first solo album, much like On an Island, is a tribute to those influences.

David Gilmour solo albumMihalis, the opening track, starts off with a lead that could very well have been nicked from an instrumental by The Shadows. That clean Strat tone, with the heavy use of the trem arm and echo, is typical of Hank Marvin, who is undoubtedly one of David’s biggest influences. After a few passages, David hits the Big Muff and reveals his unique ability to make influences into something of his own.

There’s a lot of blues and BB King references on the album too. Songs like Cry From the Street and No Way are reminiscent of King’s slower numbers like The Thrill is Gone. Raise My Rent is another that hints towards the dreamy landscapes of Pink Floyd, but there’s also a lot of both King and Peter Green in it.

Interestingly, some of the songs also hints towards some of David’s later compositions. So Far Away could very well be written for On an Island. A beautiful and timeless ballad featuring one of David’s finest solos (in my opinion anyway).

I can’t Breathe Anymore has some of On the Turning Away in it, with the slow intro and the tempo change during the outtro, with they also did on songs like Yet Another Movie and Keep Talking.

On repeat

There are some bits and pieces on the album that are strangely familiar. At least to the avid listener.

The solo on There’s No Way Out of Here is more or less identical to what he did on the live version of Pigs during the 1977 Animals tour.

The intro lick on Short and Sweet is a variation on D, which dates back to one of David’s compositions on Ummagumma, Narrow Way, and later on songs like Sheep (outtro) and Run Like Hell.

And the first bars of the solo on Raise My Rent? Check out What Do You Want from Me on Division Bell!

The live performance

David never toured to promote album. Shortly after its release, Pink Floyd was back together working on The Wall. He did, however, perform five songs with his band (including his brother Mark on guitar) at London’s Roxy, which were filmed for promotional use. What you see is a stripped down setup, which very much reflects the sound and mood of the album.

There’s No Way Out of Here from the promotional clips recorded in London in 1978. David’s brother Mark, plays rhythm guitar, with former Joker’s Wild and Bullitt members Rick Wills (bass) and Willie Wilson (drums).

The songs are more or less true to the album versions, although some of David’s solos are clearly improvised. Again, the clips gives us a rare glimpse of David’s tones during that late 70s era, with the Black Strat and the unmistakable Big Muff in focus.

Guitar tone

David’s debut solo album is a fantastic reference source for his Late 70s tones. It’s perhaps closest to the tones he had during the 1977 Animals tour, which were mainly driven by the use of Big Muffs and heavy modulation.

His main guitars for the sessions appears to have been the Black Strat, which now featured the ’63 rosewood neck and a DiMarzio FS-1 bridge pickup, and the ’55 Esquire “Workmate” Telecaster.

Five songs were filmed at Roxy in London, UK to promote the album. David's rig featured a Conn Strobo tuner, MXR Digital Delay System I, Hiwatt DR103, Fender Dual Showman and the Pete Cornish pedal board.

Some sources also indicates that he might have used a Gretsch Duo Jet (later used on On an Island) and the #0001 Stratocaster, which he acquired around this time. David also employed a lap steel slide (probably one of the Jedsons, blonde or red).

He might have experimented with the amp setup, using perhaps a couple of Fenders, but his main setup was a Hiwatt DR103 head driving a WEM speaker cabinet. The signal from his guitar and pedalboard, was split between the Hiwatt and a Yamaha RA200 rotating speaker cabinet. This setup was also used on the Animals album and tour, and later for the Wall album and tour and last on The Final Cut.

Effects-wise, David most likely used the ’76 Pete Cornish pedalboard he used on the Animals album and tour, and later on The Wall, but he might have used stand alone pedals as well. By early 1978, the pedalboard had gone through several changes and upgrades, but the main effects for the sessions, where an EHX “ram’s head” Big Muff, EHX Electric Mistress (1976 model), Pete Cornish ST2 (Colorsound Powerboost clone), MXR digital delay and the Yamaha RA200 for rotary tones and modulation.

Check out the David Gilmour 1978 gear guide for a complete run-down of David’s rig and a song by song effects setup.

Setting up your David Gilmour 1978 tones

Although David mostly used the Black Strat for the sessions, the album doesn’t come off as a typical Stratocaster album. At least on in the same sense as Division Bell or On an Island. Most of the tones can easily be replicated with a Telecaster, P90 pickups and even a Les Paul with low output pickups. Still, a Strat with late 60s neck and middle pickups and a hot wound bridge (DiMarzio FS1, Duncan SSL5 or similar), will get you the most authentic tones.

You want the amp to have as much headroom as possible. Fenders and Hiwatts has tons of it but if you choose a smaller amp for your bedroom then make sure it’s capable of producing a warm and well balanced clean tone. The amp usually sounds best just at the very edge of breakup, so experiment with the pre-gain and master volume controls.

If your amp has two channels then the gain channel can often produce a better result. It often has a dash more compression and mid range than the clean channel, which goes well with your pedals. See the Amp Tone feature for more on setting up your amp.

The effects

A Big Muff is a must to nail the tones on this album. It’s used on almost all the songs, for both leads and rhythms, and the pedal really defined David’s late 70s tones. David used a mid 70s “ram’s head” for that scooped and aggressive tone.

There is a lot of crunchy overdrive tones on the album as well. David might have employed an amp, like a Fender, to provide the dirt but he most certainly used either a Colorsound Powerboost or the Pete Cornish ST2, which is basically the same pedal. That glassy, fat low end crunch is crucial for songs like Cry From the Street and Short and Sweet.

David Gilmour 1978 first solo album gear

The late 70s was the era of the flanger and David was probably one of the very first guitarists to really embrace the Electric Mistress and use it extensively on both albums and in live setups. That liquidy flanging is essential to songs like Mihalis (rhythms and solo), So Far Away (solo), Short and Sweet (rhythms) and I Can’t Breathe Anymore (rhythms).

You can’t really get authentic tones without that mild rotary modulation that’s draped around all of his tones. The Yamaha RA200 cabinet has a unique tone that’s much more liquidy and chorusy than the conventional Leslie cabinet, which has a more defined tremolo character. Blending the Yamaha with the Hiwatt amps, was also different to just plugging the guitar straight into the rotary cab, which is what most guitarists did at the time.

You could go for a chorus that has an effect volume control, like the CostaLab Chorus Lab, but the best pedal to simulate the Yamaha is the Boss RT20. It sounds OK as a Leslie simulator but it nails the Yamaha perfectly and it has a master volume, which allows you to blend in the amount you need – much like how David blends the Yamaha with the Hiwatts.

A good sounding delay is of course always a must for replicating David’s tones. While his first solo album feature a fairly modest use of delays, it is all over the album, on both leads and rhythms. By 1978, David had replaced the old Binson echo machines with new digital technology and the MXR Digital Delay rack systems.

You’ve heard the mantra before. The secret to nailing David’s tones is to keep it simple. There really isn’t a whole lot going on and as discussed above, what you hear is very much what went on in the studio. The guitars are unpolished to underline and capture the live feeling of the band.

You really need only 2-3 effects for each song. Experiment with your amp settings, to get a fat clean tone, and use the guitar volume control to create dynamics. Study the bends and vibrato techniques and also pay attention to how David’s using both familiar blues figures and more contemporary rock, blended with his unique use of effects.

What’s your opinion on David’s solo debut? Love it hate it? Please share your thoughts in the comments field below!

How to set up your Endless River guitar tones

David Gilmour Endless River

Although The Endless River is an unusual album in the Floyd catalog it sure is filled with many beautiful moments and great guitar playing. It’s an interesting peak into the recording of an album and we also get to hear how David’s experimenting with his tones and trying out new gear. In this feature we’ll analyse his setup and I’ll also try to share some tips on how you can achieve the same tones.

The majority of The Endless River was recorded in 1993. Mainly at Olympia Studios and Astoria in London. Pink Floyd had started writing for a new album but more important, the sessions started out with the band trying to find its form and like in the old days they would spend days just jamming. This is what we hear on Endless River. The material dates from these early sessions where no songs had taken any form or structure. At least not in the sense of how we know them from Division Bell.

A return to stompboxes

David is experimenting with his tones but as we can hear on the album he’s really focusing more on the playing and trying to come up with interesting bits and pieces rather than cranking out heavy Muff tones. These came later, when the songs started to form into songs and guitar solos were ready to be recorded.

As covered in the Endless River Gear Guide, David’s setup for the sessions were fairly consistent. Although the footage reveals a jawbreaking setup he would mainly stick to a very small palette based on his guitar, the amp setup and a few trusted pedals. Both David and his long-time technician Phil Taylor has talked about how they brought out all this gear for the sessions. It was a mix of old stuff David used in the 70s and new gear that they would try out. After nearly a decade of using digital equipment, like most guitarists at the time, this was a return to classic analog pedals and tube amps.

The new effects

The Digitech Whammy.

The Digitech Whammy.

One pedal that was fairly new at the time and quite unique was the Digitech Whammy WH1. The pedal was able to pitch a note in several octaves with an onboard sweep pedal controlled by your foot. David used this extensively during the sessions for both leads and for creating effects, notably on It’s What We Do.

Another new tool David employed was the EBow. The device came out in the late 70s but the ’93 sessions was the first time David used it. He explains in an interview with Guitar World (1993): “(…) On a Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar (…) I had a Zoom in my control room one day and I was mucking about with something. Suddenly, I thought I should stick the E-bow on the strings and see what would happen. It sounded great, so we started writing a little duet for the E-bowed acoustic guitar and a keyboard”.

David Gilmour's 1983 Fender '57 reissue with the EMG SA single coils. (picture by Frederic Peynet)

David Gilmour’s 1983 Fender ’57 reissue with the EMG SA single coils. (picture by Frederic Peynet)


The EMG pickups

Another important ingredient to David’s Endless River tone are the EMG pickups. The set featured three SA single coils and active tone controls, EXG (bass and treble boost) and SPC (mids boost). He had been using these pickups for some time, including on the Momentary Lapse of Reason album and tour, but the ’93 sessions were really the first time when the pickups came to their right and they played a huge part in the guitar sound.

Their headroom, warmth and hot output gave David a powerful foundation for all his tones. The active tone controls also provided instant EQing and the ability to tailor the tones for specific parts.

The main setup

David did use several different guitars, including Telecasters, Les Pauls (with P90s) and a Gretsch but his main guitar for the sessions were his favoured red 1983 ’57 reissue Stratocaster with the EMG pickups.

The amp setup featured a stereo combo of two Fender Bassmans and two Hiwatt SA212. In addition to this, there was also a Rover rotating speaker. The Bassman lack mid range and can sound a bit thin but the clean tone is unmistakably Fender, with a warm punch and smooth top end. The Hiwatt SA212 has a classic Hiwatt tone, with lots of presence and mid range. Combining these two very different sounding amps gave David the best of both worlds. Although we don’t know how he would use them or how they were mixed, he had the opportunity to use the whole setup together or just specific amps for certain tones.

David Gilmour's main setup during the 1993 sessions. To the left the 1987 Pete Cornish pedal board and right, the stereo amp setup with two Fender Bassmans, two Hiwatt SA212 and the Maestro Rover on top.

David Gilmour’s main setup during the 1993 sessions. To the left the 1987 Pete Cornish pedal board and right, the stereo amp setup with two Fender Bassmans, two Hiwatt SA212 and the Maestro Rover on top.

Rotary tones

The Maestro Rover rotating speaker plays a big role in David’s lush tones on Endless River. The signal from the board boards where split into the amps, which were dry, and the Rover. The Rover was then mixed with the amps creating a wide 3D effect that swirls on top of everything.

For the 2013 sessions David would employ his old Yamaha RA200 for rotary sounds. Compared to the Rover, the Yamaha has a slightly more noticeable modulated character. See the Leslies, Doppolas and Rovers feature for more on David’s rotary setups.

The new guitars

Large portions of the guitars are newly recorded in David’s new home studio, Medina located in Hove, UK. We do not know with certainty which parts are new but almost all of the original recordings were done live in the studio. This means that there was only one guitar track. Most of the lead guitars and slides that’s present on a track with a rhythm guitar are new.

The lead on It’s What We Do is from the 1993 sessions. You can hear the combination of the clean Fenders and EMGs, with the watery Rover on top. The lead on Anisina and Louder Than Words are from the 2013 sessions. The tone is slightly more aggressive and brighter and you can also hear the slightly more modulated Yamaha in the background.

Most of the slides are new as well, like Sum and Surfacing. This was recorded on the blonder Fender Deluxe with what sounds like a Tube Driver. You can also hear the Yamaha rotating speaker being very present.

Setting up your Endless River tone

You need a Stratocaster, with preferably EMG SA/DG20 pickups. You can also use passive single coils but you won’t get the advantage of the active tone controls. A way to compensate it either to add an EQ in your setup or choose effects that has either a distinct mids scoop (to compensate for the EXG) or mids boost (to compensate for the SPC). A Les Paul with P90 pickups will also sound similar to the EMGs.

You want the amp to have as much headroom as possible. Fenders and Hiwatts has tons of it but if you choose a smaller amp for your bedroom then make sure it’s capable of producing a warm and well balanced clean tone. If you already have an amp, you should set it as clean as possible but don’t be afraid to experiment with the balance between the pre-amp and output. The amp usually sounds best just at the very edge of breakup. If your amp has two channels then the gain channel can often produce a better result. It often has a dash more compression and mid range than the clean channel, which goes well with your pedals. See the Amp Tone feature for more on setting up your amp.

The pedals

Starting with the compressor. As a good portion of the tones are either clean or only slightly overdriven a compressor is a powerful tool for enhancing the overall tone, evening out the frequencies and balance it better. David is seen using both a MXR Dynacomp and Boss CS2 although the latter was probably his favoured.

Next is the Digitech Whammy pedal. Sadly the original is no longer made and its predecessors are not nearly as smooth sounding although the latest addition is very close to the original. Perhaps not a must but definitely invaluable if you want to replicate the pitch effect on songs like It’s What We Do and also Marooned and The Blue.

Endless River Gear Setup

The most important pedal in your Endless River setup would be the overdrive. David had Tube Drivers in both the 1993 and 2013 setups and it’s most likely that he used these to produce most of the overdrive tones. The tone is reminiscent of the early Marshall amps, with a transparent tone and a distinct tube-quality producing both a natural break up and slight compression. The Wampler PlexiDrive is in my opinion the closest match and ideal for smaller amps. The Boss BD2 also works great on darker amps, while the Fulltone OCD adds a bit of mid range and warmth to bright scooped amps.

There’s not a great deal of modulation on Endless River. The amp setup feature two Boss CE2 chrous pedals probably lined up for each rack to enhance the stereo spread but the effect is subtle and personally I think a stand alone chorus would be too dominating. The song On Noodle Street feature a phaser or possibly a UniVibe but unless you want to nail this specific song neither of the effects are essential.

My tone for Louder Than Words has a bit more gain than David’s. It’s perhaps a better reference to some of his Division Bell tones. David also used his Black Strat when he recorded the solo in 2013. I’m using the EMG pickups which rolls off some of that crisp top-end. I’m using a Wampler PlexiDrive instead of a Tube Driver, which David most likely used, and for replicating the Yamaha RA200 rotary tones I’m using a Boss RT20. My setup is mono so I don’t get that wide stereo spread but setting a moderate effect level on the RT20 produce a similar to as the Yamaha.

In the next clip, I’m jamming along to Wearing the Inside Out. The song appeared on Division Bell but the Special Edition of Endless River feature the song Evrika, an early version of Wearing. Again I’m using the Wampler PlexiDrive instead of a Tube Driver but to replicate the wide rotary tones of the Rover I’ve sent the mono track to a stereo bus with a Leslie simulation in Logic Pro. This allows the initial guitar track to cut through and I can add just the amount of rotary that I want.

A good sounding delay is crucial for both Endless River and David’s tones in general. His main delay for the 1993 sessions were the MXR digital delay rack unit. It’s digital but has the warmth of an analog unit. Multi effects like the TC Nova Delay, Eventide Timefactor and Boss DD20 allows provides a wide range of different types of delay and allows you to store your own presets, which can be very handy when covering several songs and different tones. The best stand alone pedal you can choose is probably the TC Flashback. I wouldn’t recommend tape or analog pedals as these are often a bit too dark and lack some of that pristine tone we’re looking for.

The secret to David’s lush tone on Endless River, both the original recording and the new, is the addition of a rotating speaker. It makes everything sound smoother and it adds an almost watery texture to the overall sound. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to already own a rotary cabinet but if not, there are several ways of simulating this. First of all, a rotating speaker is not the same as a phase, UniVibe, chorus or flanger. Although you can use these to achieve some of the same effect they will not be authentic enough to achieve the tone we want. In my opinion the best alternative is the Boss RT20. Place it either last in your chain or, if you’re running a stereo setup, place it after your chain and lined to one of the amps. See this feature for more on replicating David’s rotary tones.

My best tip is to keep it simple. Experiment with your guitar and amp and try to get the best clean tone possible. Don’t overdo it with the effects but set up a mild overdrive, add compression if needed and try to set up at least two different delays for different applications. Listen to the album and notice how David’s using different vibrato techniques to create both modulation and sustain. Keeping one finger on the volume control also enables you to create a dynamic tone and a slight top end roll off if needed.

Animals 1976 studio outtakes!

Animals 1976 tapes

Just when you think there’s nothing left in the vaults, a real surprise appears – the 1976 Animals demos! Described by Pink Floyd as a very hard album to record, Animals feature some of their best work and perhaps some of David’s finest solos. These newly surfaced demos gives us a glimpse of the process and the studio sessions.

It’s apparent that this isn’t really demos but rather “work in progress”. Most of the backing tracks are done – the drums, bass and acoustics – and even some of David’s and Rick’s guitar and keyboard parts are identical to the finished album versions. It’s also obvious that a lot of mixing and processing has already been done. From what I can gather, this is the very final stages of the initial recordings, right before they recorded the final vocals and overdubs and eventually mixed the album.

Animals was recorded between April and November 1976 in Pink Floyd’s new recording studio Britannia Row, located in Islington, north of central London. According to the source of this bootleg, the tapes dates from June 1976.

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Delicate Sound of Thunder 25th anniversary

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This November marks the 25th anniversary for Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder. Loved by some and hated by others the live album is a great testimonial of a strong comeback and David’s late 80s tones. Let’s dig into the history and sound of this album!

Delicate Sound of Thunder was recorded over five nights in August 1988 at Nassau Coliseum (NY, USA). The album was released on CD, LP and cassette (remember those?) November 22 1988. As live albums mostly go it was no huge success but rather a nice souvenir for the fans. The release also saw Pink Floyd’s first filmed (not counting Live at Pompeii) concert being released on VHS.

Abandoned live album

The initial plans were to release the live album and film a year earlier. In early November 1987, a show in Atlanta, USA was recorded and filmed but after seeing the result the band decided they needed more time to find their old form. It was a vice decision as the bootleg version of the show reveals a band that was clearly out of shape and sounded rather bad. Some of the songs however, ended up as official B-sides and single versions, including On the Turning Away and One Slip. Watch the concert here.

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Dark Side of the Moon 40th anniversary tone tutorial

Dark Side of the Moon 40th anniversary

This March marks the 40th anniversary for Dark Side of the Moon. The album took Pink Floyd into super stardom over night and they soon had to learn how to cope with the very issues they were dealing with in the album’s lyrics. More importantly, Dark Side of the Moon also sees David Gilmour growing tremendously as a guitarist, finding his place within the band and establishing himself as a vital creative force. In this feature we’ll look at some of the history of the album and how you can recreate David’s album and live tones.

Dark Side of the Moon was released on March 24th 1973. The album ranks as the third best selling of all time with over 50 million copies sold and nearly 800 weeks on the UK charts (including reissues). By the early mid 70s, Pink Floyd had already established themselves as a super group in Europe and UK but although they’d toured the States many times, they never really breaked there. That changed when Money was released and the single exploded on American radio. The album skyrocketed and Floyd toured all the large halls and stadiums with a tour that never seemed to end.

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