Music/Popular Culture

#SNRGTR: Michael Smith of Fiction 8 on the two kinds of solos

by Michael Smith

There are basically two kinds of guitar solos: the ones that are improvised and the ones that are composed specifically for the song.

Michael Smith of Fiction 8

Michael Smith of Fiction 8

The former can be impressive sometimes, particularly in a live setting. It’s a little less remarkable on a recording, of course, because the soloist can just do a number of takes and then pick the best one.

For me though, I’m a big fan of the composed solo, where the solo is in total service of the song. It’s about adding something tangible to the song rather than just showcasing the guitarist’s abilities. It’s about approaching the song as a composition, not a performance: writing out parts, iterating on them, building off of them, changing transitions or chord progressions underneath until you have something that pulls the floor out from under you, lifts you up into the stratosphere, or both. It isn’t just a good player trying to fill 16 bars of space.

The only thing that can top that is when you have two guitarists taking turns at that composed solo; building their own styles and sensibilities into it, having the other guitarist add harmonies in the right spots, and passing the solo back and forth to each other as though it were a conversation, a meeting of minds, or maybe even a dare.

That’s what I love about the solo in Innaway’s “Threat Hawk.” It starts about four minutes in and lasts about a minute.

Bio: I’m a songwriter for Fiction 8. Our new album, “Dark Star Disarray,” is out now. Guitar was my first instrument, but I turned to the dark side of electronics in the late ’80s. I found my way back to the light about five years ago.

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4 replies »

  1. I played with enough noodling wannabe “improv” soloists to have long ago decided in favor of planned solos. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that perhaps the best planned solo practitioner is a guy named George Harrison in a band called The Beatles that I like kinda sorta….

  2. Yeah, it’s a little unfair to float George Harrison. He was a really great guitarist to begin with, but then learned songwriting craft to a degree few ever have. He should have been forced to improv just because the alternative was too unfair to everyone else.